It was far from pretty and even farther from perfect, but is sure was nice. After last season’s brutal opening road schedule and dismal 5-11 record, it was indeed very nice for the Ravens to come out of the gate with a win.
Rex Ryan’s team had a very difficult time moving the ball on the Ravens’ defense, particularly in the opening and final quarter. Shareece Wright was downright amazing, as he finished with 9 tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage. He was also solid in pass coverage.
The communication seemed to be much better for the back end of the defense, in stark comparison to a year ago. Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Wright seemed to be on the same page for the bulk of the game.
According to our friends at Pro Football Focus, Weddle had the highest overall grade on the team, followed by Wright. On the offensive side of the ball the standouts were QB Joe Flacco, RG Marshall Yanda (penalties aside he was lights out), and Mike Wallace.
The offense looked out of sync at times, but that was to be expected, as this was the first time a lot of the players were on the field at the same time. Their pace and rhythm should improve as the season matures.
Standouts for the Bills were primarily on the defensive side as LB Preston Brown and rush end Jerry Hughes were generally disruptive and presented the Ravens offensive line with all kinds of problems. It is also noteworthy that the Ravens started two rookies on the left side, tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis.
The Bills’ offense struggled and their highest graded offensive player was TE Charles Clay. Tyrod Taylor struggled to find open receivers down field, and was held in check by the Ravens’ defense. Shady McCoy got around the edge a couple of times, but he was also held under wraps without inflicting any significant damage.
The Bills’ coaching staff is getting some criticism this morning by their fan base as well as the media. The narrative is that they got schooled by the Ravens’ coaching staff, pointing out that the Ravens have been in the playoffs 6 out of the last 8 years under coach Harbaugh. Their clock management and untimely personal foul penalties are particularly coming under scrutiny. The undisciplined tag that’s been following Rex Ryan around has reared it’s ugly head once again.
As for the Ravens, for me the biggest red flag was Marc Trestman and his play calling. It was downright maddening to see the team come out time and again on third and short with Flacco in a shotgun formation. For a team that vowed to commit to the run this year, they sure did pass a lot. The team ran the ball 45% of the time as there were 28 running plays against 34 pass plays. When you take into account the 4 “runs” that Joe Flacco was given credit for (including game ending kneel-downs in the victory formation) the ratio drops to 41%.
For a team that has a lead blocker and thumper in Kyle Juszczyk, and a back who has displayed great heart and determination in short yardage situations in Terrance West, it defies logic to see both of them on the bench while Flacco is in the gun formation. Given Flacco’s knee situation, it is crystal clear and understandable that the Ravens have taken the QB sneak out of their playbook. But there are so many solid and creative things they can do on short yardage situations. That was evident as I watched the Sunday Night scrum between the Cardinals and the Patriots. Both offensive coordinators showed multiple looks and formations, and the Ravens would be wise to roll the tape and “borrow” a few things here and there.
For a while there I had to check to make sure that Cam Cameron was still at LSU vs. the Ravens’ sideline. Trestman was run out of Chicago and overwhelmingly the primary gripe from players and fans alike was that his offense was too pass happy. I sure hope coach John Harbaugh intervenes and makes sure that the Ravens game plan is run heavy this week as the team travels to Cleveland.
In a memorable loss to Jacksonville years ago, when Ray Rice carried the ball something like 8 times, I’ll never forget a quote by Terrell Suggs that has stuck with me through the years. After that loss he said that “when you go on the road, you pack your defense and your running game.” I think that is great advice, and the Ravens need to pay attention here.
Turnovers are hard to overcome in the NFL, particularly on the road when you’re also facing significant crowd noise. Running the ball tends to be easier for an offense to execute. The Ravens need to force turnovers by Cleveland QBs, whether it’s RGIII (he has a shoulder injury) or Josh McCown, run the ball, play solid defense, and let the game come to them. Control the ball, control the clock, take the crowd out of the game, and come home two and oh.