The Baltimore Ravens began their 2023 campaign and quest for a championship with a somewhat commanding 35-9 win over the Houston Texans. The defense had a strong day overall led by a relentless effort by the front-seven, while the new-look offense showed exciting flashes but struggled for stretches as well.
Here are some of the top takeaways from the Ravens’ Week 1 victory.
Injuries already running rampant
This Ravens’ win feels bittersweet given all the starters that left the game with injuries and did not return. Before it was even over, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that starting running back J.K. Dobbins was feared to have suffered a torn Achilles. Head Coach John Harbaugh confirmed the diagnosis.
This marks the former second-round pick’s second season-ending injury in the last three years. It couldn’t have come at the worst time, either, since he is in the final year of his rookie contract and was seeking a new deal.
Head Coach John Harbaugh announced that J.K. Dobbins has a torn Achilles and will miss the season.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 10, 2023
Harbaugh wasn’t able to give definitive updates on left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), free safety Marcus Williams (shoulder), and center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle). They are all waiting to get MRIs to reveal any potential structural damage to their respective injured body parts. Both Stanley and Linderbaum got rolled up on but were able to walk off into the locker room under their own power.
Replacing them in the lineup were veteran utility-lineman Patrick Mekari and Sam Mustipher respectively. While they are each experienced veterans with 29 or more starts under their belts, Stanley and Linderbaum are two of the Ravens’ best offensive linemen and among the top players at their positions in the entire league.
After the game, Rapoport reported that Williams is feared to have suffered a torn pectoral muscle injury. An MRI will confirm the initial diagnosis and if true, it would be another major blow for the Ravens’ defense and overall team with championship aspirations.
Ravens linebacker duo dominates
Throughout the offseason and training camp, veteran inside linebacker Roquan Smith and fifth-year pro Patrick Queen proclaimed they’re the top inside linebacker tandem in the league. The dynamic duo backed up their words with authority in Week 1.
They both eclipsed at least 10 total tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, a quarterback hit, and a stop that resulted in a turnover on downs. Smith made the initial contact on a clutch fourth down in the third quarter and Queen’s sack came on a fourth down, which killed Houston’s first drive of the game.
According ESPN’s Jamison Hensley per ESPNStatsInfo, Smith’s game-high 16 total tackles set a new franchise record for most in a season opener.
Roquan Smith's 15 tackles are the most in a season opener in Ravens franchise history, per @ESPNStatsInfo.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) September 10, 2023
Ray Lewis had 14 tackles in three different openers.
Pass rush is not a concern
After months of hearing about the lack of confidence in their ability to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Ravens’ defense racked up five sacks, six tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits, and a forced fumble.
Third-year outside linebacker Odafe Oweh wasn’t one of the five different players to record a sack and neither was three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney. However, both players generated relentless pressure on rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud all game long.
Oweh led the team with three quarterback hits but the most rewarding moment for their much-maligned pass rush was when second-year edge defender David Ojabo recorded his second career sack. Like his first one, it resulted in a forced fumble as well.
“How about the pass rush bringing it?,” Harbaugh said to reporters post-game. “There was so much concern right...(Ojabo)’s really been working hard and in a critical moment he came up and made that play.”
Wide receivers make presence felt
The Ravens vowed to revamp the position group this offseason and their new additions didn’t disappoint. First-round rookie Zay Flowers showed just why his quarterback gave him the nickname “Joystick.” He put defenders in a blender by making several of them miss in open space on multiple occasions throughout the game. He finished as the team leader in receptions with nine and receiving yards with 78, while adding nine rushing yards on two carries.
Zay Flowers drops a defender in the first quarter of his first NFL game. Filthy. pic.twitter.com/fhiSmqSvoM— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) September 10, 2023
Even though three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t record his first reception until the second half and finished with just two catches for 37 receiving yards, he made his presence felt in other ways. The 10th-year veteran drew a couple of key pass interference penalties down the field. Third-year pro and 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman also had a solid outing overall, catching all three of his targets for 35 receiving yards with a long of 18 yards.
Offensive line has rocky performance
Before the injury bug struck late in the game, it was truly a tale of two halves for the Ravens starting blocking unit. They struggled mightily in the first half when it came to keeping the Texans’ front seven off Lamar Jackson and didn’t fare much better in run blocking outside of Dobbins’ touchdown leap.
They came out of halftime playing much better, although consistency was still an issue at times. After both Stanley and Linderbaum went out, they hardly got any traction at all. On the first drive of the second half, they asserted their will by marching down the field on 10 plays covering 71 yards, and capping it off with a touchdown. The Ravens will need the unit to play like they did on that possession more often in order for Todd Monken’s offense to click on all cylinders.