1) Open attack from the start: The Ravens have reached the point where they can no longer afford to start slow on offense. Beginning every game in a two-back, one tight, two-wide set has yielded minimal results.
The team should open from a three-wide, shotgun spread formation. Detroit ranks dead last in pass defense, and the game plan should be to attack through the air on early downs. The offense needs to play with a killer instinct.
Moreover, this is also a game for quarterback Joe Flacco to get his confidence and rhythm reestablished himself after a subpar performance against Green Bay.
2) Bombs away: With Mark Clayton out of the lineup, receivers Demetrius Williams and Kelley Washington will fill in. The duo brought a spark to the offense on Monday that wasn’t present before. In the case of Washington, he came up with a couple of nifty, clutch catches. Williams was able to work against single coverage and draw two pass interference penalties.
The Lions have struggled all season to cover the long ball. They have already given up 13 plays covering 40 yards or more.
Williams and Washington should see plenty of man coverage, as Detroit will blitz and stunt up front and expose their cornerbacks.
It behooves the Ravens to air it out downfield. With Williams and Washington, the offense has two big targets for Flacco to turn to. As was the case with Williams on Monday night, even if they are unable to break wide open on a vertical route, they have the size to jostle for the ball, and perhaps garner a penalty. As great as Derrick Mason is, he lacks that size to win a jump ball and needs an accurate pass to make the play.
Right now, Flacco is not throwing the deep pass accurately. Therefore, the best solution would be to let the receivers use their size to box-out defenders and adjust to the flight of the ball.
3) Run to the right: Overall, the Ravens have tried to be a left-handed rushing attack. At times they have had success, and at other times they have failed to generate positive gains. The left-side runs have been somewhat hit or miss.
On the other hand, when runs have filtered off of the strong side of the line, the rush offense has been a smoother machine. In particular, Ray Rice has benefited from running the ball behind right guard Marshall Yanda, right tackle Michael Oher, and tight end Todd Heap.
Against a lightweight Detroit front, the offense should pound the strong side through an assortment of formations.
1) Prepare for the spread: On Monday night, the Green Bay Packers attacked the Ravens through a single back, shotgun formation. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers rarely took a snap from under center.
In using a combination of three and four receiver formations, the Packers forced the Ravens to substitute to their nickel and dime packages. They also neutralized the blitz with quick-hitting passes.
This is the base offense that the defensive coaching staff must anticipate seeing the rest of the season. Given the lack of depth on the back end and a consistent pass rush, offenses will spread the field and try to beat the Ravens through the air.
Although the Lions don’t have the wealth of pass-catchers that the Packers do, they have enough solid players to dictate mismatches. Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson, and Dennis Northcutt will form the Lions’ three-wide set.
If the Ravens aren’t sound in their substitution patterns, they will struggle on Sunday. Even if the defense plays more of a coverage scheme to defend the spread, the pass rush has to get home. Specifically, the front line has to win its one-on-one matchups.
2) Cross blitz: The Lions have struggled to protect the quarterback. As a result, the Detroit passing game is feast or famine, as there have been plenty of negative plays to offset the homeruns.
The Detroit line is particularly vulnerable up the gut. The interior linemen lack the quick footwork to consistently stay in front of rushers.
The plan should be to attack the interior with stunts and loops, and the crossfire blitz. The inside linebackers should be active rushers, especially on early downs when the Lions are not prepared to use extra blockers to pick up the blitz.
3) Checking Kevin Smith: Although Smith has been a disappointing runner, he has provided the Lions with an extra dimension catching passes out of the backfield. The Lions often attempt to isolate the tailback against linebackers. He is a good route runner and has the speed to separate in the open field.
The backers will have to find a way to limit Smith’s effectiveness as a receiver.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch: Jeff Backus versus Jarret Johnson: Backus has remained one of the lone bright spots for a Detroit franchise that has been in the dark ages. Although he is not the most athletically gifted player, he is tough, physical, and will compete. The same description could apply to Johnson. As a pass-rusher, Johnson still needs to develop more moves, but he has a good bull rush and is relentless.