Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens defense: 3 keys against the Vikings

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens had a lot of problems against the Cincinnati Bengals. Some of those problems are coachable mistakes and some of them felt more like broken spirit. Today, we’re going to give the defense the benefit of the doubt and expect a “Play Like a Raven” effort. Let’s focus on the coachable aspects of it all. What are the keys to beating the Minnesota Vikings you ask? Here’s three big ones.

1. Baltimore Ravens must prevent the big play

The Minnesota Vikings have some big-time playmakers on their roster. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thelin, and Dalvin Cook offer the same challenges that the weapons of the Bengals did. The cornerbacks need to show up for this game. In the last outing for the Ravens, the cornerbacks lost the battle for the ball to the opposing receivers. They often were out of position and they got beat from the snap of the football. I don’t know what that was on October 24th, but it wasn’t a typical Marlon Humphrey performance.

Communication in the backend has to be better than it was against the Bengals. Remember three Ravens going to the flat and leaving C.J. Uzomah wide open for a touchdown? The Ravens have to be on the same page and the safety play has to be better. The Ravens are giving up more big plays through the air than any team in the NFL. Is some of that on a lack of pass rush? Sure. Is some of that just life being harder without Marcus Peters? To an extent. The thing is that Chuck Clark and De’Shon Elliott have to be extra diligent in taking away big plays.

Don Martindale’s positionless defense concept is cool. Creating a little extra chaos with the looks you present is a great idea. This defense is lacking all the fundamentals. Martindale can’t dumb the defense down to the point of oversimplification, yet he’s got to dial some things back. The Ravens need to play gap sound upfront. Linebackers have to read keys, fill gaps and run through the football. It sounds simple though that’s exactly what this defense needs.

2. Open-Field Tackling:

Look, guys, I’m harping on the simple things for a reason. The Ravens defense is making mistakes this season that you expect from high school football teams. Key one is basically about being in the right place and not making things easy by making mental errors. Key number two is about doing the basic thing when you’re in the right position. How many times have the Ravens given up points just because they couldn’t tackle a player in the open field?

The Ravens need to learn to take the right angles, wrap up and run through. There’s too much throwing of arms. There’s too much going exclusively for the fumble, The Ravens have to start using their shoulder pads much more on defensively. They are there for a reason and long runs in the open field against Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook sounds like a recipe for losing a winnable football game.

3. Baltimore Ravens winning matchups upfront

We can dog Don Martindale all we want but the players have to play. Did Martindale call the right game against the Bengals? Probably not. He backed off when the pressure was making Burrow get tough completions. It led to it all being too easy. At the end of the day though, the last defensive effort we saw from the Ravens falls much more on the players. The Ravens need to play better football. Football is about matchups to a large extent. Getting to Kirk Cousins is about beating the man across from you if you play in the Ravens’ front seven.

Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston have to create pressure by winning off the edge. The Ravens need some interior pass rush. This would be a good day for Justin Madubuike to take a step forward on that front. Martindale should send Patrick Queen on the occasional blitz. This game is going to be won or lost by the front seven. If the Vikings can run the ball and Cousins has all day to throw, you know bad things are on the way.

A Ravens win means bottling up Dalvin Cook. That doesn’t just mean tackling him in the open field, it means making sure he barely sees daylight, to begin with. By winning the line of scrimmage the Ravens can prevent Cook from having a full head of steam.

NEXT POST: The Aaron Rodgers situation: And why the NFL has to do something

A Ravens win means sacking Cousins three to five times and forcing a turnover or two. The Ravens secondary needs all the help it can get and it needs to be allowed to focus on creating a no-fly zone. Baltimore has to win the battle with the players six inches in front of their face. The Ravens must win the battle of the line of scrimmage.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: Ranking their top 10 problems after a tough loss

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens have issues. They have been dealing with a lot on the injury front this season, and still have managed a 5-2 record. After a 41-17 loss to the Bengals, the problems are the clear focus of the fanbase. Let’s dive into the problems because they feel heavier than ever.

Problem 1: Offensive line is even more banged up

The Baltimore Ravens will probably be without Patrick Mekari for a while. He was holding down the fort at the right tackle position about as well as anybody could have hoped for. Now the Ravens are at their Plan C at offensive tackle. For the moment that means Tyre Phillips is back at right tackle. That’s not good. Ronnie Stanley is out for the season. The Ravens could use reinforcements on the offensive line but trades are hard to come by for linemen mid-season.

Problem 2: The defense is an enigma

The Ravens probably aren’t as good as they were defensively against the Chargers. That could easily look like an anomaly, a weird happening that nobody will ever complain about. The Ravens hopefully aren’t as bad as they were against the Bengals. Still, this defense makes no sense. How can this be the same defense that throttled Justin Herbert? The Ravens have no idea what to expect from their defense as a whole, which is the top concern for a defense with a lot of things to worry about.

Problem 3: Pursuit angles, open field coverage, inconsistent pass coverage

The Ravens give up more yards after the catch than I can bear; don’t make me look up that ugly statistic. The Ravens are taking bad angles to the football. In the passing game, their linebackers look lost and provide very little value. Currently, four of the top five leading tacklers are defensive backs. That means the front seven is letting a lot slip past them. If you watched the game against the Bengals you understand the defensive backs have a limited grasp on what a tackle should look like.

