Ravens, Rants and Rankings – week 6
Vikings 33 – Ravens 31. I started writing this blog 4 different times, and had to check myself. Where to start? The Ravens went into a hostile environment got down early and fought for 60 minutes. That is the good news. They went ahead late, had a last second chance to win and didn’t get the job done.
The offense is still a work in progress, but with every snap it is becoming clear that the Baltimore Ravens have gone from a defensive stalwart to a burgeoning offensive team. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are stars in the making. The offense can still use a big play receiver but our receiving corps is better with Flacco throwing them the ball. Ray Rice runs hard and catches the ball well out of the backfield. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. The offensive line again playing without Jared Gaither held up fairly well and got better as the game went on. There were a couple false starts and Flacco was under pressure, but still was kept upright enough to make enough plays to win the game. Derrick Mason caught 12 balls, Heap was terrific across the middle an Ray Rice was phenomenal on check downs and swing passes. Kelley Washington caught a couple of big passes late and there was even a Demetrius Williams sighting. Demetrius made a tough catch that extended a drive late. He also made an excellent block on Derrick Mason’s touchdown catch. Joe Flacco was terrific. He did everything he needed to for the Ravens to win the game. There should be no doubt who will lead this team for the next 10 -15 years. Our offense is certainly not a finished product but guess what folks, the offense is not our problem.
For 12 years we have been spoiled in Baltimore. Our defense was the backbone of the Baltimore Raven tradition. Not only did they stop most opposing offenses cold, they also picked the most opportune time to turn opposing teams mistakes into points. For years they carried a pathetic offense on their broad shoulders. The Baltimore Ravens circa 2009 are in real trouble on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line is still a capable bunch, but for a couple of years they have not produced a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Now it is clear that they are becoming pedestrian against the run. I, for one, am glad to see the most meaningless record in sports finally be a thing of the past. The fact that the Ravens had not allowed a 100 yard rusher in 39 games is finally a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, playing strong against the run has been a staple of this defense for a long time, but this has been a meaningless record. There have been a few teams over the course of this record that have run the ball successfully on this team and when that happens the Ravens lose. Case in point, last year against the Giants, when all three of their backs ran rough shod over the Ravens.
Currently the Ravens problems are traced to their defense. The Ravens defense has always played with such aggression that they teetered on the edge. For the most part that has made this team an upper echelon team in the NFL for the last 10 years; but when the opponent can deal with that aggression and execute their offense ( like Indianapolis or New England) or when the other team matches our aggression (like Pittsburgh and Tennessee) our chances of success decreases. When the team has not been successful things can go south fast for this team. Players start taking chances and gambling to make plays, or players become unhinged and meltdown ( like in Detroit a few years back or the Monday night game against New England a couple of years ago).
There has been a very decided change in the Ravens philosophy this year. The players won’t admit it and the coaching staff won’t admit to it, but there is less risk taking. The defensive philosphy appears to be more cerebral as opposed to being more brutal. The defense is in transition with regards to this philosophy. The secondary has no big hitters to rattle receivers coming across the middle or to stick a running back when coming up to support against the run. In fact, our cornerbacks might be the worst set of form tacklers I have ever seen on a football field. They are not physical at all. They would prefer to run and cover rather then hit somebody. The problem is that when the ball is thrown down the field on them, while they may be in position to make a play they do not possess the phyical nature to make a play on the ball. This has proved to be true on numerous occasions this year. See any number of plays in the San Diego game. See the long ball caught by Chris Henry of the Bengals down the Ravens sideline after we had just scored. See the long balls caught by Sidney Rice of the Vikings. The Ravens cornerback was there but none of them had the ability to make the physical play. Dawan Landry has been a major disappointment at strong safety. He is not making plays at the line of scrimmage and he has been abused down the seams by tight ends for each team we have played.
In an effort to stem the tide of the big plays against his defense, Ed Reed has started to gamble more frequently. He was successful in guessing against Carson Palmer and took an interception in for a touchdown. Against the Vikings, in much the same set that he was successful the week earlier against the Bengals, he was late and picked off Fabian Washington on a quick slant that Sidney Rice caught and raced 65 yards with after the catch.
