NFL

Ravens defense shows its dominance

Brian Billick goes over his top moments from Week 1
Brian Billick goes over his top moments from Week 1
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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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LOPSIDED RIVALRY

Coming down from the booth after calling the Eagles and Rams game, a member of our production crew told me that the Ravens beat the Steelers by four touchdowns. I had to look it up to believe it.

I was shocked to see that Ray Rice had rushed for 107 yards on just 19 carries, good for 5.6 yards per. This is the same Steelers’ defense that in 2010 was best in the NFL against the run by allowing just 63 yards per game, bettering the second-best rush defense by more than 25 yards. This is also the same Steelers’ defense that has only surrendered two 100-yard rushers in their past 51 outings, Rice nearly had that in the first half alone.

For the Ravens, this is a team that had multiple question marks along their offensive line, but whether it was health, conditioning or age, they surely answered them.

What I wasn’t shocked to see was how dominant the Ravens’ defense played. Sure, the seven total turnovers were unexpectedly high, but you come to anticipate such a performance from Ray Lewis and company.

As I watched highlights from this game, it was as if new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was making a public service announcement to the league. He let Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs deliver the message. Ngata caused a fumble and later deflected a pass that was eventually intercepted by Ed Reed, but it was Suggs who set the tone early. Pagano lined him up on the end of the defense’s left side (opposite his normal right side), and then ran an inside stunt in which he crossed the face of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and blew up Ben Roethlisberger, resulting in a sack and fumble and an eventual 14 point lead.

I trust that the Steelers will be more prepared for this diverse pressure package before the rematch on Nov. 6, but there are plenty of teams that need to worry about it in the meantime … namely the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens' Week 2 opponent.

SURPRISING ROAD WINS

I happened to be calling a game in which the visiting Eagles, had their way over the home Rams, but there were some other, more surprising road performances that are worth pointing out.

I said last week that the Kansas City Chiefs and head coach Todd Haley were gambling with their preseason preparation. They were basically putting all their eggs in the season opener basket, and were hoping to build back their team confidence after a lackluster exhibition season. Then the Buffalo Bills came into Arrowhead Stadium and completely put it to the Kansas City Chiefs on their home turf. The Chiefs haven’t lost this bad at home in 35 years, and it was to the Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for four touchdowns in the dominating performance, but it was the Chiefs offensive production that has me most concerned.

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Detroit traveled to Tampa Bay in a battle between two young teams that will both be competitive for years to come. The final score shows the Lions winning by seven, but it was more convincing than that. After his tremendous preseason, I had expected Matt Stafford to continue his hot streak, but it was the Detroit defense that caught my attention, and for once, it wasn’t only because of Ndamukong Suh. The Lions’ secondary, led by Eric Wright and Chris Houston, never allowed Josh Freeman to get on a roll, and linebacker Stephen Tulloch played most of the game in the Buccaneers’ backfield.

Cincinnati also traveled to Cleveland and pulled out a surprising victory against their divisional rival. I expected more out of the Browns’ rushing attack, and less from the Bengals’ offense. I was wrong on both accounts.

FANTASTIC ROOKIE PERFORMANCES

Randall Cobb: Two electrifying touchdowns in the Thursday night opener, and in true rookie fashion, had mental errors on each on them!

A.J. Green: Yes, it was blown coverage, and yes, it was his only reception on the day, but his 41-yard touchdown put the Bengals ahead with just four minutes remaining.

Cam Newton: By this time, you have already seen his stat line, but an obviously noteworthy performance.

Ryan Kerrigan: Scouting experts thought he was too stiff to play linebacker at this level, but his tipped pass interception and touchdown return had his athleticism on full display.

Patrick Peterson: Yes, he was part of a defensive secondary that gave up 422 yards passing to Cam Newton, but it was his 89-yard punt return that gave the Cardinals a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter.

NEVER FORGET

When the twin towers were brought down on 9/11/01, we were preparing for our Monday Night game against the Minnesota Vikings, my first game against my former team and mentor, Denny Green. We were knee-deep in our preparation, when like every American; we suddenly were engrossed to the television trying to make sense of what we were seeing. Football was an afterthought.

As the days passed, we had no idea if we were going to play that weekend or not. My first instinct was to play. Like many others, I did not want the terrorists to win, even for a day. While the league sorted out their decision, we continued with our preparation on the assumption we would play. Like millions of other Americans, we had to go back to work, if for nothing else, to help clear our minds of the horror we had just witnessed.

However, when the players returned to practice, I could tell, almost immediately, that it was a mistake. The players and the staff wanted to prove that an act of terrorism wouldn’t dictate the terms of our lives, but none of us were emotionally ready to practice … let alone play that weekend.

Upon returning a week later, I can remember the unity this country shared and showed across football stadiums all over the country. To the lives lost 10 years ago, and the lives lost while protecting our freedom; I will never forget. I AM PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN.

QUICK HITS FROM THE AROUND THE LEAGUE

In addition to their extremely difficult first-half schedule, the Rams must now deal with some significant injury concerns. Sam Bradford (throwing hand), Steven Jackson (quad), Danny Amendola (elbow), and Jason Smith (ankle) are among them.

No matter their health, the Rams receivers can’t drop that many passes. I remember at least seven, and second-round draft pick Lance Kendricks was responsible for two at critical times in the game.

The Eagles defense is still very susceptible to the run. Their young linebackers will be exposed again in Week 2 against Atlanta if they don’t get it fixed.

Michael Vick is an extremely exciting player, but he continues to struggle with his throwing accuracy from within the pocket. His 43 percent completion percentage on Sunday is his worst as an Eagle.

The Houston Texans have loudly announced their arrival atop the AFC South, and Mario Williams has made the transition to outside linebacker just fine. He accounted for two of the Texans’ three sacks.

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The Texans’ 167 yards on the ground were the third highest total of the weekend, and that was without the league’s 2010 leading rusher Arian Foster. They will have tougher matchups in the next five weeks as they face three of the top-seven rushing defenses of a year ago.

The Colts obviously miss Peyton Manning in their passing game, but they miss him as an on-the-field coach even more. He was responsible for checking them out of bad plays, running away from the blitz, throwing hot routes and setting blocking schemes. And that is irreplaceable.

I am not saying that Jacksonville found their franchise quarterback in Luke McCown, but I am saying that his 26-yard throw to Mike Thomas on third-and-8 with 2:30 remaining was very impressive. Retaining possession for another series is what won them that game.

Speaking of impressive quarterback play, Rex Grossman shut up his critics for at least one week. He was consistently on target and often threw to his receivers open downfield. Lets not forget, he did lead the Bears to a Super Bowl. Maybe it’s time to give him some credit.

I love what the Vikings are doing with Jared Allen. As expected, he created havoc in the Chargers’ backfield, but unexpected, was his two impact plays in pass coverage. He blew up a receiver coming across the middle, shadowed the running back out of the backfield and picked off the errant Philip Rivers pass.

Did I read this correctly? Donovan McNabb and the Vikings only passed for 39 yards. Wow!

Tony Romo connected with Dez Bryant for two receptions on the first two drives for 47 yards and then the Jets manned him up with Darrelle Revis. Bryant only caught one more ball the rest of the game, and Revis came away with with one interception and two passes defensed. His interception came with less than a minute on the clock in a tied ball game and led to the game-winning field goal. That is making a difference!

Tagged: Bills, Bengals, Cowboys, Lions, Chiefs, Rams, Vikings, Jets, Eagles, Redskins, Panthers, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Texans, Ed Reed, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Eric Wright, Ray Rice, Sam Bradford, Ryan Kerrigan

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