The Ravens have given up some big games in the air. In general, their pass defense is hard to count on. The Ravens couldn’t stop tight ends in the first two weeks of the season. Michael Pittman Jr. and Ja’Marr Chase have dominated them. The secondary either shows up or it doesn’t and when it hasn’t, it’s been ugly.

Problem 4: The run game is broken

The Ravens’ rushing yards are almost exclusively coming from Lamar Jackson at the moment. The running backs don’t have the burst to make it work. It’s not like the offensive line is creating much daylight, yet this running back group offers very little to be excited about. The Ravens don’t have an answer on their active roster. At this point, they may as well try Nate McCrary with the big boys.

Has the Ravens’ passing game grown leaps and bounds? You bet. Still, this is supposed to be the best running team in football and they are nowhere close to that. The Ravens lost their physical identity. They need Nick Boyle to come back for a much-needed blocking super booster. They need the line to block better. Adding a running back isn’t going to fix everything, but having somebody who can turn a two-yard run into a four or five-yard gain would add unspeakable value to this team.

Problem 5: Wide Receiver has become the top strength (And it’s not an elite unit)

What do the Ravens have going for them offensively? It’s a shortlist. The Ravens have an MVP quarterback and a good group of pass-catchers. All of a sudden the wide receiver position is the top position for the offense other than quarterback. Marquise Brown is a number one receiver. We can give him that after his strong start to the season. Rashod Bateman looks the part, it’s clear that he’s going to be good. James Proche and Devin Duvernay have stepped up this year and have become solid contributors.

While it’s good that the offense is getting more from the passing game (In particular their receivers) this is a troubling sign. The Ravens don’t have a top-tier group of receivers. Until proven otherwise, Marquise Brown is the only real game-changer the receiver position has. If you said at the beginning of the season that the Ravens’ offense would lean on its wide receivers, you may have become very nervous. That’s the point. It’s hard to have balance like this. This isn’t what the team was built for, even if it’s better than it was.

6. The defensive line has been relatively unimpactful

The Baltimore Ravens aren’t getting much from the defensive line. This has been Brandon Williams’s worst season. Justin Madubuike has been okay, yet with a larger sample size this season he’s underachieved. Calais Campbell is clearly the best defensive lineman the Baltimore Ravens have. Campbell isn’t the game destroyer he once was though, and the defensive line has been gashed several times this season.

7. Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison can’t be counted on:

The fact of the matter is that Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison had the opportunity to shine this season. L.J. Fort was lost to injury and the Baltimore Ravens desperately needed their young linebackers to play well. Patrick Queen has been not just underwhelming but frustrating. Malik Harrison isn’t showing to be a great athlete. Chris Board and Josh Bynes are the best linebackers the Ravens have. Queen has improved but in a situation where he’s losing snaps to Bynes, a player Baltimore had no choice but to bring into the fold.

8. Slow starts are getting old:

The Ravens can’t start games right this season. Other than the Chargers game, name one time the Ravens led a game wire to wire. Exactly, you can’t. The Ravens have won close games in which they needed to be an amazing fourth-quarter team. Doing things the hard way comes at a cost. The Bengals did not let the Ravens get away with it.

9. Baltimore can’t afford anything but an A effort from Lamar Jackson:

The Ravens are 5-2 because their quarterback has played like he wants his second MVP award. Jackson had two fumbles against the Las Vegas Raiders and was a bit off at times. Jackson was completely out of sync against the Bengals. They lost. If Jackson doesn’t amaze the Ravens can’t win unless they get a complete team win (It happened one time only: See Chargers game).

10. Injuries and general are adding up:

The Ravens have more players on injured reserve than you can count on your 10 fingers. The Ravens have lost star players for the season, players who were core to the whole plan this year. When you look at it the Ravens have very limited cap space and very limited options ahead of the trade deadline and they need fresh bodies on this roster. Injuries have been an incredibly bad problem.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens get dominated by Bengals: Nothing nice to say

The Ravens still have a chance to have a great season. They do have issues to work through though, and just about every problem feels heavy going into the bye week.

Posted in Pregame Content

Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts: 4 Keys for the defense

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens have a prime-time fight with the Indianapolis Colts tonight. Let’s take a look at what the defense needs to do in this Monday Night Football appearance. Here are four keys for the Ravens defensively:

1. Up, up… and Oweh:

Odafe Oweh is off to a fantastic start to his rookie season. The Ravens have 10 sacks this season and Oweh has accounted for a pair of them. Oweh made two of the most important plays of the season against the Chiefs that allowed the Ravens to take the ball away from Kansas City for their miraculous win. Four games in and Oweh has ten tackles, six QB hits, and a forced fumble. The Ravens need to see if Oweh can have a sack in back-to-back games.

One way or another the Ravens need to get pressure on the quarterback. The outside linebackers need to keep up the momentum that they picked up last week against the Denver Broncos. Tyus Bowser came to the party with a couple of sacks. Justin Houston and Odafe Oweh both got into the quarterback take-down party. In a week where the Broncos were short on help for the inside of their offensive line, the Ravens dominated the offensive tackles. Against the Colts, Don Martindale needs to see if this can continue.

This is a big picture thing as much as a takedown the Colts thing. The growing hype about Oweh is a real area of hope. The Ravens needed a star pass rusher for a while. The outside linebackers as a whole have been exciting. If this position group keeps a positive trajectory, this defense has a bit more muscle to count on this year.

