Ever since the NFL schedule was released in April, the Baltimore Ravens had looked forward to a Week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A win here could take away some of the pain of losing twice in the playoffs and six of the last eight meetings between these two teams. It could also silence the critics who criticized Joe Flacco and said the Steelers "owned the Ravens."
Consider those critics silenced. After today's performance, no one can doubt that the Ravens are among the NFL's very best teams, and the Steelers' psychological advantage is finally gone.
The Ravens outplayed the Steelers in every possible aspect of the game. The convincing 35-7 victory was the most points the Ravens have ever scored against the Steelers.
Even the offensive line, which was considered questionable before the season, played a great game. Although this was the first time this particular offensive line had started together, they looked comfortable, as they helped the Ravens run for 180 rushing yards.
Ray Rice was responsible for 107 of them, which was the first time the Steelers had allowed a 100-yard rusher since December 2009, when Rice had 141 yards. Rice was electric today, also putting up 42 receiving yards and scoring both a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.
The defense was also dominant. Ed Reed had two interceptions, which now gives him 12 multi-pick games in his career. A team-record seven turnovers were forced today, four interceptions and three fumbles.
Right from the start this game was different. The Ravens got started quickly getting a 14-0 lead early. They then closed out the half with a 21-7 lead, eerily similar to last year's playoff meltdown to the Steelers.
But unlike that January game, the Ravens finished today. They never took the pedal off the gas, even going for a two-point conversion with a Sam Koch run. They also were gift-wrapped some turnovers from Ben Roethlisberger later in the game.
Lessons Learned This Week
1. The Offensive Line Has Improved
Last year, the Steelers were as good as any team at getting after the quarterback, leading the league with 48 sacks. Today the Ravens' offensive line was significantly better, allowing only one sack.
Bryant McKinnie in particular played well after not getting any time in the preseason and being cut by the Minnesota Vikings for being overweight. At 6'8" and 360 lbs., McKinnie could have a very good season at left tackle.
2. Joe Flacco Finally Delivers Against the Steelers
Flacco was criticized for being 2-6 against the Steelers before today. In addition, both of his wins came when Roethlisberger was sitting out, and both victories were still extremely narrow.
Not only was the victory decisive, but Flacco had his best career game against the Steelers, finishing 17-for-29 for 224 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 117.6. If Flacco can continue to play like this, he justifies his statement earlier this summer that he's a "[darn] good quarterback."
3. Run Defense Still Has Work to Do
It's hard to take away a lot of negatives from such a complete victory, but if there was one, it was the Ravens rush defense today. Rashad Mendenhall had 45 rushing yards, most of which were gotten earlier in the game before the Steelers had to abandon the run because of their huge deficit.
He was able to get to the edge and was running faster than usual. Still, this doesn't look to be a major concern, especially if the Ravens can continue to build early leads and force the other team to pass.
Obviously this is only the first game of the NFL season, so it would be foolish to take too much out of it. The Steelers were so completely terrible today that they looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. That's unlikely, and the smart guess is that the Steelers will wake up from this blowout and play a lot better.
The Ravens need to keep up the intensity, especially after such a huge win. Next week, they play a tough Tennessee Titans team that could be a potential trap game. This win, although good, is just the start for a long season that still has many more games to go.