I’ll admit it, I thought Owen Daniels was finished. When I was out at Owings Mills covering training camp, Daniels looked sluggish pulling away from defenders on routes, and that was when he wasn’t in the cold tub. Remember when Daniels couldn’t play because “his legs were sore?” I thought that was translation for Daniels is going lose his job to Crockett Gilmore.
Well, the former Texan has gotten better and better each week. And now, he looks every bit like his former Pro Bowl self. Daniels worked the Atlanta linebackers, repeatedly finding the soft spots in coverage. On his touchdown catch, he did a nice job of sitting down in zone coverage.
Daniels may not be as versatile as Dennis Pitta. But what he brings to the table as a biting route runner and fearless pass catcher over the middle has been critical to the success of the offense.
And as Joe Flacco mentioned yesterday, he trusts Daniels. The trust has manifested in a healthy 25 targets over the past four games, with nine being the high yesterday. As long as Daniels stays healthy, he’ll keep getting targeted in this offense…
Speaking of training camp, remember when we couldn’t stop gushing over Pernell McPhee? My colleague Brian Bower and I wrote about him in our camp reports every day. He was the best defensive player on the field, regardless of whether he was on the first team, second team, or third team defense. McPhee played so well, he forced Dean Pees to find playing time for him.
Now McPhee is wrecking offenses when the games count. Ask Matt Ryan. McPhee forced a fumble and notched two sacks, easily his most prolific splash game of the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, McPhee has collected eight QB hits and 14 QB hurries already this season. Those numbers also don’t account for the times he has collapsed the pocket inside out, enabling Elvis Dumervil or Terrell Suggs to gain a clean lane off the edge.
There has been some noise about the Ravens potentially losing the impending free agent just like they lost Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Arthur Jones, and Cory Redding.
But the team can’t afford to lose McPhee. His ability to rush out of a two-point or three-point stance, from the inside or the outside, makes him far more unique and irreplaceable than the other premium defenders.
You know who McPhee reminds me of?
Well, no one actually.
I tried to throw out a comparison to Justin Tuck, because like Tuck, he can play all over the line. But Tuck rarely rushed out of a two-point stance.
I also thought of former Raven Adalius Thomas. But once Thomas became more of a true OLB, he rushed a lot less from a three-technique or nose position.
The team has been aching for a dynamic third rusher to complement Suggs and Dumervil, and now that they have him, they have to figure out a way to get him locked up…
One of my favorite plays of the afternoon against the Falcons came in a third-and-six conversion situation. The team ran a ghost screen to Steve Smith that went for 49 yards.
Now, the catch and run by Smith was a thing of beauty. As was the execution of the blocks to spring Smith loose in the open field.
But I loved the play design even more.
Right before the snap, Justin Forsett motioned from the backfield to Smith’s side, giving the illusion that he would be the target on the play. Instead, Forsett angled up the middle on an inside route, occupied the ILB, and ended up being the decoy so Smith could run free.
These are the inventive approaches that Gary Kubiak has brought to the offense this season…
As much as the Ravens deserve credit for making a lot of the right calls, you have to wonder what the Atlanta coaches were thinking about.
The Falcons had success running the ball up the gut with Antone Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers. So what do they do? They kept giving the ball to Steven Jackson.
In addition, Matt Ryan rarely tested the Ravens deep, or even over the middle of the field.
Instead, he kept attacking the sidelines with screens, and the Ravens were all over it.
The players haven’t executed consistently for the Falcons and they deserve blame for their 2-5 start.
But so does a coaching staff that for now seems as overmatched as their players.