2. Justin Madubuike… We see you

Justin Madubuike got a sack in Denver as well and is having a strong season. According to Pro Football Focus, Madubuike has had 56 snaps as a pass rusher and 26 run defense stops. The PFF grade for Madubuike in pass-rushing is a very strong 73.8. While he hasn’t quite been the run stopper that Brandon Williams has always been, Madubuike offers more penetration and pocket pushing than Williams ever has. In fact, Madubuike has more talent than Justin Ellis, Michael Pierce, and Timmy Jernigan combined. Things are only going up for him.

Let’s talk about how Madubuike can be a key for this battle against the Colts. If the Ravens keep Wentz in the pocket, Madubuike’s mid-line pressure could give him nowhere to step up in the pocket. Madubuike could offer a lot of problems for the Colts’ offensive line. If the outside linebackers keep up their forceful play and Madubuike does his thing, the Ravens will win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Madubuike plus Oweh and Houston going off equals the whole thing coming together.

3. Ravens corners controlling the action:

Michael Pittman Jr. is a player that needs to be neutralized. He’s a Colts receiver that has had a great start to the season. With his slick route running, his combination of size and body control, and, most of all his toughness, Pittman Jr. can overpower some of his opponents. Mr. Pittman Jr. have you met Marlon Humphrey? Humphrey is a key player in this contest. He can take the Colts’ biggest weapon out of the entire affair.

The Colts’ passing game goes through Pittman Jr. who has eight more receptions than any other player on the team. Eight grabs behind him is Zach Pascal. Pascal does have three touchdown receptions and is a solid number two. Anthony Averett has to limit him. If the Ravens corners can clamp down on the two Colts’ receivers, Martindale can go all-in on the pressure looks he dials up.

This is one week where the tight end position isn’t a huge threat. Jack Doyle has 10 receptions this season, but he isn’t a Darren Waller, Travis Kelce, or a T.J. Hockenson. The passing game comes down to controlling the availability of the top two receivers. This is a game where the Ravens can actually do what they want to do on defense. This is a game where the matchup favors Don Martindale’s comfort zone. Steer into that Wink!

4. For goodness sake just tackle:

The Baltimore Ravens have had an iffy relationship with tackling this season. The Ravens can’t let bad tackling keep the Colts churning out plays that have no business happening. Jonathan Taylor is a heavy running back, especially in the open field. The defense has to make full use of their shoulder pads and not just throw arms at Taylor (I’m looking at you, Queen).

The Ravens almost have to look at Taylor as if they’re going against Derrick Henry. It’s the same concept. They need to hit low and run through. If the Colts’ run game flourishes or bounces big plays down the field on plays that could be bottled up, this game could be more frustrating than it has to be.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens battle Colts on MNF: How good are the Colts?

There you have it. That’s what the Baltimore Ravens need to do for this game to be a compelling victory.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: 4 keys for the defense against the Broncos

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens defense has to step up against the Denver Broncos. The good news for the Ravens is that they have key players back. Justin Houston, Justin Madubuike, and Brandon Williams all return this week after being out for the Covid-19 close contact protocol against the Lions. What are the keys for Don Martindale and his unit going into their showdown in Denver?

1. Limit the easy completions for Teddy Bridgewater:

Teddy Bridgewater is completing over 70 percent of his passes. To put it frankly, the Broncos have had it too easy in the passing game. The Ravens are a defense that must finally offer them a test. Baltimore can’t get nickeled and dimed in this game. The Ravens have to take the easy completions away. The Broncos’ offense is very much built on timing. Disrupting the timing of the play by being physical with the receivers and getting into Bridgewater’s bubble is very important.

If Anthony Averett doesn’t play (He’s listed as questionable) this will force Martindale’s hand. He’ll have to be less aggressive in his coverage calls. This will require the defensive front to quickly get pressure on Bridgewater. Some fans have grown weary of Martindale blitzing, but if he doesn’t send some heat, the Ravens could die from slow cuts.

The defense has to pressure Bridgewater. The fact that Bridgewater has been so efficient makes me think it’s too good to be true. Bridgewater isn’t bad, but he isn’t this lethal of a quarterback. Martindale is going to have to use stunts and blitzes to make him prove it with pressure coming at him.

2. Bottle up Melvin Gordon:

The Broncos’ passing game is good, but no offense wants to be one-dimensional. Melvin Gordon is averaging 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. That is a healthy average. but it is inflated by one monster game against the New York Giants. Other than that, Gordon has not been on a roll. Bridgewater has had to do the heavy lifting for this offense.

If the Ravens make the Broncos one-dimensional, they make them more predictable. At that point, it becomes a chess match and Martindale should be trusted to call the right kind of game. If the Broncos have balance, it gives credence to the play-action and lets them keep Baltimore on their heels a bit defensively. It all goes back to key number one. The Ravens need to make Bridgewater uncomfortable, in a big way.

3. Don’t give up the big play:

The Broncos are feeling it and confident offensive coordinators like to take shots. The Broncos don’t have Jerry Juedy in this game. They don’t have K.J. Hamler in this game either. Courtland Sutton is not the biggest speed demon but he’s a hulking wide receiver who you don’t want to play around with. Noah Fant is a tight end who could have his biggest game of the season this week.

