Beginning on Thursday the Ravens will be off through Sunday and then back to work on Monday to begin their preparation for game 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. The game represents an opportunity for the Ravens to pull into a tie for first place – no this is not a typo.
Obviously the Ravens have many issues to address and no matter what the coaching staff does during the bye week, the last time I checked Houdini, David Copperfield and Criss Angel aren’t part of John Harbaugh’s staff and without them, there’s not enough sleight of hand in the world to cover up all of the Ravens warts in one week. Their issues run too deep.
That said, they can make some corrections that could boost their chances in what has become a very pedestrian AFC North. Here’s what the Ravens Repair Man suggests:
Commit to The Run: The Jets ground game was going nowhere against the Ravens this past Sunday but they remained patient and before all was said and done they ran it 39 times for 155 yards and controlled the clock while wearing down the Ravens defense. Observe and learn! A commitment to the run opens up other things in the playbook, including play-action. It is also the O-Line’s best friend. And they need one!
No Huddle: Even the casual observer can see that Joe Flacco’s rhythm is better when he operates out of a no-huddle offense. It’s been this way since forever. His comfort coupled with the opposing defense’s inability to make substitutions in a preferred way limits the creativity with which teams can get after Flacco. The base defenses then become blander and more predictable. Plus, the no huddle helps to tire out opposing pass rushers which helps the offensive linemen sustain their blocks and provides Flacco with ample time and space to throw. Another O-Line best friend…
Get Beyond The Sticks: It is maddening how often Ravens receivers run short of the first down marker on third down expecting YAC that never materializes. Get. Beyond. The. Sticks.
Cadence: Flacco’s cadence is so predictable that it actually becomes an asset for the opponent. Use it as a weapon, not as a deterrent to success. Has anyone seen a center pushed back into the quarterback twice during the same game? That’s a nose tackle jumping on a predictable cadence. On your mark – get set – GO!
Kenneth Dixon: This guy is a special talent and it’s time the Ravens give him an opportunity. Sitting him as frequently as they do is mind blowing. See Devontae Booker.
Pacing: Even though more no-huddle is recommended, the Ravens are unlikely to use it exclusively BUT… When not running no-huddle, pick up the pace and get to the line of scrimmage in time to make pre-snap adjustments. When they don’t, Flacco runs plays that are dead on arrival because there’s no time to check off. How many times will we have to see corners and safeties creeping in late as the clock winds down and the predictable cadence helps their get-off?
Photo Credit: CSN MidAtlantic
Pressure: Dean Pees has been reluctant to create any deception with his blitz packages. That has to change and the Ravens must develop some stunts or delays combined with press coverage on the edges to attack the “A” gap and disrupt the timing of opposing QBs. They’ll be facing much better ones during the second half of the season.
Base Nickel: While nickel for the most part has been a base defense, the Ravens need to employ it with Anthony Levine and bump Lardarius Webb down the depth chart. They won’t because Webb is well-liked within the organization and despite his 2015 pay cut he remains the team’s second highest cap figure and the most overpaid Raven. He’ll be gone in 2017 so why not begin the succession plan now. Levine makes more plays than Webb anyway and Webb is regularly late over the top and misses big tackles that lead to big plays despite the fact that he lines up so deep that he’s in a different zip code from the rest of the defense.
The Other Corner: Will Davis should line up opposite Jimmy Smith. Shareece Wright has played himself out of a top depth chart spot and should see time only as a dime. Shareece is just in a bad spot right now and Tavon Young is too short to match up with bigger receivers and is susceptible to fades and back shoulder throws given his height disadvantage. He’s been very solid at the slot corner and should continue to see plenty of time there.
Peddle to The Metal: No defender wants to be perceived as soft yet when the game is on the line that is exactly what Dean Pees’ defense becomes under his direction. If you have a 4th quarter lead, do the things that got you there. The bend-but-don’t-break approach eventually…breaks. In four seasons and seven games Pees’ defenses have blown 15 fourth quarter leads. From 2000 through 2011 the Ravens had 20 blown fourth quarter leads.
Photo Credit: Baltimore Ravens
Fading Importance: There was a time when special teams were just as important as offense and defense. That’s no longer the case. Despite receiving teams being rewarded with the 25-yard line following a touchback, kickoff teams seem content to knock it through the end zone. Last season the Ravens had 40 punt returns for 450 return yards and 1 TD. This season they are on pace for 30 returns for 176 yards. Devin Hester was a waste of money and probably shouldn’t have been signed until after Week 1. Then the team wouldn’t be on the hook for an entire season’s salary, but once again Jerry Rosburg’s influence over John Harbaugh reared its ugly head. Hester should get the Steelers game to show improvement. Otherwise, although it’s not ideal, Michael Campanaro looms.
Roster Juxtaposition: Continuing with the Rosburg theme, despite the fading relevance of his unit, too many roster decisions are predicated upon teams. Kamalei Correa, Matt Judon, Willie Henry, and Will Davis have all been healthy scratches to at least in part, accommodate Rosburg. Victor Ochi was jettisoned in favor of Chris Carter (released on October 12) who is now with his fifth team in as many seasons (signed by Colts for the 2nd time on October 13). Jerry needs to stop getting his way and should probably focus on the rules on the placement of the LOS following a blocked punt.
Photo Credit: Baltimore Ravens
JOHN HARBAUGH/GAME MANAGEMENT
Timeout: Timeouts are tools. Don’t waste them particularly when your quarterback isn’t the best clock manager during two minute drills. If you are a man short on punt teams, take the 5-yard penalty and keep the timeout.
Penalties: The Ravens are tied for second with the most pre-snap penalties and they are 6th-worst overall in the league. This is a reflection on the team’s preparation and that is a straight line to coaching.
Control Flacco: Stop making excuses for Flacco and empower the coaching staff to have a say in his development. I’m hearing things that Flacco doesn’t respect the assistants enough and that said assistants are reluctant to call Flacco out to correct his many flaws. And even if you don’t respect 105.7 The Fan’s Vinny Cerrato and think that his labeling of Joe as a 9-to-5 employee is completely hearsay, keep this in mind…Cerrato and former OC Marc Trestman are pretty tight. There may be some truth to Cerrato’s overtly qualified allegations. If and when Flacco is ever side-by-side on the bench with an assistant coach actively engaged and studying pictures and film on a tablet to gain insight on that day’s opponent and what is happening on the field, I’ll know that someone got to Flacco. And that could signal more positive results over the final 9 games.
Failure to do these things could result in another season spiraling out of control and place John Harbaugh in a box from which he can’t escape the wrath of Steve Bisciotti.
Unless of course he unleashes his inner Criss Angel.