BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s hard to pick out much that went wrong for the Ravens in their 38-6 Week 1 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Quarterback Lamar Jackson threw for 285 yards and three scores earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. The defense held the Browns to just six points, sacking Baker Mayfield twice, picking him off once and hitting him six times.
But, even in victory, as the Ravens would likely tell you themselves, there are always things to improve upon.
“When you get to the nitpicking, I thought that Cleveland was able to run the ball better than they maybe would have expected considering the addition of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and being able to move Brandon Williams back to nose,” said NFL on CBS analyst Charles Davis, who was on the call for the game. “Patrick Queen, remember that was his first game. No preseason and he’s a rookie and now it’s like ‘oh my God this is the NFL, whoa, whoa, whoa’ and it took him a little while to get his legs. But, he played better as time went on. I thought the run defense got better as time went on. And part of that was, they got a lead so now they could just tee off on Baker Mayfield. That’s the nitpicking part of it.”
Run defense aside, Davis came away particularly impressed by the improvement that he saw within Jackson’s game but also, the people around him. Davis called Jackson’s Sunday performance “scintillating” but says part of the reason that he looked even better was the noticeable differences in the play of guys like receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews.
“Think about Hollywood Brown who last year was playing with a screw in his foot. This year, no screw in the foot and he’s 23 pounds of muscle, no loss of speed. We saw him get deep and we also saw him catching the short stuff and become a good route runner. He had over 100 yards,” said Davis. “Mark Andrews continues to improve as a tight end. They can use him split out as a wide receiver at times.”
Davis points out that what the passing game did was even more impressive because the Ravens didn’t really get the running game going. Yet, they were still dominant in victory.
“They didn’t even have to run the ball with their normal authority to have a good offensive attack which I think bodes well for them,” said Davis. “Last year, it wasn’t all or nothing, Lamar had a tremendous year throwing the ball, but their full identity was in running the football. And, when they didn’t run it well, those were the only times they really struggled. In this game, they didn’t run it with great authority, but there was never a struggle. I think that’s really good for this Baltimore team. People around Lamar have improved their game as much as Lamar has improved his game.”
Now, the Ravens head to Houston for a late Sunday afternoon matchup with a Texans team that dropped its opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. The two teams met last year at M&T Bank Stadium in what turned into a 41-7 rout for the Ravens who were in the midst of their 12-game winning streak.
While the Ravens offense contains mostly the same components as last season, the Texans are noticeably different thanks to the offseason trade of DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals. Without Hopkins in the lineup in Week 1, Davis pointed out that the unit appeared to be working out the kinks. Something that is understandable for a team that was used to targeting Hopkins 150+ times per season for the last five years.
“The ball is going to be spread more, everyone is going to have to step up and make plays. They have a plethora of guys who I think are good receivers,” said Davis. “It’s just a matter of being ready, being available and understanding that the ball is going to come your way a little bit more.”
The offensive bright spot in Week 1 was the play of running back David Johnson whom the Texans acquired as part of the Hopkins trade. Johnson showed flashes of his 2016 form in totaling over 100 combined yards and averaging seven yards per carry. That will be a matchup to watch on Sunday because, as Davis pointed out earlier, the Ravens had some struggles stopping the run against the Browns, giving up 138 yards on 27 carries (5.1 average).
The Texans defense, as with any in the league, struggled to slow the Chiefs after the first few drives. Patrick Mahomes didn’t light them up through the air (just 211 yards) but rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was able to gash Houston with some consistency (138 yards, 5.5 YPC). In that case, we may see more of a return to the Ravens offense of last year, punishing running with Ingram, Jackson, Dobbins and Edwards.