Feed Mark Ingram
If someone watched the Ravens’ dismemberment of the Dolphins to kick off the season & came away believing that Baltimore had used the offseason to transform themselves into a pass-happy offense, it’d be hard to blame them. Lamar Jackson turned in an incredibly impressive stat line by going 17 for 20 for 324 yards & five touchdowns. That performance resulted in a perfect passer rating & earned Jackson recognition as the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
While Jackson deserves all the credit in the world for the best passing performance of his young NFL career, it’s important to remember the foundation of this Ravens offense. When there were talks about a “revolutionary” offense during the offseason, nobody was talking about the Baltimore passing game.
The Baltimore offense is built on using a power run game, having the best running QB in the NFL, & using play action fakes to take shots down the field. Against the Cardinals in Week 2, the Ravens should stick to that formula. Against the Dolphins, Mark Ingram carried the ball 14 times for 107 yards & two touchdowns.
Interestingly enough, according to NFL.com Next Gen Stats, only one of Mark Ingram’s Week 1 carries was to the left. Whether that be because of Ingram’s preference or a desire to run behind the side of the line made up of Marshal Yanda & Orlando Brown Jr., the Ravens showed a strong tendency to favor the right side last week. I would hope that the Ravens coaches adopt a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach & run the ball to the right side upwards of 25 times against Arizona. If they get too caught up in the hype surrounding their passing game & get away from establishing a dominant rushing attack, the entire offense could struggle to continue its early success.
Target Mark Andrews Early & Often
Against the Detroit Lions in Week 1, highly touted rookie TE T.J. Hockenson torched the Cardinals defense to the tune of 131 yards & a one TD on six catches. In fact, the 2019 NFL Draft’s eighth overall pick’s debut was good enough to set an NFL record for most receiving yards by any rookie tight end in his debut.
The good news here for the Ravens is that they have two talented young, pass catching TEs of their own. Against Miami in Week 1, Mark Andrews tallied eight receptions for 108 yards & a touchdown. His battery mate, Hayden Hurst, ended the day with three catches for 41 yards.
Against the Cards, Jackson should be looking frequently to connect with Andrews & his other TEs. The Matthew Stafford-to-Hockenson connection showed that the Cardinals are susceptible to a versatile TE who can run the seams & sit down in the short areas to pick up the first down. I hope that Jackson uses Andrews as his safety blanket on third down & would like to see Greg Roman scheme a few shots to Andrews down the seam or on a deep crossing route. If he’s used to his full potential, I’d expect Andrews to see something in the neighborhood of fifteen targets on his way to a career game against Arizona on Sunday.
Use Nick Boyle to Help with Chandler Jones
While a lot of attention will be understandably focused on future NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs’ return to Baltimore on Sunday, the attention on the field should be directed towards Suggs’ teammate rushing from the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Despite having one All-Pro season, two Pro Bowl seasons, & five years with double-digit sacks, Chandler Jones doesn’t get talked about as much as some of the league’s other premier pass rushers. Jones is a long, athletic edge rusher who has a well-rounded arsenal of pass rush moves.
Pass rushers as dangerous as Jones are game changers & typically require the opposing offense to divert extra attention their way to limit the damage that they do. Left alone last week against Jones, Detroit’s fourth-year Left Tackle Taylor Decker gave up a strip sack that turned possession back over to the Cardinals. The Ravens will have to give Ronnie Stanley some help if they want to keep Jones off the stat sheet on Sunday. Roman could help Stanley with a RB or slide the protection towards Jones, but I’d suggest a healthy serving of Nick Boyle.
While Andrews & Hurst serve primarily as receiving options for Lamar Jackson, Boyle is more focused on protecting his second year QB. Arguably the best blocking TE in the NFL, Boyle receives exceptional grades for his blocking from advanced metrics publications & is often used as a third tackle for the Ravens.
Against Jones & the Cards this weekend, I’d like to see Boyle deployed all over the offensive line to help with protection. Whether he’s lined up as an inline TE, a FB, or as part of a bunch on the end of the line, Boyle is going to be crucial in slowing down the Arizona pass rush.
Many in the national media openly mocked the Ravens for signing Boyle to a three-year, $18 million deal in the offseason. Using Boyle to help shut down Chandler Jones on Sunday would be a nice start along Boyle’s journey to show those people why they were so wrong.
Use “Big Dime” as the Base Defense
If you’re familiar with the Texas Tech Red Raiders offense during their time under now Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury, then you also have a pretty good idea about what to expect to see from Arizona on Sunday. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a statistic that best illustrates the Cardinals offense under Kingsbury: In Week 1, Arizona ran more plays with four WRs on the field than every other NFL team combined.
