Pound the Rock
Regardless of what might’ve happened on the field, every loss counts the same in the NFL. Whether a team is blown out by 50 or loses on a last-second field goal, exactly one “L” is added to their loss column. But the Ravens lost so much more than a hard-fought game to the rival against the Steelers in Week 8. By the time the clock read zeroes, the Ravens had lost two of their starting offensive linemen to injury. Rookie RG Tyre Phillips suffered an ankle injury that landed him on the injured reserve and will cost him at least three game. Franchise LT Ronnie Stanley, who signed a massive extension with the Ravens just days earlier, suffered an ankle injury that will cause him to miss the rest of the 2020 season.
The Ravens head into Indianapolis with the same offensive line that finished out the game against Pittsburgh. Orlando Brown Jr. slid over to LT from his preferred RT spot. Bradley Bozeman and Matt Skura maintained their spots as the LG and C. Patrick Mekari took over as the RG, and D.J. Fluker came off the bench to take Brown Jr.’s spot at RT. Behind that reshuffled line, the Ravens offense rushed for a whopping 265 yards against what many consider to be the best defense in the NFL.
The Colts currently rank second in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game. With Darius Leonard and DeForest Buckner leading the way, Indy is holding their opponents to just 79.9 rushing yards per game. Unfortunately for them, the Ravens have shown that they are more than capable of running the ball against strong defenses. Behind a depleted offensive line that is better suited for the run game than the pass game, the Ravens should make it their top priority to put up huge numbers on the ground against the Colts on Sunday.
Give Hollywood Touches
In the wake of the loss to the Steelers in Week 8, drama emerged from the Baltimore locker room. If the immediate aftermath of the game, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown shared a since deleted tweet that read: “what’s the point of having souljas when you never use them (Never!!)”.
Brown’s use of the quote appears to have been in reference to the lack his lack of targets against the Steelers that afternoon. Brown finished the game with a grand total on two targets and one reception. His lone catch was a three-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter that capped off the Ravens scoring. Lamar Jackson commented on his close friend’s tweet. John Harbaugh fielded questions about it in an interview. Brown seems to have a great relationship with his QB, but fans across the NFL have seen what can happen when a WR gets upset about a lack of targets.
Getting Brown his touches will help quell some of the drama and keep peace in a locker-room that seems to be generally harmonious. More important than locker room drama, though, is Brown’s impact on the field. Brown was the Ravens’ 2019 1st round NFL Draft pick for a reason. He has exceptional top line speed, great change of direction and a route running repertoire that grew during the offseason. In a passing offense that felt dull during the first half of the season, Brown needs to be a star target. The Ravens need to get Hollywood involved against the Colts. Brown has all the requisite traits to develop into one of the league’s better deep threats. If, as some suggest, the Ravens’ offense isn’t ideal for targeting Brown on shots down the field, the Ravens’ coaching staff need to scheme touches for him on screens, ends-around and quick hitters. Against a talented Colts defense, the Ravens simply can’t afford for Brown’s stat line to look like it did in Week 8.
Get Jackson in Rhythm
Lamar Jackson had an incredible 2019 season. He led the Ravens to a 14-2 record and the top seed in the AFC playoffs. He allowed Greg Roman to construct a record-breaking rush offense that drove most NFL defenses crazy. As a passer, Jackson threw 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. There were plenty of reasons that Jackson joined Tom Brady as the only unanimous MVPs in the history of the NFL.
There should have been little expectation that Jackson would greatly improve from 2019 to 2020. It would be incredibly difficult to improve on an MVP season. Jackson has been far from “bad” in 2020, but he doesn’t have anywhere close to the numbers that he had last year. Among starting QBs, Jackson ranks near the bottom of the league in passing yards, completion percentage and passer rating. There have been times at which Jackson has made mental errors that he didn’t make in 2019.
One key to the Ravens’ offense against the Colts, and perhaps for the rest of the season, could be a move towards more quick-hitting pass plays. With an injury-depleted offensive line that won’t be able to give Jackson as much time in the pocket, Greg Roman could be forced to adjust some of his pass concepts. Getting the ball out quickly will allow for a higher completion percentage and help Jackson find his rhythm as a passer.
Against a Colts that has held opposing QBs to the lowest passer rating of any defense in the NFL, pairing a quick-hitting pass game with a dominant run game could be key to a Baltimore win.
