Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens defense boosts team past Browns

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens escaped Sunday Night Football with a victory. They won the game against the Cleveland Browns 16-10. With about a minute to go Baker Mayfield got the ball with a chance to go down the field for a game-winning touchdown. Don Martindale’s defense stepped up and got the stop, solidifying the best defensive effort of the season.

The Baltimore Ravens won a game in which Lamar Jackson committed four turnovers. That’s not a sentence I thought I’d write earlier in the season. It used to be that the Ravens couldn’t win a game without an amazing performance by Lamar Jackson. Now the Ravens won a game without him and got a victory where he handed the other team extra possessions.

The Ravens defense held the Browns to 10 points. The Browns’ only touchdown came in a controversial fashion, as it appeared from the back angle that the ball hit the ground and it wasn’t a catch. The Browns went four out of 13 on third down attempts. They ran 20 fewer plays than the Ravens and lost two fumbles.

Don Martindale was aggressive in this game. He used blitzes to stop both the run and the pass. The Ravens played incredibly disciplined football. The outside contain was on point. Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike had strong showings and the defensive line stood tall even without Calais Campbell. The combination of Martindale’s game plan and the execution was something Baltimore had been waiting for all season long.

Baltimore Ravens held strong:

The Ravens weren’t going to let Nick Chubb beat them. He had eight rushing attempts and only picked up an average of two yards a pop. Kareem Hunt saw a similar fate on the ground. The only player who had a huge day for the Browns was Jarvis Landry. Landry had six receptions and 111 yards.

Landry didn’t make a huge imprint on the scoreboard though, so much of that production was inconsequential. The Ravens gave up some plays, but at the end of the day, they rarely broke. Three of Jackson’s interceptions were in the first half. The two takeaways Baltimore had kept that from costing the Ravens. One of the turnovers was Landry fumbling on a trick play attempt. He looked for somebody to throw the football to, the Ravens were ready and they got him in an uncomfortable scramble. Odafe Oweh strikes again.

Patrick Queen, who left the game at one point for an injury and then came back, had a great showing in this game. It could have been the best game that Queen has had with the Ravens. Queen had eight tackles and did a good job finding the football. Queen, and the Ravens in general stepped up their tackling for this game.

Having Anthony Averett back helped in this game. Marlon Humphrey was very impressive in this game. Other than a pass interference call (one that was weak sauce) he did a great job against the Browns. Tyus Bowser had a sack and was about as physically imposing as a player could be at the outside linebacker position.

The Bottom Line:

The Browns had 11 possessions and little to show for it. The defense stepped up and got stops on nine of these possessions. You can’t ask a defense to do much more than the Ravens defense did in this game. They stepped up and were the reason the Ravens won this thing. If the defense has figured everything out and can carry the offense on a bad day at the office for Lamar Jackson, the Ravens are a more dangerous team than people expect them to be. This is huge.

NEXT POST:  Baltimore Ravens: Top 10 Defensive Linemen in franchise history

The defense stepped up in this game. Don Martindale called a masterful game. The Browns got some yards, who cares. This defensive effort is one to be proud of.

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 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 Ravens Thoughts

Ravens showdown vs. Chargers: 4 predictions and a score

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens face their most interesting test since the Kansas City Chiefs came into town. The Ravens have to battle the 4-1 Los Angeles Chargers team that just took down the Cleveland Browns 47-42. The Ravens have their hands full and yet I’m optimistic about this game. Let’s talk about it. Here are four predictions and a score for this game:

1. The Ravens keep the Chargers under 30 points:

Just about everyone in the football world is expecting a barnburner of a game. The Chargers are averaging 28.4 points per game. They aren’t going to score 47 every week. They’re hot this season but it’s not a volcano eruption that can’t be stopped. The Chargers opened the season with 20 points over the Washington Football Team. This looks less impressive each week. Washington’s defense isn’t what it was expected to be.

