Scheme Open the Run Game
The Ravens had two solid run plays all day against the Steelers, both of which came on their first offensive drive of the game. Terrance West was able to churn out 13 yards on two carries, the first carry going for a gain of eight. On that run, not only did the line do a nice job of blocking down to clear a lane backside, but the end around fake helped hold the linebackers just enough for West to take advantage.
After three plays featured either an end around fake or handoff, we didn’t see much more of that misdirection the rest of the game. On the whole, West had nowhere to go in a matchup that screamed big production. Give credit to the Steelers; they were clearly a different outfit with defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker Ryan Shazier back from injuries. But it was still a disgraceful performance from a Ravens’ rushing attack that has zero variety and doesn’t challenge defenses with pre-snap motion and movement.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needs to get back to using more pre-snap motion and movement to manufacturer some holes for West and the other tailbacks in this offense. It’s clear the offensive line can’t create consistent holes on its own, but using some form of misdirection against a Browns run defense that plays with poor gap discipline should help the cause.
Shotgun Spread; Pass to Run
In the last matchup against Cleveland, the Baltimore offense got off to a painfully slow start, and a lot of that had to do with playing conservative against a defense that had no pass rush to speak of and couldn’t hold up in man-to-man coverage. Once the offense had to go into catch-up mode to erase a 20-2 lead, they opened it up and never looked back.
Not much has changed defensively for the Browns since that game. They still can’t rush the passer, and they still can’t hold up in any form of one-one-one coverage. This is the worst defense in the league and teams have had their way with them.
If there was ever a week for the Baltimore offense to get its act together, this is it. They should be in attack mode from the jump, using a combination of three and four-wide sets to force Cleveland into their sub packages.
Once the passing game gets going, the Ravens can stay in their spread formations and run the ball against a lighter box. This is the type of game in which you pass to set up the run. Mornhinweg needs to dial up more coordinated lead draws and mix up runs from the shotgun in favorable down-and-distance situations to breathe new life into the rushing attack.
Quick Passing Game
It wasn’t all bad for the Ravens’ offense against Pittsburgh. The first two drives had potential but stalled due to penalties and a horrible INT from Joe Flacco in the red zone. If you look back at the passing sequence in particular, the ball was coming out quick off of one-step drops, and between two pass completions to Steve Smith and Mike Wallace (a shallow cross and a slant), Mornhinweg was even working the middle of the field – a welcome sight to the say the least.
The momentum came to a crashing halt after Wallace’s 95-yard touchdown. The passing game stalled and Flacco was completely out of rhythm. Even after the game, the struggling QB mentioned the initial rhythm they were able to establish and how they couldn’t keep it going.
Against the Browns, those quick-hitters need to be called more consistently in early-down situations instead of in obvious passing downs. Those “short-of-the-sticks” pass plays that the Ravens call on third down should be called on first down to gain sure yards and keep the offense in manageable second and third-down conversion situations.
Mornhinweg should continue to dial up the shallow crosses to give Smith and Wallace chances to win against tight man coverage and gain YAC in the open field.
Contain the Deep Ball
The game script doesn’t change much going from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. Although the Browns don’t have the Steelers’ offense, they do have some of deep ball elements going for them, especially with the return of Corey Coleman to the lineup. The rookie from Baylor torched the Baltimore secondary in their last encounter. After knocking off some rust in his first game back from a broken hand last week, he’ll get even more opportunities tonight.
The Ravens actually kept a lid on Terrelle Pryor in game one, but he’s been on a tear all season. With his combination of size, speed, and impressive body control, Pryor is the type of athlete who can make can plays against the best defensive schemes.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees was way too aggressive against Cleveland and QB Josh McCown the first time around. He dialed up several A-gap pressures that didn’t get home and left his secondary exposed downfield in the first half. In contrast, the second-half approach of showing blitz and then dropping out was more effective, and needs to be employed again.
Pees needs to keep safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb back to help the corners defend Pryor and Coleman and eliminate the vertical passing game. It helps that quarterback Cody Kessler isn’t as adept as McCown when it comes to the home run strikes.
Watch Out for Pump Fakes and Misdirection
The Ravens were mostly in a two-deep or single-high zone coverage all game against the Steelers. At times they would mix in some man-to-man coverage, but it wasn’t often. The result was a pass defense that was tough to crack, as the entire back end stayed disciplined and weren’t baited out of position. That is until the fourth quarter when Big Ben was able to use pump fakes to move the inside backers to slide off of their landmarks, opening up the seams for some deep-middle connections.
Zone coverage has worked much better for the Baltimore secondary because of their improved sideline-to-sideline range and communication. However, they need to play with better eye discipline and keep the windows from widening against Kessler. Roethlisberger’s pump fakes are notorious for being among the best, so it’ll be a lesser challenge against Kessler.
Still, the defense needs to be prepared.
Rally to the Ball
One of the most improved areas of the defense between last year and this year is their open-field tackling. From sideline-to-sideline, the defense runs to the ball, and the secondary in particular has been much better at tackling quickly to minimize the damage. They were at their best against the Pittsburgh dynamic duo of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown last Sunday.
Between Coleman and tailback Duke Johnson, the Browns exposed the Baltimore defensive backs in space during their last matchup. The Ravens defenders need to take better angles to the ball and stay in front of the Browns’ speedy and shifty pass catchers.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
This could be the last time these All-Pros and potential Hall of Famers square off against each other if either considers retirement in the offseason. Suggs has been battling through a torn biceps. Last week against the Steelers, he still made his presence known in the run game, as he set the edge and was consistently disruptive at the line of scrimmage.
Thomas is still on top of his game as a pass blocker. He has textbook footwork and doesn’t let opposing rushers get to his body. Suggs will need to stay patient against Thomas and keep working to have a chance to beat him off the edge.