The Baltimore Ravens made a big statement in Week 1, posting a 35-7 win over their division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, it was the largest margin of victory ever for the Ravens over the Steelers.
Many people wondered whether or not this would finally be the year the Ravens were able to overcome the defending AFC champions, and they gave us a pretty good indication that indeed this could finally be the season. The Ravens dominated in every aspect of the game. They were able to establish the running game behind a newly constructed offensive line, as RB Ray Rice tore through the Steelers D for 107 yards rushing, 42 yards receiving and two touchdowns, becoming the first player to have 100 yards rushing, and score two total TDs vs a Pittsburgh defence since Priest Holmes in 2003!
New LT Bryant McKinnie looked very impressive both run blocking and in pass protection, and appears to bring a lot of stability for the Ravens up front. With McKinnie's arrival, 3rd yr pro and former 1st round pick Michael Oher was able to move back to his more natural position of right tackle.
There may not have been a more scrutinized QB this past off season than Joe Flacco, who wasn't only criticized by fans, but by various other players throughout the NFL. That may sound surprising, considering that Flacco has already won four playoff games in his young career, but this coaching staff wants to see Flacco take the next step in his development, and become a big-game QB. Flacco looked very poised on Sunday, taking what the defence gave him, on his way to 224 yards and three TDs through the air. Flacco was able to find his best possession receiver Anquan Boldin four times, and also displayed good chemistry with new starting TE Ed Dickson.
Defensively speaking, it was the same old Ravens D, constantly applying pressure on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, on their way to four sacks. Haloti Nnata and Terrell Suggs both looked virtually unblockable versus a softened and thin Steelers offensive line. One knock against the Ravens is that they are an aging defence as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are each in their 16th and 10th years respectively. The consistent Ravens pass rush forced seven Steelers turnovers, four of them were Roethlisberger INT's, two picked off by Reed and one by Lewis (so much for age).
All in all, it was a dominant performance by the Ravens in every phase of the game. The regular season is only one week old, but the Ravens finally appear to be the clear favorites in the AFC North.
Welcome to the NFL, Randall Cobb. The 3rd round pick out of Kentucky made his presence felt immediately as he not only caught a TD pass, but also tied an NFL record with a 108-yd kickoff return for a TD in his debut with the Green Bay Packers. Cobb has remarkable versatility, having played QB, RB, WR and special teams in college. His tremendous quickness and speed allowed the Kentucky Wildcats to line him up all over the field throughout his college career while playing in the SEC, college football's most competitive conference.
Cobb's skill sets projected best at WR, and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had a vision to incorporate Cobb into his already dangerous lineup of playmaking wide receivers. As if it wasn't already enough to have Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley, Cobb adds one extra option particularly when lined up in the slot. While McCarthy is a master of creating mismatches on the field, there are other ways in which he can make use of his impact rookie. Because of his extensive experience playing QB in college, don't be surprised if we see Cobb line up in the wildcat package this year, or throw the football off of reverses in the backfield.
Cobb made history of another sort on Thursday, becoming the 1st player born in the 90's to play in an NFL game. They say sometimes that the best only get better, and with the addition of Randall Cobb, it appears the defending Super Bowl champions have.
Trouble in Indy
The Indianapolis Colts appear to be in trouble. After undergoing a third procedure on his injured neck in the last 18 months, future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning was forced to miss the first game of his NFL career, snapping a streak of 227 consecutive starts. This offseason, the Colts signed 38-year-old QB Kerry Collins out of retirement to be a stop-gap solution while Manning recovers. Watching Sunday, the Colts offence looked nothing like the high octane attack we're used to seeing with #18 lined up behind center.
Peyton Manning is considered a coach on the field, having an extensive knowledge of the Colts offence having played so long in the system. Manning's greatness is his ability to audible out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage, and he is easily the most vocal QB on the sidelines, constantly communicating with his WRs and offensive line.
Collins has only been in Indianapolis for three weeks, so it is impossible to expect him to mimic Manning from a mental standpoint. In fairness, since he is in his 17th season in the NFL, there are very few passing concepts in the Colts playbook that Collins won't feel familiar with, so he is certainly able to operate in this system.
I was a teammate of Kerry's for three years in New York, and while he easily has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and is a very smart QB, his biggest deficiency is his lack of mobility. One thing that Peyton Manning doesn't get enough credit for, is his mobility. I'm not talking about his ability to get outside the pocket and take off running like Michael Vick might do, but his ability to move around and manipulate the pocket when protection begins to break down. The Colts like the push the football downfield, and that takes time, often requiring 5 or 7-step drops by the QB. Manning has the ability to buy enough time to get throws off deeper down the field to targets like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, which is part of why this offence is so dangerous.
Manning is also one of the better throwers on the run in the NFL. Collins looked like a statue on Sunday, as he was sacked three times, and fumbled twice. The Colts struggled to get any production out of the passing game early, as 80% of Collins' passing yards came when the Colts were already down by at least 24 points, and the game was out of reach. The Colts lose their identity on offence without Manning in the game, and the 34-7 loss to Houston was the worst for the Colts since 2006. Kerry Collins lack of mobility really hampers this Colts offence, and it is something that offensive play-caller Clyde Christensen will have to overcome as the Colts try and buy time before what they hope is Manning's return in November.
Cam Newton wasn't supposed to be this good this early. In his NFL debut, Newton passed for 422 yards and two TDs in a losing effort to Arizona. Newton broke Peyton Manning's NFL rookie record for passing yards in his debut, and became the first player ever to throw for more than 400 yards in his first game. The former Heisman trophy winning QB looked poised behind centre, and his decision-making and accuracy surprised many people, including the Cardinals secondary.
I can tell you what was happening in the Arizona locker room before Sunday's game. The Arizona DBs were sitting around their lockers with big smiles on their faces, licking their chops because they figured the rookie QB would be hesitant in his first start, and would force passes into tight coverage. Certainly the Arizona secondary was expecting to register at least a handful of INTs on Sunday, but what they got instead was a wake-up call.
The Panthers anticipated the Cardinals sitting on routes, and WR Steve Smith was able to get behind coverage twice on his way to 178 yds receiving and two long scores. The secret is now out: Cam Newton can throw the football. But let's get back to reality for a moment. Newton won't be lighting defences up for 400 yards every week in the National Football League. He will go through struggles just like every other rookie QB does. Newton needs to continue to improve his mechanics, and he needs to get better at reading defences. Everyone knows that it takes time to build consistency when playing QB.
While the Panthers won't compete for the NFC South division this year, they will continue to evolve and build behind the tremendous ability and natural talent of their rookie QB. If Sunday was any indication of what could be, head coach Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers should have giant smiles on their faces right now.