Bengals vs. Ravens: Baltimore's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 1
With a 44-13 victory against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens have shown that they are deservedly contenders for the AFC title. Their rout of the Bengals now moves the Ravens to 5-0 in season openers under John Harbaugh. They also continued their dominance at home where they have now won 12 consecutive games.
What was different about this game though was the appearance of a new-look offense that totaled 430 yards. The offensive was startlingly explosive as they forced the Bengals'10th-ranked defense from last season into submission. Though they allowed some long drives early on, the defense did their job, especially in the second half where they only allowed one field goal.
The 44 points accounted for the third most in franchise history. It also made the Ravens the fifth team to top 40 points, which is the most ever for an NFL opening weekend.
Can this new high-scoring offense stay consistent? The Ravens and their fans have to hope so as the team looked unstoppable in the fourth quarter with both the offense and defense clicking. Next week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles will be a crucial test as to how far the Ravens offense has come.
In the meantime, here's a look at the winners and losers in the Ravens' Week 1 victory.
Winner: Ed Reed
You just knew that after the offseason Ed Reed had, he was going to make his presence known. Although he was clearly dissatisfied with his contract, Reed has been under his best behavior ever since showing up for training camp.
Before the game, I saw that Reed only needed 20 interception return yards to pass Rod Woodson for the most career interception yards in NFL history. I knew that those 20 yards were going to fall sooner or later, especially if the Ravens ever got a comfortable lead and forced the opposing quarterback to force a risky throw.
Sure enough that's what happened last night, as the Ravens led 27-13 late in the third quarter. The Bengals were facing a 3rd-and-9 deep in their own territory when Andy Dalton threw toward Jermaine Gresham right at the first-down line. Reed grabbed the errant throw and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown.
It was his 13th career return touchdown, while his 1,497 interception return yards now rank as the most in NFL history. It's a number that likely won't be touched anytime soon, as Reed continues to cement his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Besides the pick, it was a quiet night for Reed. He only had two tackles and the interception turned out to be his last play as he aggravated his hamstring. The injuries seem to be increasing as he gets older, and they serve as a sobering reminder that he probably won't be scoring too many more interception touchdowns.
Loser: Bryant McKinnie
It's been a rough week for Bryant McKinnie, who has seemingly gone from starter to forlorn bench rider. At least he's still getting a paycheck from the team, unlike his tweet earlier this week that suggested he had been cut.
He's still a Raven, although it looks as though he's no longer a starting Raven. Instead, both he and Bobbie Williams, two of the oldest offensive linemen on the Ravens' roster, watched the entire game from the bench.
Their loss was the gain of young players as both Ramon Harewood and Kelechi Osemele held their own in their first NFL starts. They did give up three sacks, so some improvement could be made in that area.
For the most part though, Joe Flacco had time to throw and it looks like the coaching staff's gamble of starting younger players paid off.
Winner: Defensive Line
The Ravens defensive front was on fire late in the game as they brought Andy Dalton down for a total of four sacks. Haloti Ngata led the charge with two sacks and three tackles on the night.
The other sacks were notched by Pernell McPhee, Courtney Upshaw and Ray Lewis. Upshaw's and McPhee's sacks were welcome sights as both players are widely expected to help replace the sack input of the injured Terrell Suggs.
McPhee did struggle a little with penalties as he inadvertently helped the Bengals drive 76 yards because of two flags on his part. Thankfully the defense didn't break, and the Bengals offense had to settle for two field goals. Their only touchdown was a six-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the play of the defensive line definitely deserves credit for stopping the Bengals' offense in the red zone.
Ma'ake Kemoeatu deserves credit as well even though he only notched one tackle. Despite not playing any football last season, Kemoeatu has seemingly edged Terrence Cody for a starting job on the defensive line. Although Cody is still ahead on the depth chart, Kemoeatu got a lot of playing time and looks as though he could be a guy that is used more as the season goes forward.
Loser: Backup Cornerbacks
The conventional thinking going into last night was that A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham were the Bengals' top receiving threats. Stop them and you could live with Andy Dalton throwing it to his lesser heralded backup receivers.
Surprisingly, that was not at all how the night played out. Andrew Hawkins instead led the team in receiving yards with eight catches for 86 yards. A lot of this is the fault of corners like Corey Graham and Cary Williams.
Lardarius Webb was good for the most part against Green and Gresham. Still, it was disappointing to see Hawkins get open and catch so many balls. Even with the Ravens clamping down and not allowing any touchdowns in the second half, the other corners need to step up their game against lesser receivers.
Winner: Ray Rice
Ray Rice was his normal self Wednesday night even with the explosive pass offense's arrival. Even with a slightly pedestrian 10 carries, Rice had 68 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Both rushing touchdowns came from the goal line and both of them were things of beauty. Rice was utterly untouched on his one-yard scamper in the first quarter. He also made three catches for 25 yards, including a masterful two-yard grab in the first quarter that helped the Ravens convert on fourth down.
Rice will need someone to step up as a backup, though. Both Bernard Pierce and the recently promoted Anthony Allen had four attempts, with the latter totaling 13 yards and the former totaling 19 yards. There was also some of those reverse plays that Cam Cameron loves so much; Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith each had one rushing attempt.
The improved passing game can only prove to be a good thing for Rice. He can still be the team's workhorse and he won't be facing eight-men fronts with opposing defenses keying in on the Ravens' air attack. This could keep Rice fresh and leave him as a dangerous threat whenever he gets the ball.
Winner: Ravens Receivers
Basically, the top three Ravens receivers and their starting tight end all deserve credit for how the game went down. Yes, Joe Flacco was the one that ran the offense. That wouldn't have happened though without the standout play of his wideouts.
Dennis Pitta was a beast as he easily won his matchups against the Bengals' pass defense. Pitta had five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown and showed no ill effects from the hand injury he suffered in the preseason.
Anquan Boldin had a questionable touchdown catch go his way in the second quarter. He finished with four catches for 63 yards.
Then there was Torrey Smith, who caught Flacco's longest pass of the night at 52 yards. Still the deep threat on the team, Smith finished with two receptions for 57 yards. It could be argued that third-stringer Jacoby Jones outperformed him, as the free-agent acquisition had three catches for 46 yards.
Flacco himself had 299 passing yards after completing 21-of-29 attempts. There were some near miss interceptions, but ultimately, the Ravens had zero turnovers. With a 128.4 passer rating, we can safely say that Flacco has mastered the Bengals' cover-two pass defense and it's exciting to think of what he'll do this season.