But It Was a Good Start
Save for tonight’s Monday Night matchups, Week 1 of the NFL’s 2016 season is in the books.
It’s one of 16 weeks yet conclusions will be drawn on what we can expect moving forward despite the small sample size.
• “Seattle and Arizona are overrated.”
• “Carson Wentz is the real deal.”
• “Zeke Elliott can’t run behind that line?”
• “Look out for the Ray-duz!”
• “The Ravens defense is back!”
One game doesn’t make a season but because it’s all we have to go on, the highs are higher than they should be and the lows are hardly at the crucial stage that some fear. The NFL season is a building block and most teams don’t even know what they’ve got until they burn through the first quarter of the season.
But for the Ravens, yesterday’s 13-7 victory was a good start.
Joe Flacco looked very good at times and at other times, you have to wonder what he was thinking. He looked rusty in the pocket, failed to step up at times when space was available and he was flat-footed too often after 3-step drops. He also looked timid but maybe that’s to be expected after major knee reconstruction. He short-armed throws and was off target on a couple others and he isn’t yet on the same page with Mike Wallace. On one throw he failed to target Wallace’s back shoulder when it was in order and on another in the end zone he targeted the back shoulder when the opportunity wasn’t there. He did however check out of a running play after spotting Wallace in man coverage and a safety down in the box. The result was a 66-yard scoring strike to Wallace. Great audible! Overall you can’t complain much about his performance (23 of 34, 258 yards, 1 TD and a 99.9 passer rating) – his first extended action in nearly 10 months. He deserves a little time to get his sea legs back for the long voyage of a NFL season. It was a good start but there’s plenty of room for improvement, particularly with the weapons now at his disposal.
Wallace looks like he’ll be a big part of the offense. Good to see him get untracked early. It will only get better…Breshad Perriman provided a flash of what we’ve seen from him in practice. He has big play potential as evidenced by his 35-yard sideline grab where he high-pointed the ball quite nicely. It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Marc Trestman builds upon that going forward…Nice to see Dennis Pitta knock off the rust, take a hit and get back into the huddle. Again, another building block.
The Ravens defense held the Bills to 160 yards of offense overall (3.3 YPP) and 65 yards rushing (2.7 YPC). Last season the Bills ranked 13th and 1st overall in those statistical categories. Dean Pees’ game plan was solid and while casual observers will wonder where the pass rush was, the strategy was to contain Tyrod Taylor and minimize big play opportunities. Obviously it worked…That said such strategies place pressure on the team’s secondary, particularly the corners. Messrs. Smith, Weddle,
Webb, Levine and Wright delivered by staying true to their assignments. Jimmy Smith had a difficult task being manned up with the dangerous Sammy Watkins all day especially when considering that Taylor at times could have ordered a pizza in the pocket. Maybe Eric Weddle’s presence will deliver the back-end unity that was severely absent from the 2015 defense.
Up front the menacing presences of Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce forced the Bills to the perimeter. The predictability led to a few runs for losses – five in total for -18 yards…Zach Orr had a nice game and his recognition skills coupled with his burst in short spaces makes him an effective two-down backer…Nice to see Terrell Suggs out there in his first extended action in a full calendar year. He added another sack to his resume…Albert McClellan was effective holding the edge down from his OLB position, perhaps the only linebacker to do so consistently during the game…Buffalo was 3 of 13 on third down attempts.
Overall it was a solid game for the defense – one that they probably would have lost last season.
The Ravens offensive line got off to an inauspicious start particularly when considering the absence of Marcell Dareus. Ronnie Stanley was decent in pass pro but struggled in the running attack. Ditto for rookie sidekick Alex Lewis and center Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah was responsible for the game’s only turnover, an errant snap leading to a Flacco fumble. Marshal Yanda was solid despite two penalties (holding, false start) while Rick Wagner struggled in pass pro but was effective as a run blocker. Juan Castillo, clean up in aisle 5 please.
Special teams struggled in the preseason and yesterday was no different. To summarize:
• Sam Koch net punting average was 35.7.
• Three Justin Tucker touchbacks (auto 25-yard spot) including one that was kicked from the 50 – a perfect opportunity to pin Buffalo, lost.
• Devin Hester averaged 0.5 yards per punt return (2) and just 18.5 on two kickoff returns.
The Ravens start the season (-1) in the turnover category on the heels of a (-14) season in 2015.
With so many weapons on offense and the ability to spread the field, Marc Trestman chose to keep it conservative. Three times he took shots downfield that were successful (one of which was actually Flacco’s call) and two other times were simply misfires by Flacco to Wallace. The Ravens ran out of shotgun for most of the afternoon limiting play action opportunities. I will assume that for now the Ravens are steering clear of waggles due to Joe’s knee but the Bills left their weakside flank vulnerable often and very inviting for such plays. Is there a screen in the Ravens playbook?
THE MEGAN FOX AWARD
He was a big preseason disappointment and his play invited more questions about the capabilities of the Ravens secondary. But yesterday Shareece Wright was a beast. It’s been a long time since a corner in Dean Pees’ defense stepped up the way Jimmy Smith’s BFF did on Sunday. Usually if you see 11 tackles beside a corner’s name that’s not good news. But in the case of Wright he was outstanding in run support and dropped Bills’ ball carriers three times for losses. And like Smith, he was asked to cover for a longer period of time given the defensive game plan to contain Tyrod Taylor v. applying extreme pressure. He just missed a pick 6 on the first play of the fourth quarter but did prevent a third down conversion on the play with sure tackling on Charles Clay.
If Wright can provide this kind of play on a consistent basis the Ravens secondary could rebound with flying colors in 2016. But let’s keep in mind this is just 1 of 16.
On to Cleveland…