The Dallas Cowboys held the Chargers to 17 points in the second game of the season for Los Angeles. The Chargers put up 30 to beat the Chiefs and 28 against the Raiders. There is a thing called regression to the mean, the Chargers are a west coast team playing at 1:00 pm in Baltimore, and Don Martindale has a ton of my trust. Do I think the Ravens shut the Chargers down completely? No, this one is going to be tough. I just don’t see a circus show where Justin Herbert has five or six touchdowns every time you blink. The Chargers are good… but relax guys. This is just as big a test for Los Angeles as it is for Baltimore.

2. Austin Ekeler gives Ravens linebackers some more humble pie:

The Chargers offense is going to put on a show. I predicted they would score under 30 points. If that’s where I am setting the bar, you already know the defense will give you things to be frustrated about in this one. The biggest problem the Ravens have had is the play of their inside linebackers. The biggest weapon the Chargers have against this is Austin Ekeler.

Patrick Queen has been awful in pass coverage and it isn’t Malik Harrison‘s forte either. Ekeler has 23 receptions on 25 targets this season. He’s a deadly efficient weapon in the passing game. He has three games with over 50 yards receiving, which is a nice contribution from a running back. If you have Ekeler in a PPR Fantasy Football league, it’s easy money this week.

There will be at least a couple of Chargers drives that will be continued by this problem the Ravens have defensively. Look for Ekeler to be the safety valve that allows Justin Herbert to manage a fairly impressive game for the Chargers.

3. Lamar Jackson makes another case for his second MVP award:

A comeback against the Chiefs…Check! A comeback against the Colts… Check! Going head to head against Justin Herbert and getting the win… If Jackson checks that off, he’s practically cruising towards the MVP award. Let’s look at Jackson’s recent work. Against the Colts he had the franchise record for passing yards in a game with 442. He made a lot of history is a good summation of it. Against the Broncos he had over 300 yards. Jackson is feeling it as a passer.

Can you imagine how badly Jackson wants this game? Do you remember the 2018 Wild Card game? Jackson does. Do you remember that the Chargers were the team that asked Jackson to consider playing wide receiver before the 2018 NFL Draft? Jackson does. The rightful MVP of the NFL wants this game and I doubt there will be a human more prepared for a moment than Jackson is for this game.

Give me Jackson to have 275 yards passing with three touchdowns. Let’s add 100 yards on the ground while we’re at it.

4. Rashod Bateman gets his first touchdown in his first game:

Guess who’s coming back into the Ravens offense? Rashod Bateman is prepared to play in his first game with the Baltimore Ravens. Bateman is an ultra-talented receiver who will be mixed in lightly. I think the Ravens are itching to see him play as much as the fans are. Look for Jackson to get Bateman involved in the red zone; that’s where Bateman’s traits can shine the brightest.

I doubt Bateman will have a monster game. It wouldn’t be shocking if he only got a few targets. I just don’t think the rookie wide receiver needs much of a chance. If he gets even a bit of a chance he’s going to show off. I admit this is more of a fun prediction than anything else. I’m going with it.

Now a score: Ravens win 31-28

I’m sorry if you wanted your heart to get some rest this Sunday. It’s going to beat out of your shirt and if the Ravens win, it’ll come the hard way per usual. I just see a Ravens team that’s harder to beat in Baltimore than people realize.

Next Post: Marquise Brown might actually be a number 1 wide receiver after all

I see a team that keeps finding a way, and a team that has the most valuable player, Lamar Jackson. This one is either going to be amazing or horrible and there’s no in-between. I’ll go with amazing on this Purple Friday because every time I’ve doubted the Ravens they pulled through.

 

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: 4 lessons from comeback win over Colts

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens beat the Indianapolis Colts in overtime. It was a game that the Ravens were supposed to be the clear favorites in and it took a miracle of a comeback for them to walk away with a victory. What can be learned from this game? Here are four lessons from the Ravens Monday Night Football comeback for the ages.

