OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens enjoying their bye last week, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron spent time evaluating every aspect of the offense through four weeks of the season.
His verdict was predictable, saying the Ravens aren’t really doing anything consistently great on the offensive side of the football, but he did make an interesting observation regarding opposing defenses. Despite Lee Evans playing only two games and the Ravens relying on rookie Torrey Smith as a starting receiver opposite Anquan Boldin, Cameron believes opposing defenses are respecting the potential of the Baltimore passing game despite only being ranked 18th in the NFL.
“What I do really like is the fact [that] I sense that people feel like they better back up,” Cameron said. “And I think that fits our style as a team. We want to be a vertical passing team — that’s the first thing we talk about — and secondly, a high (completion) percentage team”
Of course, potential is one thing and production is another as Joe Flacco’s 49.3 percent completion percentage must improve if the Ravens are to consistently move the chains and register enough points every week. Evans’ health will also play a major factor as the 30-year-old veteran did not practice on Thursday after returning to the field earlier in the week.
The Ravens have attempted 25 passes that traveled longer than 20 yards in the air (completing five) after four games. In 2010, Baltimore threw only 73 passes greater than 20 yards in the air (connecting on 26).
Stretching the field makes sense with the speedy Smith already producing a three-touchdown effort against the St. Louis Rams, but having sufficient time will be a challenge on Sunday as the Texans’ 3-4 defense likes to get after the quarterback. That pressure is a major reason why Houston has improved from 30th overall in pass defense last season to sixth in 2011.
Though coping with the loss of top pass rusher Mario Williams for the season, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips won’t relent in trying to make Flacco uncomfortable in the pocket. Defensive end Antonio Smith has 4 1/2 sacks, and talented 2011 second-round pick Brooks Reed will take Williams’ spot in the lineup.
Having coached with Phillips when the two served as coordinators with the San Diego Chargers from 2004 through 2006, Cameron knows exactly what to expect on Sunday — at least from a philosophical standpoint.
“It’s going to be pressure,” Cameron said. “His answer has always been, ‘If they are not having success with pressure, more pressure.’ I think that is going to be the key for us, just making sure that we handle the pressure they bring. They have gotten to every quarter that they have played so far.”
The Oakland Raiders battered and bruised Texans quarterback Matt Schaub throughout the game last Sunday, but a surprising statistic from the Raiders’ win in Houston was the number of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Despite the 6-foot-5 Schaub towering over a majority of defensive linemen he encounters, the Raiders batted down six passes, collected three sacks, and recorded 12 hits on the quarterback in their 25-20 victory.
It’s the same blueprint the Ravens will attempt to follow after registering 11 sacks in their first four games. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is known for his ability to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage if he doesn’t get to the quarterback.
“You want to get [Schaub] off the spot,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “You want to get pressure up the middle, and if the ball’s coming out and you’re not going to get the sack, we always talk to our guys about getting their hands up. So, we’re looking to try to get some of the same production.”
Concern for Schaub’s health grew on Wednesday as the veteran did not participate in the Texans’ practice with what was listed as a right shoulder injury. However, Pagano and the Ravens fully expect the talented passer to play on Sunday. Schaub was a limited participant in Thursday’s workout in Houston.
“[The Raiders] beat him up pretty good, but he’s a tough kid,” Pagano said. “He’s a great competitor. Even though I guess he didn’t go [Wednesday], it’s probably just a precautionary thing. He’s going to be there [on Sunday].”
After shuffling a variety of return options in and out of the lineup through the season’s first four weeks, the Ravens may be finding some stability with the return of wide receiver David Reed. The kick return specialist practiced fully on Thursday and appears to be ready to return to action after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2 against Tennessee.
Reed set a franchise record with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the second half against the Texans last year to give the Ravens a 28-7 lead. The second-year Utah product also had a 77-yard return in the 26-13 loss to the Titans on Sept. 18.
Despite playing in only one game this season, Reed leads the team in kick return yardage (125 yards on three returns) over rookie LaQuan Williams (109 yards on five run-backs). Reed is confident he will quickly become a factor for the kickoff return unit despite a near-month layoff.
“It’s tough, and I have to get my body back into it,” said Reed, who stated his shoulder has held up well in practice this week. “It’s just a couple days of practice; that ought to do.”
With Reed being a full participant on Thursday, all indications point to him regaining his spot as the kick returner, but the Ravens aren’t revealing any plans yet.
“We’ll wait and see until Sunday,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “But, it’s good to see him out there running around. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s excited to play. I hope he does.”
Cornerback Bryan McCann will also play a large role in special teams after being signed to a two-year contract by the Ravens during the bye week. McCann brings experience as both a punt and kick returner after handling both jobs for the Cowboys last season.
Considering the Ravens would like to avoid using safety Ed Reed as their primary punt returner, McCann might find himself returning punts even though he’s listed fourth on the team’s official depth chart updated earlier this week. The reason why is No. 1 returner Lardarius Webb is heavily relied upon as a starting cornerback and the next two on the depth chart, Chris Carr and Tom Zbikowski, are currently injured.
“He brought experience in the defense and experience in the return game,” Rosburg said of McCann. “Of course, when we’re covering kicks, he’s got to be able to do that, too. We’ve given him a lot of reps this week. We’re excited to see what he can do.”
Oher’s brother follows him to Baltimore
Ravens right tackle Michael Oher will have a familiar face right here in Baltimore as his step-brother, Sean Tuohy Jr., has accepted a scholarship to play basketball at Loyola University.
Fans will be familiar with Tuohy as the kid step-brother of Oher — known to friends and family as SJ — that was depicted in the movie “The Blind Side” as a spirited confidante instrumental in Oher’s college recruitment. That part of the movie was portrayed accurately, but the Ravens’ third-year lineman did not play a similar role in Tuohy’s recruitment.
“I thought he would go to Ole Miss (where Oher and Tuohy’s parents attended college), but he has his own mind,” Oher said. “I’m going to enjoy having him up here.”
At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Tuohy will play point guard for Jimmy Patsos’ Greyhounds.
“He’s a smart player,” Oher said. “He can find the open guy. He knows how to play the game. I enjoy watching him.”