I’ve read a lot of things lately about how the Ravens need to part ways with defensive veterans like Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb, and others. The theory is that younger players are more hungry, more athletic, and do not cost as much. I can understand that sentiment, but parting with key defensive starters (regardless of age and experience) is a bad way to build a defense.
When it comes to the Ravens (and most teams) during the pre-season, there are a couple of things that I think fans just need to accept and understand. Here are four:
1. This is preseason.
The games are meaningless and the players know it. Vested veterans that stand absolutely zero chance of being cut don’t go as hard because they don’t have to and they don’t want to get hurt. Can we blame them? Most veterans would likely skip pre-season if they were given the option.
2. Preseason games are a great time to find out what kind of depth each team has.
Getting young guys out on the field, even against other young guys, is critical and is the only way coaches can really evaluate who is deserving of making the final roster cuts. Right now, it seems like Baltimore has good depth at receiver, running back, tight end, linebacker, and DL. However, corner, safety, QB, and the OL are pretty rough, no doubt about it. These depth concerns may not be as noticeable without pre-season games though. Make no mistake about it; the coaches are well aware of these issues.
3. Teams cannot have superstars at every position at every level of the depth chart.
I’d love to see the Ravens with a secondary consisting of Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman, Webb, and Jimmy, but that is horribly unrealistic.
4. Dean Pees – like him or hate him – is a bend-but-don’t-break coordinator.
It’s just who he is and it is how he chooses to game plan. From my perspective, his philosophy appears to be predicated on every player beating their man regardless of scheme. Sometimes this philosophy lacks exotic blitz packages, stunts, and so forth. This could be why opposing offenses seemingly are able to dominate between the 20′s, but scoring in the red-zone becomes a bit more of a challenge because there is a lot less field to work with. Personally, I prefer more of an aggressive and attacking defense similar to the philosophy of Chuck Pagano or Rex Ryan. I can’t really argue too much with the results though. Keep in mind, the Ravens did win a Super Bowl with Dean Pees at the helm.
If you look at the two best defensive units in the league – I believe they would be Carolina and Seattle – their schemes and game plans are unique and innovative. They also do an exceptional job expanding on what they do well. In Carolina’s case, they have two of the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL (Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson). As a result, their secondary (which does not have any superstars) had 14 total interceptions last year to go along with the team’s 60 sacks. That’s a lot of turnovers and a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback. If you add in their linebackers’ interception total, you get 20.
Seattle, on the other hand, just has a completely dominant secondary. Earl Thomas is easily the best free safety in the NFL. He is probably about as close to an Ed Reed as we’ll see for quite a while. Kam Chancellor, their strong safety, is built like a linebacker and runs like a receiver. We all know about Richard Sherman as a lock down corner, but Byron Maxwell is pretty good as well. Seattle’s linebackers and defensive line aren’t great, but Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn (Gus Bradley is trying to build this in Jacksonville right now) have their defense set up so that teams pretty much have to try and run against them. Their leading pass-rushers were Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril with eight sacks a piece. Not bad at all, but both Suggs and Doom had more and they weren’t working with Seattle’s secondary either. The problem offenses deal with when facing a defense such as Seattle’s is if they start playing from behind, running the ball won’t get it done because there simply isn’t enough time in a game to do that; ergo, they HAVE to try and pass the ball. And that falls directly into what Seattle does best.
My point is, similar to what we said for years regarding the offensive side of the ball and Cam Cameron/Jim Caldwell, a coordinator’s ability to game plan, scheme, and play call is very important. Unless there are stud players at every position, coaches have to be able to develop a scheme that amplifies what a team does the best. And even when a team does have stud players at multiple positions (see Denver last year), they are still devising schemes and game plans to increase their probability of success rather than simply JUST relying on guys to “beat their man.”
I hope that I am wrong, but I believe that we will see a lot of the same from the Ravens’ defense this year – bend, but don’t break. That is why it is critical for the offense to start strong every game.
Try to keep those things in mind before pulling your hair out during preseason games – there will be plenty of time for that later on.