1. Lamar Jackson is the comeback king

There was a time when people thought Lamar Jackson couldn’t make a come back. There was a time when people said “Lamar Jackson can’t throw,” and genuinely meant it. That wasn’t too long ago and now Jackson is the comeback king. Jackson led the Ravens in a comeback victory against the Chiefs. It took an almost miracle of a throw to get Justin Tucker in position for a history making field goal in Detroit. 22-3? No problem for Mr. Jackson.

When the Ravens won the coin toss in overtime you could see him mouth, “It’s over.” That’s ice water in your veins kind of stuff. Jackson never gets rattled. He fully experiences frustration in the moment, however he always keeps his cool on the next play. It’s amazing. Jackson has become the quarterback you want for a comeback win.

Jackson completed 86 percent of his passes and had 442 yards passing. The MVP quarterbck now moves up into the top five for passing yards this season. Everything that people said he couldn’t do, he’s doing better than anybody. He’s playing at a level that is so high, that you’re seeing history happen.

2. The inside linebacker play isn’t good enough:

The linebacker play for the Ravens as been problematic. It’s gotten to the point where the Baltimore Ravens almost have to consider benching Patrick Queen in favor of Chris Board. Board may be a special teams ace but this defense needs all the help it can get. Queen in particular struggles with tackles and is taking bad angles to the football. The Ravens may want to make Tyus Bowser an inside linebacker. Malik Harrison is doing a lot right but isn’t a great athlete. Queen is a great athlete who is out of position all the time and barely uses his shoulder pads.

3. Calais Campbell has a heart of a champion:

Calais Campbell made the game saving field goal block. One thing that I love about the play was the passion that he showed. After the blocked field goal you could tell how much this game means to him. Campbell may not have a Super Bowl ring, but he has the heart of a champion. This was a fantastic effort. He’s the best thing the defensive line has going for it. It feels like the Ravens have to win a Super Bowl for Campbell. He’s one of a kind and he willed that block kick into existence.

4. Mark Andrews was worth every penny:

The Indianapolis Colts didn’t have an answer for Mark Andrews. Andrews dominated the Colts for 11 receptions, 142 yards and two touchdowns. He had a monster game and the way he did it is huge. Andrews may be a matchup nightmare for the defense, but he’s also great at getting open. The tight end stepped up as a route runner on Monday Night Football.

The Ravens have one of the best tight ends in the NFL. He is such an important weapon for this offense. To have that kind of a quick strike ability just from throwing it to your tight end is almost unbelievable. Andrews is a game changer at his best. On Monday Night Football he was at his best and then some.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens vs Colts: The ugly and the glorious from 31-25 win

This game was something else, wasn’t it? There is still a lot to process and the Purple and Black Nest isn’t going anywhere.

Posted in The good bad and ugly

Ravens handle the Broncos: The good, bad and ugly

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens beat the Denver Broncos 23-7. Overall it was a good day for the purple and black and we’ll begin our recap with the good.

The Good for the Ravens:

The Baltimore Ravens faithful has less to complain about this week than they have in the past weeks. The Ravens held their opponent to one touchdown. The Ravens substantially outgained the Broncos. Once the Ravens took control, the game was never in any real jeopardy.

The Ravens took control when Lamar Jackson took over the game. A little bit of hitting Mark Andrews was all it took for the passing game to come alive. Jackson had 316 yards and a touchdown passing and had his first game of the season without a turnover. Jackson still chipped in as a ball-carrier with 28 yards, but the MVP quarterback won this game with his arm.

He got a more diverse set of weapons involved this week. James Proche and Mark Andrews both had five grabs. Marquise Brown caught four passes and the most beautiful touchdown of the Ravens’ season on a bomb down the field. Sammy Watkins had four receptions and Devin Duvernay got into the action with three. In a game where the run game was less effective than usual, Jackson and his receiving corps led the way. Duvernay had a huge punt return that set up a last-minute field goal before halftime.

Even with three sacks given up, the pass protection was much improved for the Ravens. When Andre Smith replaced Alejandro Villanueva things got dicey, but the pass protection was about as good as it’s been all season. The Ravens put up 406 total yards in the contest and ran one last play to keep their 100-yard rushing streak alive.

