Know Your Enemy: Baltimore Ravens edition

Being a Maryland resident and seeing a lot of Ravens game, I know this team fairly well and that they should have a relatively easy victory against the Panthers this weekend. Most of it has to do with the numerous injuries leaving us to start a QB who wet just signed to the practice squad a couple weeks ago along with a lot of other things that are wrong with this team right now. I’ll save that for the preview post, this segment will be focusing completely on the Ravens.

The Ravens went into this season as a lot of people’s Super Bowl favorites and at 6-3, they are still in the hunt. They own road victories over both the Steelers and Jets and are an undefeated 4-0 at home. Their offense is one of the most prolific in the league as they have one of the most dangerous passing attacks and a solid run game. Their defense is highly regarded as one of the most consistent in the NFL but not so much this year. While they are still stopping the run well, they have been suspect against the pass. Let’s focus on their offense first.

There’s a lot of questions I’m hearing about the Ravens offense. One of which is “What is wrong with Joe Flacco?” While he’s decision making is definitely questionable and he’s really quick to check down passes, he’s still making his way to becoming a top QB in the league. Flacco is on pace for his best season yet in terms of yards and it definitely helps now that he has a ton of weapons at this disposal. In other words, Flacco is just fine. However, I will say that his home stats and road stats are a little interesting.

His completion percentage and yards per game are relatively similar at home and on the road (63.1 % and 243 at home vs. 60.5% and 231 on the road) but Flacco’s thrown 8 TD’s and zero INT’s at home compared to a 1:1 TD:INT ratio on the road. The only awful game he has had this year was against Cincinnati on Week 2 and for the rest of the year he’s been a QB that takes a lot of risks that comes with a lot of reward on the road. Sometimes it’s worth it when you have his arm and receivers like Anquan Boldin on your team.

Baltimore’s offense can explode for a big play at any minute and most of their big plays this year have gone to Boldin. He’s been targeted more than any Ravens receiver (74 times), has 8 catches of more than 20 yards and is averaging 13 yards per completion. He has to speed to beat almost any corner and some of the best hands in the league. What makes him even more dangerous is the Ravens love to line him up in the slot to get a better matchup. That doesn’t bode well for the Panthers chances if they put Richard Marshall up against him. Derrick Mason and Todd Heap have always been reliable receivers for Flacco. Mason’s been restricted to more of a 3rd down/short yardage receiving role but he’s been good when called upon. Heap’s had a bit of revival this season since he’s caught 61 % of passes thrown his way and the Panthers can expect to see a lot of passes thrown his way on 3rd down. Other guys to keep your eyes on are TJ Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth. Housh hasn’t been utilized that much but is still dangerous and Stallworth, who was recently been activated off IR, still has a lot of speed to stretch the field. Also, there’s a chance Heap might be hurt so look out for rookie TE Ed Dickson to step in if he can’t play. Dickson’s a great pass catching tight end and I’ve been high on him all season.

Ray Rice might not be lighting up your fantasy team as much this season but he’s still been effective as an all-around running back for Baltimore. The emergence of Baltimore’s passing game has allowed them to rely less on Rice, McGahee and McClain less than they have in previous years. McGahee is still frequently called upon in goal line situations. I also think the Ravens have one of the most solid o-lines in the league and it’s allowed them to have a lot of success on the ground. However, I’ve heard from a lot of fans that it’s gotten weaker this season but Flacco’s had a lot of time to throw every game I’ve watched so I’m not sure what to say to that, haha.

Baltimore has always been known for their stout, dominant defense and while they have been good this year, they aren’t exactly the dominant unit they were for the past decade. They are still stopping the run well (8th best in the league) but they are giving up a lot of yards through the air (316 yds per game) and that’s had a lot to do with injuries to Dominique Foxworth and Ed Reed to start the year. The one thing they are good at is keeping points off the board, which is how they win games.

The biggest names on the defense are Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed and for good reason but I think the guys who will make a bigger impact in this game are going to be Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg and Terrence Cody. Why? Because these three are going to be the guys stopping the run. Ngata is one of my favorite players in the league right now. He posses an ideal combination of size and speed to take down runners, rush the passer (5 sacks this year) and be a force on the defensive line. Gregg’s always been a good run stuffer and Cody is only starting to make an impact in this defense. I’m not sure how much Carolina will try to run the ball but it’ll be tough going against their front 3. Then there’s their linebackers who are even more of a problem…

Ray Lewis is one of the best to play the game, Suggs’ pass rushing skills seem to be rejuvenated this year, Jarrett Johnson has always been solid and Jameel McClain is good at stopping the run. It’s clear that if you don’t have a strong, power back then you aren’t going to beat the Ravens by running the ball. Passing it is another story.

Without Ed Reed, the Ravens pass defense seemed a lot more vulnerable, which is true. Reed defines the word “ball-hawk” and can shut down an entire side of the field. In just three games he already has three picks. Ladarius Webb returning also improved things but the Falcons were able to throw the ball all over this defense last week but they are one of the best teams in the league, I guess you have to take that into consideration. Outside of Webb, their corners aren’t the best at all. Fabian Washington, Chris Carr and Josh Wilson have been picked on multiple times by other team’s QB’s and Washington recently lost his job as the #1 corner…to Wilson a guy cut off Seattle’s roster. Yikes. Their safeties do make up for it, though. As I said earlier, Reed is a game changer and Dawan Landry plays a lot like his brother with how hard he hits ball carriers and he isn’t bad in pass coverage either.

Another thing to note about the Ravens is their playcalling tends to go into conservative mode if they have a lead. Cam Cameron hasn’t been one to run up the score this year and he likes to sit on leads a lot. Expect a lot of short runs and passes once the Ravens get on top. Us being able to stop those will be another story.

So, if you didn’t want to read that long explanation, then I’ll summarize it for you. The Ravens have the offense to beat you either through the ground or the air. They do take a lot of risks but Flacco has a tendency to get rattled on the road once he makes a mistake. You have to beat them through the air and not on the ground and it’ll be hard with the team we are sending out there on Sunday.

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