Chips and Dips
Added emphasis on pass protection was going to be a priority against the Raiders this Sunday no matter what. After all, facing game-wrecker Khalil Mack would have been bad enough – now he has a tag-team partner in former Seahawk Bruce Irvin. The two edge rushers have yet to make a major dent this season, but it’s only a matter of time before they break loose. DE Jihad Ward (who plays opposite of Mack) is also capable of being disruptive and taking advantage of single blocks.
With the distinct possibility of both starting rookies (LT Ronnie Stanley and LG Alex Lewis) missing this matchup, the open game plan the Ravens’ have been using the first three weeks needs to be adjusted in a big way.
There are a few ways to slow down Mack, Irvin, and Ward, starting with a concentrated effort to hit and chip block the rushers to impede their short-area dash to the QB. In fact, tight end Dennis Pitta was used as a chipper against Jacksonville – in third-down passing situations he would lay an initial hit on the defensive end before releasing into his route. The same formula should be mixed in on Sunday, with the chipper flashing quickly as an underneath target to pierce the vacated outside areas that the rushers leave open when they charge upfield.
Marc Trestman should also consider moving the pocket in spots to change up Joe Flacco’s launch pad and keep Oakland’s rush ends from getting comfortable.
Operating From Power Sets
In addition to using chip blocks to slow down Mack, Irvin, and Ward, stretching their launch pads wider around the edges is another method to keep them from arriving at Flacco’s doorstep early.
On first down, Trestman has used some variations of two-tight end formations featuring Pitta and Crockett Gilmore. Last week against the Jaguars, tight end Maxx Williams also made an appearance in two- and even three-tight looks. But these formations usually go out the window in favor of the spread shotgun looks on second and third down.
Trestman is going to need stick with power sets to not only provide extra blocking help to protect Flacco, but to keep the Raiders’ big personnel on the field to exploit through the air. In a two-tight end look, Pitta can remain a detachable receiving target who can come off the line. When he motions to the slot or out wide before the snap, he’ll have the chance to take a linebacker with him.
And just as they did last week, there will also be some plus opportunities to throw the ball off of play-action from these more closed formations.
Hard-stop Routes, Double Moves, and Seam Routes
The Raiders come into this game ranked dead last in pass defense. They’ve been picked on deep, short, over the middle – everywhere on the field. And it’s not as if their run defense has been much better, but that was to be expected. The secondary was a major point of emphasis in the offseason with the additions of Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson, but so far, the returns haven’t been there.
There have been many issues for the Oakland corners and safeties. For one thing, given Smith’s inability to get out of his backpedal quickly, teams have been using double-moves to get him moving forward because he can’t recover. The safeties have also played with poor depth and discipline on these plays. They can be influenced out of position with play-fakes and pump-fakes.
The Ravens ran some effective clear-out routes to widen the Jacksonville safeties last week. They had Mike Wallace and Steve Smith as the slot receivers, and used Breshad Perriman and Kamar Aiken to run deep post patterns so Smith and Wallace could gain space underneath on the secondary inside routes. Those route combinations should be used again to test the Oakland defensive backs.
On the outside, double-moves might be a little more difficult for the offense to pull off given the shaky pass pro situation. But when extra blockers are in, it’s certainly an option to hit on some deep shots downfield. Against Smith, back-shoulders and stop routes should also be a big part of the game plan, especially to Wallace.
Led by former Raven Kelechi Osemele, the Raiders have quickly made their mark as a fierce rushing attack. Osemele is part of a massive, hulking line that not only roots defensive players off the ball, they’re also athletic enough to get out on space plays.
What makes this ground game especially difficult to deal with is that it’s not just one runner doing all the damage. Latavius Murray is the main bell cow, but Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington have also been featured. Washington has the elusiveness to make defenders miss and he’s going to be tough to deal with in space.
This is the type of game in which Dean Pees should commit to playing heavier packages on first and second down. He’s played defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce together to eat up the interior and force backs to bounce the ball outside, and that should be the formula this Sunday.
In addition, look for Eric Weddle to continue his role as the eighth defender in the box to help take away perimeter run plays. Weddle shifted between box and second-level coverage responsibilities against the Jaguars, and his presence was felt in the run game on early downs.
Inside Linebacker Integrity
With the focus on playing the run on early downs, inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr will have the tough task of balancing their run responsibilities while ensuring that they aren’t baited on play-action.
Unlike what we saw against Jacksonville, Mosley and Orr won’t have the luxury of turning and running to take away deep seam patterns and buzz underneath of deep-middle routes. They’ll need to play at the right depth to protect against the run, and they’ll also need to play with great eye discipline to avoid being sucked too far upfield when Derek Carr uses play-action.
Mosley and Orr have the recovery speed to close on the ball even if they are too aggressive going for the run-fake, but they can’t take too many chances in this contest or else Carr will hit them for chunk gains over the middle.
When these two teams last met each other, the Raiders deftly implemented a lot of pre-snap motion and jet sweep fakes to get the Baltimore backers and edge defenders out of position. As a result, Carr was also able to open up and exploit the vacated areas.
The Ravens have done a better job of not getting caught up by pre-snap noise this season, especially after a preseason that saw them out of position several times chasing reverses and sweeps sideline to sideline. However, with the Raiders’ speed, that threat will be there once again and the backers need to be prepared to maintain their pursuit angles. Moreover, the corners need to be prepared to attack the edges, much like they did against the Bills in Week 1.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
The resurgence of Sizzle seems to be upon us. After looking sluggish against Buffalo, there were signs that the future Ring of Honor member was getting his mojo back against the Browns, just missing out on a couple of sack opportunities against Josh McCown. Then came the eruption in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville’s Luke Joeckel. Although he still doesn’t have the same get-off, Suggs can generate power and establish leverage. Penn doesn’t look like the prototypical left tackle – he’s more stout than long – but he has quick feet and is a brawler. This should be a fun matchup to chart all day.