Now let’s talk the good from the defense:

Defensively, there were two main positives. First, the pass rush was outstanding. Secondly, the defensive backs played great football, it was a strong showing for a team missing the starting free safety, De’Shon Elliott. Tyus Bowser had two sacks while Odafe Oweh, Justin Madubuike, and Justin Houston all had one sack.

Chuck Clark may have had his best game with the Ravens and had one of the biggest hits of the season. Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett were outstanding. The defense had issues, but overall this was what you want to see. Giving only seven points and just 252 total yards is a good day at the office.

Denver couldn’t throw the ball down the field. It just wasn’t on the menu. It didn’t matter that Teddy Bridgewater left the game with a concussion, Drew Lock dealt with the same problem. The short passing game was the only thing working for the Broncos outside of their running game. Playing catch-up with the Ravens prevented the frustrating efficiency of Broncos running backs Melvin Gordon and Javontae Williams from mattering.

The Bad:

The Ravens had plenty of chances to finish this game. Possibly the most frustrating moment was when the Ravens had a touchdown pass to Mark Andrews taken off the board because of a facemask by Andre Smith. It could be argued that finding a true killer instinct is still a problem for Baltimore.

The Ravens got off to a what can only be described as a tortoise slow start. The Ravens got down 7-0. Baltimore didn’t score any points in the first quarter and their second-half scoring consisted of two Justin Tucker field goals in the fourth quarter. The Ravens had two more penalties than the Broncos and they were penalties that made this game harder than it had to be.

While Devin Duvernay had a strong showing overall he made a couple of questionable decisions as a punt returner. By letting the ball bounce the Ravens got pinned deep inside their territory. The slow start wasn’t helped by the Ravens losing the field position battle.

The Ugly

The Ravens defense has a profound tackling problem. On the Broncos’ one scoring drive a long run by Javontae Williams was aided by a missed tackle in the backfield and several missed tackles. Tackles not being made kept several plays alive for the Broncos well past their should have been expiration. Patrick Queen had another bad performance in this area.

I checked his Pro Football Focus score, and it’s a drastically low 37.1. Queen’s score is 62.4 in run defense and an even 30 in pass coverage. PFF scores aren’t everything but I checked it because the eye test wasn’t helping the 2020 first-round pick out. The Ravens need better play from Queen and his fellow inside linebackers. The middle of the defense is where the Broncos wanted to attack most of the game.

The Ravens struggled on third downs on offense. The play-calling was the main culprit. The Ravens kept going with an obvious dive play up the gut on third and short. This was problematic for three reasons. First, it took the ball out of Jackson’s hands during pivotal plays. Secondly, it was the most obvious call each time. Finally, the run blocking was problematic in this game, and the manageable third downs were mismanaged. It was as if Greg Roman was unaware of how the game was going.

The Ravens went seven for 17 on third-down conversions. At least a handful of those third down misses were a failing of the offensive coordinator. The Ravens had a lot of promising drives stall on third down.

Le’Veon Bell didn’t make a positive impression in his first game with the purple and black. It’s important to note that with the way the Ravens were run blocking that’s not entirely fair. The Ravens certainly were not enhanced by his activation from the practice squad. You have to wonder if the Ravens were missing the yards per pop impact of Ty’Son Williams, who wasn’t activated for this game.

NEXT POST: Lamar Jackson: Looking at his crazy start to the 2021 season

Bell got four carries and had 11 yards. Latavius Murray led the team with rushing and he only had 59 yards and averaged 3.3 yards per attempt. It wasn’t a typical day for the Ravens rushing game and it’s almost miraculous that they kept their history-making streak of 100 yards on the ground alive. Blocking wasn’t great but let’s not pretend the Ravens have answers at the running back position.

 

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: 8 lessons from tight win over Lions

By Chris Schisler

1. The hard way comes at a cost for the Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens could have blown out the Detroit Lions. They got out to a 13-0 lead. Even though the initial scores took a while to get on the board, the Ravens controlled most of this game. The defense was getting stops consistently for most of this game. The fact is that the defense got enough stops that this should have been an easy win. The Ravens left points on the field.

