The story through the first seven games of the Ravens’ 2016 season has been the continued stagnation of the offense. Week after week we’ve banged on Joe Flacco & Co. as they turn in ugly effort after ugly effort.
Fans and pundits have named the lack of pass protection, a forgotten run game, and a severe dearth of play makers as the issues at times. Of course, Flacco has also taken more criticism than he ever has since donned a Ravens uniform.
All of this has led to Dean Pees’ defense largely being let off the hook.
However, they have had their fair share of struggles as well – particularly the mantra of being a “bend but don’t break” unit.
Don’t believe me? Look at the bulging vein on Tony Lombardi’s forehead late in games.
As Lombardi and I have pointed out over the course of the season, Pees appears to have learned very little from his years spent in New England under Bill Belichick. Bill, a defensive genius, is known for taking an opponent’s best player out of the game and forcing someone else to beat him. We’ve rarely seen that type of scheming from Pees.
On Thursday, the oft-hated man in Baltimore explained – or at least tried to – just how difficult that can be at times.
“It’s just easy for everybody to say, ‘Put this guy on that guy.’ There are so many things that come into account, just like we talked about,” stated Pees. “Is it really a good matchup? Does your best corner or defensive back match up against their best receiver’s style?
“Second thing is where do they put the receiver? Is he a guy that moves all over the place? Is he a guy that’s always in one spot?. With the Indianapolis Colts, [Marvin] Harrison, you knew where he was going to line up. He was going to be on the left side every time.
“There are so many factors you take into account, and your defensive calls. If you’re going to play more zone, or you’re going to play more man … All of a sudden, you’re going to try to teach a defensive back that’s in the slot how to play zone in the slot as opposed to – it’s easier in man, because you have the man – now all of a sudden, every time I line a guy up there and that same DB lines up there – they have computers too, they look at it and say, ‘If that guy lines up in the slot, they’re in man coverage.’
“You have to be able to mix and match zones and mans. There’s a lot more to it than just easily stating, ‘Let’s put our best DB on their best receiver.’”
It’s a fair point that Pees has from an X’s and O’s standpoint. However, it comes down to common sense: when their best player is torching your defense and you don’t at least bracket him or put your best corner on them, you may as well admit defeat.
The question was an obvious one considering what has transpired over the past few weeks. Namely, the failure to limit big plays from players like Odell Beckham Jr. On Sunday, the secondary will be tasked with slowing Steelers star receiver Antonio Brown.
“You just can’t allow him to have big plays,” said Pees (as he does every week) in his Thursday presser. “A guy can catch a screen, and it’s almost like a punt return. He can just make people miss. It really is team defense.
“Everybody has to know where he is at all times and everybody has to be willing to help,” he added. “You throw a screen –Clarence Brooks used to say, ‘A screen is a total defensive play. It’s not the defensive backs, not the linebackers. It’s everybody’s play.’ And that’s the truth. One guy has to turn it in. Another guy has to plant. Somebody has to go inside out, and guys have to turn around and get to the ball.
“It’s the same thing when ‘84’ catches the ball. You have to have good team defense. You have to leverage him. Where he breaks out – he just makes people miss – and all of a sudden breaks out on you.
“We just have to do a great job all the way around.”
Limiting the big plays has been a major issue for Pees and company and for them to even stand a chance on Sunday in a battle for first place in the AFC North division, it has to be more than coach speak.
It comes down to making adjustments and that’s something they’ve struggled with. So Dean, if Brown starts torching the defense, it’s okay to bracket him.
Remember: it’s never a bad thing to offer some help.
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