Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Super Bowl LVI: 4 predictions and a score for the big game

By Chris Schisler

Super Bowl LVI time. The Cincinnati Bengals will take on the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. Super Bowl Sunday is fastly approaching and we’ve had plenty of time to dig into this one. One of the exciting things about this game is that both teams feel like a team of destiny. The Bengals are on their magic carpet ride, they have a quarterback and a burning hot hope to go with him. The Rams went all-in and this feels like Matthew Stafford’s time to spring up into the pantheon of great quarterbacks. It’s different for both teams but we’re talking magic either way.

So how does this game go down? Here are four predictions and a score for the biggest game of the year, Super Bowl LVI:

1. A Quarterback battle for the ages:

Joe Burrow is a tough quarterback. If we’ve learned anything about Burrow this season it’s that nothing is going to be too big for him. The stage isn’t going to bother him. On the other side, Matthew Stafford is a very experienced quarterback and he’s never out of a game with his arm. This is Stafford’s big chance at glory and he should be expected to bring his A-game. There will be a winner and loser for this game, but neither quarterback will be charged with the crime of letting their team down.

I expect Burrow to have 250-300 yards in the air and to be very efficient. Burrow completed just over 70 percent of his passes in the regular season and he’s sitting at a 68.8 percent completion percentage in the postseason. He’s got no shortage of weapons and he’s a good decision-maker. We know that nothing gets to Burrow, no amount of pressure and no amount of stakes are going to take him out of his element. He’s got a little Ben Roethlisberger in him, you can hit him and he just keeps slinging the football. Let’s go on the high end for Burrow. Let’s say he goes 28-41 passing for 300 yards and three touchdowns.

Matthew Stafford threw for 4,886 yards in the regular season. He fits into the Rams offense and he has a full command of it. Stafford is red hot during this postseason. He had 337 yards, two touchdowns and a pick against the San Francisco 49ers. He had 366 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccneeers, with the game sealing bomb to Cooper Kupp to get into field goal range. The Rams are the best when Stafford gets to fire all the rockets all over the field. Look for Stafford to shine. Let’s say he’s 35-49 passing for 345 yards and four touchdowns. If it goes down like this we’ll remember this shootout for years to come.

2. This one is going to be a drama producing game

When the Rams take on anybody in the playoffs it always seems to be a tight game. The 49ers looked poised to beat them. The Buccaneers almost came back and beat the Rams after they built a huge lead. The Rams are a team that play with fire. Just look at Sean McVay’s other playoff games. Remember the Rams vs. Saints playoff game on the last Rams’ run to the Super Bowl? Exactly. The Rams are a neccesary ingredient to a crazy playoff game.

The Bengals had the easiest path to the Super Bowl and it was still filled with drama. They played a Las Vegas Raiders team that barely made the playoffs and didn’t look like they belonged once the postseason started. That game was still too close for comfort. The Bengals then played the Titans and have Ryan Tannehill to thank for giving them the game. That game was razor thin tight and the way the Titans played the Bengals probably should have walloped them. The Chiefs fell apart but were killing the Bengals before they crumbled. Neither team has an easy button. This game is going to be intense.

3. The trenches will be a huge advantage for the Rams:

Games are won and lost in the trenches. The Cinncinati Bengals gave up more sacks than anybody this season. Burrow may be good at taking a beating, but that also means he’s good for some negative plays. Drive killers are what get you beat in a shootout. This game is billed as a last quarterback to get the ball kind of affair. Keeping pace is huge. Sacks and holding penalties are going to be a problem for the Bengals against a Rams team that can pressure Burrow without sending extra blitzers. The four biggest words in this game could be : Aaron Donald, Von Miller.

Counting the playoffs Burrow has been sacked 63 times this season. However that number is only 35 times. There is a huge discrepency here between the amount these teams protect their quarterbacks. The Rams have a solid offensive line and an offense that doesn’t give Stafford a lot of punishment. The Bengals need to have Burrow sling it and they don’t protect him. Negative plays stemming from pass protection is a huge element of this game. Watch for the Rams pass rush. Let’s put them down for five sacks and a forced fumble on Burrow. Let’s also put them down for three offensive holding penalties having trouble against Aaron Donald.

4. Eric Weddle will have a pick six:

This is by far my favorite prediction and it’s easily the most fun of the four. Eric Wedle came out of retirement to give the Rams a boost in the postseason. He had the most tackles for the Rams against the San Francisio 49ers and he’s already become a leader for that defense. It was like he never left the Rams in the first place. Weddle is an insitnctive player who steps up in big games. Nobody is going to be more prepared than Weddle will be.

