Like the preseason, Week 1 results can be misleading at times. But some things deservedly stand out -- more specifically, the teams and players with the potential to be great. Joe Flacco's performance Monday night was not a one-time success story, but rather a peek into what will come all season long for the explosive Baltimore Ravens offense.
Yes, that's right. The Ravens, always known for their defense, now have an explosive offense. And it all starts with the right arm of Flacco.
The Ravens' offense has been building for some time as Flacco has expanded his talents. Baltimore finally has realized that Flacco can carry the team to the promised land, and it appears they are all-in on letting this happen.
With Flacco under center and Ray Rice in the backfield, the Ravens now force you to defend the middle of the field and every blade of grass down the field because of Flacco's incredible arm strength, as well as his pinpoint accuracy on the third level of the defense. Flacco is deadly accurate with the short passes, but what makes him much more difficult to defend now is his ability to throw the ball down the field and hit the receiver in stride. When a quarterback can force you to defend the third level of the defense (passes over 20 yards) like it's the first level (passes under 10 yards), this makes the offense tough to stop. With Torrey Smith's ability to take the top off the defense, this enables Rice to face a lighter box and have much more room to run.
Monday night, the Cincinnati Bengals had no chance to slow down the Ravens. No matter what Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer called, the Ravens had the answer. The Bengals were on their heels all night. They wanted to take Rice out of the game, but all that did was put more of the offense on Flacco.
By shifting their offense, the Ravens have helped their defense, which might not be as strong as it was in past years. Clearly missing Terrell Suggs, the unit is still highly effective and tough to handle. The Ravens have a great red-zone defense. They have three outstanding corners and don't allow big plays. For a team to beat Baltimore this season, it will require a consistently stellar offensive performance. As we witnessed Monday night, that might happen on a few drives, but it won't happen the entire game.
We should never rush to judgment after Week 1. But watching Flacco Monday night, I am convinced the Ravens now have the right offensive approach and the right quarterback handling their offense.
THINGS I LOVED
I loved having Peyton Manning back playing football. I love his toughness, competitive fire and resolve to overcome this career-threatening injury. He admits he is a work in progress, and so are the Denver Broncos, but after Week 1, they have the look of a team that can compete against the best of the NFL. Manning was great, better than I expected, but the Broncos' offensive line was the one thing I loved the most from their win over the Steelers. If the line plays as well as it did Sunday night, it will make Manning even better.
I loved watching Robert Griffin III play. Furthermore, I loved how the Washington Redskins have tailored their offense around the rookie quarterback's talents, rather than forcing him to run their base stuff. The system Washington has in place makes the game easy for Griffin, which in turn highlights his talents throwing and running. Redskins fans finally have their franchise quarterback, and their future is getting brighter by the day.
I loved how physical the San Francisco 49ers looked, especially on their offensive line. The Niners have three first-round picks on their line (Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis) and all of them look to be in incredible shape and have improved their pass-protections skills. Last season, the 49ers only had a short offseason to adopt the personality of their head coach Jim Harbaugh. Now with a complete offseason, Harbaugh's competitive fire runs through the entire team. With much respect to the opinion of the Green Bay Packers' Jarrett Bush, the 49ers were the better team Sunday -- by a lot.
THINGS I HATED
I hated that the Buffalo Bills spent all that money in recent years on improving a defensive line that got smoked badly by the New York Jets. Mario Williams, The 100 Million Dollar Man, was manhandled by Jets offensive tackle Austin Howard and never had an impact on the game. The Bills looked bad all preseason and looked even worse on opening day. Credit the Jets with playing well, but the Bills expected more from their defensive line.
I hated watching the Cleveland Browns' offense, especially quarterback Brandon Weeden. Weeden did not play well and neither did Browns receivers, who struggled to get any separation from Philadelphia Eagles corners. The Browns' best wideout might be Travis Benjamin, not Josh Gordon, Greg Little or Mohamed Massaquoi. It will be a long season for the Browns if they don't find receivers who can win at the line and get separation.
I hated watching the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line get manhandled. It affected the play of Andrew Luck. We all knew the Colts' roster was going to need a ton of work, and after Week 1, that work has to be done on improving the offensive line. If they don't get better up front, Luck will take a beating this season.
THINGS ON MY MIND
» Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan really played well on the road in Kansas City. In his career, Ryan has not been as effective playing away from the Georgia Dome. The key to the Falcons having playoff success this year will be their road improvement, and that starts with Ryan's play.
» Nothing is as bad as it seems in the preseason, and the Jets proved that to be correct. The Wildcat offense was not needed, as Mark Sanchez looked solid all game. The Jets are best when no one expects them to be good. They play with a bigger sense of purpose when they assume that mentality.
» I thought the Packers were going to be improved on defense? In terms of talent, they look improved; in terms of performance, they do not. In the past three home games, the Packers have allowed 108 points. This is not an aberration and should be a legitimate concern.
» The Carolina Panthers only had 13 rushing attempts in their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We all know the Panthers' running game sets up the offense. With no ability to run against the Bucs, the offense had a hard time making any plays. When the opponent controls the ball, like the Bucs did for more than 37 minutes, it puts a sense of desperation into the offense. Players and coaches fear if they don't get first downs, they might never see the ball again. It results in more passes and less rushing attempts.
» The New England Patriots have a new look to their team. Sure, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are still there, but their offensive and defensive structures are completely new. And rookies Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower are the real deal. The Patriots are a tougher team now.
» New Orleans has to find balance in its offense, and running the ball only 10 times in a close game is not going to help. The Saints are a tougher team mentally and physically when they can run the ball, and it sets up their whole offense.
» I love how my Twitter account gets blown up every time Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert completes a check-down pass. Yes, he is playing better than when I wrote this column, but one regular-season game does not provide a long-term verdict on his future as a winning franchise quarterback.
» Was Christian Ponder really that good, or is the Jags' defense simply void of corners? Like with Gabbert, only time will tell on Ponder. But also like Gabbert, Ponder looks improved.
» Miami looks like the front runner to having the first pick in the 2013 draft, so what will happen if there is a quarterback that is too hard to pass up? I know Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is expecting a better team, but based on what I have seen so far this year, his team is going to get worse before it gets better.
» I loved Week 1 and cannot wait for Thursday night's Bears-Packers game. Take a moment today to honor all the people who were victims of the 9/11 attack. We shall never forget all of them.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.