The Ravens’ corners have been unjustly criticized by fans and media members as the biggest culprits in the downfall of the team’s defense. If anything the Ravens are better at corner today than they were this time last season. At this stage in his career even if healthy Samari Rolle is not the corner that Domonique Foxworth is. Fabian Washington is playing better than he did in ’08 and he’s supporting the run better. Frank Walker is also further along at this stage of the season than he was during the club’s 11-5 ’08 campaign.
The team’s secondary troubles really stem from Dawan Landry’s cover skills or lack thereof and nickel back Chris Carr’s lack of top end speed (4.65-40). Landry is built to support the run and play up inside the box. The trouble is defensive coordinator Greg Mattison isn’t using Landry that way. The team would be better off handing Landry’s job to Haruki Nakamura, a player much better suited to assume Jim Leonhard’s role while Carr’s duties should go to promising rookie Lardarius Webb.
Carr is a favorite of secondary coach Chuck Pagano going back to their days together in Oakland. He’s a battler and a hustler but has to cheat to stay with receivers and given the yellow laundry directed his way this season the cheating won’t come easy. Opposing offensive coordinators have taken note. Percy Harvin must be salivating.
The team’s pass rush hasn’t exactly taken pressure off the secondary. While the number of sacks is on par with 2008, the number of pressures has fallen off and that creates opportunities downfield for big time signal callers like Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Brett Favre. Trevor Pryce appears to be aging rapidly while held regularly – not exactly a successful recipe when pursuing the quarterback.
Terrell Suggs is finding it difficult to fight through double teaming and very little if any heat comes off the opposite edge unless the Ravens blitz. It might be time for Mattison to get more creative with a mix of the team’s best speed rushers like Jameel McClain, Antwan Barnes and Paul Kruger.
Speaking of the defensive front, it has become painfully obvious that Kelly Gregg is not the player he once was. The explosiveness that enabled him to be an effective two-gap tackle commanding attention and freeing Ray Lewis to make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage has all but disappeared. Take away Gregg’s effectiveness and Bart Scott’s willingness to take on pulling guards and fullbacks to keep Lewis clean and it should surprise no one that the Ravens’ defensive leader is making more and more of his tackles down field.
Lewis is an instinctive and well-prepared player with top end speed for his position but he has never been a technically sound linebacker when it comes to shedding blocks. Take away some of that speed and take away the effective interference and Lewis’ play is closer to average than Pro Bowl-like.
Back to Gregg for a moment; don’t be surprised if you start seeing more and more playing time for Kelly Talavou and/or Bryant McKinney in the Ravens’ rotation at defensive tackle.
You saw it, I saw it, Cam Cameron admitted it – the Bengals defensive strategy was to prevent the deep ball and stop the run and that strategy made first down success even that much more important. Successful first downs open the playbook and they keep play action in play.
Facing eight in the box and a deep Cover 2, the soft white underbelly of the Bengals’ defense was just beyond the linebackers and in front of the safeties. To make that pass work the team needed to look to taller receivers like Kelley Washington to work that area. It is surprising that they didn’t go to No. 15 more often. It is equally surprising that LJ Smith wasn’t used to manipulate that area of the field as well.
Don’t be shocked if Jared Gaither doesn’t go on Sunday in Minnesota. Yes the team could use his help particularly going up against the best defensive end in football, Jared Allen. While Michael Oher did a nice job with a tough assignment in Antwan Odom during his first NFL start at left tackle, Gaither’s absence limits Cam Cameron’s use of the unbalanced line formations and those have proven to be effective when running the football.
The Ravens brought in David Tyree for the second time to see if he might be a bit healthier this time around than the last time they brought the former Giant in for a look see. There have been reports that Tyree passed his physical the last time he visited the Ravens but our sources would not confirm this. The team also is considering former Raiders receiver Ronald Curry who caught 19 balls in ’08.
Don’t expect the team to make any major roster augmentations. They are looking to provide support and marginal depth to the roster and these tryouts are consistent with that theme. The trade deadline is one week from today (October 20, 4PM). The Ravens could be players but don’t expect anything as impactful as the Jets’ swap for Braylon Edwards although Dwayne Bowe in purple would be considered by Ravens fans as a sight for sore eyes. Word is that KC head coach and Bowe do not like each other and the winless season might be the perfect time for Haley to unload Bowe for the right price.
What might that price be?
Anyone picturing the owl and the Tootsie Roll Pop right about now?