Ravens beat Jets with vanilla offense

OWINGS MILLS – Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room Sunday following their first win of the season, middle linebacker Ray Lewis straightened the knot on his tie and smiled. As far as Lewis is concerned, the Ravens rediscovered their top winning formula during a 13-3 victory over the New York Jets.

Baltimore (1-2) featured a strong defense against former third-string quarterback Brooks Bollinger, a determined, albeit unproductive running game and a few carefully-chosen, vanilla passes.

From Lewis' vantage point, winning doesn't necessarily have to include an explosive offense. Not with a defense that ranks first overall in the AFC after holding running back Curtis Martin to 30 yards on 13 carries and limiting the Jets to 152 net yards of total offense.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. It's a very easy method: We run the football very well and we play hard-nosed defense," Lewis said. "The day we get away from that is the day things don't go our way. The business likes high-scoring games. The business likes flash.

"We're not flashy. We're old-school. I try to tell everybody behind a good man there's always a good woman. Behind a good defense, there's always a good offense."

It's debatable, though, whether the Ravens have an offense capable of complementing the defense to a point where they'll be competitive against elite NFL teams.

Through three games, Baltimore has scored only 30 points and is averaging 10 points per contest to rank 31st in scoring. With three second-half touchdowns and a pair of Matt Stover field goals, the Ravens only rank ahead of the Houston Texans (8.0 average).

"We want to score more points, but if the profile of the game dictates that we play good defense and special teams, run the ball and throw the ball effectively enough to keep the game under control, that's exactly what we'll do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Yes, we'd like to score more points and we'll probably have to score more points to see the offense expand as we go forward."
Against the Jets' 29th-ranked rushing defense, the Ravens emphasized the run heavily with 45 attempts for 115 yards. Former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis gained only 81 yards on 29 carries, a 2.8 average. He scored his first touchdown.

However, Lewis didn't demonstrate much of a burst and relied primarily on his 245-pound body to power ahead against a talented front seven that features middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end John Abraham. His longest run was nine yards.

Backup Chester Taylor didn't fare much better, rushing for 32 yards on 11 carries, a 2.9 average with a long run of nine yards.

"He left some yards on the field, he knows that," Billick said of Lewis, who had surgery on his right ankle in February and missed the first week of training camp due to legal obligations stemming from his sentence for a federal drug crime. "He was anxious and rushed a little bit. The latter part of the game, he slowed himself down.

"I think both physically and from a rhythm standpoint we can be very optimistic that he's up and running. That's our expectation now. Physically, he looks fine. I don't see anything lingering from the inactivity, training camp, that whole thing."

The Ravens attempted only 21 passes against the Jets with quarterback Anthony Wright completing 15 for 144 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a 70.3 passer rating. Wright completed passes for 32, 24 and 20 yards, but Baltimore averaged only 6.9 yards per pass play.

In several instances, the Ravens didn't run the pattern past the first-down marker on third downs. Wright was hindered slightly by two dropped passes and two tipped passes.

It was an ultra-conservative approach, which was effective in the sense that Baltimore didn't allow a sack after yielding nine in the first two games and ranking last in the NFL in rushing yards (45.5 yards) after two games. Now, the running game is up to 29th overall.

Will more long-distance passes from Wright to Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Mark Clayton produce more points?
"It should, we hope," Billick said. "We showed the ability against an outstanding defense to be physical. The best thing was that there weren't a lot of negative plays.

"If we can stay in that manageable type of game plan, then it bodes well. The quarterback's completion percentage – even in the first two weeks – is pretty good. That should lead to more productivity."

For the season, the Ravens are averaging only 6.13 yards per attempt and have the 17th-ranked passing game by averaging only 212 passing yards per contest. Wright has completed 64.1 percent of his attempts for 570 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Baltimore committed only three penalties Sunday after being flagged for a total of 18 in consecutive losses. They also dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for 38:01.

"We're not drawing conclusions about who we are based on the statistics or the numbers of the first two games," Billick said. "We know how those games spun out of control. The penalties are a perfect example.

"We came out of the last game feeling that obviously you can't have the penalties we had. We play a tight, orchestrated game of where we are right now."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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