Ravens Roundtable: Week 2
Every week, the Ravens analysts here at Baltimore Sports and Life will collaborate with a special guest from network partner at 24×7 Networks – Russell Street Report. We’ll have a Q&A roundtable discussion on the week that was, and preview the weeks upcoming match-up. This week, Devesh Panchwagh joins BSL Analysts Chris Stoner, Nadeem Kurieshy, Mark Bullock, Mike Randall, and Matt Jergensen.
Discuss your thoughts and answer these questions on our message board.
1. With the video inside the elevator being made public, the Baltimore Ravens have released Ray Rice. There are a million angles which can be discussed here. What thoughts do you have?
Chris Stoner – I said in February that if it was shown that Rice was the cause of why his now Wife was unconscious in the first video which became public, that I would want Rice released. Many off-field issues with players in professional sports have some element of ‘he said, she said.’ The video today, removed any ambiguity of what occurred. It was a sickening, horrible incident, and the aftermath has been nearly as bad. Releasing him is the best (and frankly only) decision for the franchise.
Mike Randall – First thought goes out to Janay and her family. It’s not fair that this awful visual had to be leaked to the world. She doesn’t deserve to have to relive that moment every time she changes the channel. On to Ray, this should have been the course of action taken from the time the incident happened. The video released only proved what I had a feeling was what actually happened. I’m saddened that I thought right. I have a bigger problem with our legal system in this country. There is no way than on officer who saw the video from inside the elevator charges both of them with simple assault, a “minor altercation”. Maybe he was a Rutgers fan up there in New Jersey. Maybe if the charge was serious, like it should have been, something like assault and battery, first degree assault, maybe the hammer would have come down on Rice sooner. Instead the term “simple” assault led the Ravens and the NFL to believe that it wasn’t as big a deal. How dumb are all parties involved for not thinking this video was going to surface eventually. We all knew it was out there. Just a matter of time, and TMZ’s timing was spot on. To hear that Ray Rice was down playing this to his teammates, like he was defending himself, that’s just sick.
Matt Jergensen: Unfortunately the recently released video only confirmed what many suspected about the situation and it forced people to deal with it straight on. The whole thing stinks on a variety of levels, from the legal system to the NFL to the Ravens front office and finally back to Rice himself. In the end, the team had no recourse but to terminate Rice’s contract. Even though the footage was sickening to witness perhaps some good could come out of it. Policy in reguards to domestic abuse will be debated and hopefully improved, while the league and it’s teams should take a long look at thier own policies and make steps to improve.
Devesh Panchwagh – The Ravens made the right move. Not only is the video despicable, and will be the face of Rice for the rest of his career and life, but he lied to the team and the league. To me, with the way in which he conducted himself, there was no other recourse.
Nadeem Kurieshy – I’ve met Rice, his fiancee and his daughter and I am saddened by the events that occurred in Atlantic City. Football aside, I hope that he and his wife are able to recover from this and live healthy, happy lives.
Mark Bullock – I’m not usually one for getting to involved with what a player does in their private life off the field, I prefer to stick to what they do on it. But in this situation, there’s no way you can even think about Rice on the field. It’s a terrible thing to do to anyone, let alone his wife. The reaction he had as the elevator doors opened was just as disgraceful. The whole situation was handled poorly, but I’m glad the Ravens have done the right thing in the end.
2. On to the game. This was our first real look at the Gary Kubiak offense. Thoughts?
MB – I thought Flacco looked fairly efficient and comfortable in the offense, but he didn’t get a lot of help. The receivers had a really bad day, either dropping passes which killed any momentum the offense had, or not being on here same page with Flacco. We saw a number of occasions where receivers broke off their route when Flacco anticipated them to keep running. That needs to improve. It’s not an offense designed to throw the ball 61 times either. Despite being down 15-0, I felt Kubiak could have kept running the ball after Forsett looked good when he came in.
CS – The offense looked better after Vontaze Burfict was forced to leave. To me, the key to the offense is play-action. Even with Rice not available, and accounting for the 15-0 deficit (and drops from the receivers which stalled/killed drives); I don’t really get the disparity in Flacco’s pass attempts (62) vs. rushing attempts (17) from Forsett and Pierce.
