The rhetoric didn’t seem too over-the-top this past week. Maybe it was because people didn’t expect the Ravens to steal this game. Maybe it was because both teams looked horrible. Maybe it was because the Ravens stayed on the West Coast for the week and the three hour time difference didn’t allow the sound bites to be readily available. Or maybe, I just didn’t listen to all of the naysayers.
With regards to the NFL, people react and overreact on a weekly basis. The NFL should be treated as one’s golf game. You are never as good as your last golf shot, and you are never as bad as your last golf shot. The parity in the league is the great equalizer.
This post is the Reality Assessment. Although a win would have been fantastic last week, the loss to the Broncos isn’t the end of the world. However, a loss this week would be a very difficult hole for the Ravens to escape. As I stated last week, a 4-3 record would be acceptable after the grueling first seven games of the season. The second two game West Coast trip against the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers looks daunting—the Niners look much better than advertised, and Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer have a penchant for carving up the Ravens.
Therefore, the Ravens need to win today against the Oakland Raiders. Unfortunately, the ailments that doomed the Ravens last week will again be tested today.
Here are today’s plotlines.
Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was too conservative and didn’t make enough adjustments. Denver’s pass rush was almost immediate on quarterback Joe Flacco. The Raiders are also deep on the defensive line and boast two feared speed pass rushers in Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith. Mack had 52 total pressures last year, per Pro Football Focus. The troubled Smith is a sack artist with 44 sacks in 51 career regular season games.
With backup left tackle James Hurst getting the start today and with right tackle Rick Wagner‘s struggles with speed rushers, Trestman needs to give them some help via the tight ends and running backs chipping on their way to their pass routes.
The Ravens need to use the opponent’s speed, aggressiveness, and over-pursuit to their advantage. The Ravens need to incorporate misdirections in the run and pass game. They need to attempt a few screens just to keep the defense honest. Be creative, but don’t get too cute.
Offensive Scheme, Part II: Playmakers
Last I checked, the only new player to be infused onto the Ravens this week was defensive player Jason Babin (a nice signing under the circumstances, by the way). In other words, the team still lacks speed on offense—and it will until Breshad Perriman steps onto the field.
I sound like a broken record here, but the team needs to manufacture speed through their scheme.
Why did it take until the fourth quarter last week for the Ravens to attack the middle of the field? Yes, the Broncos were giving up that part of the field because the Ravens needed a touchdown to win in the waning moments. I would expect to see more of Michael Campanaro and his route running skills over the middle.
In addition, I would expect to see the tight ends better utilized. Even though Crockett Gilmore didn’t make the play at the end of the game, he is a big, imposing body over the middle. Maxx Williams doesn’t have freak-ish Rob Gronkowski speed, but he has enough speed to exploit the seams of the field.
Finally, take Flacco’s advice. He says in the article from the Baltimore Sun, "If nothing else, at least it lets teams know that we're going to do that and have the confidence in ourselves in doing that." Again, try and keep defenses honest. The only deep shot taken last week, yes only one was taken the entire game, was a 22 yard pass and catch to Marlon Brown. Brown may be the Ravens’ and Flacco’s best bet down field because Brown’s big body is beneficial when executing the back-shoulder catch and throw.
Improved Secondary? Maybe or Maybe Not
I agree with most—the secondary did well. But it was hard to ascertain whether or not the secondary was good or Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning was bad. That sentence was actually awkward to type. Manning struggled against the Ravens and he wasn’t much better Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Against the Ravens, Manning was 0 for 4 on targets beyond 20 yards and he was 2 of 8 on targets of 10 yards or more. The Ravens’ secondary was barely tested.
When the secondary was tested, they were beat at least three times deep but Manning uncustomary missed on those throws. Had he connected, it would have drastically changed the views on both Manning and the Ravens’ secondary.
The Ravens will be tested by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Though he has an injury to his right hand, Carr has decent arm strength. Though he struggled with his deep accuracy, he was last in the league in PFF’s deep accuracy—behind the likes of Geno Smith and Blake Bortles—he was 5th in league with the number of times throwing the ball 20 or more yards downfield.
The Raiders should take some deep shots and continue to test the Ravens’ secondary—especially with rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Moreover, the secondary is only effective as the pass rush…
The Suggs Effect
The loss of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is big from a depth and leadership standpoint. There are varying opinions on whether or not the Ravens will miss his production, or lack thereof. Many people pointed to the fact that Suggs had no tackles and no sacks last week. I agree, he was barely noticeable last week until he was seen on camera with his injury.
I also agree that his presence will be more felt in the run game. He is exceptional, when he is discipline and not freelancing, when setting the edge. The numbers by PFF bear that out as Suggs was a top six performer against the run in both 2013 and 2014.
Suggs usually has gets his sacks in bunches, but he is a top five player when you account QB sack, hurries, and hits. There is more to affecting the passing game than just sacks. Suggs puts on the heat and defenses account for him on every play.
The reality is the Ravens are without Suggs and need to move forward. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will scheme to put his pass rushers—Courtney Upshaw, Elvis Dumervil, Za’Darius Smith, and Jason Babin (if only Steven Means was healthy!)—so that they will have the best opportunity to succeed. Today, we will begin to see if that is a reality.
According to PFF, the Raiders allowed 14 combined pressure—sacks, hits, and hurries. That was tied for 7th in the league last week. In contrast, the Ravens, with Suggs, caused 18 pressures.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, I will pick a Raven player each week that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (like Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Terrell Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been a postseason-player-of-the-game in Denver in 2012?
I am going with wide receiver Michael Campanaro. I think the Ravens will get him some increased looks in the passing game—he only had 11 snaps on offense last week. Campanaro may also be given the green light in the punt return game, Steve Smith notwithstanding. That being said, my pick the previous week usually comes through the following week. So, expect Gilmore to have a good day.