Ravens Roundtable: Week 3
Every week, the Ravens analysts here at Baltimore Sports and Life will have a Q&A roundtable discussion on the week that was, and preview the weeks upcoming match-up. BSL Analysts include Chris Stoner, Nadeem Kurieshy, Mark Bullock, Mike Randall, and Matt Jergensen.
Discuss you thoughts on these questions on our message board.
1. Given all of the distractions surrounding the Ravens, did you expect them to look as good as they did in arguably their toughest test each year, a 26-6 victory over the rival Steelers?
Chris Stoner – I was prepared for any outcome last Thursday. I thought it was in the realm of reason for a blowout either way, or a typical Ravens / Steelers game. There is no underestimating the importance of that game. I don’t think the Ravens could have overcome an 0-2 start, with both losses being at home against Divisional foes.
Matt Jergensen – I didn’t. In fact I expected to witness the uneven performance we saw last Sunday against Cincinnati. However there is something to be said about the opponent. The Bengals have one of the most talented rosters in the AFC and they’re finally starting to play like it over the past few seasons. The Steelers were slow to react all night and were dominated on both sides of the football. We’ll see over the course of the season how Pittsburgh fares but I’ve felt as if the buzz around them this pre-season to win the North was due more to brand recognition than what they’ve done to improve back to back average teams.
Mark Bullock – It would have been easy for the team to lose given the Rice situation and the shortened week. So to come out and get an extremely important win over a division rival is a credit to Harbaugh and his staff for keeping the team focused. They still have plenty to work on going forward, but that win was a big statement to the character of this team.
Nadeem Kurieshy – No. The week was full of distractions and I didn’t think that they would be able to play as consistently as they had on Thursday.
Mike Randall – I never expect a 20 point win against a division rival. To be completely honest, I didn’t think with the distractions that coach Harbaugh and the Ravens would be 100% focused on the gameplan and the short week leaves no room for wasted time. Maybe the distractions go higher than Harbaugh’s pay grade, but he did have to prepare to face the media that Monday night. Hats off to Kubiak and Pees for calling a great game.
2. It looked like a much more balanced attack in week 2 then we saw in the opener. The Ravens rushed 36 times versus 29 passes. They gained 4.0 YPC for the second straight week. Do you feel that the running game is much improved and we’ll see more of this success going forward?
MR – Definitely more improved. Jeremy Zuttah stood out this week as a huge improvement over Gino Gradkowski. I had no idea how fast Justin Forsett was either. He was a brusier from what I remember. He looks to be a nice change of pace from Bernard Pierce. I think we should expect more of this going forward. The question will be how effective will the run game be if someone on the line suffers an injury. Knock on wood, we have been lucky in the injury department. But it’s a long season and someone is bound to go down at some point.
MJ– A commitment to the running game is important to it’s success. Early against the Bengals they had limited success ( 8 for 22 yds.) and fell behind 15-0 at half and the game plan changed to a more pass heavy attack. So even though the totals were very skewed toward the pass some of that was dictated by the score. Catching the football is the second half helped open holes as well.
The Ravens were able to deal with the Steelers front seven much better because they just aren’t as good as Cincinnati. Joe Flacco was incredibly efficient as well as upright and being able to run the ball effectively helps – a lot. The Ravens should continue this trend next week in Cleveland.
NK– It is improved, but the running game started off very slowly. The YPC may be a bit deceiving since there were a couple of big plays which skews the data. I would rather see an average of 4 YPC consistently vs 1 big run for 30 yards and a handful of runs at 2 yards each.
MB– This is the way Kubiak likes to run his offense. A strong ground game allows the offense to control the clock, open up the play-action game and keep the defense fresh. While it’s a good start, there is still room for improvement. Pierce has missed cutback opportunities that could turn three or four-yard runs into eight or nine-yard gains, or even more. That can be the difference that forces the defense to over-commit to the run and opening up passing lanes.
CS- It is my opinion that Rice would have been the Ravens best running back this year, so I think going forward without him is a loss on the field. That said, the run blocking from the O-line looks much improved; and I think that the Ravens will have a chance for consistent production from Pierce, Forsett, and Taliaferro. I’m still surprised that Taliaferro has not factored at all the first two weeks. Seeing that more balanced attack was great to see. This offense uses a lot of play-action, and have you to commit to running the ball to make it work.
