The Ravens’ offensive display was hardly memorable against Cleveland last Sunday. However, one element that stood out was their changeup in personnel groupings. Instead of using heavy base packages on early downs, the team was in more three receiver sets, with Joe Flacco handling snaps from the gun. In fact, the pistol was also prominent, as the Ravens tried to adjust Ray Rice’s launch pad.
Having more receivers on the field eventually paid off to wear out the Browns and spring some plays downfield, especially when the offense was in hurry-up mode. The same formations need to be in play against a Cincinnati defense missing its best cover corner, Leon Hall. Without Hall, the Bengals will lean on second-year player Dre Kirkpatrick (who has struggled thus far in his career) to get the job done.
Flacco should target Kirkpatrick mercilessly, even moving receiver Torrey Smith to the slot and giving him the chance to make plays inside. Running an up-tempo spread is also a great way to test out a battered Bengals front and minimize their substitutions.
Double Team the Goliaths
In Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals have two power-forwards playing defensive end. The duo measure out at over 6’6” and 260-pounds. They not only have the size, but they have freakish athleticism to confound offensive tackles. They are more than capable of wrecking the best laid blocking schemes.
Containing the duo was even tougher when defensive tackle Geno Atkins was in the lineup, because Atkins demanded a double team inside. Now the Ravens have the ability to structure their blocking scheme outside-in. That means the guards will be able to stay prepared to help out the tackles. Meanwhile, the tight ends and backs should be active as chippers to slow down both rush ends.
Isolate the LBs in Coverage
The Bengals have a deep and talented defensive front, but if there is a weak point, it’s the coverage ability of the linebacking corps. This is a group that has been exploited at times in the middle of the field. The Dolphins were successful in running crossers, forcing the backers to cover receivers one-on-one, and they simply couldn’t keep up.
Getting back to the idea of attacking the slot, the focus of the passing game should be over the middle, especially when the Bengals run their “double barrel” blitz in which the backers crash the “A” gaps. In these situations, if the backers come forward, the middle will be wide open. If they drop, Flacco will need to stay patient and work the ball behind their drop points.
Make Dalton Fold Em’
Quarterback Andy Dalton is a streaky player. When he is on top of his game, his big-play capability is undeniable. However, he is also capable of making some horrendous decisions and putting together forgettable performances. His game against the Dolphins is a perfect example. He had a significant letdown after throwing 8 TDs vs. 1 INT against the Jets and Lions in previous weeks.
The Dolphins had success using an aggressive man-to-man coverage scheme. Dalton was forced to hold the ball when the receivers were unable to break free, and the Miami front created a few coverage pressures and sacks.
Instead of allowing free releases, the Baltimore corners need to play physical at the line and disrupt the Bengals’ timing routes. They simply cannot allow Dalton to get into a rhythm.
Up the Gut Rush
Another critical point for disrupting Dalton is to move him off of his spot. For the most part, Dalton is less effective throwing the ball on the run, especially when he has to move laterally to avoid the rush.
Baltimore’s interior pass rush has been subpar over the last two games. However, they’ve also played against more mobile quarterbacks by comparison. They need to dial up some pressures through stunts and twists to collapse the inside and force Dalton to vacate the pocket.
The biggest addition to the Cincinnati offense has been rookie Giovani Bernard. The electric tailback is active in the passing game, and he’s a matchup nightmare for linebackers to deal with. The Bengals do a nice job of using him on a variety of routes and they try to minimize his pass-blocking responsibilities.
For the Ravens, the key will be forcing Bernard to pick up the blitz. They need to bring the heat to his side early and often. And if he releases out to the flats, the backers need to bounce him to the sidelines and bring him down in the open field. Either way, there should be at least one linebacker tracking Bernard at all times whether he leaks out or stays in.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Andrew Whitworth versus Terrell Suggs
This matchup has turned into a yearly Royal Rumble that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Whitworth has mostly owned the contest, but Suggs certainly brings out the best in him. Overall, the blindside blocker is a tough brawler who doesn’t let Suggs get inside of his pads. The former Defensive Player of the Year will need to match Whitworth’s physicality and intensity.