As a guy whose been a Weddle fan long before he was a Ravens legend, I want nothing more than him to have one of his victory ice cream bowls with all the fixings next to the Lombardi Trophy. If the Rams win, I’d volunteer to bring the ice cream down to the field if it would get me in the stadium. All jokes aside, I’m going all in on Weddle being a difference maker and walking out into the sunset the way his glorious career should end. There’s nothing I want to will to existence in this game more than this pick six for one of the greatest men football ever knew.

And Now a Score: Rams win 31-28

The game will be a back and forth affair. In the end, I think games are won in the trenches. The Rams have a huge advantage at the line of scrimmage and it will lead them to the Lombardi Trophy.

NEXT POST: Brian Flores is right, the NFL has a problem they must address

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

NFL Wild Card Preview: Thoughts for Saturday Slate

By Chris Schisler

The NFL Wild Card round starts today and it’s time for a quick preview of the action. The Saturday slate starts with a battle in The Jungle, it’s the Las Vegas Raiders vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. The nightcap is the Buffalo Bills hosting the Patriots in a division rivalry playoff style. Here’s what I’m thinking going into these games.

Raiders vs. Bengals

This game feels a lot like the Ravens playoff game against the Titans in 2019. It’s a Bengals team that’s feeling itself after winning the division for the first time in a long time. It’s a sneaky good matchup for the Las Vegas Raiders. The Bengals rebuild comes on the backs of young players and their lack of playoff experience has to be noted. The pressure is on the Bengals and if the Raiders make this a game, Cincinnati may not be able to handle it.

The Bengals are the best team in this matchup. Joe Burrow and those three great receivers are the marquee players here. Remember the Ravens were objectively better than the Titans in 2019. In the playoffs, it doesn’t matter unless you’re the better team that day. The Bengals’ offensive line isn’t great. Burrow has been sacked 51 times this season. That’s the most sacks a quarterback has taken this year,

Ravens fans know firsthand how Maxx Crosby can ruin a game. Crosby has eight sacks and a favorable matchup against a team built to throw it a lot. Yannick Ngakoue had 10 sacks this season and the Raiders are generally known for their ability to get after the quarterback.

Because of the Raiders’ one matchup advantage here and the fact that the Bengals are brand new at this contender thing, give me the Raiders. I’m going with the upset.

Prediction: Raiders win 35-28

Patriots vs. Bills:

This one is tough. These teams know each other very well and the AFC East was decided by the slimmest of margins. The Patriots have a young quarterback, but they have all the things that help said young quarterback. They have a coach who is a game plan master. They have a running game that has three running backs averaging over four yards per attempt. New England also has great tight end play. If the Bills can’t stop the run it will be a problem.

This game goes down to two things. Can the New England Patriots win the battle at the line of scrimmage? Secondly, can Josh Allen play at a level where the Bills are going to win regardless? Allen has been hot and cold this season. If Allen throws for under 250 yards and this is a defensive battle, the balance goes to the Patriots. If Allen plays his best, the Patriots aren’t stopping the Bills and their receiving weapons. The Bills have more firepower and they know it. They want to be aggressive in this game and get out to a fast start.

In the first game between these teams, the weather had a huge factor and the Patriots were able to just run the ball and get the win. Tonight will be brutally cold at Orchard Park, but for Buffalo standards, the wind is pretty mild. Both teams are used to playing in the cold so it’s hard to see this playing too much of a factor. In the end, I’ll go with Josh Allen over Mac Jones. Give me the Bills in this one.

Prediction: Bills win 28-24

NEXT POST: Ravens NFL Draft spotlight: Evan Neal OT, Alabama

The Purple and Black Nest aren’t getting a break just because the Ravens are out of the mix. There is plenty of offseason talk to go over with you. At the end of the day, this is a football site and the playoffs are in our jurisdiction. Playoffs, NFL Draft season, you name it and we’re on it.

Posted in Complicated made simple: X's and O's and scouting for all fans, Pregame Content

Baltimore Ravens: Defensive game plan against the Bengals

By Chris Schisler

I’m going to put my coaching hat on here and give Baltimore Ravens fans a sense of what I would do if my name was Don Martindale and I was the defensive coordinator against the Bengals. This game is exciting because the Bengals really do possess a lot of players you could consider a threat.

It starts at the wide receiver position for the Bengals. They have Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins. Chase is their big-play threat. He averages over 20 yards per reception and has found the end zone five times. The game plan for the Ravens starts with shutting Chase down. This is a game where the Ravens cornerbacks have to come out fighting and they have to be ready. Marlon Humphrey will shadow Chase all day. The Ravens have to put their best cornerback on their best target it’s that simple.