Baltimore hasn’t been able to defend the tight end. Travis Kelce and Darren Waller went off on this defense. The good news is that T.J. Hockinson was essentially a non-factor last week. If the Ravens have figured it out with tight ends the middle of the field is a little less available for the Broncos’ passing game.

4. Tackle. Tackle. For goodness sake Baltimore Ravens tackle:

The Ravens defense has actually put on a clinic on how not to tackle in the open field. It’s been awful. The Ravens defensively haven’t had a huge lack of effort or anything so it’s really as simple as cleaning up the fundamentals. This could be a really tight game. The difference in this game very well could be tackling in the open field. The defense needs to do a better job rallying to a receiver with the ball in the passing attack. They need to take better angles and for goodness sake, they need to run through and wrap up. Nothing frustrates me more than bad tackling and the Ravens have had it in the first three weeks.

NEXT POST: Ravens vs. Broncos: Key game day bullet points

There you have it. There are your defensive keys for the game. Let’s go Ravens.

Posted in Pregame Content

Baltimore Ravens: 3 keys for the defense vs. Las Vegas Raiders

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens take on the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football for their week one game. Let’s dive into the game. It’s time to put on our defensive coordinator hat and think of the three things the Ravens need to be mindful of against the Raiders.

3. Bend but don’t break

Derek Carr doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done for the Raiders. He’s had over 4,000 yards three seasons in a row. In that streak, Carr’s lowest quarterback rating for a season was 93.9. Carr isn’t a bad quarterback. Josh Jacobs is a good running back. Darren Waller is the play-maker we always thought he could be and the Raiders aren’t a pushover team. Do I think the Ravens have the defensive firepower to outmatch them? Absolutely. I just don’t think it’s a Super Bowl XXXV-style game where the Ravens make the opposing offense completely useless.

The key is keeping the Raiders out of the end zone and keeping everything in front of white jerseys with purple numbers. Last season Nelson Agholor and Henry Ruggs both had over 17 yards per reception. Waller had 1,196 receiving yards and Jacobs had 1,303 total yards from scrimmage. The Raiders have some talent that can put points on the board. In 2020, the Raiders put up 30 points or more eight times and won seven of those games.

Red zone defense is going to be imperative in this game. Points are what will sustain the Raiders, not yards. If the pass rushers give the hoped-for amount of pass rush, this isn’t a game where the Ravens will have to do a lot of blitzing. The defensive front of the Ravens has more going for it than the offensive line of the Raiders does. Instead of Martindale being blitz-heavy, look for well-timed blitzes to be what gets the Ravens stops in the red zone.

2. Take the football away:

Last year the Raiders were minus 11 in the turnover ratio. That’s incredible considering that their quarterback only had nine interceptions on the year. Ever since Jon Gruden returned to the sideline, the Raiders calling card has been unforced mistakes and penalties. While the Raiders were on the wrong side of the turnover ratio, the Ravens were plus four. If these teams are similar to the 2020 versions of themselves (which they are) Baltimore should have the advantage in the turnover battle.

Often when we talk about Martindale’s creativity we’re talking about the movement before the snap and different looks and stunts that create pressure on the quarterback. In this game, Martindale is going up against a veteran quarterback who hasn’t had more than 13 interceptions in a season. Look for Martindale’s mastery of this game to be the way he calls his pass coverage. Look for him to switch up his coverage schemes and for the Ravens to generate a turnover by trapping Carr into a bad throw.

If that doesn’t work, there is always knocking the ball out. Forced fumbles could be a strength of the Baltimore Ravens this season. In the preseason the Ravens had a game against the New Orleans Saints where they had three interceptions and forced three fumbles. Marlon Humphrey is famous for the “Fruit Punch.” Other than Peanut Tillman, it’s hard to think of a cornerback who was better at forcing fumbles than Humphrey. Come hell or high water, Baltimore needs to force the Raiders into costly mistakes with the football.

3. Don’t let Josh Jacobs get a full head of steam:

In 2020, Jacobs had over 80 rushing yards in a game four times. The Raiders won all four of those games. Jacobs had over 20 rushing attempts in six of the Raiders games last season. The Raiders won five of those games. Even in games where Jacobs is averaging slightly under four yards per carry, the more involved he is, the better it is for the Raiders. A heavy dose of Jacobs keeps Gruden’s offense honest and keeps pass rush off of Carr.

This is really something you could say every week of the season, but Baltimore needs to make the Raiders one-dimensional. They need to completely discourage the Raiders from running the football. This makes their offense much more predictable and exposes the biggest challenges for the offense.

To make this happen for the Ravens, you need the defensive line to straight up own the line of scrimmage. Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe have to come ready for a full day of work as space eaters. Justin Madubuike needs to be disruptive and Broderick Washington needs to be immovable. With the speed and tackling capability that the Ravens have at the linebacker position, just being gap sound should do the trick. Outside contain is crucial for the outside linebackers in this game.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens vs. Las Vegas Raiders: 5 predictions and a score

Bottling up Jacobs isn’t complicated. The Ravens have to play fundamentally sound defense and play assignment football. The Ravens have the players to get the job done. The only way Jacobs gets going beyond a few nice runs is if the Baltimore Ravens make fundamental mistakes on defense.