DP – It was not a great debut for the Kubiak offense. The running game fuels all of the play-action and motion that is the basis for his offense. Without success in those areas, his version of the WCO turned into a more wide-open attack, similar to what the Ravens ran more of last season. The Bengals also made a concentrated effort to take away the underneath passing game, which is also a big staple of the WCO.
MJ – How long did we hear about establishing the running game this off-season? Was it all just a clever ruse to throw everyone off? Sixty two pass attempts to seventeen rushing attempts? Even with the bizarre play-calling what we saw last Sunday was a team going through a scheme change on offense. There will be growing pains as there were several mistakes on routes as well as multiple drops by receivers. In the second half things got rolling and show you that this offense could be very capable once everyone is on the same page.
MR – No complaints on the play calling side. It looked like a typical west coast scheme where there was a lot of short passes (an extension of the running game), opening up the deep ball, which they connected with S. Smith on one, and couple other ones were there but dropped. I think Pierce was very disappointing and that led to the large number of passes. Forsett was able to set up the Ravens in more manageable second and third down situations. I like the bootleg calls to get Joe out of the pocket, and one that went for a fourth down conversion the Flacco tucked and ran with.
NK – Personnel – Lots of jitters on offense. I think it took over a quarter for the offense to settle down and start to produce. 8 dropped balls is ridiculous for a supposed playoff contender. Pierce blew his chance to make a name for himself. I’m really concerned about Joe’s ability to recognize zone blitzes. A zone blitz is where the defense will drop a pass rusher into coverage and blitz players that cover receivers. Think back to the strip sack of Joe by Polamalu (I know… sorry.). Essentially, the Bengals ran the same play to end the game. Play calling – This is Joe’s third offensive coordinator and the same game plan surfaces. When the Ravens are down, they go into pass, pass, pass mode. So, does this mean that Harbaugh’s philosophy is to pass his way back in? Probably. We are going to have to live with it.
3. What do you think about the future of Bernard Pierce? He found himself on the bench, and Justin Forsett showed he was a superior back in the second half of the game. No surprise that once the run game got going, so did Flacco in the passing game.
DP – It’s hard to say. I thought Harbaugh overreacted to Pierce’s fumble. There might be more than meets the eye with that benching. Regardless, Pierce blew a huge opportunity today, and certainly didn’t help his chances.
NK – Based on the way how Forsett ran yesterday, Pierce will find himself as the back-up running back.
MB – Forsett just looked so much more at home in the offense. That shouldn’t be a surprise, he’s been in the zone scheme for a while. He did a better job with his reads and pressing the hole, giving him better lanes to cut back into. Pierce looked like a strong zone runner in preseason though, so I won’t be too surprised either way the Ravens opt to go.
MR – Forsett better be the starting back on Thursday, and I’d like to see Taliaferro as the change of pace back. Pierce costs about $278K in dead money if they release him. He just doesn’t have it, lacked the ability to slip easy tackles, and he put the ball on the turf. The offensive line isn’t to blame this year. They were perfect on that Forsett TD run. If I’m Ozzie Newsome, I’m shopping him to every team with RB issues (Ben Tate and Doug Martin left their games with injuries), and try to get yet another cornerback here, since they have missed on three CB additions to this point. Maybe we could live with Toussaint off the practice squad as our RB3. Remember when Bobby Rainey wasn’t good enough to be a Raven? He started the final games of 2013, and looks to get more carries this year.
MJ – Pierce is too indecisive. I have no idea if the concussion was still and issue but playing tentatively and then putting the ball on the turf will find you the bench quickly. Still considering Rice’s release the Ravens will need Pierce this season. They need to get him going unless they want to give Lorenzo Taliaferro some carries which I’m not opposed to.
CS – Getting past the injury, or any fumbling concerns; Pierce dances East/West a bit too much to me. I like when he’s running downhill, and attacking between the tackles. Forsett showed better burst, and wiggle. Had Rice not been released, there might have been a decision to be made regarding Pierce’s future after Thursday’s game. Now, he has more carries coming to him, and we will see if it’s him, Forsett, or Taliaferro who emerges as ‘the guy.’
4. The defense looks similar to last years. They bend but don’t break. Only the one big play late was allowed, great success in the red zone. But they lack in the sacks and forcing turnovers department. Can the team have success when the defense plays like this?
