1. Quick hitters
Under head coach Steve Spagnuolo, the Rams play a similar style of defense to his former team, the New York Giants. Although they rely on their front four to get after the quarterback, they will bring pressure through blitzing linebackers and defensive backs.
Last Sunday against the Titans, quarterback Joe Flacco got a lot of blitz looks, but the Titans ultimately bluffed the blitz in most passing situations. Those looks created some problems for Flacco who had a pre-snap blitz read, only to find the blitzers dropping into coverage.
The Rams may bluff the blitz in some instances, but they’ll also take their chances and bring some heavy rushes. This time, when Flacco anticipates blitz, he’ll have the chance to dial up a play that takes advantage of an overaggressive defense.
The key for Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will be to set up some quick-hitting, blitz beaters. Flacco should check to some bubble screens off the edges, or slants and crosses over the middle, depending on where the blitz is coming from. He should also be prepared to get rid of the ball quickly off of a three-step drop.
2. Draws and delays
Part of what makes the Rams a dangerous defensive front is their speed. The front seven can get up-field in a hurry, especially in the St. Louis dome.
While they are swift enough to disrupt plays in the backfield, they can also leave themselves vulnerable to vacating their gaps, allowing a back with good vision to take advantage.
In particular, ends James Hall and Chris Long are aggressive rushers who look to rush first and play the run on the way to the quarterback.
It is essential that the Ravens show some pass-first looks only to set the Rams up with the run. Ray Rice has turned into an excellent runner from the shotgun formation. If the Ravens are in some obvious passing situations, he should get a chance to run out of those sets.
3. Exploit man coverage situations
Given that the Rams will take chances running the blitz, not only will the Ravens have to be ready to pick it up, but they have to hit on some vertical plays to make St. Louis pay.
With veteran receiver Lee Evans possibly out for this contest to nurse a sprained ankle, this could be the perfect chance to see how the younger group of Baltimore receivers can be playmakers.
Receivers Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams and tight end Ed Dickson will have the size advantage in their matchups on the outside against corners Bradley Fletcher and Justin King.
Doss and Dickson should be given the chance to fight for some jump balls. Both players are aggressive when the ball is in the air and have the leaping ability to outmaneuver defenders to get to the ball.
1. Fake the blitz
Against a St. Louis offense that spreads the field with three, four and five receiver formations, the Ravens should use the same approach that Tennessee used against them – show but don’t tell.
On obvious passing downs, the Tennessee backers would crowd the A gaps, only to drop and flood the passing lanes at the snap. This consistent action confounded Flacco, who was prepared to throw through certain open windows but was forced to hold the ball and reset his passing progression.
Second-year quarterback Sam Bradford is a quick study, and he’ll anticipate whatever the Ravens throw at him. But if he is forced to hold the ball as Flacco did, the timing and rhythm of the St. Louis passing game will be thrown off. Moreover, if the Rams keep their formations wide open, Bradford won’t have the luxury to hold the ball for too long because the pocket should eventually collapse.
2. Twist the line
If the Ravens end up dropping more defenders into coverage, they’ll need to get after the quarterback with fewer rushers. A standard, static pass rush will not get the job done.
Against the Steelers, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano ran some creative twists and stunts to free up his front line. On a play that will go down in Baltimore infamy, linebacker Terrell Suggs charged hard off of a stunt in which he was able to loop behind Haloti Ngata to come free up the middle to deck Ben Roethlisberger.
He’ll need to be just as creative against a young but effective St. Louis front line. The use of different games to keep this group guessing should open things up for the linemen and the linebackers to get to Bradford without blitzing.
3. Press coverage
One thing is certain: While the Rams may look to pass the ball as much as the Titans did – especially if tailback Steven Jackson is out – they don’t have anyone in their arsenal that compares to Kenny Britt. The collection of St. Louis receivers are not the most physically imposing group. And they can be beaten up.
The Baltimore corners will need to play an aggressive game, especially to throw off the timing of the St. Louis quick-hitting passing attack.
The Ravens should challenge the St. Louis receivers to fight through press coverage and earn their catches. When they do catch the ball, they should be planted every time. Chances are that even if the receivers make a couple of spectacular, acrobatic grabs, they will also drop some balls.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Terrell Suggs versus Rodger Saffold: After a ferocious debut against the Steelers, “T-Sizzle” was noticeably quiet against Tennessee left tackle Michael Roos. Suggs will face another tough pass-blocker in the second-year tackle from Indiana. Saffold is not the most physically imposing tackle, but he has quick feet and plays with a wide base. Saffold will be tested by Suggs, who is one of the most physical edge rushers in the league.