Return of Organized Chaos
As mentioned last week, the Baltimore Ravens defense seems to play more consistently in a base 3-4 formation, while mixing up the looks and blitzes at the line of scrimmage. Last Sunday, the defense attacked well playing from this lineup and did a great job harassing New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees. That’s why fans were screaming after the Ravens chose to play it safe in the 4th quarter against the Houston Texans in Week 14, when they opted for a 3-man rush.
That Monday night game versus the Texans may have been a turning point in some respects, but it can be argued that the defense has been more aggressive since the bye week; it’s just that during certain times in the game, the Ravens defense would go into a “safe mode” or be less aggressive when holding a lead. Based on last Sunday’s game plan, it might be safe to say that we won’t see the defense go into a “safe mode” anymore. Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun points out that last Sunday, “The Ravens were aggressive, unpredictable and effective. Blitzing on over half of the passing plays, the Ravens defense recorded nine hurries, three sacks, two quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.”
There are a few reasons as to why we are seeing this change back to the ‘vintage’ Ravens pressure style of defense. One main factor is that corners are are playing better. CB Lardarius Webb and CB Josh Wilson are playing pretty solid coverage and, with FS Ed Reed back on a consistent basis, it affects the opponents’ aerial game plan. In the beginning of the year, the safeties and linebackers played back in coverage to protect the team from giving up big passing plays. But now that the secondary is holding their own, the front seven and safeties can be more aggressive.
This new trend (back to old-school Ravens defense) is well described by Tony Grossi of The Plain Dealer when scouting the Ravens for the upcoming game in Cleveland:
“Defensively, the Ravens also have tweaked their scheme since the first meeting. They’ve returned to rushing five or six defenders instead of trying to pressure quarterbacks with four. This was a concession to what the players wanted. The Browns can expect the aggressive, blitzing defense that was the Ravens’ persona under former coordinator Rex Ryan.”
Stop Peyton Hillis & Pressure Colt McCoy
A key for the Ravens is to neutralize the Cleveland Browns bruising RB Peyton Hillis. In their first match-up, Hillis hurt the Ravens in Baltimore by pounding for 144 rushing yards. The good news for Ravens fans is that the team is now ranked 5th in rushing yards allowed. This is a drastic improvement from back when the Ravens faced Hillis in Week 3
Another goal: get after QB Colt McCoy. The Ravens will likely face the rookie quarterback who has been consistent for the Browns so far. However, McCoy has been sacked 19 times in the six games he has played. Look for the Ravens to test the rookie with different defensive looks and pressure packages.
Rice & Boldin
The Ravens continued their focus on the run last Sunday against the Saints, and it worked out to a success as RB Ray Rice had a breakout game. They didn’t go with the ‘Oniel Cousins Experiment’ of using him as a right tackle; instead, right guard Chris Chester and right tackle Marshal Yanda were the key contributors. Many of the running and screen plays for Ray Rice were aimed at the right side of the line. The ‘Cousins package’ is still an option and it probably won’t be ruled out, but look for it to be used only in situational plays. The bottom line is that the offense must continue to run the ball on a consistent basis. Rice is the catalyst for this offense— we’ll should see more opportunities for Rice versus the Browns.
What the Ravens have to do is come out on Sunday and show how they can run the ball effectively for a second straight week. They should be able to have some success because the Cleveland Browns run defense is ranked 25th overall, allowing 129.2 yards per game
If the ground game gets going, then we should see the play-action— and could mean more opportunities for WR Anquan Boldin. Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron knows that in addition to Ray Rice, Boldin needs to be a part of this offense heading into the playoffs. A match-up to watch in the passing game is between rookie CB Joe Haden (5 interceptions this season) and WR Anquan Boldin. In the first season match-up, Boldin had much success against CB Eric Wright. Since then, Haden has improved and now holds a starting role in the secondary.