There are already opposing views over how the Ravens should attack their opponents with the defense playing at such a high level.
One side says stays with a simple plan: run the ball and let their defenders make big plays.
The other side wants to take shots downfield and become more aggressive because the defense has the talent to overcome potential miscues.
The Ravens’ best option, though, is to stay mostly conservative and stack as many wins as they can.
In the NFL, there is no difference between winning a game 37-17 or 13-3. This is not college football where teams get more first-place votes in the polls for blowing out an opponent. In addition, the Ravens have the blueprint for winning with a dominant defense in their archives.
Granted, the NFL has changed since Baltimore won the Super Bowl in 2000.
There are more rules protecting offensive players. Defenders, especially those in the secondary, are under increased scrutiny and more susceptible to penalties in tight coverage. The NFL has encouraged wide-open shootouts because those types of games are more fun to watch.
Nonetheless, quarterbacks still struggle when they are under constant pressure. Teams become one-dimensional when they can’t effectively run the ball.
General manager Ozzie Newsome is on board with a plan to get back to the franchise’s defensive roots. He picked a cornerback, two linebackers and a 300-pound defensive tackle with the Ravens’ four picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. Baltimore also added depth to secondary by signing free-agent safety Tony Jefferson and veteran cornerback Brandon Carr.
The Ravens got some positive reinforcement with this strategy during training camp. Over four preseason games, Baltimore dominated all four of its opponents (Redskins, Dolphins, Bills and Saints) and allowed just 8 points and 186.5 total yards per game.
That dominance carried over to the season opener in a 20-0 drubbing of the Bengals. Baltimore forced five turnovers (four interceptions and a fumble) and had five sacks. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton finished with a 28.4 passer rating — the second lowest of his career. Baltimore also allowed just 77 yards to one of the top running attacks in the NFL.
Jefferson had one of the team’s sacks and Carr picked up his first interception as a Raven.
The Ravens will likely take a similar approach this week against the Cleveland Browns. Quarterback Joe Flacco is playing in just his second game after missing all of training camp with an ailing back. He said this week there are no limitations throwing the ball downfield. But even Flacco conceded that he is prepared to “Dilferize” the offense if that means reaching the playoffs.
“If we’re going to win a bunch of football games, we’re going to need to do it a handful of different ways through the course of the season,” Flacco said this week. “But if we can win the way we did Sunday, there’s no need to do anything else. It doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to win.”
The Ravens added receiver Jeremy Maclin and running back Danny Woodhead in the offseason to give Flacco some more weapons. Maclin caught a 48-yard touchdown pass in the opener, but Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
Mike Wallace is still a playmaker and Breshad Perriman can be a downfield threat when he’s healthy. However, this creates a potential problem. These receivers want to make plays and could get frustrated if Flacco is simply checking down most of the game.
Wallace was targeted once and caught one pass for eight yards against Cincinnati. Perriman had four targets and also caught one pass for five yards.
Woodhead was having the best game of any player on the offense before being forced out with the injured hamstring. The veteran running back caught three passes for 33 yards in just six snaps before he fell to the turf untouched in the first quarter. Woodhead could be designated to return by the team, which means he could resume practicing in six weeks. Woodhead also would first be eligible to play Nov. 19 at Green Bay, making him available for a potential playoff run.
Still, there won’t be much griping among the players on offense if the team is winning. The Ravens have one common goal: winning the Super Bowl. However, they will all need to be on board with a simple plan of playing conservative football.
It’s already a proven strategy in Baltimore.