Posted in Ashley's 3 big questions

Baltimore Ravens: Three Big Questions About the Defensive Line

By: Ashley Anderson

After spending the last several weeks talking about the offense, it is time to tackle (pun intended) the defense. The Baltimore Ravens have been synonymous with bruising defenses since their inception. Their most notable former players include Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed among countless others. This season, pundits are already saying the Ravens could be among the top in the league, but there are still questions to be answered. Here are the top questions facing the defensive line.

3.) Will Derek Wolfe notch more sacks in 2021?

When the Ravens signed Derek Wolfe to a one-year, $6 million deal in the 2020 offseason, they were looking for him to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Although his 2019 season was cut short by injury, he registered seven sacks with the Broncos. In a year clearly marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, that number dropped to one last season.

The numbers do not tell the full story though as Wolfe became a leader on the defensive line. When Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams missed time, Wolfe was the one who stepped up to fill the void. He earned a three-year, $12 million deal as a result. Now more comfortable in the Ravens’ defense, they are hopeful he can up his statistics.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is a master at scheming up pressure. If Wolfe can tally five or more sacks, it would be a major boost for the defense as a whole. It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility as he has done so in four of his nine seasons.

 

2.) Will Justin Madubuike live up to the hype?

At nearly every press conference during training camp, someone has brought up the name Justin Madubuike. His teammates and coaches are positively raving about his ability and his performance so far. In fact, Madubuike is even receiving attention nationally from publications such as Sports Illustrated regarding his breakout potential.

As a second-year pro, things could go one of two ways for Madubuike. The first, and most preferable for the Ravens, is he makes good on the hype and has a monster season. Although he is not considered a starter at the moment, he will get his fair share of reps. By year’s end, he could be on the field for the lion’s share of snaps.

There is also the alternative possibility of a sophomore slump. Sometimes, players get too much attention, and it gets in their heads. The Ravens usually do well to nurture their young talent, but in the age of social media, you can be sure Madubuike has heard the chatter.

When the spotlight is on athletes, it brings intense scrutiny to everything they do. All eyes are on Madubuike this year, and it remains to be seen how he will handle it.

1.) Can Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams stay healthy?

The saying goes, “Age is nothing but a number,” and for some, that may be true. However, playing in the trenches in the NFL takes a toll on the body. Calais Campbell turns 35 on September 1st, and Brandon Williams is not far behind at 32.

Campbell was exceptionally healthy heading into the 2020 season. After missing just six games in 12 years, Campbell battled Covid-19 and a calf strain that cost him four games. Sitting eight sacks shy of the century mark, he has been outspoken about his desire for a big year. Campbell has hinted at possibly retiring after this year, so he would love nothing more than to finish strong.

On the other hand, Williams has missed time periodically throughout his career. Last season, he missed a total of three games, and his shoes were tough to fill. The Ravens’ run defense is noticeably worse without Williams manning the middle of the line.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints: Preseason preview (Offense)

If one or both veterans miss time, the depth behind them is shaky at best. Baltimore is relying on Justin Ellis, and second-year man Broderick Washington to plug sizeable holes. Madubuike is set to be more of a rotational player than a backup, and the Ravens hope their aging vets can stay healthy.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens training camp: What to be excited about

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens are at training camp preparing for the 2021 season. The negative headlines have made the biggest ripple in our Twitter timelines and our Ravens discussions. Let’s get the concerns and the bad news out of the way so we can finish this thing on an optimistic note.

Lamar Jackson’s start to training camp didn’t go as planned. The former MVP quarterback has been sitting out on a Covid-19 quarantine after a positive test. On a less noticeable level, Gus Edwards has been in the same boat.

The Ravens have injury concerns on top of that. Marquise Brown has missed multiple practices with a hamstring issue. John Harbaugh originally told the media that it wasn’t a big concern.

The longer this goes on the more problematic it seems. Brown’s timetable is unknown at this point. Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin have also reportedly dealt with issues. For the rookie wide receiver, it was muscle tightness. Boykin is another receiver with a hamstring holding him back.

 

Things to be excited about: Young receivers showing up

With all the drama going around at the wide receiver position, there have actually been many positives. In the practice at M&T Bank Stadium, Rashod Bateman beat Marlon Humphrey for a touchdown. The rookie wide receiver looks the part of a first-round pick. While it wasn’t quite like a game-like situation and he wasn’t jammed coming out of his release, Bateman had a wowing highlight.

James Proche has gotten a chance to show off and has made some impressive grabs. The second-year wide receiver came into camp on the roster bubble. He’s been impressive from all accounts and might be a player on the rise. Proche has shown a lot of what got fans excited in the first place. He’s doing what he did at SMU, making tough catches at impressive angles.

Good news for the defensive front:

Speaking of young Ravens, nobody on Ravens Twitter can stop talking about Justin Madubuike. He was a player that many thought would take a year-two jump. He’s looked impressive and there is a ton of buzz for him. This is what Bradley Bozeman said about practicing against Madubuike. 

Guy is a stout dude. He’s one of the harder people I’ve ever had to move on defense, honestly.”

The Ravens have plenty to be excited about with Madubuike. This is another example of a third-round pick that could end up playing like a first-round selection. We saw it with Orlando Brown Jr. and Mark Andrews. When the Ravens like a prospect in the third round they often get a steal. On the outside looking in, it certainly sounds like Madubuike is coming into his own.

