OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the week leading up to the Ravens’ 37-7 win in St. Louis, countless players and coaches spoke about the need for a commitment to run the football effectively.
After being held to just 45 rushing yards on 17 carries against a stout Tennessee run defense and the Rams entering Week 3 as the 32nd-ranked unit against the run, the Ravens’ perfect tonic seemed to be heavy doses of Ray Rice and Ricky Williams to establish the ground game in hopes of wearing down the St. Louis defense.
Instead, the Ravens came out firing, dropping back to pass on 16 of their first 18 plays as quarterback Joe Flacco and rookie wideout Torrey Smith shredded the Rams secondary for three touchdown passes in the opening quarter.
So much for a conservative game plan.
All along, the Ravens’ stated desire to run the football may have been an exercise in mind games rather than any real indication of how they planned to attack Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.
“They were defending the run,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There’s no question, I think they expected us to come out running the ball, too, so they gave us looks that were not [favorable] against the run but were good against the pass. What we had to do was beat those guys out there one-on-one, and the young receivers stepped up and did it, so you have to prove you can do that”
No one deemed himself more worthy than Smith, who caught touchdown passes of 74, 41, and 18 yards while torching Rams cornerback Justin King on each occasion. The success in the vertical passing game was all the more surprising with veteran Lee Evans out with an ankle injury and Smith’s failure to catch a pass in the first two weeks of the regular season.
Flacco threw the ball 48 times while the Ravens had 26 rushing attempts — averaging 6.5 yards per carry — to accumulate a franchise-record 553 yards of total offense in the 30-point victory. The explosive effort not only improved the Ravens’ record to 2-1, but it added a much-desired element to the Baltimore passing attack.
“Any time you do something well, it’s good,” Harbaugh said. “You want to be able to stretch the field vertically, which is something that we really wanted to be able to do coming into this year. To see that happen is a big plus for us, because it opens up the check-downs, it opens up the crossing routes, it opens up the run game.”
It’s no coincidence that the deep passing success prodded veteran receiver Anquan Boldin to find more space to maneuver underneath to finish with seven catches for 74 yards and running back Ray Rice accumulated 83 yards receiving on five receptions.
The Ravens stated their need to build diversity in the passing game, and Smith’s performance could be viewed as a turning point for Cam Cameron’s offense. Flacco praised the aggressive strategy as the best way to win games in the NFL after hinting at the need to be more aggressive following the 26-13 loss in Tennessee last week.
While the play-calling appeared sound against a team selling out to stop the run, Harbaugh summed up the biggest reason for the offense’s success against the Rams.
“Just the mindset and I think Joe putting the ball on those guys and those guys making plays, that’s really what it ends up boiling down to.”
Hear John Harbaugh’s Monday post-game press conference in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.