Top takeaways from Ravens dominant season opening win over Browns
The Baltimore Ravens made quite the statement with their 38-6 shellacking of the Cleveland Browns in their season opener at home on Sunday. The last time their AFC North rivals came to town in 2019, they handed the home team their most lopsided loss of the regular season. This time around it was the Ravens who doing the dominating in a complete of a performance as a team could ask for coming off a training camp and offseason that was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some of the top takeaways that I observed in the Ravens Week One win outside of the rookie contributions because they will be published in a separate piece:
Remodeled defensive line looked great
The Ravens reshaped the interior of their defensive line this offseason and their two veteran additions made their presence felt early and often in the first game of the season. Both Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe helped lead the effort that bottled up the Browns Pro Bowl backfield tandem of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb for the most part when they tried to run in between the tackles. They also contributed to the relentless harassment of Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield who was under duress all afternoon by flushing him out of a constantly collapsing pocket.
Wolfe’s best play of the day came when he stiff-armed a diving Browns’ offensive lineman trying to make a cut block on him and stuffed Hunt for no gain. Campbell didn’t record a sack but he was a huge factor in defending the pass by batting two passes down at the line of scrimmage and even dropped into coverage and tipped another pass that All-Pro corner Marlon Humphrey corralled for a diving interception to end the Browns offensive first drive of the game. Veteran defensive lineman Brandon Williams isn’t new to the team but he looked good in his return to his natural spot at nose tackle.
Marquise Hollywood Brown is becoming a complete receiver
The Ravens’ second-year wide receiver had a solid rookie season in 2019 after being taken with the 25th overall pick out of Oklahoma even though he was dealing with injuries during the season and wasn’t fully recovered from offseason Lisfranc foot surgery. In his first real NFL offseason, he got healthy and got back to working on refining his game and improving it overall.
Much has been over the impressive weight gain that he made by adding nearly 20 pounds o muscle without sacrificing his trademarked blazing speed that was his calling card in college with the Sooners. However, while he showed off speed by getting behind several of the Browns’ defensive backs in the opener, especially on his 47-yard hook up in the first quarter, he also showed that has become more proficient at running intermediate and shallow routes.
Brown tied for the team lead in catches with five but led the team in receiving yards by a mile with his game-high 101 yards. He displayed an ability to run crisp out breaking and comeback routes as well as more sophisticated deep routes outside of the numbers.
Lamar Jackson’s improved passing downfield and outside the numbers
Two of the reigning league MVP’s biggest areas of weakness according to his critics and other pundits following his historic breakout season was his ability to connect on more passes down the field efficiently and throw with more accuracy outside the numbers. Jackson not only showed vast improvement in both of these perceived deficiencies in the season opener, but he also did it with great touch and sometimes threw his targets open.
Almost every ball he threw and definitely every pass he completed was pinpoint accurate and right in the money no matter where or who he was targeting. The two touchdowns he threw to Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews were lasers and his third was a perfectly lobbed pass to veteran receiver Willie Snead. As previously mentioned, he and Brown hooked up early and often, including on several accurately placed outbreaking routes outside the numbers.
“You could tell he’s a lot more comfortable and he’s a lot more pinpoint with it,” Brown said. “It’s our job to be to the spot because that’s where he’s putting it. He’s doing a nice job throwing it away from defenders, throwing it where you can catch and run.”
LJ Fort is a factor on both defense and special teams
While rookie Patrick Queen just edged out the veteran linebacker for the team lead in total tackles, Fort was active and impactful on two of the three phases, not just on defense. The former journeyman linebacker is one of the better special teams players in the league and he showed just why that is when he not only snuffed out a fake punt play by the Browns in the first quarter but forced a fumble on the play by delivering a crushing blow on Cleveland punter Jamie Gillian with perfect form tackle.
On defense, Fort was just as active and just as tenacious in his pursuit of the ball. All six of his tackles were solo takedowns where he could be seen securing the tackle first and foremost and then proceeding to try to punch the ball out. While he didn’t force another fumble, he did recover the fumble that Queen dislodged from the grasps of Chubb late in the third quarter.
Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters locked down Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry
The Ravens have one of the most loaded rosters in the league with star-studded casts on both sides of the ball and on Sunday their two First-Team All-Pro corners arguably shined the brightest by neutralizing the Browns dynamic Pro Bowl receiver duo. They were already in the running for the top corner tandem in the league but after limiting Beckham and Landry to a combined eight catches for 83 yards on 16 targets in the season opener, their case virtually ironclad.
“We kept the receivers pretty much under control, which was big because we know how good those guys are,” Harbaugh said. “Just a few plays in there, here and there. So, I was happy with that. We also know we can really improve and get so much better.”
Offense is more balanced and can score quickly
Last season the Ravens’ recipe for success was outrushing their opponents by a country mile and dominating time of possession. When the Browns came to town last year in Week Four, they flipped the script on them and outgained Baltimore 193 to 173 and won the time of possession battle. This time around, Cleveland once again outgained the Ravens on the ground 138 to 107 and held the ball longer than their host except the results were much different.
The main reason that the Ravens were the ones winning a lopsided affair and not the other way around was that their offense was much more efficient and way more balanced. Instead of looking like the same rugged rushing team that set the single-season rushing record in 2019, Baltimore resembled a more modern offense that did most of their damage through the air and kept the defense honest with a healthy dose of rushing attempts.
On the day the Ravens actually ran 30 rushing plays to 26 passing plays yet Jackson’s passing performance was the story of the day as marched the offense up and down the field for six scoring drives. His two most impressive drives came in the second quarter where he led a 10 play drive that covered nearly the entire length of the field (99-yards) and capped off with one of Dobbins’ two touchdowns on the day and the other came just before halftime where he led a perfectly executed two-minute in offense in 35 seconds covering 69 yards in seven plays and ended with one of Andrews’ two scores on the day to take a three-possession lead into the break.
Wide receivers stepped up and made plays
Last season the Ravens passing game flowed through the tight end position with Andrews leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and his 10 touchdowns were not only the most on the team, they were the most by any player at the position. That trend doesn’t appear like it is destined to repeat in 2020 based on Sunday’s target share. Of Jackson’s 25 attempts, 16 went to receivers compared to nine to tight ends, one went to fullback Patrick Ricard and none went to the running backs.
Jackson got his wide receivers much more involved in the passing game and they rewarded his confidence in him by making plays when presented with opportunities to do so. Outside of Brown who was already mention above, Snead had a strong day hauling in all four of his targets for 64 yards and a score, second-year wideout Miles Boykin caught three of the four passes thrown to him for 37 yards and rookie Devin Duvernay gained 12 yards on his lone reception. Each of them picked up at least one or more first downs when targeted and will only get more involved as the season goes on and Jackson continues to progress as a passer.