1) Diversified portfolio: For five straight games, the Ravens have stumbled out of the gate. The offense needs to play with better efficiency from the start or it will find itself behind the eight ball once again.
In particular, there needs to be a better mix of formations. Starting the game from a two-back, one tight, two-wide set has not worked well for the offense. The pattern of plays has been predictable, and defenses have shut that formation down on first and second down.
Against Cleveland, the offense should show different looks on first and second down, to have manageable conversions situations on third down. Perhaps the unit can run out of a power set, showing more of an unbalanced formation. Or it can continue to run a hurry-up, spread attack, and catch the Browns in their base defense.
Regardless, this is the game for the Ravens to get off to a fast start against a Cleveland team that is exploitable on the ground or through the air. In preparation for the stretch run, the offense has to get back to using an assortment of formations to keep defenses on their heels, just as they did so well a year ago.
2) Reestablish the run: The slow starts on offense and the inability for the defense to get off of the field have led to an inconsistent ground attack. Against the Bengals, the offense only attempted 17 rushes. This was the fourth time in five games that the offense logged less than 20 rushing attempts. Not coincidently, the team lost in those four contests.
When the Ravens have been able to run the ball 20 times or more, they have won. Against the Chiefs, the backs carried the ball 41 times, and dominated the time of possession battle by a 2:1 ratio. The offense hasn’t come close to that type of ground control all season.
The Browns have been run over all season, as offenses have attempted the second-most attempts in the league. Cleveland continues to struggles to tackle, and its gap discipline – particularly off the edges – is abysmal. The offense has to attack this group using a balanced rush scheme.
The Ravens did a nice job of using traps to spring the backs loose off the perimeter. Expect more of the same in the rematch, plus a healthy dose of Le’Ron McClain up the gut off of the fullback dive.
3) Third down control: Last week against the Bengals, the offense was 1-of-10 on third down. For the series, the Bengals held the Ravens to a conversion rate of 4-of-31. Cincinnati was able to dominate in these situations because they consistently forced Baltimore to gain six yards or longer on third down.
Better efficiency on the ground on first and second down will lead to a better percentage of third down conversions. That has and always will be the tried and true formula for offensive production.
The Ravens have to get back to being an efficient third down attack by grinding out yards on early downs, starting this Monday night.
1) Defending the Wildcat: There is only one offensive weapon in Cleveland that strikes fear into defenses, and his name is Josh Cribbs. The return man/wideout/runner is explosive in the open field and able to hit a home run any time he touches the ball.
The Browns have wisely expanded his role in the offense, using him as the trigger man for the Wildcat formation. Cribbs had his best day against the Bears, carrying the ball six times for 28 yards.
The Wildcat is designed to split gaps wide open. Given the double movement from the quarterback and the tailback, defenders have a hard time tracking the ball, and will over-pursue. In addition, defenders also play tentatively and don’t attack the line because they don’t know who has the ball.
This is the first time that the Ravens will see the Wildcat look since they faced Miami in the playoffs.
In order to tame the Wildcat, the front seven will need to play with discipline and stay in their gaps. This has been a problem for the defense in previous weeks, and the Browns will test their integrity — if they over-pursue, they will give up yards in chunks.
However, if everyone stays in their gaps, Cribbs and the other Cleveland backs will struggle. In particular, the edge defenders should play aggressively in run support to take away the outside lanes. The key will be to force Cribbs to run the ball up the middle.
2) Let the dogs out: This is the perfect opportunity for the defense to play more aggressively. Just as they did two weeks ago against Kyle Orton, the defense will face a quarterback in Brady Quinn who doesn’t push the ball downfield. Therefore, the safeties and the backers have the ability to be more involved with the pass-rush and free lance on shorter routes.
Expect to see more man-to-man coverage from the cornerbacks, and the safeties to play closer to the line, to help the front seven.
3) Three safety look: Last week, in at least two different third down situations, the Ravens aligned in a dime package featuring three safeties and three cornerbacks. This was a look that the defensive coaches experimented with in the preseason, and earlier in the season, but had gone away from until they faced the Bengals. The results were solid against Cincinnati, as safeties Haruki Nakamura and Dawan Landry took turns playing close to the line-of-scrimmage.
It is an intriguing formation because with three safeties on the field, the defense has the power and the speed to match up against most offensive formations. The third safety can act as a linebacker capable of blitzing, covering short routes, or trailing a tight end downfield.
Going forward, this could prove to be an ideal defensive formation to set up in on third down.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch: Michael Oher versus Kamerion Wimbley: While Wimbley has been a major disappointment for the Browns since he was chosen as the 13th overall pick in 2006, he is in the midst of his best season. Wimbley has already registered five sacks, matching his highest career total for an entire season. The former Seminole has done a better job with his hand placement, and has had more opportunities to rush the passer in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme. Oher is on the verge of becoming an anchor on the right side. There have been times when he has struggled with his blitz recognition and technique, but overall, he has held up well as a pass blocker.