I am Mets, Jets, and Knicks fan. I was born in 1988, two years after the Mets won the World Series, and since then there's been a championship drought for all three teams. Hopefully, at some point, I can change the name of this blog.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
AFC Power Rankings #3: Baltimore Ravens
What makes them good:
A defense that can win games for them every week. In every sport, an offense can be explosive but it’s inconsistent. Because defense relies more heavily on effort and less on luck, a great one will only vary so much from week to week.
The Ravens possess a borderline ideal mixture of young talent, and veteran knowledge. Terrell Suggs has set up camp in the top 3 NFL sack leaders, and Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in football. Meanwhile, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are playing like they’re half their age, but with game smarts that most defensive coordinators would covet.
What sets this team apart on offense is Ray Rice. Although Rice isn’t the traditional between the tackles 25 carry a game type back of yesteryear, he is an incredibly effective hybrid in the mold of Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, and previously Marshall Faulk. Rice’s pass catching ability is probably the envy of some of the wide receivers in Baltimore, and allows the Ravens to extend their running game from sideline to sideline with screen passes and flat routes. There aren’t many teams with dominant defenses in this league, and the Ravens may be the only one with a top 5 running back on the other side of the ball.
The offensive line, which had previously been a point of concern, now looks to be steady. It ranks 7th in the AFC in adjusted sack rate on Football Outsiders, and has only allowed 4 sacks this year, and with the talent in place, it will only get better as the unit melds.
Bryant McKinnie has curbed his apparently monumental appetite, and looked like an All-Pro left tackle in the Week 1 matchup against the Steelers. That has allowed Michael Oher to shift back to right tackle, where despite occasionally being overly anxious, he has morphed into an extremely effective presence. Matt Birk’s lingering neck issues haven’t yet been a factor, and his skill and leadership are undeniable. Joe Flacco will not have many issues with being protected this year.
Where they struggle:
Although the Ravens addressed plenty of things in this offseason, they still didn’t plug the hole at cornerback that Chris McCallister left when he retired. Jimmy Smith may eventually be the answer, but considering he's not only a rookie, but also injured it's safe to say that this won't be the year he determines that. For now, Ed Reed is still covering up mistakes in the secondary like the Wolf in Pulp Fiction, but he’s getting long in the tooth, and it’s tough to clean up the mistakes when he doesn’t know where they will be.
Last week, this secondary revived the argument that Matt Hasselbeck can be a viable NFL starting quarterback, mainly because they made Kenny Britt look like the second coming of Randy Moss. Although the safety position features significant depth with Bernard Pollard and Tom Zbikowski, neither of those two is especially adept in pass coverage.
Point blank, if Cary Williams is covering the other team’s best receiver, you’re going to need to give him help. The Ravens allowed a 100+ yard receiver in only four of their 17 games last year. This year both Mike Wallace and Kenny Britt have reached that mark. In a league where spread formations are now commonplace for almost every team, the Ravens don’t have the secondary necessary to shut down high powered passing attacks like New England, San Diego, and to a lesser extent Pittsburgh (when they don’t turn the ball over 7 times).
Lastly, the passing offense has yet to completely come together. If Eli Manning was able to guide a team to a Super Bowl, Joe Flacco is more than capable of accomplishing the same feat. But he needs to do a better job of avoiding the ugly games, like last week in Tennessee.
If there’s one suggestion I could make to the Ravens passing offense, it would be to adopt a similar strategy to the one that the Patriots use. This team can stretch the field vertically, but they would be more effective doing it with their tight ends instead of their receivers. Anquan Boldin’s strength is obviously not his speed, and Lee Evans is not the savior that some Baltimore fans have depicted him to be.
Instead, the Ravens should look towards the middle of the field where they have something akin to “Patriots-Lite” with Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. They are being used some right now as evidenced by their numbers in the Steelers game. It’s time to use them more. Dickson has the speed to toast linebackers, and Pitta has a set of hands that are comparable to Jason Witten’s.
Joe Flacco has an absolute howitzer for an arm, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be employed exclusively on wayward deep balls. If the Ravens offense can simply recognize where their best matchups are (Rice against linebackers and the tight ends against safeties), and exploit them, the offense has the potential to be one of the more dangerous ones in the AFC.