The Ravens had a ton of issues. Greg Roman was too conservative on third downs and took the ball out of Lamar Jackson‘s hands just to see a run up the gut get stuffed. Drops were a horrible problem for the offense. Nothing worked for the offense, even when it worked. I know it’s kind of a John Madden-like line, but that sums it up.

Even when things went right, the Ravens had a miscue that muted the excitement of the game. The Ravens’ offense prevented this from being a blowout. If it wasn’t for the best kicker in NFL history this would have been an unacceptable loss. That whole pile of frustration is the cost of doing things the hard way.

2. The offensive line can’t be trusted

Remember how in the Chiefs game, the offensive line surprised everybody with strong play. Well, the Ravens’ offensive line didn’t get fixed. This was just about as bad as the showing for the offensive line as the season opener was. The run game didn’t get going. Jackson was sacked four times and any other quarterback would have taken six or seven sacks. it was awful.

The middle of the offensive line was the biggest culprit. Kevin Zeitler hasn’t been the massive upgrade at right guard the Ravens were hoping for. Bradley Bozeman had a rough game but thankfully didn’t have any bad snaps. It didn’t matter who played at left guard, the linemen were all in the struggle. The unavoidable truth is that the Ravens didn’t win the battle at the line of scrimmage. This is the primary reason the Ravens were in so many bad third-down situations.

3. The defensive line can be better than we thought

The defensive line has more depth than we thought it did. Broderick Washington looked great. Much like is the case with Brandon Williams more often than not, Washington’s lack of numbers in the box score doesn’t mean he wasn’t doing well. Justin Ellis and Khalil McKenzie also helped the defense get through. While Calais Campbell didn’t have a sack, he had four tackles and was a dominant force up front. This was Campbell’s best game since the first half of last season.

4. Tackling is a problem area- a consistent one

This team needs to do some tackling drills. This is just unacceptable. There was one play where Tyus Bowser completely whiffed on the play and Marlon Humphrey ended up making the tackle right in front of the line to gain. Your cornerback shouldn’t be a better form tackler than your linebackers.

Patrick Queen had a frustrating game at the linebacker position. He looks mostly lost in pass coverage, and he needs to focus on technique with tackling. He keeps throwing shoulders rather than squaring up and running through the ball carrier. Open field tackling and the angles the defense took to the ball were a huge problem against the Chiefs. That problem carried over to the game against the Lions.

5. Lamar Jackson can carry the offense as a passer

Lamar Jackson had a pick trying to be Superman for this offense. It was a bad mistake and he threw the game away – Baltimore just got lucky if we’re being honest. It was a throw only a very frustrated quarterback makes. Jackson had to carry this offense. The MVP quarterback was 16-31 for 287 yards, a touchdown, and that interception.

Jackson would have been near 400 yards if Marquise Brown and others wouldn’t have dropped so many passes. Touchdowns and big gains should have been added to Jackson’s numbers. He dropped more dimes in this game than in any other game of the 2021 season. The Ravens asked for Jackson to make the plays with his arm in this game. He came through and he didn’t get the help he needed.

6. Marquise Brown’s issues with drops didn’t go anywhere

The start to the season was so promising for Marquise Brown. He played a great game against the Chiefs and had a strong showing against the Raiders. The one thing that has always haunted Brown is a case of the drops. It seems like a psychological thing. Brown has this hiccup in his otherwise very impressive set of traits.

He has to get this figured out. The problem is he’s a very important player for the Ravens and Baltimore never knows when this is going to come up again as a problem. Brown has to be better, this was unacceptable.

7. The Baltimore Ravens need a killer instinct

The Ravens were up 13-0 in this game. Does that sound familiar? The Ravens were up 14-0 against the Las Vegas Raiders to start the game. When the Lions were scoreless and chasing the Ravens with a two-score lead it wouldn’t have taken much for the Ravens to put the game away. The Ravens just needed to score a touchdown and put gain momentum that couldn’t be toppled. The Ravens have to be more aggressive and more mindful, the foot should have never gotten off the gas pedal when things started going right.

