Slowing Rams’ offensive tempo a priority for Ravens defense

September 22, 2011 | Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While many have focused on the failures of the Ravens offense and questioned the decision-making of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron following the 26-13 loss to Tennessee, the vaunted Baltimore defense wilted in the second half against Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans offense.

After allowing 10 points in the first half, the Ravens had no answers for Hasselbeck and the passing game after intermission, allowing scores on five of six Tennessee possessions as the Titans controlled the clock for much of the second half. The 358 passing yards allowed left Baltimore as the 28th-ranked pass defense in the NFL after two weeks, as the Ravens cope with the physical ailments of Jimmy Smith, Chris Carr, and Domonique Foxworth. The Ravens are ranked 22nd overall in total defense, unacceptable territory for a team with such a defensive tradition — even if only after two weeks.

Hasselbeck’s quick release made it difficult for the Ravens to create pressure on the veteran quarterback, but defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano accepted blame for not mixing up the looks he provided well enough in the disappointing performance.

“We’ve got to do our job — whether we put them in man coverage or zone coverage,” Pagano said. “We have to do a better job. We have to execute the defense. They’ll be the first to tell you that.”

The Ravens now turn their attention to the young and talented Sam Bradford, last year’s first overall pick. The 23-year-old started all 16 games as a rookie and nearly led the Rams to the playoffs in the underwhelming NFC West.

Bradford’s numbers aren’t overly impressive through two games, completing only 51.3 percent of his passes (39-for-76) and throwing one touchdown pass. However, his playmaking ability is not lost on the Baltimore defense, despite his youth.

“He’s more athletic than people think he is,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “He can really run around with the ball, but he’s very accurate with his ball and where he wants to place the ball. Once again, he understands [different coverages] as well. When you watch his progression, you see that he really understands the game, which is a great upside for him.”

Bradford may be without his star running back as Steven Jackson is still considered day-to-day after sustaining a quadriceps injury in the season opener. The physical back was held out of the Rams’ loss to the New York Giants on Monday night.

Jackson’s absence could lead the Rams to use more of the aggressive, no-huddle offense they displayed against the Giants with moderate success — between the 20s — in the first half. Despite producing more total yards (367 to 323) than New York, the Rams’ two turnovers and 1-for-4 performance inside the red zone led to their 28-16 defeat. St. Louis gained 151 yards on their first two drives of the game but only came away with two field goals.

However, Bradford’s ability to throw the ball down the field and play with a quick tempo — he ran a form of the no-huddle at Oklahoma — is not being overlooked by the Ravens. And, though not of the same ilk as Tennessee’s Kenny Britt, the 6-foot-5 Danario Alexander and the 6-foot-2 Mike Sims-Walker provide big targets for Bradford against a banged-up secondary. Bradford threw for a career-high 331 yards against the Giants.

“Typically, what we’ve seen, he’s a drop-back, pure pocket passer,” Pagano said. “He’ll hold the ball some. We feel like we’ll have some chances [to pressure]. I think our biggest issue is going to come with handling the tempo of the game.”

The no-huddle offense is just one of many possibilities for which to prepare as the Ravens figure to have a better grasp on what new Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will try to do than they did against the Titans’ Chris Palmer, but St. Louis’ 0-2 start may lead to a few more wrinkles than you’d normally expect.

“It’s just something to prepare for,” safety Ed Reed said about the Rams’ success running the no-huddle against the New York Giants. “It’s all a part of preparation — no-huddle, two-minute, everything that they bring.”

Apparently, one tactic we won’t see from the Ravens defense is the feigning of injuries to stop the no-huddle attack, which Spagnuolo accused the Giants of doing in the Monday night loss. Giants defensive back Deon Grant especially drew the ire of the Rams for a mysterious act in which he went down with an injury for one play after St. Louis was marching down the field without resistance.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzo3rK3Q47A[/youtube]

“It wasn’t choreographed very well if you watched the tape,” said Pagano, drawing laughs from the assembled media. “I’ve heard of guys doing things like that; we would never do anything like that here. You watch it and it’s right there and you see it, and it is what it is. It’s not just something we would do, or ask our guys to do.”

Then again, would Pagano really admit the Ravens’ guilt of ever trying such a stunt, anyway?

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Chuck Pagano, Cam Cameron, Jerry Rosburg, Terrence Cody, Chris Carr, and Bryant McKinnie.

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