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Joe Flacco's New Receivers Shine As Ravens Dismantle Bills

September 9, 2018
BALTIMORE -- All the Ravens new offensive toys were on display Sept. 9. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson took the field in the first quarter, and the new free agent receivers each found the end zone. The Ravens defense, which unlike the offense has a familiar look about it, dismantled the Buffalo Bills. The result was a 47-3 season-opening rout at M&T Bank Stadium that was every bit as one-sided as the final score.

Here are five quick impressions of the win, the most lopsided and highest-scoring season-opener in franchise history:  

1. The new receiver group paid immediate dividends.

In the first half alone, John Brown caught a 7-yard touchdown pass -- after hauling in a 29-yard catch on second-and-26 on an earlier touchdown drive -- Willie Snead caught three passes for 36 yards, and one of those set up a terrific 12-yard touchdown catch by Michael Crabtree, who made a toe-tapping contested catch on a fade route in the back of the end zone. 

Then in the third quarter, Snead caught a 13-yard slant for a touchdown and a 33-0 lead, meaning all three receivers the Ravens signed as free agents found the end zone. Quarterback Joe Flacco finished 25-for-34 for 236 yards and three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 121.7, his highest since Week 6 of the 2014 season. 

General manager Ozzie Newsome’s comment this past winter that he wanted to “change that (receivers) room in terms of personnel,” was a clarion call that an upgrade at that position was badly needed. All three of the new arrivals -- Crabtree and Brown as unrestricted free agents and Snead, who was signed away from the New Orleans Saints as a restricted free agent -- were coming off down years, but it’s clear that Newsome saw the potential and value there.
  
Snead finished with a team-high four catches for 49 yards, Brown had three for 44 and Crabtree had three for 38, giving the trio 10 catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns in their Ravens debut.

“I mean, obviously, you can’t hope for much more than that,” coach John Harbaugh said. 

It is just one game, but this new-look Ravens offense, led by a healthy Joe Flacco and this group of wide receivers with different, varied skill sets, showed a lot of promise.

2. The Ravens defense was swarming and opportunistic, and probably spelled the end for Nathan Peterman. 

The Bills didn’t want to throw rookie Josh Allen into the fire by starting him on the road against the Ravens, but starter Nathan Peterman looked completely overmatched in his third career start. The Bills were held without a first down in the first half, during which Peterman went 4-for-13 for 25 yards. He finished 5-for-18 for 24 yards, and a rating of 0.0. 

The Ravens, who led the league in interceptions last year with 22, picked off Peterman twice, including one that Brandon Carr returned to the 1-yard line. That proved to be Peterman’s last play of the game, and quite possibly, his last snap as a starter. Allen took over after that, and the Ravens swarmed the rookie as well. He finished 6-for-15 for 74 yards.

The Ravens held Bills running back LeSean McCoy to 22 yards on seven carries, and they sacked Bills quarterbacks six times, with slot cornerback Tavon Young recording two. Young, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, said those were the first sacks he’s had since he was a freshman at Temple.

“I felt like a D-lineman out there,” he said, drawing laughs from the other defensive backs near him in the victorious locker room.

3. The Ravens showed their Lamar Jackson hand early.

The Ravens didn’t waste any time showing the two-quarterback sets they teased at times in training camp. Jackson was on the field as a second quarterback on a handful of snaps in the first quarter, sometimes lining up as a slot receiver and one time lining up as the quarterback with Flacco split out wide. Jackson threw once out of those two-quarterback sets, an on-the-run throw that sailed high and incomplete. 

Just by showing Jackson in motion, faking a jet sweep, or taking a pitch from Flacco, the Ravens have given opposing defensive coordinators plenty to think about in the weeks ahead.

“The whole idea is to generate offense. … I guess a side benefit of it is that people have to prepare for certain things,” Harbaugh said. “Of course, that’s part of it. I’m not going to say that’s not part of it. But really, the idea is to move the football and create plays and, like we said from the beginning, use all weapons.”

Jackson got an extended chance to run the Ravens offense as Flacco sat after the Ravens rolled to a 40-0 lead early in the third quarter. Jackson looked as he has much of the summer – quick, elusive, and erratic as a passer. He finished 1-for-4 for 24 yards and ran seven times for 39 yards. Quarterback Robert Griffin III, incidentally, was a gameday inactive and not available to play. 

4. Give credit to Jerry Rosburg: His special teams units consistently excel.

Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s units are consistently among the league’s best, and they set the tone against the Bills. In the first half, when the outcome was still in doubt, a 63-yard punt by Sam Koch -- with strong coverage by Tyus Bowser and Maurice Canady -- pinned the Bills inside their own 20-yard line. Later, rookie Janarion Grant shed a few tackles on a 51-yard punt return, which set up a 41-yard field goal that Justin Tucker hit through a driving rainstorm.

The Ravens special teams later set up another score when Bills punter Corey Bojorquez mishandled a snap and the Ravens took over inside the 20-yard line. Long snapper Morgan Cox and holder/punter Koch executed every snap flawlessly, not a given in the steady rain. 

Grant did have one miscue, fumbling a punt that he tried to field in heavy rain, but he escaped further trouble when the ball rolled out of bounds. 

Tucker made his only two field goal attempts, from 41 and 39 yards, which both came when the rain was about at its hardest. The Bills’ Stephen Hauschka, meanwhile, was short on a 52-yarder. 

Once again, as frequently happens, the Ravens enjoyed a decisive edge in special teams play. 

5. There’s no time to savor the win, as an early AFC North test looms on Thursday in Cincinnati. 

The Ravens don’t have much time to enjoy this win, as they are working on a short week and visit the Cincinnati Bengals in their first AFC North test on Thursday night, Sept. 13. The Bengals beat the Indianapolis Colts, 34-23, in their season-opener. Coupled with the 21-21 tie between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, the AFC North already has plenty of intrigue.

The Ravens lopsided win allowed them to rest many starters late in the game, which could be critical heading into a short week. Flacco and offensive lineman Marshal Yanda didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter, and neither did a few key defensive players. 

“Anytime you can go out there and have a performance like we did, it’s great,” Flacco said. “But we have to make sure we carry it over to next week. It’s going to be a quick week. I think we’re ready for it. We always are, but we just have to make sure we build on this.”

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox