Passing Fancy: Baltimore Ravens Passing Game vs. Kansas City

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Passing Fancy: Baltimore Ravens Passing Game vs. Kansas City
(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Yes it's only one game, against a team that went 2-14 last year, but were those really the Baltimore Ravens out there?

Contrary to everything the so-called experts say they are, as well as their own image as a run-first/defense-oriented team, the Ravens came out gunning it like the Air Coryell Chargers in their 38-24 Week One victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Seven of the Ravens first eight plays were passes. Of the team's 32—yes, 32—first downs, 20 came by way of the pass.

The training wheels were clearly off of second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, who put up 43 pass attempts—which was practically two games worth of attempts last season. Particularly in the first half, it seemed the Ravens were throwing on every snap.

The proof however, was in the pudding. Flacco, who did not have a 300-yard passing game all season last year, put up 307 yards through the air and three touchdown passes with one interception.

The much maligned receiving corps, called "bums" by ESPN's Keyshawn Johnson, managed to hold off the talk radio blowhards screaming for a trade for Brandon Marshall or Anquan Boldin by at least one week. Mark Clayton led the way with five catches for 77 yards and the game-winning score.

Old reliable Derrick Mason chipped in with four catches for 47 yards, while newcomer Kelley Washington made three key catches to convert third downs into first.

The revelation however was the return of tight end Todd Heap. The former Pro Bowler was a force in the middle of the field, beating KC's linebackers like a government mule all day. He finished with five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Ultimately, Flacco spread the ball to seven different pass receivers, with all seven making at least two catches each.

So why the new passing fancy? Certainly the Chiefs defense, fifth-worst against the pass a year ago, had something to do with it. But at the same time, the Ravens hinted at it throughout the preseason, throwing on almost every down.

Flacco's development also played a huge role. In his second year, "The Brow" is now a confident leader, belying his "Joe Cool" rep by pumping his fist and showing an emotional side, particularly after the 31-yard touchdown to Clayton that sealed the deal for the Ravens. He knows this is now HIS team. Flacco clearly loves the increased freedom offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is allowing him to throw the ball at will.

Lost in the shuffle of all the passing though is that in Week One, the Ravens did exactly what the said they would do all offseason, namely, have more balance on offense.

Although the 43 pass attempts got the attention, the Ravens also ran 42 times—near perfect offensive symmetry. Once the Ravens got the running game got cranked up, the Ravens looked like a team that could be very, very difficult to stop.

With Week One now behind them, the Ravens will face a sterner test out west in the person of the San Diego Chargers. What should we expect from the passing game this week? Probably more of the same against a Charger pass defense that was second worst in the league.

In addition, seeing the Bolts struggle to contain the Raiders running game Monday night probably has Cameron imagining a whole array of offensive possibilities.

Truth be told, the Ravens didn't even break out any of the trick plays they showed last year. Very little of the unbalanced line and no "Suggs Package" to be found.

If you combine those to a potentially potent passing game and the three-headed rushing attack of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain, there could be something exciting brewing in Charm City.

Again, it is only one week, way too early to anoint them the second coming of the '99 Rams, but the days of the Ravens being perceived as a dull, conservative and boring offensive team may just be coming to an end.

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