After a long day at the office in Cleveland, the Ravens offense adapted and excelled a week later in Tennessee.
Baltimore’s offense thrived on the big play in the first quarter of the season. After a setback last week, the Ravens showed in Tennessee that they can grind their way down the field.
It wasn’t explosive. It wasn’t all that thrilling. But with a defense pitching a shutout, it was effective and downright smothering.
The Ravens scored 21 points against the league's No. 7-ranked defense. Two of those touchdowns came on Baltimore’s first two drives, each of which lasted more than seven minutes – the first time the Ravens have ever done that in franchise history.
Baltimore was 12-of-17 on third down. The Ravens still only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, but totaled 123 yards on the ground. Joe Flacco was 25-of-37 for 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It all was set up on the first drive – a 17-play, 94-yard march that ate more than nine minutes off the clock. It started with a 21-yard gain to Michael Crabtree, so on the Ravens’ first offensive play of the game, it was already a bit of a rebound.
Baltimore converted on third down five times on the drive and capped it with a 4-yard touchdown strike to Crabtree. When he came down with the pass and the refs signaled a touchdown, Crabtree popped to his feet and hurled the ball high into the air, as if to toss the weight off his shoulders.
The drive wasn’t just big for Crabtree, but for the entire offense after it hadn’t scored a touchdown in the past 123 minutes entering the game.
“It was huge,” Flacco said. “I don’t know how many third downs we converted there, but they’re a really good third-down team and they play really tight defense.
“Last week, we weren’t able to do that at all. If we were able to do it one time, who knows what happens in that game. This week, we go out there, we don’t bat an eye and we make those plays. … It was a really good way to start the game against a tough, physical defense.”
The Ravens want to hit chunk plays whenever possible. It makes scoring points easier.
But, as Ravens fans know, Dean Pees defenses are specifically designed to take away big plays and will trade off underneath and intermediate passes instead. That bodes well for Crabtree.
Last week, John Brown was targeted by 14 passes as Flacco hurled the ball 56 times against the Browns. In Tennessee, Brown saw just three targets while Crabtree had nine and Willie Snead IV had 10. The Ravens ran the ball 35 times (19 from Alex Collins) to 37 Flacco passes.
“Run, pass, we kind of established that we could mix it up a little bit,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We had some third-and-long conversions over the course of the game that were massively important. To get a seven-point lead and then get another stop and make it 14 set the tone for the whole game. So our offense deserves a lot of credit there.”
Though Brown didn’t see as much action this week, he helped set up Baltimore’s second touchdown with a leaping 23-yard catch down the sideline. Collins then found an open lane and shook off tackles for a 13-yard touchdown run on the next play to give the Ravens a 14-point lead.
One of the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s game will be the reemergence of Crabtree, who bounced back after last week’s brutal drops to catch six passes for a team-high 93 yards and a touchdown.
Afterwards, Flacco and Harbaugh talked about how they always had faith in their “superstar” Crabtree to turn it around. Crabtree credited Flacco with continuing to trust him, which only helps build their connection moving forward.
But, bigger picture than that, the Ravens offense proved it can, and will, grind out a win if needed.
“It wasn’t easy,” Flacco said. “You don’t want to have to go through that every time because it’s going to be tough, but we were able to do it.”