Baltimore Ravens must start by taking away their strength

Because I have so much trust in the secondary of this team, I’m going to be aggressive. De’Shon Elliott and Chuck Clark have been great this season. Anthony Averett has really only had one bad game and he’s shown he can handle his business overall. The defense has turned things around after a rough first two weeks of the season against Derek Carr and Patrick Mahomes. Trusting my players is essential.

So I’m being physical with the receivers. I’m rerouting the receivers and making it hard for Joe Burrow to go to his first read. It’s exactly what the Ravens did against the Chargers only this time it comes with more pressure. You have to pressure Burrow and you have to test the merit of his arm talent. If he burns me once or twice, I’ll live with it. He’s not having all day to throw that football. He’s going to have to beat me with perfect throws all day long and against pressure.

No “Mixon” it up

The number one thing I’d tell my outside linebackers in this game outside contain is paramount. I just told you I’m being aggressive. If Odafe Oweh or Justin Houston don’t rack up sacks in this game it’s fine. I’ll send pressure. We have to play gap sound defense. We can’t let Joe Mixon get around the edge. The second the Bengals are a one-dimensional team, with no run game to speak of, the second I can really get to work.

I’m going to have a player always spying on Joe Mixon. He’s not going to make an impact on this game if I can help it. I know the biggest liability here is my inside linebackers in pass coverage. I’ll use some well-timed fire zones at them. It may be Oweh dropping into a shallow zone, or maybe even Calais Campbell, but we’re going to make the passing lanes tough places for Mixon to get the ball underneath.

Wrap Burrow in the fire:

This is a great game for stunts, especially in passing situations. Let’s see Justin Madubuike playing a shade of the center, wrapping around Calais Campbell who comes across the A gap on his side. Let’s see Oweh do a super stick all the way into the A gap with the nose guard slanting the other way into the guard and a blitzing Patrick Queen flying up the other A gap. What I want to do is to get defenders getting the Bengals’ wires crossed upfront.

I’m going to send a lot of different looks at the Bengals. I’m going to stretch out every morsel I can out of the “positionless” defense we have in Baltimore. One play I’ll send Chuck Clark. The next it will be Tavon Young. Heck, let’s get De’Shon Elliott a sack too. This whole game is about making Burrow constantly deal with somebody in his face. It’s all about making him reckless and giving him no time to think.

With a scarcity mindset and off-balance launch points, Burrow will make bad throws. It may be a deep ball that lags behind his receiver and into a defensive back’s hands. Maybe it will be a ball forced into a tight window, a ball without the requisite juice to thread that needle.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: 6 keys for the offense against the Bengals

It’s a thin line between being aggressive and being reckless. This is a game where I trust Marlon Humphrey on an island, I use extra defensive backs to play around with coverage and blitzes. I can have my cake and eat it too. The hypothesis is that if you put Joe Burrow in hell, no angel is going to save the football from harm’s way. Turn up the heat. Adjust accordingly, but never let them feel comfortable, especially the quarterback.

Posted in Hot Take of the Week

Ravens are still the class of the AFC North

By Ronald Toothe

There’s a shift currently taking place in the AFC North. It’s a shift that has brought with it an influx of incredible young talent to all four teams over the last few seasons.

In Cleveland, it started with Myles Garrett in 2017 and continued with the addition of franchise cornerstones like Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Denzel Ward.

In Cincinnati, second-year QB Joe Burrow will have his chance to wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his old college teammate Ja’Marr Chase for years to come.

Even in Pittsburgh, despite their old guard slowly leaving piece by piece, they’ve managed to stay strong by drafting new stars like TJ Watt, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson.

While the balance of power going forward could be as fragile as it’s ever been, fear not, for the AFC North will still be the Ravens division to win for years to come.

Of all the other three teams’ additions to their rosters since 2017, Eric Decosta and company have been right there with them every step of the way. For as much as the Flock can be frustrated at times when a player like Miles Boykin or Jaylon Ferguson doesn’t provide the immediate boost, we’d like, the hits have far outweighed the misses.

Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chuck Clark, Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, DeShon Elliott, Bradley Bozeman, Marquise Brown, Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins. All of these players have been drafted in the last four seasons. This is crazy to think about given how integral each one has been to the Ravens’ success already.

Ravens fans already know that this team has numerous different standard-bearers in place for the future though. The question is, how do they stack up with the rest of the division going forward?

Cleveland rocks?

Pundits on television and in print media have been quick to say that the Browns will be the kings of the north for years to come following 2020. The only problem with that hot take, is that we’ve heard it for going on four years now.

