A day after they set a team record for total yards of offense, the big question in Baltimore is whether the Ravens’ offensive philosophy has shifted.
One game into the season, it’s too early to tell, but it’s not an unreasonable question. Not when a team typically known for its defense throws for 307 yards and runs for another 198, gains a franchise-best 32 first downs, and scores five touchdowns, not one off of a turnover.
“This is a new year, a new offense, a new mentality, [and} everything starts over,” said wide receiver Mark Clayton. “And we are kind of reformed or remaking ourselves and to be able to throw the ball down the field, it’s fun, one, and its puts points on the board, two. The last time I checked, the team with the most points wins. That’s our goal is to score every time.”
Fans in Charm City saw something in the season opener they hadn’t seen since the days of Vinny Testaverde—a potentially prolific offense.
Quarterback Joe Flacco completed passes to seven different receivers. Running back Ray Rice ran for 108 yards all on his own, while Clayton, tight end Todd Heap, and running back Willis McGahee all did their part to quiet the murmurs that the Ravens needed another receiver.
“Everybody talks about how we don’t have weapons,” said head coach John Harbaugh after the Ravens’ 28-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. “I think we have weapons, if you want to use that term. We have really good players who can make play, and those guys made plays.”
The offensive line play was a large part of the success of the passing game. With the additions of right tackle Michael Oher and center Matt Birk, Flacco’s protection became that much more effective, and it showed against Kansas City.
Flacco threw the ball 43 times on Sunday. He likely won’t be expected to do that every week, but it’s clear that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron believes in his second-year quarterback and will continue to gauge his ceiling.
As Flacco develops so will the offense. And if he continues to play as he did against the Chiefs, Baltimore may very well be amidst a philosophy change.
Flacco was inaccurate at times, and did throw an interception, but remained poised and led his team to a game-winning drive in the last three minutes of the game. But like many successful quarterbacks, Flacco is a perfectionist.
“We have to continue to get better,” Flacco said. “We didn’t really convert some of our drives into touchdowns early on in the game. As long as we continue to get better, we look at what we can correct, we go in there and look at the film and just start working towards San Diego.”
And in San Diego lies the Ravens’ first true challenge of the season. Generally regarded as one of the most talented teams in the NFL, Flacco will have to contend with a constant pass rush from outside linebacker Shawn Merriman, as well as an effective secondary featuring Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie.
Flacco’s teammates are confident he can handle the challenge.
“I think there’s going to be many more [big games] to come,” said Todd Heap. “We just saw the emergence, we just saw the beginning of what [Flacco’s] capable of. We’ve been seeing it all offseason, we saw it all last year, and I’m glad to see it starting to come to fruition for him.”
Baltimore’s strategy against the Chargers will reveal much more about the Ravens game plan for 2009. But it’s already clear that if throwing the ball is the best way to win, the Ravens will be prepared.
"That’s been a goal of ours,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe that’s what [everyone] saw—figuring out more ways to attack people in the passing game. We’re going to try to keep expanding on that.”