Trick of Treat
In order to counter Cleveland’s blitz, the Kansas City Chiefs relied on a well-coordinated passing attack that consisted of a variety of screens. In particular, the Chiefs were successful using misdirection screens in which they faked the play-side action to one side, only to get their backs out in space in the other direction. When the Browns were exposed on these plays, they gave up yards in chunks.
Misdirection and screen plays have been few and far between in the Ravens’ playbook. However, with a bye week under their belts, hopefully the coaches figured out that they need to use more screens to give their backs and receivers chances to make plays in the open field. In the case of players such as Torrey Smith and Ray Rice, screens are another way to keep them involved in the offense. Against an aggressive Browns’ front, the Ravens have to catch them off guard.
Attack the Edges
Just as the Ravens have struggled to run the ball all season, the going was equally rough against the stout Cleveland front seven in their first encounter. Baltimore averaged 2.8 yards per carry and Rice couldn’t finish the game.
However, this is the week in which Rice and company are promising to redeem themselves on the ground. If the Ravens are going to generate a productive ground attack, the coaches need to diversify their running game plan.
Instead of pounding the middle against NT Phil Taylor to no avail, the Ravens should try to set up some isolation, kick-out blocking plays to test backers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo. Both players are better pass rushers than they are edge setters. This is the week to give Rice and Bernard Pierce chances to turn the corner and get outside of the tackles.
Regardless of the changes that the Ravens may have made to the offense coming out of the bye, none of it will matter if the team continues to sleep walk through the early parts of their games. Aside from their performances against Denver and Buffalo, the offense hasn’t been able to score a touchdown in the first half.
Among the factors that have inhibited this group has been a barrage of penalties that has forced them to play catch up in the down-and-distance battle. Compounding matters has been a largely conservative approach that has made the offense very predictable, especially with their personnel groupings.
Against the Browns, in a hostile environment, the offense has to play aggressive yet smart football. If the offense comes out swinging, they should be able to take the fight out of a Cleveland team that is reeling.
Cloud Coverage To Stop Flash
When the Green Bay Packers wanted to take away Torrey Smith as a deep threat, they not only kept their safeties back, but they had them flank out closer to the sidelines, outside of the numbers, to ensure that he was pushed to the boundaries. The strategy worked for keeping Smith bottled up on downfield routes. Then the Packers used the defensive scheme again to stifle the electric Josh Gordon.
Fast forward to the game coming up in Cleveland, and the Ravens will need to employ their own variation of “cloud coverage” against Gordon. The second-year player was out for the first game but now he’s on fire as a homerun hitter. The Browns do a nice job of keeping Gordon active on a variety of routes, so keeping him completely contained will be difficult. But he can’t be allowed to get behind the secondary.
What makes defending Gordon even more difficult is the presence of tight end Jordan Cameron. It’s hard for opposing safeties to widen their depth with the threat of Cameron attacking the seams. That’s why the Ravens may need to find a way to keep one defender on the former USC standout, with help from the defensive linemen and backers to chip him so he doesn’t get a free release.
Linebacker Arthur Brown may have the requisite speed, range, and athleticism to shadow the Browns’ star tight end. It would be a tough task for the rookie defender, but this is also why Baltimore drafted him. Having a defender that can run in space is an advantage and the Ravens need to see what he can do, at least in obvious passing situations.
Stop Bending. Break Stuff.
To this point, everyone has witnessed the Ravens’ ability to rush the passer, and it has been an impressive display. However, the pressures and the sacks haven’t led to many momentum-shifting turnovers. In fact, Baltimore only has 9 takeaways going into their eighth game of the season. They have also dealt with some tough luck in the way of dropped interceptions and balls bouncing the other way.
That being said, it’s time for the defense to start taking more chances at opportune moments to force the issue. That means using more press coverage and bringing some loaded blitzes. Against a Browns’ team that struggles to run the ball well on early downs, there will be plenty of opportunities to pressure quarterback Jason Campbell and create havoc. The defense shouldn’t hold back.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Michael Oher versus Paul Kruger
As much as the signing of the former Raven was hyped in the offseason, Kruger has yet to live up to the billing. He only has 2.5 sacks through half of the season. However, the pass rush specialist is still dangerous with his array of moves, including a patented bounce step move to the outside. He will test Oher’s ability to maintain his balance and technique in pass blocking situations. Oher should have the edge in the running game.