Pass the COVID Tests
Ravens’ CB Marlon Humphrey shocked Ravens fans and the NFL media on Monday morning when he announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The Ravens later confirmed, through their official channels, that a player had tested positive and that the team would enter “the NFL’s intensive protocol.” In accordance with the NFL’s COVID-19 policy, Humphrey has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Colts. In the aftermath of Humphrey’s test, the Ravens were forced to place seven additional players, who are considered “close contacts” with Humphrey, on the COVID-19 list.
OLB Matthew Judon (activated Thursday)
OLB Tyus Bowser
ILB L.J. Fort
ILB Malik Harrison
ILB Patrick Queen
Those six remaining players (all but Judon) will not practice in the lead up to their game against the Colts. If, however, those players have only negative tests in the lead up to Sunday’s game, they will be permitted to play. Without any of those six players, the Ravens would be forced to pull from their practice squad and use reserves to take their places. Having those six pass their COVID-19 tests for the rest of the week is, unquestionably, the number one key for the Ravens’ defense.
Turn up the Heat
New Colts’ starting QB Philip Rivers has been an efficient passer in his first year in Indianapolis. Rivers ranks 6th in the league in completion percentage (69.7%) and 7th in yards per attempt (8.1). While Rivers’ interception tally (6) is higher than he would like, he seems to be comfortable in his new offense and with his new weapons. So far this season, Rivers has completed passes to 15 different players. For the sake of comparison, Jackson has connected with only nine pass catchers so far this season.
For several reasons, Wink Martindale and the Ravens’ defense need to turn up the heat on Rivers this Sunday. First and foremost, Rivers will sit back and pick apart a secondary if he’s given the chance. Rivers’ 17 years of experience go a long way when it comes to film study and knowing which throws to make.
Secondly, Rivers is not as mobile as he used to be. Rivers is not a statue in the pocket, but at 38 years old, he’s not the athlete that he used to be. Getting pressure that forces Rivers off his spot and makes him uncomfortable would be a boost to the Ravens’ pass defense.
Last, but certainly not least, the absence of Humphrey may require the pass rush to help the pass coverage more than usual. No player who the Ravens decide to replace Humphrey with will play to the level of the All-Pro. Colts’ WRs will be open more often. They’ll have more separation than they would otherwise. The Ravens’ coverage won’t hold up as long as they usually do as the pass rushers make their way to the QB.
Bringing the pressure against Colts will be important as the Ravens try to disrupt Rivers’ rhythm and make up for Humphrey’s absence.
The Colts selected RB Nyheim Hines in the 4th round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Hines had run the fastest 40-yard dash, 4.38 seconds, of any RB at the NFL combine after breaking the 1000-yard rushing mark as a junior at North Carolina State. In each his three years as a member of the Wolfpack, Hines hauled in at least 20 catches.
As a rookie, Hines carried the ball 85 times and added 63 receptions. Still in a part time role in 2019, Hines tallied 52 rushes and 44 catches. As part of the 2020 Colts’ very crowded backfield, Hines has caught the ball 26 times to go along with 31 carries. Hines is third among Colts in targets and leads the team in receptions. In the Colts’ win over the Lions in Week 8, Hines hauled in three of his five targets for 54 yards and two touchdowns. After years of going to RBs like Darren Sproles and Austin Ekeler in the passing game, Rivers seems to have found his new favorite pass-catching RB in Indy.
The Colts are going to attack the Ravens defense through the air with Hines. Teams hand the ball off against the Ravens defense less than against any other defense in the NFL. On the flip side, opposing offenses are targeting their RBs in the pass game at the 11th highest rate in the NFL. Martindale can counter Hines in the passing game by using a LB, like Patrick Queen, with sideline-to-sideline speed.
If Hines becomes a bigger problem, adjustments may need to be made to use Chuck Clark or DeShon Elliott to help on Hines.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Indianapolis ILB Darius Leonard versus Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins
With Mark Ingram out with an injury*, Ravens’ rookie RB J.K. Dobbins led the way on the ground against the Steelers in Week 8. Dobbins demonstrated, to everyone watching, why the Ravens made him a 2nd round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Against the vaunted Steelers run defense, Dobbins carried the ball 15 times for 113 yards (7.5 yards/carry). Dobbins looked smooth and dangerous in the open field. He embarrassed a few would-be tacklers and generally looked like he belonged on the field with top NFL talent.
Against the Colts, Dobbins will be faced with the challenge of dealing with All-Pro ILB Darius Leonard. Leonard won the NFL’s 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year award after leading the league with an unbelievable 163 tackles. Leonard is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker who can cause headaches for opposing offenses.
Dobbins’ ability to make plays with Leonard roaming around on the second level of the Colts defense could have a big impact on the game.
* At the time of this writing, it seems that Ingram is unlikely to play against the Colts.