Street Talk Baltimore Ravens’ scouting report

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NICKEL PACKAGE

1. Will the Baltimore Ravens be able to revive their passing game?

As the Ravens (2-3) take on the Miami Dolphins (2-3) today in
South Florida in a matchup with the team that went 1-15 a year ago with its lone victory coming at the Ravens’ expense, this shapes up as a pivotal game for rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco has thrown five interceptions in his past two games after only getting picked off twice in his first three NFL games. Lately, it’s been an issue of failing to look off the safety and hanging the football in the air too long as

Baltimore
has skidded to 29th in the league in passing offense. Flacco has the worst ratio in the NFL with one touchdown and seven interceptions. However, this could be the day that he starts to get back on track. Everyone throws on the Dolphins, who have the 29th-ranked pass defense in the league. Case in point: Their secondary allowed five passes of 25 yards or longer in a loss to the Houston Texans. If the Ravens get separation downfield from their receivers and enough time to throw for Flacco, he could light up this defense. The key is not giving up on the pass this early in the season. Otherwise, a one-dimensional, run-first offense could suffer even more than it did in last week’s 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts where the Ravens gained just 51 yards on the ground. The Ravens rank 25th in total offense and 28th in scoring with 15.6 points per contest.

2. Can the Ravens tame the Wildcat?

The Dolphins are running a creative offense based on direct snaps to the running back and other gadget plays. It’s based on confusion and taking advantage of getting both talented running backs involved. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are big, strong, fast and tough to tackle. The Ravens don’t believe in allowing 100-yard rushers, but Brown is the top threat so far this year to do so. He has already scored seven touchdowns. The Ravens need to be wary of him on the halfback option pass, too.

3. Can the Ravens pressure Chad Pennington?

Pennington has revitalized his career since leaving the New York Jets. He has recorded a passer rating of better than 100 for three consecutive games. He’s the first Dolphins quarterback since legend Dan Marino to accomplish that feat in 1994. The Ravens need to apply some heat to Pennington after posting just two sacks in the past two games. The NFL’s top-ranked defense proved vulnerable last week against Peyton Manning, especially cornerback Chris McAlister, and will need to improve markedly against the Dolphins. The Ravens will need to play better defense on the road than they have in a seven-game road skid, which dates back to a 9-7 win over the

San Francisco
49ers on Oct. 7, 2007. They have allowed averages of 27.4 points and 304.6 yards of total offense while forcing only five turnovers.

4. Can the return game get on track?

With Yamon Figurs dealing with a knee contusion, the Ravens’ return game will still need someone to break a long return against the Dolphins.

Miami
has the worst kickoff coverage in the league and the fourth-worst punt cov erage team. The Dolphins allowed returns of 70 and 50 yards last week against the Texans.

5. Will the Ravens get running back Willis McGahee involved?

A former

University of
Miami
star, McGahee tends to thrive when he’s back in familiar territory. In his four games in

Miami
, he has averaged 91.7 rushing yards. He gained 104 yards in last year’s overtime loss. McGahee is supposedly healthy this week, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be involved.

INSIDE SLANT

KEY MATCHUP

Ravens MLB Ray Lewis vs. Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown
Lewis is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year whose range and instincts have kept him competitive with a team-high 42 tackles, including 23 solo stops. Brown ranks first in the AFC and second in the NFL with  seven touchdowns, fifth in the AFC in rushing with 336 rushing yards. Since being drafted in the first round in 2005 out of

Auburn
, Brown has piled up 2,853 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns as well as 114 receptions for 1,004 yards and two scores. He’s exceptionally difficult to tackle due to his strength, low center of gravity and breakaway speed.

KEY MATCHUP

Ravens OT Jared Gaither vs. Dolphins OLB Joey Porter
Gaither has been slowed by a knee problem and a neck stinger and will need to be mobile and aggressive today against Porter, a trash-talking pass rusher who is tied for first in the AFC with 6 1/2 sacks to rank second in the NFL. Porter is quick, hard-hitting=2 0and talkative. Four of his sacks occurred in one game against the New England Patriots, and it will be Gaither’s job to keep him from harrassing rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco was sacked four times against the Indianapolis Colts with three coming from defensive end Robert Mathis, which was Willie Anderson’s primary assignment. Porter is an especially dangerous pass rusher who has long-standing grudges against the Ravens, especially Ray Lewis.


THREE DOWNS WITH …

Ravens coach John Harbaugh
1. On the Dolphins’ Wildcat offense: "The basic issue is that they pick up one less defender in the box, so they’ve got one extra blocker, so to speak, to run their run game. They run their base runs. They run their power and their sweep, their lead plays. It’s their base run package, so nothing’s different for the offensive line, except now they’ve got one less guy to block, and they’ve got all the peripheral stuff going on that you’ve got to line up to.

"But then they throw in some passes and some trick plays, so you’ve got to defend that stuff. You get all enamored with what you see in front of you, and you’ve got to defend a very good running game against two really, really good running backs. And all of a sudden, someone’s running behind you."

2. On Dolphins coach Tony Sparano: "How do I think ab out it?  I don’t think too much of the Tony Sparano/John Harbaugh matchup.  It’s not going to be a very good matchup.  I don’t think anybody’s going to pay to see that one.  They’ve done a great job there.

"Of course, Bill Parcells and Tony have put that team together, and Tony’s done a great job of coaching the team along with their staff. And, you can see they’ve made progress.  Personnel-wise, they’ve made a lot of progress, and they’re developing the type of football team they want to have.”

3. On his confidence in the team’s resiliency: "It’s no different whether you win a game or whether you lose a game.  If you’re sitting there and you’ve won three games in a row, you’re concerned about how they respond to practice and what their mentality is going to be out there."

THREE DOWNS WITH …

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano
1. On him buying into the Wildcat offense: "“We were a 1-15 team a year ago, so I was willingly accepting anything that I thought would help us win games. This was a situation where I felt like it could w ork, depending on the personnel. Of course, it’s all about personnel.

"If you don’t have the people, it certainly wasn’t going to be something that we did. It might’ve taken a little bit of arm-twisting, but I thought that, at the end of this, we had two good backs, and it was a way to get them both on the field.”

2. On quarterback Chad Pennington: "It’s been a tremendous addition for us. We were lucky to be able to bring a player in like that. The credit goes to Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells. What he’s done for us is he’s brought an instant credibility at the quarterback position to a very young offense.

"We’re a young offense. We’re a young football team, one of the youngest in the league. So we’re trying to figure out what our identity is, and here comes Chad Pennington, and he helps us pull all these pieces together.”

3. On running back Ronnie Brown:  “First of all, Ronnie is a heck of a football player. Whether he’s getting the ball in the shotgun or getting it behind the quarterback there, he’s a heck of a football player. I think one of the things that this does for Ronnie, like any other back, they like space before they get to the line of scrimmage.
 
"So he’s able to use his vision. If you have a back back there with good vision, then you can make some good plays. I think that’s helped Ronnie."

Aaron Wilson covers the
Baltimore Ravens for the
Carroll
County Times and the

Annapolis
Capital.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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