Ravens vs. Rams: 4 Things We Learned About Baltimore in 37-7 Win

Drew FrazierContributor IIISeptember 26, 2011

Ravens vs. Rams: 4 Things We Learned About Baltimore in 37-7 Win

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    After a disappointing loss against the Tennessee Titans last week, the Baltimore Ravens rebounded in a big way with a 37-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Many people were wondering which team they would see versus the Rams: Would it be the team that dominated the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, or would it be the underperforming team from last week?

    After only one quarter of football the answer was clear. In the first quarter alone, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw three touchdowns to Torrey Smith, who had a breakout performance versus the Rams.

    The Ravens added one more touchdown and three field goals throughout the rest of the game. The Rams were only able to manage one touchdown, while Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked five times, threw an interception and lost a fumble.

    The Ravens played a complete game on both sides of the ball, and the Rams could not stop their balanced attack on offense. It was an all-around great performance by the whole team, but there were a few things that stood out. Let’s look at what we learned about Baltimore in its 37-7 victory over the Rams.

Torrey Smith Is a Legitimate Deep Threat

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    To say that Torrey Smith had a breakout game would be an understatement. His amazing performance in this game was not only statement to the whole league but also to his critics.

    Smith has been one of the more criticized players on the Ravens roster after his disappointing preseason in which he had more drops than catches. People were questioning his hands, his route-running ability and even his motivation.

    Those critics were officially silenced after this game.

    Smith could not have started any better. In the first quarter, he caught three touchdown passes as the Rams refused to respect the Ravens passing game by loading up the box with eight and nine defenders on every play. Flacco and Smith made them pay as Smith caught touchdown passes of 74, 41 and 18 yards.

    The importance of Smith’s emergence to the Ravens can not be overstated.

    One of the problems that they had versus the Titans is that the defense did not respect the Ravens' ability to throw deep by stacking the line of scrimmage and overplaying the run. With Lee Evans not running at full speed due to a foot injury, the Ravens could not exploit the holes down the field. The cloud of defenders near the line not only killed the running game but was also effective against the Ravens receivers since they lacked speed.

    Moving forward, the Ravens will be able to threaten teams down the field.

    Obviously, the Rams do not have a good defense and it remains to be seen whether Smith can be as dominant versus good competition, but the Ravens will be able to stretch the field at the very least. Smith should be able to threaten defenses enough where he’ll either draw their best cover corner or they’ll start playing safeties deeper in coverage. Either way, it opens things up for the offense.

Ray Rice Is the Best Dual-Threat Running Back in the NFL

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    No one needs to tell Ravens’ fans how important Ray Rice is to the offense and the success of the team.

    With the offensive line that the Ravens have, they could probably have success with just about any running back, but there isn’t another back in the league that would add as much as a runner and as a receiver.

    Rice is just impossible for defenses to cover. He’s so fast out of the backfield that it’s impossible to cover him with a linebacker that’s lined up in a traditional position. The only way to cover him is to play a linebacker or safety right at the line where he releases, but the only problem is that the defense never knows which side he’ll release from. He literally stretches the defense laterally.

    On top of that, the threat of Rice usually takes a defensive player out of a coverage or blitzing assignment. Teams will sometimes try treating him like a typical running back, but he absolutely dominates them when they try that. The bottom line is that there’s no easy answer for Ray Rice.

    We saw this versus the Rams. As amazing as Torrey Smith’s performance was, Rice was the player giving the Rams the biggest headache.

    Ultimately, the Ravens will need the deep threat of Smith and the dual threat of Rice moving forward. Rice can stretch defenses laterally, Smith can stretch them vertically, and Flacco has the arm to hit both players all over the field. The sky is now the limit with this offense.

The Offense Flows Through Joe Flacco

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    If last week taught us anything, it’s that the Ravens have a bad day when Joe Flacco has a bad day.

    This is true for most NFL quarterbacks and their offenses, but it may be truer for the Ravens than ever before. That’s because the Ravens have traditionally been a run-oriented offense where the quarterback is simply a game manager.

    It’s clear that they’ve moved on from that phase of their history. We saw the beginning of the transformation last year when Flacco began to throw more as the season progressed, but poor offensive line play put a damper on what Flacco and the offense were able to accomplish.

    This season, things are different. The offense seems unchanged, but good protection for Flacco has allowed him to be dominant in two of his first three games. After three games, it’s clear that the offensive line will no longer be the weak link on offense or the single factor holding back Flacco’s development.

    The only thing that could potentially hold them back is the lack of speed on offense.

    This was an issue last week, but may have been cleared up as quickly as it appeared by the emergence of Torrey Smith. If Smith can continue to stretch defenses vertically, the only limit to the offense will be Joe Flacco, and after he threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns versus the Rams, it doesn’t appear that his development will be an issue.

    If anything, this appears to be Flacco’s year to take the next step and prove that he can be a premier NFL quarterback.

The Ravens Secondary Is Still a Question Mark

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    The Ravens played a great game against Sam Bradford and held him to only 166 total yards in the game. The fact that Chris Carr was able to play was a huge boost to the secondary. Last week, the Titans were able to exploit the Ravens simply because of depth issues, and the Ravens’ secondary looked much worse than they really are in that game.

    That being said, they probably aren’t as good as they looked versus the Rams. The Rams do not have the receivers capable of exploiting the Ravens secondary, which can struggle versus big receivers like Kenny Britt.

    Against average receivers, the Ravens secondary will very effectively turn the opposing offense back into the jaws of the front seven like we saw versus the Rams. That’s really their primary job because offenses will continue to throw versus the Ravens defense in an attempt to bypass their elite front seven.

    We all know that the Ravens' front seven is elite, and they played up to expectations against the Rams. The whole league knows about them, and every team that plays the Ravens tries to find a way to avoid bashing their helmets against them. Usually that involves quick passes and screen passes, but teams will also test the secondary deep. If they can be successful throwing the ball, it completely negates the Ravens’ greatest strength. That’s why it’s so important for the Ravens secondary to play well.

    The extra depth with Carr helps, but the real challenge will be versus elite receivers.

    Until they can shut down elite receivers, the Ravens will obviously continue to struggle with teams that have them, and the reality is that none of their corners that are currently healthy are shutdown corners. That’s why the Ravens really need cornerback Jimmy Smith to get healthy. Luckily, the Ravens will not have to face a truly elite receiver until after their bye week when Houston comes to Baltimore with Andre Johnson. Hopefully, Smith will be back from injury by then.