OWINGS MILLS — The view from the Baltimore Ravens’ sideline is nearly as astonished and surprised as the reaction in NFL circles to a quantum leap on offense.
Following years of a dormant attack defined by conservative game plans and traditionally meager results, the Ravens’ offense has suddenly emerged as a potent early-season juggernaut.
The undefeated Ravens (3-0) rank second in the league in total offense after three games with an average of 430.3 yards per contest, eight yards less than the New Orleans Saints.
And they’ve been perfectly balanced, ranking fifth in passing offense with an average of 273.7 yards and fifth in rushing offense with a 156.7 average.
Their latest victim was the Cleveland Browns’ shoddy defense, piling up 479 yards of total offense during a 34-3 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"They ran plays that I’ve never seen, and I practice with them every day," said veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce, tipping his helmet to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "So, I’ll be damned if Cleveland knew what was going on. At one point, they did something and I was like, ‘I’ve never seen that.’ How they recognize and remembered all those plays that they ran, I don’t know.
"There was a point I felt sorry for Cleveland. I was just like, ‘There’s no way, there’s nothing you can do about that.’ You can’t throw the ball 20 yards downfield then run a fullback dive and then throw it back 20 yards downfield. That’s hard to defend. You spend more energy running on and off the field than you do actually playing the game. I’ve been in that situation and it sucks, royally."
The Ravens are averaging 34.3 points per game.
And quarterback Joe Flacco is confidently orchestrating the offense.
He has completed 65.4 percent of his throws for 839 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions for a 101.4 quarterback rating.
Projected over a 16-game schedule, Flacco is on pace for an eye-popping 4,474 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Flacco’s mechanics have been streamlined, and Cameron has opened up the playbook to include more freedom and vertical strikes.
Flacco connected with Derrick Mason for a 72-yard touchdown pass against the Browns.
"I think he sees things better," Harbaugh said. "He’s quicker with the ball versus pressure. He’s got a better understanding of how it all ties together with the protection and the routes. He knows how to get guys lined up. There are a thousand things that Joe does better than he did a year ago. They are all little things, and it’s incremental how much better he does.
"Hopefully, every single day we get a little bit better in everything we do and become a better team. And that’s what our guys talk about every day. How can each guy get a little bit better to make us a better team?"
Running backs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee have rushed for 192 and 190 yards, respectively.
McGahee leads the NFL with six total touchdowns, including five on the ground as he scored twice untouched against the Browns.
Replaced in the starting lineup by Rice during the offseason, McGahee has upgraded his attitude and his conditioning. He has officially escaped from the doghouse.
"The role is whatever you carve out as a player," Harbaugh said. "You carve out your role by what you do every day in practice and what you show the coaches that you’re capable of doing at a really high level. Willis has done a good job of that this year. All the things you’d ask a running back to do, right now, he’s doing well."
With an offensive line starting combination in only its third game as the Ravens signed six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk during the offseason and installed rookie Michael Oher at right tackle, the chemistry appears to be building. Flacco has only been sacked three times.
Against the Browns, McGahee and Rice weren’t even touched on their combined three touchdown runs.
With Oher and Gaither turning the defensive ends’ shoulder pads on blocks and fullback Le’Ron McClain bulldozing linebackers, there was no interference on the way to the end zone.
"They’re talented guys and they play really hard, but those plays are clean plays," Harbaugh said. "It’s not often in this league you see clean plays like that. That’s a credit to the offensive line."
With the offense controlling the football so often, they’re averaging 33 minutes and 16 seconds of time of possession per game.
And the Ravens’ defense has benefitted from the extra time to rest on the sidelines.
Two of the Ravens’ scoring drives Sunday lasted longer than six minutes, including a 7 minute 34 second march prior to Steve Hauschka’s 33-yard field goal.
"I can’t stress that enough," Pryce said. "I honestly think you won’t see a lot of big stats from any of us individually on defense because we’re not going to play much.
“We do not play much at all. We play 40 snaps a game. Your best defense is the one sitting on the sideline, so we don’t mind it at all."
Derided throughout the offseason for lacking a dynamic presence outside, the receiving corps has been much more productive than anticipated around the league.
Mason and Kelley Washington have caught 12 passes apiece for 196 and 167 yards, respectively. And tight end Todd Heap, who’s healthy this season, has caught 10 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
"It’s a great thing," safety Ed Reed said. "Being around here for the last couple of years and those guys fighting and battling to get where they’re at, it’s been a growing process. It’s still a growing process because they have some young guys over there making plays.
"It’s exciting. Definitely, hats off to those guys. We appreciate the rest. You’re going to need the defense later on this season, so getting that rest is definitely going to help."
And the offense’s glittery performance prompted Pryce into some lofty flattery in comparing the Ravens’ offense considering his background with the Denver Broncos and quarterback John Elway, running back Terrell Davis and tight end Shannon Sharpe.
The point he’s making about the Ravens’ offense is no less noteworthy, though.
"I have every reason to be excited," Pryce said. "I’ve played with really good offenses. What I’ve seen from our offense so far compares to that."
Of course, the schedule is about to get tougher.
Over the next three weeks, the Ravens will encounter the New England Patriots (2-1), the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) and the Minnesota Vikings (3-0) prior to their bye week.
"The sky’s the limit," McGahee said. "Right now, we just got off this game and we have another game right in front of us, which is New England, and we’re going to go in there and hopefully continue our success."