The Baltimore Ravens bounced back (sort of) from their opening day loss to the Denver Broncos, by recording a 14-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns, in their first regular season game at M&T Bank Stadium since their triumph at Super Bowl XLVII. The comprehensive loss to the Broncos certainly dampened spirits in Baltimore, but there were a number of positives for the Ravens in their labored win against the Browns.
- An understanding seems to be developing between quarterback Joe Flacco and rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown, with Flacco successfully targeting Brown multiple times on 3rd down. Although Brown is a long way off the caliber of recently departed receiver Anquan Boldin, Flacco′s growing chemistry with the former University of Georgia receiver is a much needed boost for the Ravens′ ailing passing game.
- Brandon Stokley, like Brown, stepped up at vital times to help sustain drives, and showed he still has the ability to get separation in the NFL, despite the fact his age is clearly catching up with him. Last week against Denver, Stokley looked and played like a 37-year old receiver. Thankfully for the Ravens in Week 2, he didn′t.
- There were still issues glaring issues on offense for the Ravens however, including a lack of production from tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson, and unwillingness to run the ball early in the game. The fact that the Ravens′ second half offensive improvements coincided with an increased effort to run the ball, should not be ignored.
- Defensively there were far more positives for Baltimore, not least so the leadership role which Terrell Suggs has taken on. On numerous occasions Sunday afternoon, Suggs could be seen patrolling the defensive line, shouting adjustments for his teammates, and was at times, highly reminiscent of the legendary Ray Lewis. Dissecting a Brandon Weeden-led Cleveland offense may be a fairly easy task in comparison to doing the same to the high powered Denver offense they faced last week, but it is an encouraging sign nonetheless.
- An ever-improving pass rush made its presence known against Cleveland, hitting Weeden 12 times in all, including five sacks. There are obvious questions over the ability of Cleveland′s offensive line, but the duo of Elvis Dumervil and Suggs have the ability to terrorize offensive tackles throughout the league.
- Another sign of progress was how resolute the Baltimore defense was against the run, restricting Trent Richardson to just 58 yards on 18 carries. Run defense was a major weakness for the Ravens last season, and the additions of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears seemed to have already paid off, allowing the Ravens to rotate and keep their talented defensive line fresh, whilst the arrival of Daryl Smith could be argued as an improvement over the aging Lewis, purely in terms of on-field playing ability.
- Arguably the most important improvement in the Baltimore defense from Week 1 to Week 2, was the efficiency of their secondary. Michael Huff′s tackling, or lack thereof, was questioned against Denver, and rookie Matt Elam looked more comfortable as the starting safety this week, whilst corners Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith made a number of important tackles and pass deflections. This standard of performance is expected of Webb, but the improvements from the thus far inconsistent Smith will have been extremely pleasing for Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
- The Ravens′ special teams performed well throughout the game, with the glaring exception being two missed field goals from kicker Justin Tucker. Tucker was a revelation in his rookie season, missing just three field goals all year, and successfully kicking at a distance of 56 yards. Harbaugh will hope that this was just a one-off from Tucker, and that he will be back to his consistent best in Week 3.
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