Fri, 25 Sep 2020

Late for Work 9/14: Takeaways From a Dominant Season Opener

Baltimore Ravens
15 Sep 2020, 05:25 GMT+10

Joe Schiller

Takeaways From Ravens' Dominant Season Opener

Coming off an NFL-best 14-2 regular season, it didn't take long for the Ravens to find their form. In an offseason full of uncertainty, no team seemed more prepared than Baltimore.

"It was painfully evident in almost every aspect of the game which team returned the same coaching staff from 2019," NFL.com's Nick Shook wrote. "The Browns got the worst Week 1 draw in the league in Baltimore, and they'll need some time to work out the kinks, but the teams with established continuity are going to gain huge advantages early in this season. That was no more apparent anywhere in the NFL on Sunday than in Baltimore."

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Ravens became the first team to win three straight season openers by at least 30 points. Their 38-6 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday reiterated why they're one of the favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy this season.

Here's a look at pundits' top takeaways from the game:

'Less Flash' and a More Balanced Offensive Attack

It didn't include a five-touchdown explosion like last year's season opener against the Miami Dolphins or a viral highlight that broke the internet.

Nothing about the Ravens' offensive attack on Sunday was flashy, but it might have been one of the most impressive performances under Jackson to date.

"What Jackson did was author a commanding performance that showed just how much he has grown and how hard he's worked to improve his perceived weaknesses," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "With the Browns limiting the Ravens' record-setting running game to just 3.6 yards per carry and getting consistent penetration inside, Jackson took over the game with his arm.

"... Flashy? No. Effective? Very much so."

One of the biggest criticisms from pundits was how the Ravens offense would perform when the ground game isn't working. On Sunday, the offense didn't dominate rushing yards (107) or time of possession like they did time after time last season. They didn't need to, as Jackson did his damage through the air with 275 yards and three touchdowns.

In many ways, pundits believe Jackson looked like an even better passer coming off an MVP season.

"The reigning league Most Valuable Player threw 36 touchdowns against six interceptions last year en route to his MVP season, with a completion percentage of 66 percent," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote. "If possible, his passing game looked even sharper and more precise in this game, as he completed 20 of 25 passes, often feathering throws just beyond the reach of a defender.

"Jackson stressed that he had made deep throws a point of emphasis this offseason, and while he didn't take many shots downfield, but he hit Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown in stride with a 47-yard strike for his longest completion of the day."

"He was sharp, efficient and in control throughout," Zrebiec added. "Even when the Ravens made mistakes, like [Pat] Ricard's fumble on third-and-short, or lost yardage on running plays, there was a sense that it was only a matter of time before Jackson made up for it and led the offense to points."

After finishing with one of the best red-zone touchdown scoring percentages last season (64.7 percent), the Ravens continued that trend. Five of their six drives in the red zone ended with touchdowns, including a 99-yard drive in the second quarter.

There are games where the run game will be the focal point of the offense, but the Ravens showed they can dominate no matter the game script. It helps when you have one of the best players in football under center.

"Over the past two seasons, we've watched the Ravens buy into Jackson fully," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "They roll past disappointing moments because they believe, absolutely, that they're lining up with the best player on the field."

Mark Andrews Joins the Elite Tight End Conversation

When discussing the NFL's top tight ends, it's time to include Mark Andrews. Most Ravens fans would tell you that's past due, but Andrews solidified himself in the conversation with another strong performance on Sunday.

"Andrews has emerged as a top-five tight end in all of football," Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw wrote. "Last season, he paced all tight ends with 10 touchdown receptions. It would be hard to follow up that performance, but Andrews is already off to another hot start."

Andrews was impressive out of the gate. He hauled in a one-handed touchdown grab from Jackson on the Ravens' first drive, finished with five receptions and tied with a team-high six targets.

Pundits were interested to see how Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman would utilize the tight ends following the departure of Hayden Hurst and they're still very much involved. After relying heavily on three-tight-end sets last season, the Ravens finished with as many snaps with two tight ends as they did with three receivers, according to Pro Football Focus.

