You heard it all pre-season.
The Baltimore Ravens will not be as good on defense in 2009. Rex Ryan took his schemes with him to New York along with Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard and with it the Ravens decade long dominance on defense
After two games, Baltimore sits atop the AFC North at 2-0 but it’s been the surprising offense piling on points carrying the load, while the defense has given up 25 points a game. The vaunted defensive unit had its second worst pass performance last Sunday and if not for Ray Lewis’ heroics things may seem even worse on the defensive side of the football after a loss.
But, don’t panic just yet Raven fans. Just as those optimists shouldn’t be booking Super Bowl tickets, the doomsayers should also step off the ledge. There is still plenty of season left and when you look up an down the roster on both sides of the ball there is plenty of talent on this team.
Sports are all about adjustments. Changes from week to week in the game plan and in game adjustments on Sundays. I agree with Coach Harbaugh that there needs to be a few tweaks and the defense should be just fine.
But before we look at what needs to change let’s actually examine the reality of the past two games and what the team should learn from it.
-Teams still can not run on the Ravens.
Baltimore has given up 41 yards on the ground in two games against a pretty decent runner in Larry Johnson and a super quick sprite in Darren Sproles. That’s tops in the league. I don’t think they’ll maintain that average over the course of the season but it wouldn’t surprise me if they continue to post solid efforts against the rush with a solid run stuffing group.
-The pass rush isn’t bad it’s just inconsistent.
Baltimore has five sacks in two games. That’s not bad at all when the league leader has nine. But as any of you who watched the Jets fluster Tom Brady it isn’t just about generating pressure it’s also more about disrupting the rhythm of the offense. Brady’s routes are all about timing and the Jets never allowed him to sit in the pocket and feel comfortable.
Now think back to Dawan Landry’s interception against San Diego. Suggs looped inside around Pryce which left Ray Lewis clean on a blitz that left Rivers scurrying for his life. Unfortunately there were but a handful of times out of Rivers’ forty plus pass attempts where he felt uncomfortable.
So what is the remedy. I have a few ideas.
- Activate Paul Kruger – I don’t really want to hear about how the second rounder hasn’t played because they need spots for special teams players. They need speed to attack the quarterback and Kruger showed that ability during pre-season. Trevor Pryce is most likely in his last season and if I were playing against Baltimore I’d double team Suggs all day long. That happened a lot last Sunday, a fact that no one seems to want to bring up. Just put him in the game on situational downs and tell him that the quarterback must go down and he must go down hard.
- Mattison must adjust his approach – The thing that I love the most about Cam Cameron is his willingness to adjust his schemes to his players. It seems like it makes too much sense but too many coaches have plays they like and then need players to plug into that mold. Mattison likes to generate pressure with the front four. That won’t work with this team. Pryce is getting older. Gregg and Ngata are excellent rush defenders but both don’t get into the backfield enough and Suggs is then double teamed. The maligned secondary is small and quick but not physical so they were at an extreme disadvantage against taller, stronger San Diego receivers. When Baltimore did blitz it left them exposed when the Chargers were able to pick it up. Coaching is about putting your players in spots to hide their weaknesses and accentuate their strengths. Only dropping one deep as opposed to two put pressure on the corners to make plays and to play against their strengths.
- Linebacker personnel – It seems that the staff is still unsettled as to who will take Bart Scott’s role on the defense. Tavares Gooden is still learning and Jameel McClain has vanished. Special teams All-Pro Brenden Ayanbadejo seems to have taken over the third down role and while he has 10 tackles I can’t figure out ho effective he has been with more playing time. Antawan Barnes who grabbed a tip for an interception last game also has found some time. I think they need to settle on the roles for these players and allow them to work through it.
- Secondary just needs time to play together – Think about how many new players have been added. Foxworth on one side, Carr in the nickel role, Webb is a rookie, and Landry is back from injury. The communication has been awful the first two games but it’s something that is correctable. All this has left Ed Reed running around not just ball-hawking but trying to cover wide open areas due to blown assignments.
So just remember that it’s early and that when it’s all said and done I still feel confident that Baltimore will still have a defense to contend against.
It just takes some willingness to adapt.