Think Quick to Declaw Cincinnati Pass Rush
It’s a curious question that hasn’t found an answer for years now: Why don’t the Ravens run more screens? Even when quarterback Joe Flacco was a sitting duck against a resurgent New England pass rush, the team didn’t attempt to slow down their rush. When Baltimore ran a screen in a second-and-long situation, after an illegal use of hands penalty, Rice gained 13 yards behind some good open-field blocks. Then we didn’t see another screen the rest of the game.
Against the Bengals, the team needs some quick-hitters to stave off the Bengals’ rush. There have been a handful of instances in which Flacco has audibled to a bubble screen (to Marlon Brown against the Steelers) or a short dump off to Rice with a blocker pulling out in front, and those plays have been largely successful.
Overall, the team needs to get the ball to its playmakers in space, just as the Steelers did a couple of weeks back when they faced Cincinnati. The attack plan should be to get rid of the ball quickly, let the receivers and backs get the ball in stride, and let them run to daylight.
In the Zone
New England has a knack for taking away a team’s biggest strength, and they did that to perfection against the Ravens. They used bracket coverage against deep threats Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones downfield, forcing Flacco to deliver perfect, precision throws in-between multiple defenders. Flacco had arguably his worst performance on deep throws all year and the Patriots’ tight zone coverage left the QB literally scratching his head.
Last year, when New England employed a similar strategy in the AFC Championship, they were eventually eaten alive by Baltimore’s over-the-middle passing game. However, last week, we saw virtually no pass patterns to counter the Patriots’ zone defense.
This is a copycat league, so the Bengals will likely employ a lot of the same coverages. The Ravens have to do a better job of working the middle, running slants and deep in routes with their bigger targets. That means more of Brown and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson operating inside the numbers. If they can exploit the middle and force the safeties to creep inside, that should make it easier to get back to the outside throws to Smith and Jones. But that’s a big if and the sports betting online suggests a lack of confidence.
Protect the Ball
It’s easier said than done; Flacco and the rest of the offense must cut down on the turnovers. Last week, the Patriots made the Ravens pay for being sloppy with the football. The Bengals on the other hand have turned into specialists for taking the ball back the other way. They thrive on mistakes by offenses and score points, especially when they play at home.
Flacco’s knee injury and accompanying brace limit his mobility and this combined with the ball-hawking Cincinnati defense and a leaky offensive line is a scary proposition. It’ll be up to the franchise signal caller to get rid of the ball on time and maintain ball security.
Keep the Lines of Communication Clear
Last Sunday, the Patriots did a masterful job of creating mismatches in the passing game against the Baltimore secondary. They spread the field and used motion and stacks (something the Baltimore offense rarely does) to line up their slot receivers against linebackers and safeties. The defense was off balance and had a hard time maintaining the right coverage assignments.
The Bengals use their own schemes to get receivers in prime mismatch situations. In fact, pass catchers A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert often flip positions to put the defense in a bind. The entire back end has to do a better job of being of prepared for late motion and shifts while keeping the right personnel packages on the field.
Turn up the Heat
When the Ravens last faced the Bengals, they had perhaps their best defensive performance of the season. The five sacks the Ravens generated didn’t tell the whole story. From a scheme and execution standpoint, their front seven was active in their pre-snap movements and kept Dalton guessing all game. They also did a great job of timing their blitzes right before the snap. Their most effective pressures came from their nickel packages, with corner Lardarius Webb as the catalyst.
Even on the road, employing a similar strategy would add bite to a Baltimore front rush that has been largely ineffective for weeks. The Ravens should bring different rushers from different angles and rush more than four defenders in passing situations. This would also be a good opportunity to keep their inside linebackers active on delayed blitzes where the defensive linemen stunt inside to occupy the blockers, clearing the way for the blitzers to loop around.
Overall, the defense needs to be much more aggressive and take some chances in their final stand.
Alive and Kicking
In the last few weeks, the Ravens have been giving up more touchdowns with regularity. Against the Vikings, the defense fell apart towards the end and gave up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Last Sunday against the Patriots, the defense gave up three touchdowns against the New England offense.
Against a Bengals team that has scored in the 40s in three of their last five games, the Baltimore defense needs to buckle down and force more field goals attempts. It won’t be an easy task against a team that has a stable of big, athletic receivers, and backs that have noses for the end zone.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Jimmy Smith versus A.J. Green
Two weeks ago, Smith faced Megatron and held him to 98 yards receiving. It was the single greatest performance in Smith’s career. Now he has the chance to complete his lockdown run against one of the game’s most exciting big play threats. Green is hard to deal with because he is long and can contort his body to make acrobatic catches. Like Megatron, Green is also a threat working out of the slot or on reverses and screens. In the last matchup, Smith and Webb traded off responsibilities against the dynamic Cincinnati receiver. But in this game, we may see more of Smith shadowing Green as he did against Calvin Johnson. Smith will need to be just as physical, maintain his body control on jump balls, and refrain from biting too hard on double moves.