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Ravens know this script: Play great defense

(TSX / STATS) -- OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have shown they can ride a dominant defense and an opportunistic offense all the way to the Super Bowl.

That appears to be the blueprint for this season.

In the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens bullied their way to a 20-0 victory. A shutout win on the road against an AFC North opponent is a huge boost of confidence heading into the home opener Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh likes the way his team is playing old-school Ravens football and dictating the game.

"It was a very valuable win in Cincinnati and we're proud of it," Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference, "The level of effort was an A-plus. We need to build on that. We can always work on the things we need to work on to chase perfection."

The victory did come at a cost of two play key players. Running back Danny Woodhead (hamstring) and linebacker Za'Darius Smith (knee) both left the game and their status for next week's game against the Browns is uncertain.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco missed training camp because of an ailing back and had only a week to prepare for the Bengals. He did a solid job managing the offense, completing 9 of 17 passes for 121 yards with a touchdown and interception.

Flacco also shook off a hard sack from Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap in the third quarter and stayed in the game with no apparent ill-effects.

With the Ravens defense playing at a high level and taking the early lead, Flacco and the offense committed to the running game. Baltimore ran the ball 42 times and attempted 17 passes -- that also could be a recipe for success moving forward to control the clock.

"I'm not surprised with as well as it went," Flacco said. "It's always a tough place to come in here and play, so you don't expect a game like that. It was a different game. It's a tough game when it ends up going like that. I was kind of joking because we were going to win the game, but we were running like 40 seconds off the clock at a time after that one drive -- that was a huge drive."

The Ravens' offense didn't have to do much because of their dominance on the other side of the ball. Baltimore got its first shutout since 2009 with several big plays.

The Ravens sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton five times and had four interceptions. Baltimore also allowed only 77 yards to one of the top running attacks in the NFL.

The Ravens used the same blueprint to win Super Bowl XXXV.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs said there is plenty of room for improvement. That could be a scary proposition for future opponents, starting with Cleveland in Week 2.

"We did some good things, but I think it's going to get better," said Suggs, who finished with two sacks. "There were some plays where we could have gotten off the field earlier, sooner. The guys schemed up and you had to kind of react to them. Like I said, we did some good things. But be more concerned with things we didn't do so well. We're going to go back and try and get those fixed."

NOTES, QUOTES

--There's a saying around Baltimore about needing to "Dilferize" the offense. This alludes to former quarterback Trent Dilfer, who did a solid job managing the game without putting his defense under unneeded pressure. The Ravens used that strategy to win Super Bowl XXXV.

This year, Baltimore has another top-echelon defense and quarterback Joe Flacco missed all of training camp with a sore back. In the season opener against the Bengals, Flacco did his best Dilfer impression, mostly handing the ball off or resorting to checkdowns to run the offense. He went 9 of 17 for 121 yards with a touchdown and interception.

The strategy worked perfectly in a 20-0 victory.

However, the Ravens will not play that way all season. Flacco has a much bigger arm than Dilfer and more weapons at his disposal to make big plays downfield. This type of balance between the offense and defense will make Baltimore a much more dangerous team.

"We're fully capable of throwing the ball all over the place if we had to do that to win the game," head coach John Harbaugh said.

While Flacco would prefer to open up the game more, he is more concerned with the end result: winning.

"Let's be honest. I was 9-for-17, for a hundred and a couple (121) yards," Flacco said. "I mean, it's not that fun. I'd rather throw for 350 and win 42-0. But it's fun to win, and that's the most important thing."

--The Ravens spent much of the offseason finding ways to improve the running game.

Last year, Baltimore ranked 28th in the NFL, averaging 91.4 yards per game. However, Baltimore never fully committed to running the ball and were 30th in the league and set a franchise record with just 367 rushing attempts.

To help fix the problem, the Ravens hired Greg Roman as the senior offensive assistant/tight ends coach to help boost the running game. In four of his five full seasons as an offensive coordinator with Buffalo and San Francisco, Roman's rushing attack ranked in the top five of the NFL.

So far, the results have been positive.

In the season opener against the Bengals, the Ravens ran the ball 42 times and attempted 17 passes, which took some pressure off quarterback Joe Flacco. Baltimore used a two-tiered running attack with Terrance West (19 carries 80 yards, one touchdown) and Buck Allen (21 carries, 71 yards) splitting carries.

"The backs ran north and south, they got their pads down and ran upfield, protected the football," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "The line was physical. It was a very important drive because it took the time off the clock and really put them behind the eight ball in terms of their chances to come back."

However, fellow running back Danny Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter and did not return. He had caught three passes for 33 yards.

"You can see what he's capable of doing," Flacco said about Woodhead. "Hopefully, we have some guys that can step up and make some plays. We've got a good receiving corps. Mike (Wallace) is one of those. Mike's one of those quick little guys that can do stuff on the side. Danny's been struggling with that hammy. I don't know what this one is, but it will definitely hurt us."

--Linebacker C.J. Mosley shook off an early penalty with another dominant performance.

The fourth-year player from Alabama had eight tackles and a key interception in the end zone. Mosley has emerged as one of the top linebackers in the NFL, especially dropping back in coverage. He led the defense to a 20-0 shutout.

"We did a good job showing different things," said Mosley, already a two-time Pro Bowl pick. "We did a great job with turnovers. We're plus-four (in turnover differential) after the first game. We have to keep building on that to make some big plays."

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton endured five sacks and threw a career-high four interceptions. Baltimore also allowed just 77 yards to one of the top running attacks in the NFL.

"It's a great start for the defense, and a great start for the team," Mosley said. "It won't mean anything if we don't come out next week and play even better, especially against another conference opponent (Cleveland). It's always about getting better."

NOTES: RB Danny Woodhead was having a solid debut for Baltimore before being forced out with a hamstring injury. The veteran running back caught three passes for 33 yards before he fell to the turf untouched in the first quarter and did not return. His status for Week 2 against Cleveland is uncertain. "We'll see. It's one of those thing," Woodhead said. ... LB Za'Darius Smith suffered a left knee sprain in the second quarter against the Bengals and did not return. Smith apparently suffered the injury trying to make a tackle on Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard. Smith was having a solid game and had a sack on the opening drive. His status for Week 2 against Cleveland is uncertain. ... C Ryan Jensen had a frustrating day. The fifth-year player was flagged for three penalties -- the most of any player on the offensive line. Part of the problem could have been his lack of timing with quarterback Joe Flacco, who missed all of training camp with an ailing back. Flacco was also called for two delay-of-game penalties. ... LB Tim Williams was inactive for the season opener against the Bengals. Williams, a rookie third-round pick from Alabama, is expected to boost the Ravens' pass rush this season. However, he had an uneven preseason. After struggling in the first preseason game against the Redskins, Williams was much better in the second game against Miami. He finished with two sacks and was a constant force in the backfield. He will eventually get an opportunity to make plays this season. ... CB Jaylen Hill was inactive in the season opener because of a leg injury. His status for Week 2 against Cleveland is uncertain. The undrafted rookie from Jacksonville State was one of the most impressive players throughout the preseason. Hill led the team with two interceptions in three preseason games. ... LB Kamalei Correa had a solid game at weak-side linebacker, finishing with three tackles, including one for a loss. He also had another tackle on special teams. Correa, a second-round pick from Boise State in 2016, struggled to get on the field last season, appearing in nine games. He finished with just four tackles and no sacks.

Updated September 11, 2017

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