After the Baltimore Ravens selected Chuck Clark with their last selection in the 6th round of the 2017 NFL draft, the vision that the front office and scouting staff had for the 2017 season began to come into focus. Clark – a defensive back from Virginia Tech – was one of 5 picks for the defense versus 2 for the offense. In fact Joe Flacco, Marty Mornhinweg and company had to wait until day 3 of the draft before hearing an offensive player’s name called.
Based on Joe Flacco’s performance last year, his penchant for the untimely turnover, coupled with the defense’s inability to hold a 4th quarter lead in 4 November and December games, led to the defensive windfall. It looks to me that they will try to do all they can to “Dilferize” the offense, limiting turnovers, and relying on the defense and special teams to win games. They will put a premium on field position, and they will scrap the zone blocking scheme for one that is of the power blocking hat on hat variety.
Justin Tucker will take over the role that Matt Stover had in 2000. The 4 defensive players (the Ravens took 5 but I do not expect Chuck Clark to make the team) will have to have an immediate impact, as will newly signed free agents Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. Of course this defense will not be anywhere near as good as the historically good 2000 version was, but it should be dramatically better than last year’s which couldn’t hold a lead.
Georgia’s Tuys Bowser (2nd round pick) and Alabama’s Tim Williams (3rd round pick) will both get opportunities to rush QBs from the edge, while Michigan’s Chris Wormley will see playing time at defensive tackle as a 5-technique end (lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle). First round pick Marlon Humphrey will see get some valuable time early in the season, in case Jimmy Smith’s legs do not hold up as has been the case the past two years.
The Ravens also selected guard Nico Siragusa (absolutely no relation to Tony – although how great is it going to be to yell “Goooooooose” at M&T Bank once again:) a huge guard out of San Diego State in the 3rd round, and fellow guard Jermaine Eluemunor out of Texas A&M. Eluemunor was told he was going to compete for the right tackle position, presumably against holdovers De’Ondre Wesley, Stephane Nembot and James Hurst.
Siragusa in particular is very intriguing. He is a mauling guard who excels at pulling and blowing up defenders are the line of scrimmage as well as turning up field. The fingerprints of new run coordinator Greg Roman are already evident. This team will employ a similar power running scheme that the 49ers used effectively back in 2012, when they played the Ravens in the Super Bowl. It is a scheme that allows offensive linemen to pin their ears back and fire off of the ball.
The key is going to be who’s going to start on the offensive line and how quickly it comes together. Perhaps the Ravens will sign former Jet Nick Mangold to anchor that line from the center position, or maybe former Duke center Matt Skura – with one year in an NFL weight room – has progressed enough to man the position.
The Ravens have enough running backs to get the job done. Lorenzo Taliaferro, Terrance West, Buck Allen, Ken Dixon and Stephen Houston are all solid between the tackles, and Danny Woodhead offers the team a great change of pace back as well as a third down threat. This scheme also requires a fullback that’s very much an anvil, and currently they don’t have one on the roster. Moving TE Nick Boyle (6’4, 265 pounds) may be an option, but look for the Ravens to be very active in the undrafted free agent market for a couple of stout blocking fullbacks.
In the NFL if you run the ball effectively, if you don’t turn it over, and if you have a great defense and special teams you will win a lot more than you lose. It is a formula that worked in 2000 and it looks like the Ravens brass are hedging their bets that it will also work in 2017.
I was also thinking about titling this blog “Saving Joe Flacco from himself.” That’s what the Cowboys did with Tony Romo a few years ago. They put a huge offensive line around him, and then they had DeMarco Murray run in excess of 400 times behind it. The end result was a 12-4 record, and after three successive 8-8 seasons they finally made the playoffs.
Joe Flacco does not need to put the ball up 40-50 times a game. That’s a formula for disaster. The Ravens need to run the ball effectively. This way the safeties come up in the box, the cornerbacks come closer to the line of scrimmage, and then Flacco can do some serious damage. Plus he’s always been a “chunk” quarterback. He has a big arm and he is not wired for a West Coast offense. He excels when the Ravens are running the ball effectively (as they did in 2102 with Ray Rice), where he can plant his feet and let if fly downfield.
The last thing is that the Ravens final roster is nowhere near complete. There will be the June 1 cuts, and there will be several veteran players available that can help the team. No need to panic at this time that there are no clear starters at inside linebacker next to CJ Mosley, or at right tackle and center. The Ravens will address all of those needs well before the pre-season commences.