8. There is no main running back on the Baltimore Ravens

When you look at what the Ravens did in this game it confirms that there never has been the main running back for this offense. Latavius Murray got seven rushing attempts for 28 yards. Despite being exciting at times, Ty’Son Williams hasn’t necessarily been the guy. Williams only had 22 yards. At this point, the Ravens either need to pick a back and let him get the bulk of the carries or they need to see what Le’Veon Bell or Nate McCrary have to offer.

NEXT POST: Justin Tucker saves Baltimore Ravens win: Good, bad and the ugly

If you’re wondering why there’s no Justin Tucker mention here, there’s no lesson to be learned here. We already knew Tucker was the G.O.A.T. kicker. The Ravens got away with one. These are the things we have to see John Harbaugh and company thinking about as we move forward into week 4.

 

Posted in Ashley's 3 big questions

Baltimore Ravens: Three Big Questions About the Linebackers

By: Ashley Anderson

Linebacker has always been a position of pride for the Baltimore Ravens. After the Hall of Fame career, Ray Lewis put together, every inside linebacker to don the purple and black has inevitably had huge shoes to fill. On the outside, names like Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs immediately come to mind. This year’s group has a ton of potential, but there are a few big questions.

3.) How will Justin Houston fit into the Baltimore Ravens rotation?

Cheers of applause rang out in Baltimore when Justin Houston finally agreed to a one-year deal to become a Raven. He was linked to them from the start of free agency and looks to fill the only major hole on the defense. After initially selecting number 48, Houston pulled a jersey swap with Otaro Alaka and now rocks his usual 50. While Houston looks great in photos, it remains to be seen how he will fit on the field.

With much of the training camp focus falling on the performance of Lamar Jackson and his receivers, there has not been much mention of Houston. Since he did not suit up against the New Orleans Saints, fans have yet to get a taste of what he brings to the table. There is a possibility he plays against the Carolina Panthers, but it will likely be a short appearance. Likely, it will be until Week 1 before Houston is unleashed full force.

Houston is a proven veteran with 97.5 career sacks including eight in 2020. Those eight sacks matched former Raven Yannick Ngakoue’s total, although only three of his came in a Ravens uniform. Baltimore’s sack leader was technically Matthew Judon with six. There has recently been some criticism of Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale regarding his usage of outside linebackers. As such, fans will be paying close attention to how Martindale utilizes his new weapon.

2.) Can Jaylon Ferguson make the leap and become a presence at outside linebacker?

When the Ravens snagged Jaylon Ferguson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, they felt they were getting a steal. Although he was coming from a smaller school in Louisiana Tech, some saw him as the next Suggs. After all, his nickname was Sack Daddy.

To date, he has not lived up to the moniker. After logging two-and-a-half sacks in his rookie season, that number dipped to two last year. However, it often takes smaller school prospects a little longer to adjust to the NFL. Now entering his third year, the Baltimore Ravens are looking for a breakout from Ferguson.

Reports indicated Ferguson showed up to training camp in excellent shape. He did not do much early on before players were in pads, but it seems like his performance has improved as camp continued. In the first preseason game against the Saints, Ferguson logged three tackles and half a sack.

The Ravens clearly felt they needed more help in the pass rush department. After drafting Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes, they still went out and signed Justin Houston. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement for Ferguson, so he needs a big season to continue his career in Baltimore.

1.) Will Malik Harrison and Patrick Queen take their game to the next level?

When Baltimore selected Patrick Queen in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the usual Ray Lewis comparisons began. Some, including Lamar Jackson, referred to him as Ray Lewis Jr., which definitely upped the hype surrounding the young linebacker. His rookie season went mostly as expected with the usual ups and downs.

Queen finished tops on the team with 106 total tackles, and he added three sacks and two forced fumbles. Although he looked confident, there were times he got beat badly in coverage. He was still a relatively raw prospect coming out of LSU, so his coverage was an area of concern. Now, with a full, normal offseason to improve, Queen says he feels two steps faster.

