The 2017 season could not have started any better for the Baltimore Ravens. A suffocating defense and efficient, ball-control offense led the Ravens to a 20-0 win at Cincinnati, their first shutout victory since a 16-0 win at Cleveland in 2009.
Here are five early impressions of the Ravens' season-opening win:
1. This is the defense the Ravens envisioned.
Much has been written about the Ravens and their revamped secondary, but the fact is this defense is stout from front to back, and the Bengals learned that the hard way.
Defensive tackle Michael Pierce had a fumble recovery, a sack, and was in the Bengals' backfield all day. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had a pair of sacks and forced a fumble that was one of Andy Dalton's two red-zone turnovers. A pass off Suggs' helmet was intercepted by slot cornerback Lardarius Webb and turned into a touchdown one play later.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley had an interception in the end zone, and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor tipped a pass that was picked off by cornerback Brandon Carr during his Ravens debut. Cornerback Jimmy Smith picked off a pass intended for nemesis A.J. Green. Safety Tony Jefferson had a team-high nine tackles and a sack.
It's only one game, but it's hard to find a weakness.
2. Joe Flacco did all he needed to do to win.
He missed a month of practice, but quarterback Joe Flacco emerged without any apparent damage to his back -- despite one scare -- and the early lead allowed him to play a conservative game. Flacco's numbers were not anything special -- 9-for-17 for 121 yards, with one touchdown and one interception -- but with the defense playing well, that was enough.
Flacco's only blemish was an interception that glanced off running back Terrance West's hands, and his touchdown was a well-designed slant to Jeremy Maclin that turned into a 48-yard catch-and-run score.
Flacco was hammered once by defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap, leading to a quick trip to the field-side medical tent for evaluation, but he was quickly cleared and did not miss a snap.
"Joe's tough," head coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the thing about Joe Flacco. He's really tough. I'd like to keep him cleaner, obviously. We're gonna have to keep working to do that, but ... he's a tough dude."
Though the Ravens did had timing issues, taking two timeouts and a couple of delay of game calls. As an offense that rarely played together this summer and was not in sync at times, that should improve.
3. The commitment to the run was obvious.
The Ravens ran the ball on 42 of their 60 offensive snaps. It's easy to do with a lead, and it will be interesting to see how the play-calling deviates if the Ravens fall behind by seven or 10 points. But the Ravens wanted to run it, the Bengals knew they wanted to run it, and the Bengals couldn't stop them. The Ravens ran the ball on 12 straight plays during a third-quarter drive that ate up more than nine minutes of the clock and ended with a field goal by Justin Tucker.
Give the Ravens revamped offensive line -- with James Hurst at left guard and Ryan Jensen at center making their first career starts at those spots -- credit for allowing the Ravens to keep the chains moving throughout the second half after the Ravens had built their lead.
West finished with 19 carries for 80 yards, and Buck Allen had 21 carries for 71 yards. It wasn't a spectacular day for either, but they were effective and wore down the Bengals and the clock.
"The line did a great job," West said. "We took advantage of it, and that's a good defense out there, so I'm proud of us."
4. The injuries to Danny Woodhead and Za'Darius Smith will hurt.
Injuries to running back Danny Woodhead and linebacker Za'Darius Smith were about the only negatives on an otherwise stellar opening game for the Ravens, but those injuries could be significant. On the Ravens' first drive, Woodhead had three catches for 33 yards but appeared to injure his hamstring and did not return. Woodhead's pass-catching ability out of the backfield wasn't needed during this game, but it will be at some point, and this could be a significant loss if he is out for an extended period.
Smith came on strong in training camp and sacked Dalton on the Bengals opening drive. Later he went down with what the Ravens described as a knee sprain, but his presence was felt early. Fortunately, the Ravens showed their depth on defense in his absence.
5. A road divisional win is huge.
Opening the season with a win in Cincinnati -- where the Ravens had not won since 2011 -- is a major accomplishment. Harbaugh will certainly say that next Sunday's home opener vs. Cleveland is just as important, and he's right; a stumble at home vs. the Browns -- who gave the Steelers all they could handle in a 21-18 Steelers win -- would negate the good vibe generated in Cincinnati.
Still, coming home 1-0 is always going to feel good. Coming home 1-0 from Cincinnati makes a quick, early statement about the state of the AFC North.
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