MB – They can as long as the offense is successful in putting up points and eating up clock. That’s obviously the plan heading into every game, but it doesn’t always work. Baltimore need to have a back up plan in place should the offense fail to click right out the gate as it did against the Bengals. I felt they should have adjusted and sent more pressure at Dalton to help knock him off his rhythm and to help out a secondary ravaged by injuries.
CS – I think it’s easier to dial up the pressure, if you trust your CB’s to be out on an island in coverage. I think without Webb, part of the strategy today was to try and keep things in-front of them. Of course the other issue was that Dalton was getting rid of the ball quickly, before pressure could come. In my opinion Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees runs a very vanilla scheme. I think he operates the defense playing to try and avoid losing, vs. aggressively setting them loose trying to ‘win.’ Can the team have success with the defense playing like this? Yes, I think they can – but it’s not an ideal mentality to me.
MJ – They can if the offense can score points which they waited a whole half to do. Still I don’t care for it. We heard all off-season that this unit would be aggressive. And again the game plan told a different story. Dean Pees must at least dial up a few blitzes to keep teams guessing. They react too much instead of dictating to the offense what they want them to do.
MR – I’m going with no, the Ravens can’t be successful to the point we want them to be with this style. They’ll keep you in games against most of the league, but not when you get to January, if you get to January. You need to generate pressure to get the opposing QBs and jam the receivers to ruin their timing. The Ravens DBs played off coverage all day. This style doesn’t work when you play elite QBs like Manning and Brady. They will sit there and pick you apart all day. If the Ravens are content with a 9-7 season, maybe get in the playoffs, and get run off the field in their first game against a real QB, then yeah, it works.
DP – Nope. No way. The offense has to be scoring TDs consistently to allow this formula to work. The Ravens aren’t the Broncos last time I checked. They need to get pressure up front and play more aggressively.
5. Let’s talk about that big play. Chykie Brown was the man covering A.J. Green. Is Brown at fault, or is Green that good?
MJ – Green is fantastic but I wonder why Green wasn’t shadowed by Jimmy Smith all afternoon. I understand that it’s a philosophy issue but of you take Green away the Bengals need to find other ways to score. Brown is limited and did his best but Green’s a Pro Bowler.
CS – An elite WR making a play over a Nickle or Dime back should not surprise anyone. Brown has good speed, and limited technique. He can help a roster, but you don’t want to rely on him. You never want him to be in position to be matched-up against one of the league’s best with the game on the line. I think Jimmy Smith should have shadowed Green on every play. If Green beats Smith, you tip the cap. When Green beats Brown, one must question the decision making.
MR – You’re up by one score. You can’t let the best receiver not named Calvin Johnson get behind you, ever. At the same time, safety help should have been over the top. DC Dean Pees and FS Darian Stewart are just as much to blame.
DP – Neither. Don’t get me wrong, Green is great. But Brown can’t be left on an island without safety help against one of the best deep threats in the game. The one thing the team couldn’t do is let Green make a player over their heads, and he did just that.
NK – I blame Dean Pees for a bad play call. The Ravens lined up in a cover 2 look (2 safeties up top). He called a zone blitz with Asa Jackson and had Elam cover a receiver. As a CB Chykie Brown was supposed to play with outside leverage and funnel Green towards the FS Darian Stewart. Chykie Brown didn’t do his job and neither did Stewart. From my analysis of Stewart, he struggles as the single high safety. Pees should not have called that play with the personnel that he had available.
MB – It’s a tough one. Brown did a poor job staying on top of Green and flipping his hips once Green passed him. Brown certainly could have played it better, but Green is one of the best receivers in the game and was never going to be an easy guy to cover.
6. Let’s shift our focus to the Steelers who visit on Thursday night. What are your keys to the game on offense?
CS – I’ll give my keys without looking much at the Steelers defense at all. Get better balance to the play-calling. Establish the running game (I do note that Terrance West rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries today). I’d like to see more 2 TE sets, and also find ways to utilize Juszczyk – who was a complete non-factor today.
NK – The OL’s ability to pick up the zone blitz. Establishing the running game and not allowing Joe to attempt 62 throws. Securing the football after a catch.