3. It’s a little troubling early on that Torrey Smith has been a non factor in the offense. (Four catches for 60 yards in two games). It’s apparent that newcomer Steve Smith is Joe Flacco’s favorite target, along with the pair of tight ends. Do you anticipate a down year from Torrey because of his ability, or because there are too many quality pass catchers and only one football to go around?
NK– Yes, I think Torrey will have a down year. The west coast offense routes typically break between the numbers and the hash marks, which has not been a strength of Torrey’s game.
MB– Torrey is the Z receiver, while Steve Smith is X. Most offenses run through their Z, but the history of this Kubiak/Shanahan offense runs through the X, which should lead to Steve Smith seeing more of the ball. The Z is generally the guy they try to hit on deep shots and comebacks, particularly in the play-action game. I think that’s something this offense has lacked so far. They’ve begun to run the ball well, which should open up the deeper passes, but they’ve not really been able to hit many (certainly, not against the Steelers). They’ll need to at least show they are willing to throw it deep or teams will start over-stacking the box to stop the run.
MR – I still think that the Ravens misuse Torrey Smith. I’ve mentioned time and time again that he needs to be in the slot. Jacoby Jones has been the primary slot guy so far for the Ravens, and his execution has been terrible to put it nicely. Torrey has never been good at beating press coverages, and in the slot he’ll rarely face them. You want a sure handed receiver there, and Jacoby Jones is far from it. Dennis Pitta is second on the team in slot opportunities which is a step in the right direction. I digress. There are a lot of options at Joe Flacco’s disposal which means none of the targets will likely be 1,000+ yard guys. But they might have four 800+ yard guys.
MJ– I do think that Torrey’s numbers last season were due to Dennis Pitta’s injury and a lack of viable options in the pass game in 2013. So far Baltimore hasn’t stretched the field nearly as much as last season which is something Smith has been able to provide.
I’d like to think that he should be a bit more involved going forward and Kubiak shouldn’t forget that sometimes speed kills in the NFL.
CS– There has been some discussion of Torrey adjusting to more precise routes in this Kubiak offense. I can buy that, but still believe Torrey will find production due to his work ethic, and physical abilities. Additional weapons to account for in the offense, should only open him up further. If you really get the run game going, maybe you get opposing defenses stacking the box, and providing single coverage outside. If you spread the field with Smith Sr., Jones, etc; that also increases the odds of single coverage on Torrey. The offense needs to find him other ways to get the ball vs. just deep outs though. Crossing routes, screens. Get the ball in his hands.
4. Another guy that has gotten zero looks, aside from blocking, is Kyle Juszczyk. “Juice” was the teams leading receiver in the preseason. I thought he would be a key piece to the offense in the passing game. Not so much thus far. Thoughts?
CS– At Russell Street Report this past week, my ‘Bold Prediction’ was that Juszczyk and Taliaferro would combine for 10+ catches. As you said, not so much. His versatility is supposed to be a match-up problem for opposing defenses. If he is a non-factor after this mini-bye, the questions will only increase.
MB– I really like Juszczyk and I’m somewhat surprised he hasn’t seen much of the ball. But then again, he is a fullback. Fullbacks don’t normally get too many touches. He’s versatile enough to play some tight end, but with Owen Daniels stepping up against Pittsburgh, I think he’s going to have that second tight end spot behind Pitta locked down for a while.
MJ– It was Kubiak himself that said Juice might get 50 catches this season. So zero targets in two weeks is a bit curious. As you wrote earlier the Ravens have a lot of options in the pass game and right now they must feel they have better match-ups with more experienced players such as Smith Sr. and Daniels instead of the second-year man.
MR- Juszczyk’s heavy work load in the preseason could have been a little bit of gamesmanship by the Ravens. Not trying to give too much of the playbook away, a lot of dump off passes.