Cleveland has certainly taken monumental steps forward over these last few years and does deserve much more respect than they’ve garnered in the past, but a playoff win against a broken down Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t make them instant Super Bowl contenders or divisional favorites.

It’s hard to argue the talent the Browns have accrued over the last few seasons. Nick Chubb is in the conversation of the best pure running back in the league, and Myles Garrett has shown that he’s probably the best defender in football not named Aaron Donald.

Baker Mayfield really began to show why the Browns took him first overall in 2018 after last Thanksgiving as well, putting together the best stretch of his pro career thus far. He only threw one interception during that span, indicating that his gunslinger approach may be a much more calculated one going forward.

Paper vs. reality

Even despite all of the “on paper” talent the Browns have though, the current Mayfield-led iteration of the team still holds a 1-4 record vs the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. Both of their key wins last season (vs Tennessee, vs Pittsburgh in the playoffs) were almost blown after getting out to huge leads early on in the ballgame.

They also stubbed their toe against lesser teams like the Raiders and Jets during what was still a crucial playoff push at the time, games where elite teams get the job done. Going forward the Browns will likely be the biggest thorn in the Ravens side, but anyone who says it’s their division to win is doing so just for the sake of the potential “I told you so”.

From LSU to Cincinnati, the new Tiger Kings?

The Bengals have a whole lot of work still left to do and more additions to make, but make no mistake about it, they’re not as far off as one would initially think. Their 2021 draft was quietly among the best in the league as of now (which is easy to say while players are still in shorts and helmets of course).

The free agent acquisition of Trey Hendrickson to pair alongside Joseph Ossai from Texas could be one of the most overlooked pass rush duos in football, but will certainly help what’s been a rough defensive unit for the Bengals over the last few seasons.

The major key to their success going forward will be keeping QB Joe Burrow upright. They began focusing on this with the drafting of Jackson Carman out of Clemson (along with two others later in the draft: D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill), who will provide some much needed protection for the young signal caller.

Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd could very well be the most well-rounded receiver group in the league down the line with a player like Burrow slinging the rock, they just need the time in the pocket to make it happen.

2021 likely isn’t the year the Bengals will be competing for a playoff position, but if Burrow is able to make it through the season and continue building what was already becoming great chemistry with the young guys around him, they’ll be far from the easy win on the schedule that we’ve come to know going forward.

Closing the Steel curtain on the old guard

Surprisingly enough, the team in the least enviable position in the AFC North going forward is the one that took home the divisional crown in 2020: the Steelers. Each AFC North team has their quarterback of the future, while Pittsburgh willingly signed up for another ride with a 39 year old coming off of total elbow reconstruction.

What was once one of the most feared offensive lines in football has become more and more a shell of itself over the last few seasons, with the biggest shifts coming this off-season. After the retiring of Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva coming over to anchor the right side of the Ravens line, their current situation up front leaves much to be desired.

In an article for Trib Live, Chris Adamski writes,

“J.C. Hassenauer and B.J. Finney are options at center. Second-year player Kevin Dotson is penciled in as the new starter at left guard, and Zach Banner is expected to serve as the starting right tackle in 2021 despite never having started and finished an NFL game on the offensive line. Also, Chuks Okorafor is slated to take over for longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who signed with the rival Baltimore Ravens. And another rookie, tackle Dan Moore, was added via a fourth-round draft pick.”

Now, it may be unfair to completely write off the linemen they have coming in given that most of them haven’t had the chance to step up. However, given the consistency they’ve had and the chemistry they built in the process over the last decade, it’s hard to be confident that a brand new group like this can keep Ben healthy through an extended season.

Other issues for the Steelers

Not to mention, they spent this year’s first round pick on a heck of a running back from Alabama in Najee Harris, but if the offensive line is causing him to meet defenders at the line of scrimmage on a regular basis it may as well still be James Conner back there.

The defense will still be among the better units in football, but even that side of the ball has seen its fair share of losses. Bud Dupree chose to head for greener pastures in Tennessee, Mike Hilton the same to Cincinnati, and Steven Nelson was deemed a cap casualty and released. They didn’t address those holes until day three of the draft, so it’ll take a mighty effort from Watt, Heyward, and company to replicate their prior success.

Wrap up

Overall the AFC North is improving in a lot of ways, but the Ravens have managed to stay ahead of that curve every step of the way. We’ve got some exciting divisional match-ups to look forward to in the coming years, and probably a lot of Sundays spent on the edge of our seats as a result.

NEXT POST: The Ravens don;t need Julio Jones to make it work

It wasn’t too long ago that people considered the AFC North to be the true class of the NFL, and should the new young crop of talent across the board live up to their full potential, it won’t be long before that again becomes a reality.