Odafe Oweh has been impressive too. On Twitter, Sarah Ellison shared this quote of Don Martindale talking about Oweh:

This kid … I think he’s going to be a great football player for us, and I don’t just throw around the word ‘great.’ I think he’s going to be a problem.”

I’ve seen a couple of videos of Oweh from practice and I have to agree with Martindale. He moves like a bullet coming out of his stance and he’s showing off a bit. It’s early, but we are seeing the right thing from the Ravens’ first-round edge rusher. I could see him having five or six sacks this year. Whatever the numbers end up being, he’s going to put pressure on quarterbacks.

The Ravens’ first-round picks look like first-round picks. They are giving themselves very high expectations as the two most exciting Baltimore Ravens’ rookies. This is exactly what you want to see when you have two picks inside the top 32 picks. It looks like it could pay off in a big way for the Ravens.

The Bottom Line:

Justin Houston signed with the Ravens. He hasn’t started practice yet, that will come soon. Houston is a veteran outside linebacker that brings proven talent to the position. Marrying the proven with the exciting potential of the Ravens’ young talent sounds like a winning plan.

We’re seeing positives from veterans. From all accounts, Calais Campbell is looking like he has plenty left in the tank for what is expected to be his final season. The fact that so much of the buzz is coming from the young talent is exciting. James Proche, Justin Madubuike, and Odafe Oweh are the buzz-worthy players at the moment. That’s good news for the Baltimore Ravens.

NEXT POST: Forgotten Baltimore Ravens of the month vol. 3

The Baltimore Ravens have some good things going on. Let’s focus on the positives here. When you stop and look at what is going on, the positives really lift you up.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Hot Take of the Week

Baltimore Ravens: Why Brandon Williams shouldn’t be a cap casualty

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens may want more cap space, but parting with Brandon Williams would be an unwise approach. The Ravens have already restructured the deal with Williams and the reason they’re so invested in him is his importance to the defense.

Cutting Williams for cap space has been a conversation that’s been going lately. It’s a conversation it seems we’ll always have to go through once in a while. This time it was sparked by Patrick Wilson of CBS Sports. Wilson wrote an article about veteran players who could be on the chopping block. Since then Ebony Bird (my old stomping ground) and Kevin Oestreicher of USA Today’s Ravens Wire have written about it. It seems like it’s time for my two cents on the subject.

The Baltimore Ravens defensive line needs Brandon Williams

Cutting Williams would be solving one problem by creating another. If it allowed the Ravens the flexibility to sign Justin Houston, the temptation is at least understandable. That would leave the Ravens thinner on the defensive line. It’s already one of the Ravens’ most questionable areas of the depth chart.

Behind Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, and Derek Wolfe, the Ravens defensive line is mostly an area of question. Justin Madubuike is an exciting young player, though this is just year two for him. Justin Ellis is okay. Who else is there to get excited about? Aaron Crawford? Meh.

One of the biggest concerns for the Ravens is how their starters will hold up on the defensive line. Williams and Campbell had patches of injury problems last season. Baltimore needs their starters to do the heavy lifting and have Madubuike come on strong. That’s not a want. That’s something the Ravens need if it’s going to work in 2021.

Run Defense:

Even if cutting Williams would allow the Baltimore Ravens to sign Justin Houston, this would be fixing a problem and causing another. Williams is an essential part of the Ravens’ run defense. What happens when Williams is hurt? What happens when he isn’t there to stop the run? Exactly.

The Baltimore Ravens play in the AFC North. That means they have to deal with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt twice per season. Nick Chubb is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He’s a back who is basically guaranteed 1,000 yards rushing if he’s healthy. Chubb is a back that averages over five yards per rushing attempt. If the AFC North crown is going to be fought for between the Ravens and the Browns, Baltimore doesn’t want to let go of Williams.

Brandon Williams is one of the best space eaters. He clogs up rushing lanes and is hard to move out of the way. The Ravens have quick and athletic linebackers, they need Williams to do his job in front of them. Williams makes everybody better around him. He’s the central piece, in the middle of the defense. If the Ravens lose Williams, the Ravens will give up 40-50 more yards on the ground a game. It would be very noticeable.

Williams often forces the running back to bounce outside. This allows the linebackers to flow to the football and make the tackle before the back sees too much daylight.

The Bottom Line:

The bottom line is that Williams is too essential to what the Ravens want to do on defense, to even consider letting him go. The Raven needs more pass rush, and that’s not something Williams typically provides. That’s also not what he’s getting paid for. He’s getting paid to be the anchor of the Ravens’ defense and to make running up the gut an impossibility.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Don’t count out the pass rush just yet

Williams is never going to be one of the flashiest Ravens. Fine. If the Ravens parted with him though, it would be a mistake.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

2020 NFL Draft: Ranking situation for Baltimore Ravens in year 2

By Chris Schisler

Which second-year Baltimore Ravens are set up the best?

The 2020 NFL Draft gave the Baltimore Ravens a good bit of talent. They found their next star at the running back position in J.K. Dobbins. Baltimore remixed the inside linebacker position with Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. It was a solid draft class that made an impact in year one. Let’s look at year two though. Which second-year Ravens are in the best position?