NK– The FB is a seldom used position in today’s NFL. I’m ok with his role currently while Joe gets in sync with his receivers. So far, Joe hasn’t gotten Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown and Torrey Smith consistently involved in the passing game. Getting them involved in the passing attack is a higher priority over Juszczyk.
5. What stands out to you most about the Ravens defense so far? They have allowed just one TD in the first two games against a couple tough division rivals.
CS– The athleticism looks improved with Williams coming on the D-Line, and Mosley running around at LB. Webb has been close to playing the last two weeks, so have to believe he will be ready to go vs. Cleveland (if not, there will be red flags everywhere). You get Webb back, the Secondary looks much better. Dumervil had the big game vs. the Steelers. Hoping to see Suggs get going. Ngata still commands attention, but he should be more of a difference maker in my opinion. Arthur Brown has been deactivated the last two weeks. I get the idea that they would want him to be better on ST’s to be active, but I’d still like to see him. I like Jackson, and C. Brown as Nickle and Dime backs. I’d still like to see another vet CB added to the mix.
NK– The TD play to AJ Green is still unsettling to me. I think I will feel a lot better when Webb is back from injury and Will Hill is on the field after completing his suspension. I just feel that that secondary has been barely holding on. Bringing in a solid corner and a true FS will be a big plus for the secondary. Suggs has been relatively quiet in the stat line (0 sacks, 5 total tackles), but has graded out a +4.8 so far on Pro Football Focus. Brandon Williams has been very impressive so far playing the NT.
MR – It looks like the pass rush is much improved this past week than it was against Bengals. On both of Dumervil’s sacks of Roethlisberger, the Ravens only rushed four guys. No gimmies in this game. Looking back, the only quarterback that gets rid of the football faster than Andy Dalton did in week 1 is Peyton Manning. So there is good reason why Dalton stayed clean all day. I hope to see more efforts in the pass rush department like we saw on Thursday. Those negative plays do so much to tilt the field position, and momentum in your favor.
MJ – The Pees led defense earns it’s fair share of criticism for it’s philosophy but the results are hard to argue if you can score points. This defense must get pressure from it’s front four to be effective and that happened last Thursday. They also generated turnovers, sacks and rattled Ben Roethlisberger into missed throws. If they can do more of that this season this group could be very good.
MB– Obviously, everyone has noticed the “bend but don’t break” defense. That’s the big thing everyone is talking about. But what’s surprised me most has been the lack of pressure. They were better against Roethlisberger than Dalton, but both were allowed to stand at the top of their drop and make a comfortable throws too often. With the likes of Suggs and Dumervil, I’d expect more pressure, but it hasn’t been there consistently enough. That’s one thing that could really help the Ravens get off the field quickly and shake the tag of “bend but don’t break”.
6. Shifting our focus to the upcoming game, the Ravens first road test in Cleveland. The Browns are 1-1 after pulling the upset over the New Orleans Saints high powered offense. What are your keys to the game on offense for the Ravens?
MJ– The Ravens need to stay true to their offensive identity, run the ball, mix in play-action and maybe take a few more deep shots then they have. The receivers did a much better job holding on to the ball allowing the short game to flourish and put the defense on its heels. Cleveland has a talented group but they’ve been scored on in the first two weeks so they can be had. No reason to be overly conservative there.
CS– The high-powered Saints offense was held relatively in-check away from the Superdome. Pitta and Daniels are Jimmy Graham, but Graham showed the Browns could be attacked a bit in the middle of the field. I thought Daniels’ game against Pittsburgh was one of the real positives takeaways of last week. Now you are looking to establish that production consistently. Mark Ingram had just 11 carries, but ripped off 83 yards. Can the Ravens run between the tackles? The Browns have two talented CB’s in Haden, and Gilbert. If they win the match-ups vs. Smith, and Smith Sr; can Jones or M. Brown beat Buster Skrine? The Browns added Karlos Dansby to the LB corps. He gives them some pass rush up the middle to team with Paul Kruger, and Barkeivious Mingo outside. (Mingo – a 2013 1st round pick – missed Week 2 with a shoulder injury.)
MB- They managed to get the run game going against the Steelers, which was key last week. This week, they need to keep that focus, but also take some deep shots off play-action to help open up those running lanes, particularly if Pierce continues to struggle seeing them.