Additionally, the front seven which over the years has been as consistently vigilant in maintaining defensive assignments and gap integrity as it has been in being brutal and punishing, is pushing and taking chances looking for the big play. Several times in the last 2 games these gambles have led to giving lanes to the running backs and has led to big plays in the running game. That is something we certainly aren’t use to around here.
The pass rush has been in decline for the last couple of years. The fact that our defensive backfield is pourous is exaspirated by the fact that we can’t get to the quarterback without blitzing. This is not a recipe for success. Suggs and Pryce have not had success this year getting to the quarterback and of our defensive tackle rotation, none of them have a resume that indicates they are a premier pass rusher. The change in coordinator and philosophy has curtailed the amount of blitzes used in the course of the game, and the pressure we have created has suffered as well. When we do blitz and the offense hits the hot read or checks down to a back, all of the sudden we have a gifted playmaker with the ball against the worst tackling defensive backfield in the NFL.
The speical teams have been awful for the last several years, Sam Koch not withstanding.
We do not cover kicks and punts well, and we cannot get off the field without committing stupid penalties when returning the ball. Ladarius Webb is an upgrade returning kicks, he runs hard and hits the holes fast, but we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot. Early in the 2nd half of the Minnesota game, we had a great return on the kick off by Webb out past the 40 yard line nulified by a stupid penalty which backed us inside the 15. No one can forget the bonehead penalty in the AFC championship game last year. Instead of playing aggressively, we had to protect the football, ran it three times and punted. It boggles my mind that we supposedly have a great special teams coach and our head coach made his bones as a special teams coordinator and we are this awful. With regards to the missed game winning field goal, I will not beat up the kid. Everybody misses field goals. My feelings on the subject are best summed up this way. I can live with Matt Stover missing that field goal, I can’t live with Steve Hauschka missing that field goal. Steve Hauschka should never had been on the field in that situation, but hey what do I know.
My biggest concern is that the coaching staff is putting so much importance in the ability to play special teams that we are not putting our best 45 players on the field each and every Sunday. I do not think special teams is all that special, give me a reliable kicker and punter, be able to make strong tackles on coverage teams and give me a return guy who secures the ball and is smart on returns and I am happy. It is not that hard. The big question with regards to special teams is simple. If we have all this special teams knowledge, and we have placed an emphasis on everyone playing special teams, then why are we so bad in this aspect of the game? More importantly, if the 45 man game day roster is being decided by those players who are willing and talented in the special teams aspect of the game, then why are we so bad? Both Paul Kruger and Demetrius Williams have been criticized for not being able, or more importantly, not wanting to play special teams, and both have been relegated to the bench and even the inactive game day list. I think it is time to find out if these guys can contribute on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. I am not saying they are the answer but we at least need to find out if they can help this team. You can’t tell me it is more important for Matt Lawrence to be on the game day roster then for Paul Kruger. Kruger was drafted to rush the passer, let’s see what he can do.
For years we won football games by dominating with defense and special teams. Now both these aspects of our game are deficient and subpar. How hard is it to get your head around the fact that a Ravens team needs to outscore it’s opponent to win? Yes, play like a Raven certainly has a new meaning.
With all that being said the season can still be salvaged. We need to play more cover two in the back field, so that our corners do not get isolated one on one. Keep everything in front of us and make teams work the ball down the field. Stop giving up the big plays that have killed us. We need to find a pass rush, whether it be by switching personnel or by blitzing more. We need to make the opposing quarterback more uncomfortable, because with the upcoming schedule, if we let Palmer, Manning and Roethlisberger stand back there all day we are dead meat. With our burgeoning offense, we don’t need to be dominant on defense any longer, just competent. The Ravens have dug themselves a hole and with both Pittsburgh and Cinncinati playing well we will have to go 8-2 in the last 10 games to secure a playoff birth. The season starts Sunday against the Denver Broncos. I am sorry, I refuse to believe they are an undefeated team. The Ravens will show up on Sunday, I am confident about that. Let’s get loud out there and bring home a win.
I will get back to the rankings next week after the Ravens beat the Broncos.