1. J.K. Dobbins

J.K. Dobbins is in the best spot of all the second-year players for the Baltimore Ravens. Dobbins is the lead running back of the team that has rushed for more yards than any team since 2018. This is the right team to be a good running back on. Dobbins is in the perfect situation. He had a strong rookie showing. Gus Edwards will share the workload, and he’s the perfect fit for the offense the Baltimore Ravens operate.

Dobbins needs to increase the impact he makes as a receiver out of the backfield. That’s about the only concern you have with the Ohio State running back. This is a player who averaged six yards a carry in his rookie season. As a ball carrier, there’s very little to be desired. Dobbins gets the job done there with great power, vision, and contact balance to go along with speed.

All Dobbins has to do is catch more passes out of the backfield. If that becomes a prominent part of the Ravens’ offensive attack, Lamar Jackson will have the ultimate safety valve. This could be a security blanket in the passing game with edges that carve up opposing defenses. Dobbins is in the perfect situation and is clearly good at his job. He’s only getting better and in a more dynamic offense, he will be even more dangerous.

2. Patrick Queen

Patrick Queen is going to be on the field a lot in his second season. He has the chance to start taking a leadership role in Don Martindale’s defense. Queen is in a very similar situation as Dobbins. It’s very clear that he has the goods. Queen is an uber-athletic linebacker who can hit like a freight train. The one thing Queen needed when he came into the NFL was polishing.

Queen in year two can be a little more comfortable in the defense. There’s a little less thinking and hesitation and a little more flying around and finding flow. Queen played like a rookie linebacker in the 2020 season. That isn’t a knock on him, that was to be expected. A little more experience and Queen may be able to take the tools he has and produce an unbelievable career.

The good news for Queen is that he had moments of great production as a rookie. 106 total tackles and 66 solo tackles make for a solid start. He also had three sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown. Queen is on the right track. He’s on the expected track. If he keeps progressing he’s in a very comfortable spot.

3. Justin Madubuike

The exciting thing about Justin Madubuike is that he is such a needed second-year player. The Ravens have a lot of talent on the defensive line. Think about that talent though. It’s Derek Wolfe, Brandon Wiliams, and Calais Campbell. When healthy the starters are great but that’s the caveat.

The age of the starters requires the second wave of impact players on the defensive line. Madubuike is a young player with a high motor.

Madubuike is a player who has a chance to see an increased workload in the 2021 season. He can show himself to be a big part of the plan for the future. If Campbell does indeed retire at the end of the year, Madubuike could theoretically take his starting job. He’s a 6-3 293 pound defensive tackle with a good first step and some explosion. Things are just getting going for Madubuike.

4. Malik Harrison

Malik Harrison is going to be a really solid Ravens linebacker. He had a strong showing in his rookie season. Harrison is in a near-perfect position. He was a third-round pick who was asked to contribute on a rotational basis. It went fairly well. In fact, Harrison showed he was a more complete linebacker than many thought he was coming into the 2020 NFL Draft.

Things should stay mostly the same for Harrison in his second season. He could get more playing time in year two. The important thing to remember is that he is a solid contributor to an inside linebacker corps that is collectively as good as any in the NFL.

5. Devin Duvernay

It stands to reason that Devin Duvernay is looking at a starting job. It may not be at wide receiver after Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins were added to the offense, though he should be the kick return specialist. Duvernay has a natural feel for returning kicks and is a dangerous player in the open field. That works to his advantage.

Duvernay’s challenge is fitting himself into the offense. It’s hard to really predict what the Baltimore offense will really look like. It’s hard to figure out who’s going to be getting the increased work with an elevated number of pass attempts. Duvernay is coming off a 20 reception season. They never let him fully establish himself as a rookie receiver.

If the Ravens didn’t add so much to the wide receiver group he would be in a much more comfortable year two position. We’ve seen nothing but good from Duvernay. I think I actually conduct the Duvernay fan club train, but he’s in the middle of the pack in terms of rookie situations.

6. Broderick Washington

The Ravens need their young defensive linemen. Washington didn’t help himself by getting into a little bit of trouble off the field. It’s too early to know what to think about Washington. He hasn’t made a huge impression. While pass rush is probably never going to be his thing, becoming a serviceable space-eater and a solid understudy to Brandon Williams is on the table.

7. Ben Bredeson

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news is that the left guard position is still up for grabs technically. The bad news is that is really the only position Bredeson can compete for a starting job and there is a big logjam at the position. There is a lot of hype for Ben Cleveland. Ben Powers has some positive tape to build off of. Bredeson is essentially an unknown and he could get lost in the shuffle.

8. Tyre Phillips

Tyre Phillips showed the Ravens why it was so important to add to the offensive line this offseason. The Ravens may have traded Orlando Brown Jr., but their main additions of Kevin Zeitler, Alejandro Villanueva, and Ben Cleveland show the Ravens aren’t into the idea of keeping the offensive line the same.

Phillips got a ton of experience in his rookie season. A lot of it wasn’t good. He’s got traits and he could be a swing tackle kind of a backup. Phillips went from a starter in year one to a player who may not even see the field in year two.