MB – Keys for the offense will always be to establish the run. If it doesn’t start well like it failed to against Cincinnati, then pass the ball to get yourself going. But that doesn’t mean they should outright abandon it, especially if Forsett is running at nearly seven yards a carry. Don’t panic if they fall behind and trust that the offense can get back into the game by being balanced. Take some of the pressure off Flacco’s arm.
MJ – The Steelers defense should not strike fear into anyone. They can be scored upon as evidenced last weekend by a subpar offense in Cleveland. The Ravens must establish the run and then work play-action instead of using it never showing that they’ll run. Juice was targeted once last week. They need to use his versatility. I’d also like to see a few quick hitters to get Flacco loose early.
MR – Limit the mistakes. If the Ravens drop half the balls they did, they might win that game Sunday. These Steelers games usually come down to who wins the turnover battle. Who manages the clock best to get the ball last. Flacco needs to read the defenses better than he did Sunday, and know where #43 is at all times. I think in any game with this scheme, establish the running game and the nuances of the passing game (play action, bootleg) will make it flourish.
7. Keys to the game on defense
NK – Pressure and containment on Big Ben. Slowing down Bell and Blount. Don’t give up the big play!
MJ – They need to keep Roethlisberger’s street ball plays to a minimum and limit Bell as much as possible. He proved to be tough cathing out of the backfield as well. The Ravens must also pressure up front and knock Ben down a few times. It’s been a rough week for Baltimore they need to respond at home in front of a national audience.
MR – Don’t get kicked in the face by Antonio Brown. But seriously, put a 12th man on the field to cover Mike Tomlin. But seriously…for real this time. Generate some pressure on Roethlisberger. They, like the Bengals, will look to go no huddle at times and not allow the Ravens D to make the proper substitutions. Nothing better to shoot down that plan then to pick up a few sacks and kill the momentum, put them in 3rd in longs.
MB – They have to get more pressure if the offense falls behind. They can’t sit back and allow Roethlisberger to sit at the top of his drop and pick apart zone coverages as they did with Dalton. That’s not to say they should run Cover 0 every play, but maybe throw in some different looks; run a slot corner or safety blitz, send A gap pressure up the middle etc.
CS – The Steelers put up nearly 500 yards of offense up against Cleveland today. Bell rushed for 109 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Bell also had 88 yards as a receiver. Try and take away the running game, and make Pittsburgh one-dimensional. Brown and Wheaton combined for 11 catches, and 213 yards. Roethlisberger threw for 365 yards. I see that the Browns got to Roethlisberger 4 times. Will be interesting to see if the Ravens pass rush has similar success.
MB – Well, the good news for Baltimore is that they’ve got tape this week of the same offense against the Steelers. Kyle Shanahan was once the offensive coordinator under Kubiak in Houston. That gives Baltimore a good opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t against the Steelers. Cleveland put up 183 net rushing yards, which should be a promising sign for the Ravens offense. I’ll take the Ravens bouncing back on a short week at home in a needed win over a divisional rival to avoid slipping to 0-2.
CS – In my quick hits after today’s loss, my take was that you hate saying any game in Week 2 is a ‘Must win’, but that is absolutely what Thursday is. There is an incredibly high percentage against teams making the playoffs which start 0-2. That percentage would only increase with the two losses being against Divisional foes. It will be a typical AFC North, Pittsburgh / Baltimore game with plenty of physicality. Pittsburgh will be motivated to get to 2-0. The Ravens will be desperate for their first W. I think we will begin to see improvement from the Ravens roster in the Week 3 game at Cleveland, when Baltimore has had additional time for game preparation. On Thursday night I think the Ravens will ugly the game up, and find a way to win a game that’s in the balance in the 4th Quarter.
MR – Until the Ravens can play a complete game without totally awful blunders, I can’t pick them to win. There is a major distraction going on right now as well. When it comes to my key on defense, easier said than done, and they haven’t shown the ability to rush the QB since about week 8 last year. 19-17 Steelers.
MJ – I see another ugly game this Thursday. The Ravens should play with some urgency and I expect a close win 21-17.
NK – This is a do or die game for the Ravens, so I think they win this one 20-17.
DP – Right now, I’m going with Pittsburgh. But it’s going to be a very close call.