Controlling the ferocious interior pass rush duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley is the monumental task that the Ravens have on deck. The duo is stout and violent. They aren’t just looking to generate sacks and pressures; they are looking to knock players out of the game.
In order to keep these two dominant tackles from wreaking havoc, the offensive coaches need to employ quick-hitting plays to keep them off balance. Although their aggressiveness is their biggest strength, it can also be used against them on well-timed draws, delays, and misdirection runs.
When it comes to setting up the screen game, the Ravens should invite the rushers to crash up field and then drop the ball off to the tailbacks or even tight Dennis Pitta underneath. Even if these plays aren’t generating a lot of yards, it’s a good way to keep Suh and Fairley honest, while also keeping the offense unpredictable in passing situations.
Quick Release Strikes
Along with using draws and screens to slow down the Detroit front, quarterback Joe Flacco will need to have a quicker internal clock in his head. The ball should be out of his hands off of one, two, and three step drops to defuse the front four pressure.
Overall, the goal for the offense should be to complete short and intermediate passes to control the clock and keep the chains moving. The Ravens got into a rhythm last Sunday against the Vikings in the fourth quarter using Pitta and receivers Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones on inside and underneath routes. Against a Detroit defense that keeps their safeties back and relies on the linebackers to buzz across, there should be some wider windows for Flacco to exploit.
A Sprinkle of Rice
Along with getting Pitta back in the offense as the go-to “sticks” target to work the middle and underneath areas, the Ravens also saw the return of Ray Rice in the passing game. Rice ended up with 5 catches for 42 yards against the Vikings. What’s worth noting is the healthy 8.4 yards per catch average. He went from being a no-gain, check down option, to showing glimpses of the Rice of old. It appears that he is finally getting back some of the burst that has been missing all season long.
As part of the quick-hitting passing game, Rice needs to be active not only as a safety valve, but on designed swing passes and short screens. He needs to be given a chance to be a playmaker even if it isn’t when he’s running directly behind a porous offensive line.
Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool me twice…
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is a gunslinger through and through. With his ability to launch fastballs, he can zip the rock into some tight windows. But his big arm can also get him into trouble when he tries to pierce double and even triple coverage.
The Ravens’ objective should be to show Stafford as many deceiving open windows as possible. Between the pre and post snap movement, the team can’t use vanilla, static looks, or Stafford will carve them up worse than Matt Cassel did a week ago. If the Ravens can keep Stafford guessing with their window dressing, he’ll misdiagnose and make a few mistakes.
When it comes to mixing up the front seven movement, this would be the perfect game to break out more fire zone blitzes. Against a Detroit offensive line that doesn’t give up many sacks, deception is the best way to manufacture a pass rush and drop defenders into spots that Stafford least expects.
Safeties on the Prowl
The key to having a good disguise will fall squarely on the movement of the defensive backs. In particular, the safeties will have to be active and time up their pre-snap movements perfectly. They need to show different coverage looks on the back end, whether they shift from Cover 1, Cover 2, and Cover 3 looks.
In general, the Ravens can’t stay in a distinguishable coverage the entire game. To keep the Lions from having a go-to attack plan, they will need to switch back and forth between man and zone and break their typical tendencies. For this type of game plan to work, there has to be clear communication.
Talk Tough, Hit Tough
When rookie safety Matt Elam questioned how physical Calvin Johnson, aka, Megaton, would be on Monday Night, he should have been calling himself out. Elam has yet to show up as the playmaker he’s been billed as coming out of Florida. In fairness to Elam, he is also playing more centerfield than ever before, with safety James Ihedigbo as more of the rover and traditional strong safety. However, the bottom line is he hasn’t been much of a hitter or physical presence this season.
There is a great opportunity for Elam, Ihedigbo, and the defensive backs to come out swinging against a turnover-prone Detroit receiving corps. For as great as Megatron and company have been, they have had their fair share of drops, and defenses have been able to take the ball away from them.
Not only does the Baltimore defense need to play with a nastier disposition; they also need to find a way to jam and reroute the receivers, and specifically, the leader of the Decepticons.
Treat Bush Like a Receiver
If Bush plays—and every indication is that he will—the Ravens will have to deal with a deadly pass catcher and matchup nightmare in space. The Lions do a nice job of creating those mismatches by lining up Bush and Megatron to the same side. In those instances, defenses have to decide where the coverage needs to slide. If the safety shades to Johnson, Bush normally has a one-on-one opportunity against a linebacker.
The Ravens need to switch their coverage assignments to minimize those situations. At that rate, the team needs to minimize Bush’s impact downfield as a deep route runner. Whenever he is in the game, a defensive back should be to his side.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Jimmy Smith versus Calvin Johnson
As much press as Elam got for firing up Johnson, it will be Smith who has to see him early and often. Johnson moves all over the field, so Smith won’t shadow the game’s best receiver. However, when he lines up on Smith’s side, the battle will be a sight to behold. As much as Megatron deserves any accolades he gets, Smith is more than capable of holding his own. He gets better with his technique and ball skills every game. Against Johnson, he will need to compete for the ball and make sure he maintains his footwork, especially along the sidelines.