Adjusting to the sellout
Last week the Browns implemented a strategy of completely selling out to “try” to stop the run, specifically the interior runs. Ultimately, due to undisciplined play on Cleveland’s part and adjustments made by the Ravens, Baltimore was still able to be wildly successful on the ground.
There were, however, some uncomfortable moments. Moments that could lead the Chargers to employ a similar strategy. If they should decide to do so they Ravens will need to be ready to combat it with throws outside the numbers, screens, flat & wheel routes to the tight ends they’ve been pulling with success in the run game. The Ravens need a simple one- or two-word check that Lamar Jackson can make at the line should the Chargers shift to the interior as the play clock runs down, as Cleveland did.
And if they don’t…
One of the fascinating elements of the first matchup was which team could impose their will on the other personnel-wise. In Week 15, the Chargers didn’t have a 2nd traditional inside linebacker record a snap. In Week 16 against Baltimore, they had 23 such snaps. If you remove Gus Edwards’ 43-yard run on the offense’s first snap, the Chargers held the Ravens to 116 yards on 34 carries, equaling 3.4 yards per carry.
They were able to accomplish this while playing six different defensive backs 50 or more snaps. The Chargers may very well decide their way worked just fine and stick with their heavy dime looks. If so, the Ravens need to stick to their guns and attempt to wear down the smaller front with the hopes of imposing their will in the 4th quarter. As talented as this Charger front is, I would still bet on the Ravens being able to cave the dime look eventually, provided they keep the turnovers to a minimum.
Stop being scared
The formula is clear: muddy the game…run the ball, control the clock and play great defense. Essentially the Ravens want to drag their opponents in a hole with them and bet on them not being able to pull themselves back out.
This strategy requires two things in order to make real playoff noise…no turnovers, and a couple big plays in the passing game each game. It’s a slippery slope with a rookie QB but they have got to loosen the reins a bit. The 3rd-and-5 pitch was not only an awful call but a shameless attempt to hide a QB (and the OC’s ability to scheme players open *sips tea*).
With the division on the line, Wink Martindale called cover 0 blitzes on four straight downs. His offensive counterpart should take notes.
Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens did a masterful job attacking the Ravens with air raid concepts that featured three and four receivers running routes on the same side of the field. He made the league’s top-ranked defense look silly on multiple occasions. The Chargers will no doubt look at the tape and make it a point to see if the Ravens have cleaned up the miscues. They were on the right track on some of these plays but a few things need to be done differently.
The linebackers need to get more depth in their drops. They’ll also need to drop players off the line of scrimmage to defend the short areas of the field. Most importantly, the back end needs to diagnose the plays properly while not overreacting to the threat of the run. They’ve shown great ability to play the run well in lighter fronts all year; trust it.
Steal snaps from Smith and Pierce
I’d chalk some of this up to Baker Mayfield’s ability to extend plays, but man did the Ravens’ four-man rush underwhelm last week. If it comes down to a last stand situation this week it could be a lot more problematic running those cover 0 looks against an experienced QB like Philip Rivers. In order to preserve both Za’Darius Smith and Michael Pierce for crunch time, they need to figure out a way to take a handful of snaps off their play throughout the game.
The absolute best way would come inherently by controlling the clock with the run game but if they aren’t able to dominate time of possession in the ways they have the last seven games they’ll need to use Chris Wormley and Tyus Bowser just a little bit more this week. Nothing drastic by any means but there will be times in this game where the Ravens will need to get off the field while only send four…that isn’t very likely if these two are gassed.
While I don’t think the Ravens can make a living out of those cover 0 looks they showed the Browns late, I do think one aspect of it holds some viability. Eric Weddle and Anthony Levine switching responsibilities at the snap makes for an interesting wrinkle. Weddle has had success as a blitzer this season and I think he can play some interesting head games with Rivers by showing blitz and dropping out at the last minute. Broncos reserve safety Will Parks picked off Rivers last week by tricking him into thinking he was covering the flat only to buzz right into Rivers’ throw to Antonio Gates.
Matchup to watch
Eric Weddle vs Philip Rivers
Weddle and Wink Martindale outclassed Rivers in Week 16 and they may need a similar performance this Sunday to move on. Weddle’s familiarity with his former longtime teammate seemed to cause Rivers to hold the ball a beat longer than he’d like to. Couple that with Wink’s aggressive play-calling and a couple timely forced turnovers and it was a resounding victory for #32 in round 1. Rivers is no doubt champing at the bit to redeem himself and the adjustments made in this matchup, in particular, will go a long way in determining who moves on.