With just two true pass-catching tight ends, it's a glimpse of what a different passing attack could look like. Even with an improved receiving core, Andrews remains the focal point.

"The Ravens hope that a healthy Brown adds another dimension to this offense, and he had a strong game with five catches for 101 yards, but Andrews remains the Ravens' most valuable offensive player not named Jackson," Smolka wrote.

J.K. Dobbins Shines as Committee Approach Leads Ravens' Rushing Attack

The Ravens didn't have to run the ball much in Sunday's win, but when they did, they used a committee approach.

Jackson led the Ravens with 45 rushing yards, but no player had more than 10 carries. Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins combined for 68 yards on 21 carries.

"Baltimore made it pretty apparent it isn't going to rely on any one person to carry the load for the rushing attack," Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher wrote. "They have plenty of capable rushers to split carries between and they're going to let them all eat."

Last season, Ingram led the Ravens with 202 rushing attempts. Edwards was next with 133, but we could see a more even split among running back touches.

No running back benefited more from the committee than rookie J.K. Dobbins. It didn't take him long to get involved as he found the end zone twice during his debut. He led the running backs in snaps and should continue to be a significant part of the rushing attack moving forward.

"The rookie second-round pick from Ohio State had a solid training camp and has a nose for the end zone," Sports Illustrated's Todd Karpovich wrote. "He finished with a pair of touchdowns. Dobbins has shown the potential to play a key role in the offense this season."

Added Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle Barber: "It's clear he's vying for the starting job beside Ingram, though using them as a combination is far from problematic."

Reloaded Secondary Performs as Advertised

With the attention focused on the revamped front seven, the Ravens' secondary reminded us why they're the strength of the defense. They held Baker Mayfield to 189 passing yards and a 33.4 quarterback rating, keeping a talented Browns offense in check.

"Plenty of the credit for [Mayfield's] frustration should go to Ravens cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, who seemed to rattle Mayfield's top big-play target, Odell Beckham Jr., with their aggressive coverage," Walker wrote. "Beckham caught just three passes on 10 targets and dropped one that could have extended a Browns drive (and kept the ball out of Jackson's hands) just before halftime."

"In addition to Humphrey and Peters, nickel cornerback Tavon Young stood out in his return from the neck injury that cost him all of last season. Safeties Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott held up well on the back end as Cleveland connected on just two passes of 20 yards or more."

Humphrey and Peters performed as advertised coming off All-Pro seasons. In three games against the Ravens since being traded to the Browns, Beckham has just 88 receiving yards and a touchdown.

With a healthy unit, the secondary showed how versatile it can be. Humphrey and Young can play on the outside or in the slot. Clark can drop into coverage or play in the box as a linebacker. Even Jimmy Smith took snaps at safety.

They'll be tested the next two weeks with matchups against Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, but the secondary is picking up where it left off last season.

"If continuity from 2019 was the theme with Jackson on offense, that was just as much the case with this secondary on the other side of the ball," Walker wrote.

'Major Move' Still Possible for Ravens

The Ravens didn't land highly coveted pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney or Yannick Ngakoue, but they were reportedly in the mix for both.

General Manager Eric DeCosta has shown he's not afraid to make a splash, and CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora believes the Ravens could still make a "major move."

"[B]oth attempts serve as a stark indication of Baltimore's intent to add to an already strong roster, and the team also [reportedly] reworked the contract of defensive lineman Brandon Williams last week to create an additional $3M in cap space," La Canfora wrote. "It would not be surprising to see the Ravens complete a deal or two before the midseason deadline - DeCosta was very proactive last year - or add an additional free agent if need be."

La Canfora didn't specify who he thinks the Ravens will target, but things could ramp up as we head closer to the trade deadline in the next month.

After reportedly reworking Williams' contract, the Ravens have around $14 million in cap space to work with, according to Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland.

Quick Hits

Without fans on Sunday, no spot in the stadium shined brighter than "Mo's Rows." L.J. Fort continues to be an underrated performer on defense and special teams. Brown and the pass defense made Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz's stock up list.

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