Yeah, I’m saying it. The Baltimore Ravens are going to the Super Bowl.
It’s their year, and their dominant 20-0 shutout victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10, marking the first time Baltimore beat the Bengals in Cincinnati since 2012, should go as a warning sign for the rest of the league that this Ravens team is serious business this year.
I haven’t seen the Ravens look this good defensively since 2000, when they set an NFL record for the least points allowed in a single season.
They’ve had really good defensive units in years since — they were really good at getting after the quarterback in 2006 and 2014, both years they reached the playoffs. They were stout against the run in other years like 2008, when they reached the AFC Championship. But they haven’t been excellent against both the run and the pass in the same year since 2000. This year, so far, they are.
It’s only been one game, but Baltimore completely dominated a Bengals team that has some really, really good offensive players. They held all-pro receiver A.J. Green to just five catches for 74 yards. That’s just flat out amazing considering how Green has made a reputation for torching the Ravens in years past. They also held the Bengals’ high-powered running back-by-committee to just 77 yards total — Giovanni Bernard was limited to just 40 yards, while Jeremy Hill was held to 26 yards and Joe Mixon to just 9 yards.
But beyond having the ability to stop both the run and pass, the Ravens showed they can do what the most special defensive units in NFL history could do: create turnovers.
Baltimore forced Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to throw four interceptions, and he was also sacked five times, including being strip-sacked for a fumble loss. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb snagged three of the interceptions and linebacker C.J. Mosley had the fourth.
The Ravens showcased the kind of stingy defense that wins championships. Forcing five turnovers in a single game is very reminiscent of 2000, when the Ravens created more than 40 turnovers for the entire season.
But what really impressed me the most from Sunday was the offense. I expected Baltimore’s defense to be fantastic this year. They were really good in 2016 but simply ran out of gas down the stretch of last season. So when they added a plethora of defensive players over the offseason, it was obvious they were going to be even better defensively this year.
What caught me off guard Sunday was the Ravens’ running game. Baltimore ran the ball 42 times; Terrance West ran it 19 times for 80 yards and a touchdown and Buck Allen added 71 yards on 21 carries. They were committed to running the ball and it paid off as they controlled the time possession battle with 34 minutes to the Bengals’ 26 minutes of possession.
Because of the dominant run game, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t have to throw the ball much. He completed just nine of 17 passes for 121 yards, but made the one big play on offense the Ravens needed when he connected with speedy receiver Jeremy Maclin on a 48-yard touchdown.
That’s about all the Ravens will need from Flacco and the offense this year: run the football, control the clock, and make one or two big plays a game to put points on the board. They won’t need many points to win a ton of games this year so long as the defense continues to beat down on opponents like it did against the Bengals, Sunday.