Opposite him is former third-round pick Malik Harrison, who was used in a rotation last season. Harrison is currently penciled in as a starter, although the Ravens retained LJ Fort. Known for being a thumper, Harrison also needed to polish his overall game. Without a doubt, practicing against Baltimore’s excellent running backs and tight ends is helping him gain an edge.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens vs. Carolina Panthers: Video preseason preview

The Ravens are counting on their dynamic linebacker duo to be a force for years to come. If they can both improve on their rookie outputs, the defense will be in excellent shape. On the flip side, they must avoid sophomore slumps, or the whole unit will feel the negative effect.

 

 

 

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Malik Harrison will be the surprise of the Ravens defense

By Ronald Toothe

In 2020, the Ravens filled a pressing need at middle linebacker by drafting a player who many considered the best at the position in Patrick Queen. Much more quietly, they also spent a third-round pick on Malik Harrison the following day. While Queen and his promising talent made most of the headlines last season, Harrison could be the one ready to make the biggest jump in 2021.

What we’ve seen so far

Malik Harrison first burst onto the scene as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2018, wherein his first season as a full-time starter he compiled 81 tackles. Harrison was a brick wall for Urban Meyer’s defense and translated that over to a similarly successful 2019 with 75 tackles, 16.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage.

Bleacher Report analyst Matt Miller’s draft profile featured Harrison as a pro comparison to former Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower. Miller also said he was “a blast to watch and is a wrecking ball against the run game.”

It’s hard to argue, given performances like the ones he had at Penn State in 2019 and vs Northwestern in 2018. Perhaps most promising is that those biggest performances came when the lights were on bright. Big Ten championships, ranked match-ups, no stage was too big for Malik Harrison at Ohio State.

Related Post: Baltimore Ravens: Ranking Depth at each position group

Harrison’s success in one of the toughest conferences in college football has already begun to translate to the pros. In 2020 we started to see his potential as his playing time increased. In week 8 at Indianapolis, Harrison was arguably the best player on the Ravens defense with 11 tackles. Two weeks later vs Tennessee, he recorded another 7 tackles and his first career tackle for loss.

Harrison’s biggest contributions came around the line of scrimmage. Harrison was everywhere, whether it was blowing up a screen pass or shading down the line of scrimmage to blow up zone runs. The Ravens team lineage is loaded with hard-hitting middle linebackers, and Harrison is next in line.

What we’ll see going forward

The middle linebackers will be relied on heavily in 2021 to help jam up the run game. This plays right into the biggest aforementioned strengths of Harrison’s game. The interior defensive line is still performing at a high level, but father time is undefeated. Calais Campbell is in the twilight of his career, and Brandon Williams is in the last year of his contract. Derek Wolfe re-signed earlier this off-season as well, but he’s no spring chicken either (with all due respect). Harrison taking a step forward this season will make the workload much more bearable for those older veterans.

Despite re-signing L.J. Fort earlier this off-season, the flashes we’ve seen have already warranted Harrison taking the bulk of the reps alongside Queen. Fort is a great rotational veteran to have, but Harrison is the future. His skill set will cause nightmares for opposing backs.

There are of course improvements still to be made in Harrison’s game. He’s never been known as a natural when it comes to dropping back in the pass. Another year under Wink Martindale’s watchful eye could certainly help in that department though, as could his variety of different schemes. Given the massive talent the Ravens have in the secondary, those deficiencies are easier to mask for now.

It’s no secret that the Ravens’ Super Bowl window is open now. They have one of the most electric talents in football at quarterback and numerous elite players around him. The 2020 Buccaneers defense surged towards a title thanks largely to the studs in the middle of their defense.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Top 3 keywords for the 2021 season

The Ravens might just have their own version of that tandem in Harrison and Queen. If Malik Harrison can take yet another step forward in 2021, Baltimore’s championship dreams only become closer to reality.