With the Cardinals truly running an “air raid” offense, the Ravens will have to counter with a bevy of defensive backs. While the nickel package (five defensive backs) has become the de facto base defense of most NFL teams, I’d use a big dime defense (3 CBs, 3 Safeties) against the Cardinals.
Luckily for the Ravens, they are not strangers to flooding the field with DBs. Since taking over as defensive coordinator, Wink Martindale has carried on the tradition of Ravens defense using non-standard personnel packages. We’ve seen one down lineman, four edge rushers on the line, & safeties regularly deployed at linebacker depth.
Against an offense so frequently lining up with four WRs & a RB, the Ravens should utilize:
— 2 DL
— 2 OLB
— 1 ILB
— 3 CB
— 3 S
The additional Safety (Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott or Chuck Clark) would play right around the box & depending on personnel/play call, can easily slide in to play as an ILB or slide out the play as a slot defender. That player’s speed will also be an asset in situations when Martindale decides to bring a blitzer off the edge. By replacing an ILB with a Safety, the Ravens will lose some of their run-stopping power, but markedly improve their chances of succeeding against Kingsbury’s Air Raid.
Be Aggressive with Blitzes
Ever since I can remember, there has been talk about just how difficult it is to be a rookie QB starting a game against the Ravens in Baltimore. While I am sure that there are plenty of statistics that detail poorly performing rookie QBs to back them up, I won’t get into those. The bottom line is that it’s true & that it is Wink Martindale’s job to see to it that Cardinals rookie becomes another in a long line to struggle.
Kyler Murray is a true dual threat QB. He’s an elite athlete who possess a no joke NFL-caliber arm. While he’s dangerous outside the pocket, it’d be more dangerous for the Ravens to sit back & allow him time to throw. It’s time for another very well-called game from Martindale and a performance to match from his defenders.
The Ravens should be bringing more than four rushers on most occasions & should keep Murray guessing as to where exactly the blitzes are coming from. With Dime as the most likely personnel package for the Ravens on Sunday, Martindale should call overload blitzes that bring more defenders from one side of the line than the offensive line can possibly block. By bringing a defensive back from the edge, someone is bound to get through & make Murray’s life difficult. The bottom line here is that the Ravens simply cannot afford to rush four & drop seven into coverage. That’s seven-on-seven football and it’s exactly the kind of football that Murray & Kingsbury want to play.
Rotate the Defenders Playing in the Slot
In a move to set their best WRs up for success, NFL offenses in the last few years have started putting their WR1 in the slot. Releases are different, slot CBs are typically less equipped to cover them & the opportunities to create favorable matchups are abundant. Juju Smith-Schuster, Michael Thomas & Keenan Allen are just a few of the big name WRs that are often found in the slot. Long gone are the days where a team’s best two WRs played outside & their third best option operated out of the slot.
Against the Lions in Week 1, future first-ballot Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald worked almost exclusively in the slot. Fitzgerald long ago showed the league that he had every trait necessary to be an elite outside WR in the NFL. By sliding those traits & his fifteen years of experience into the slot, Fitzgerald has the ability to be a matchup nightmare late in his career. He proved that he still has it by starting the season with eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals tie versus the Lions.
It would be ill-advised for the Ravens to cover Fitzgerald with a third Safety or fourth CB all game long. If I was pulling the strings, I’d mix things up & keep Murray on his toes by rotating different players into the slot. While I understand keeping number one CB Marlon Humphrey on the outside, Brandon Carr & Anthony Averett should see some time in the slot so that Murray doesn’t get comfortable throwing to Fitzgerald covered by a fourth-string CB or Safety.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Cardinals QB Kyler Murray versus Ravens FS Earl Thoma
Earl Thomas is still arguably the best Free Safety in the NFL. With an interception & an altogether very strong performance against the Dolphins in Week 1, he showed positive steps towards a nice comeback season. Aside from having all the physical tools needed to be an elite Free Safety, Thomas possesses a high level football mind that has allowed him to be one of the league’s preeminent playmakers since entering the NFL nine years ago.
As the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Murray comes with high expectations. Pressure will be important to interrupting his rhythm, but preventing him from correctly identifying coverages will be at least as critical. Thomas’ sideline to sideline range allows him to line up at different spots all over the field & recover at the snap to get back into proper position. If the former Longhorn (Thomas) can disguise coverages & grab an interception or two from the former Sooner (Murray), the Ravens will have a big leg up on Sunday.