NK– The Ravens have always started out very slow on offense, so I would like to see them find success on passing early. In the west coast offense, the passing game opens up the run game. I’m expecting the Browns to take away Smith Sr, so Torrey Smith, Pitta and Daniels are going to have to lead the receivers.
MR – Stay focused. The distractions are still around; however, they won’t have the advantage of a friendly home fan base. They are going to get ridiculed, hear some pretty awful things from the fans that have the most hate toward the Ravens. Maybe even more hate than the Steelers. They showed on Thursday that if they bring their hands, this offense is very, very efficient. Long drives, keeps the defense fresh and fast. Don’t beat themselves with mistakes when they have the ball.
7. Keys to the game on defense for the Ravens?
MR – Stats have shown through two games that Brian Hoyer is one of the better QBs when utilizing play action. They use it the fourth most of all the teams, and Hoyer has a 109.5 rating when he does. Stop the running game and make the play action not do what it’s intended to do. Hoyer is also the worst quarterback in the league when facing pressure with just six completions in 20 attempts under pressure. Blitz the heck out of him all day long.
CS- I had wondered if we were going to see Manziel by the time this game was played, but Hoyer has earned at-least another start with the win over the Saints. (Manziel was used in a couple of series yesterday though, and the Ravens should prepare for that.) Tate is injured at RB, so former Towson University star Terrance West is the man at RB. Can’t be that afraid of Austin, and Hawkins outside; so the first thing to do is shut down West. Jordan Cameron is a real weapon at TE. Link with Mingo, he missed yesterday with a shoulder injury. If he is back this week, who gets the assignment?
MB- Kyle Shanahan always looks to establish the run game early, but will take his play-action shots too. The front seven have to be able to contain the run while the secondary cannot afford to get caught with their eyes cheating in the backfield, or they’ll get burned before they know it. Shanahan loves misdirection but will run similar concepts all game, so everyone on the defense needs to be aware and keep focused on their assignment and avoid getting caught up in the misdirection.
MJ– Stop the running game. Baltimore has done a nice job against two the league better backs in Bernard and Bell in successive weeks and hope to do the same in Cleveland. I was impressed with Hoyer at the end of the game considering he was missing two of his best receivers but the Saints were unable to get stops when they needed, especially on the ground. (122 yds.)
NK- Disrupt Hoyer’s timing. The problem is that the Browns OL has been outstanding so far this year. They are giving Hoyer time to throw. A lot of Hoyer’s success comes from throwing 10-20 yard routes in the middle of the field to this TEs and throws to the left side of the field less than 10 yards.
8. Prediction time. Who improves to 2-1/falls to 1-2, and give a score if you like.
MB- The Browns are a team the Ravens should beat on paper. But the game is played on the field. I’ll take the Ravens, but I think it will be pretty close and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Browns stole this one late on.
NK- Ravens 16 Cleveland 10.
MR – Well, the Ravens have played six quarters of good football, and two quarters of bad football. So have the Browns. It will be very close, given what I think the Ravens need to do on defense to win. I think on offense they can do what it takes to win, but can the pass rush that disappears at times, show up to disrupt the passing attack? I’m gonna say, I need to see more of a consistent pass rush before I declare this a team with a decent pass rushing unit. I need to see them win on the road which they have a hard time doing as well. Browns 23, Ravens 20.
CS – Road wins are tough to come by, especially in the Division. Cleveland does have some nice pieces as well. That said, I like the Ravens to win, having had the additional time to prepare. I do think it’s going to be a difficult game, as the Browns will be looking to defend their home field, and likely on an emotional high after beating the Saints.
MJ- I have some concerns about this weekend. The Ravens went into Cleveland last season and finally lost for the first time in the Harbaugh-Flacco era. That should serve as some motivation here. The Browns showed great emotion in knocking off New Orleans and they’ll no doubt be ready for another home game against a hated division opponent.
This is the first road test of the year and we’ll get a chance to learn more about this year’s group. I feel the Ravens are more talented and should be able to win in a close one if they win the turnover battle and the keep the crowd out of it. Ravens 24-21.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]