We all know the Baltimore Ravens are a different, better team when they play at home, and we all know how tough it is for West Coast teams to travel east and play an early game on Sundays. And what the Ravens accomplished at home against the Oakland Raiders, defeating the visitors 55-20, was the archetype of those two known tropes.
The Raiders played right into the Ravens' hands when it came to defense. Coming off of giving up 278 rushing yards to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week (with 251 of those belonging to running back Doug Martin), they were fully expecting the Ravens to take a similar, run-heavy approach. However, it was the Ravens passing game that was the hero of the day, with the Raiders prepared for the run and Baltimore exploiting their lack of readiness for the pass.
In terms of play calls, it was a balanced display by Baltimore's offense, with 28 runs to 33 Joe Flacco passes (backup Tyrod Taylor also threw one late in the game). However, it was the passing game that was designed to put up the big yardage this week.
Flacco completed 21 of his 33 passes, for 341 yards, four touchdowns (one rushing) and an interception—his second-best showing of the season. He more than doubled his yardage totals from each of his last two weeks (road games, both) and maximized the punch of every Baltimore possession despite having the ball for 26:38 to the Raiders' 32:46.
Flacco's scoring magic extended through all four quarters, though the vast majority of his yards (225, to be exact) came in the first half. That half was particularly good for his tight ends—Dennis Pitta put up 67 yards and a touchdown and caught all five passes thrown his way before being blanked in targets in the second half, and both of Ed Dickson's catches, for a total of 59 yards, also came in the first half.
The second half of the game was all about Torrey Smith, who wasn't targeted in the first two quarters. Though he had just two catches on the day, on six targets, both were for scores; he totaled 67 yards. Another Baltimore score came from a Ray Rice seven-yard run at the end of the first half and another on a fake punt in the third quarter, after which Sam Koch ran it in for a seven-yard touchdown. Jacoby Jones also contributed a touchdown on a 105-yard kick return in the fourth quarter.
Most notable, however, is how well the Ravens defense was able to hold up its end of the bargain. After weeks of allowing well more than 100 rushing yards to running back after running back, the Raiders had just 72 total rushing yards on the day on 28 attempts. Though the Ravens defense gave up 368 passing yards to Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer, most of those were garbage-time desperation yards as part of Oakland's attempt to somehow close the never-once-insignificant points deficit.
In fact, this was one of the best defensive performances the Ravens have put up all year. They sacked Palmer three times (two by linebacker Paul Kruger and one by safety Bernard Pollard on a picture-perfect blitz), forced Palmer to fumble (recovered by linebacker Albert McClellan) and Kruger also notched an interception. They had six tackles for loss, four additional quarterback hits and Pollard, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe all had 10 or more total tackles apiece.
Though the Ravens face their rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road next week, presenting challenges Baltimore is all-too-familiar with, the statement they made against the Raiders this Sunday shows that, without question, there's no reason to assume they'll lay down and give up control of the division with ease.
It's one thing to blow out a team at home and another altogether to put up 55 points—the most in team history—and control the game through all four quarters, even as starters were being pulled to keep them safe after putting up such an insurmountable lead.
To retain control in the AFC North, the Ravens must look like a completely different team than they were in the first half of the season—and they absolutely did so in Week 10. Though they came into this week with a 6-2 record, their struggles had made them look far more human than in years past and vulnerable to a late-season collapse.
A win like this is a quick and dirty way to turn that perception around. If there was any question about whether the Ravens are indeed a team to beat before this game, there isn't one now.