Offseason questions remain unanswered for the Baltimore Ravens after being outclassed by the Denver Broncos in their season opener.
Replacing five defensive starters, including at least two future Hall of Famers in Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, wasn’t supposed to be easy. We knew there could be some growing pains for the young but allegedly faster Ravens D.
That window of opportunity was exploited by the polished and prolific Peyton Manning-led Broncos offense in the second half at Sports Authority Field. Even that’s putting it lightly. Manning had a career-best performance for himself and the Ravens were historically awful.
The Ravens gave up a franchise-record 49 points Thursday. It's the first game they've ever played without Ray Lewis on the roster.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 6, 2013
But in addition to the defensive question marks, there were a couple of other intriguing burning questions that arose for the Ravens on Thursday night.
What Happened to the Running Game?
It’s hard to run the football when, well, you can’t. That was the story for the Ravens on Thursday night. On just 21 carries, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for just 58 yards and a paltry 2.8 yards-per-carry average. Rice’s 36 yards on 12 carries was his second-worst performance to date when rushing at least 10 times, per CBS Sports’ John Breech.
That forced Joe Flacco to throw the ball much more than he should have to, more than he ever has in the past, as CBS’ Eye on Football pointed out:
Maybe the Ravens wanted to squeeze every dollar out of their quarterback after rewarding him with a $120 million deal in the offseason? Not being able to run the ball and Manning’s quick-strike scoring probably had something to do with it.
If the Ravens hope to turn things around quickly, they’ll have to get back to their running game in Week 2 against Cleveland. The Browns boast a revamped pass-rush and could tee off on Flacco in Baltimore next week if they fail to establish the run again.
Is it Time for Matt Elam to Step Up?
Free-agent acquisition and Ed Reed replacement Michael Huff’s first start as a Baltimore Raven lasted just long enough for the clock to strike midnight on the East Coast.
Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun noted the change late in the ballgame:
Matt Elam is now in the game with Michael Huff on the bench after a rough night— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) September 6, 2013
Prior to being benched, Huff was a liability on the field. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Baltimore’s new safety was abused in coverage by Manning, surrendering 181 yards and three touchdowns. Manning was a perfect 5-of-5 passing when throwing in his direction and Broncos receivers racked up 115 yards after the catch on Huff’s assignment.
People called his late free-agency signing a “steal” for the Ravens, but it looks like they were the ones being robbed in Denver on Thursday night. If John Harbaugh’s staff is wise, they’ll let rookie Matt Elam take over immediately.
After all, they spent a first-round pick on the former Florida Gator and they don’t have much to lose after Huff’s terrible performance.
Can Ed Dickson or Dallas Clark Produce at Tight End?
We knew Dennis Pitta’s absence was going to be trying for Flacco and company; we didn’t know how badly he’d be missed, though.
On Thursday night, Dallas Clark looked every-bit of his 34 years of age and Ed Dickson looked even older—if growing old means you forget how to catch a football.
Despite grabbing eight passes on 12 targets, Clark fumbled—negated by a defensive penalty—dropped a sure-touchdown and dropped three other catchable passes. One of those drops, though, came after being legally assaulted by safety Rahim Moore:
Dickson was worse. He got the start at tight end but caught just one of the five passes thrown in his direction. Four of those were drops. Part of the problem could be chemistry issues with Flacco stemming from missed time due to a hamstring injury.
But if these two continue to play poorly, the Ravens’ passing game is going to be in serious trouble this season.