9. James Proche

It’s official. The Ravens Flock has always like James Proche more than the Ravens did. Proche didn’t get much of an opportunity in the 2020 season. Now the Ravens have added Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, and Tylan Wallace. Proche is in a very bleak year two predicament

10. Geno Stone

The Ravens have an on-and-off relationship with Stone. Let’s see if he sticks around before we get excited again for Stone. The Ravens added Ar’Darius Washington, an undrafted free agent out of TCU. It’s hard to see it all coming into fruition for Stone.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens started taking chances for star power in NFL Draft

Thanks for checking out PBN! Keep coming back for more. We have plenty of in-depth analysis for the Ravens Flock.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens X-Factors for 2021 season

By Ashley Anderson

Each year, a handful of key players have a tremendous impact on their team’s success. Some are free-agent additions or draft picks while others are returning from injuries. Without further ado, here are the Baltimore Ravens’ x-factors heading into 2021.

Baltimore Ravens Offense – Nick Boyle

It is tempting to take first-round pick Rashod Bateman, or even second year man J.K. Dobbins here, do but Nick Boyle is the guy to watch. Boyle is easily the best blocking tight end in Baltimore, and possibly the league at large. Sadly, his 2020 campaign was cut short due to a devastating leg injury. However, the Baltimore Ravens feel so strongly about him that they re-signed him to a two-year, $23 million extension through 2023.

Health is the biggest question mark for Boyle after suffering his first major injury. Coach Harbaugh has gone on record saying he believes Boyle will be good to go by training camp. Undoubtedly, his return would be a huge boon for Lamar Jackson. Not only will Boyle be an additional strength along a revamped offensive line, he is often overlooked as a receiver.

In nine games last year, he caught 14 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers do not jump off the page, but it was the seventh highest total on a team that does not pass often. Considering the steep drop-off in play when the Ravens were forced to turn to Luke Willson, Eric Tomlinson, and Sean Culkin, Boyle’s importance cannot be overstated.

Until he is back on the field, everyone will wait with bated breath to see how Boyle fairs. When healthy, he is a critical component for Baltimore’s offense. With no competition for the starting tight end role opposite Mark Andrews, Boyle could be in store for a career year if fully healed.

Baltimore Ravens Defense – Justin Madubuike

On a defense loaded with talent from back to front, there are a number of players who could potentially be x-factors in 2021. That said, the nod here goes to Justin Madubuike. Despite a rookie year that was significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and a leg injury, Madubuike improved towards the end of 2020.

Playing in ten games with three starts, Madubuike notched 11 solo tackles and a sack. He steadily improved throughout the year with his best game arguably coming in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns. He recorded three total tackles in that matchup and was given a 90.4 grade by Pro Football Focus.

RELATED POST: Ask the Nest: Ravens fans want to know about the front 7

Entering his second year, the Ravens hope the 6-foot-3, 293 pound defensive tackle from Texas A&M can benefit from a more normal off-season. While Baltimore added outside linebacker Odafe Oweh and defensive end Daelin Hayes in the NFL Draft, it is worth noting they did not select any interior defensive linemen. With Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell both set to hit free agency in 2022, Madubuike could soon be a crucial starter.

In an area lacking depth, Madubuike’s value is sky-high heading into the 2021 season. If he can help create interior pressure and snag a handful of sacks, it will significantly elevate the defensive line. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale will certainly find creative ways to get the young DT more involved.

Baltimore Ravens Special Teams – Nick Moore

The Ravens stunned their fan base this off-season when they parted ways with veteran long snapper Morgan Cox. As part of the famed Wolf Pack along with Sam Koch and Justin Tucker, Cox appeared almost untouchable. However, Baltimore opted to get younger and cheaper at the position, hitching their fate to Nick Moore.

The Ravens called Moore up from their practice squad in Week 12 last year when Cox was on the Covid-19 list. From the naked eye, there did not appear to be a significant drop-off in production. As such, Baltimore was willing to part ways with a stalwart who held down the position for 11 years.

Given the importance of the Ravens kicking game and the bond shared by the Wolfpack, Moore must be on point. If he botches snaps, or the timing between he, Koch, and Tucker is off, fans will inevitably question the release of Cox. However, should he play at a high level and the cost savings allows for more free agent signings, all will be well. For Moore, the less he is talked about the better.

Honorable Mentions

Offense – Sammy Watkins

Watkins was the wide receiver the Ravens settled for when other free agents did not pan out. Known for being injury prone, it is easy to forget the impact Watkins had on Kansas City’s Super Bowl run. If he can help keep defenses honest on the outside and stay relatively healthy, Baltimore’s passing game could be unrecognizable from last year.

Defense – Patrick Queen

Any time the Ravens draft a linebacker in the first round, expectations are through the roof. Queen was no exception to this despite being a one-year starter at LSU. Though he had some gaffes particularly in the passing game, his rookie year was far from typical. Queen still finished second on the team with 66 tackles, and he recorded three sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. If he can take the next step in his development, Queen will be a wrecking ball in the middle of the defense.

Special Teams – Devin Duvernay

Last season, Devin Duvernay put on a show returning kickoffs. His first career touchdown came on a 93-yard kickoff return versus Kansas City, and he eventually overtook James Proche on punt return duties. The Ravens expect to get Duvernay more involved on offense, but he is still the leading kick returner.

NEXT POST: Rashod Bateman: Baltimore Ravens rookie scouting report

Few things can spark a team like an excellent kick return, and Baltimore has seen some of the best. If Duvernay can make a splash like Jermaine Lewis or Jacoby Jones, he figures to be among the league leaders this year.