Some fairly shocking news hit the Baltimore area earlier today when John Harbaugh announced that TE Owen Daniels was going to miss some time with a knee procedure. This may not be very surprising because Daniels has had a history of getting banged up over the past few years of his career. What is a bit puzzling is why the team mentioned he was fine all week long until this point. The Ravens were already at a bit of a loss when what most would consider Joe Flacco’s safety valve; Dennis Pitta, went down with another gruesome looking hip injury. Daniels was filling in admirably and many thought that as long as Daniels could remain healthy the Ravens would get a big year of production out of him. Fortunately for the Ravens his injury does not seem all that serious and he might not miss significant time. What is also significant for the Ravens is that they have a lot of options.
image courtesy of www.timesunion.com
Gary Kubiak’s offense has turned things around in Baltimore. Not only are the Ravens back to being one of the best running offenses in the league, but they are also a top rated passing attack as well. A lot of the credit has to go to the improved offensive line for sure. The coaching philosophy and game plan also has to get a fair share of credit. The zone blocking scheme employed by Kubiak is the same that would churn out almost no-name running backs into 1,000 yard rushers. Justin Forsett had one of his best statistical seasons under Kubiak’s running scheme in Houston. But what his offense also does is set up a number of options for the quarter back to utilize. Providing a helping hand is Ozzie Newsome and his ability to collect talent. Thanks to these two factors the loss of Daniels may not be so devastating as it might be to another team that lost both of their starting tight ends. Let’s take a look at why.
It all starts with options. Steve Smith Sr. has emerged as a blessing because he is showing that there was probably a lot more left in the tank than the Panthers thought he had when they let him go. This pick up is looking like one of those classic Ozzie steals. After that you have Justin Forsett who is just as dangerous as a receiver as he is a running threat. The Ravens also decided to go a different route at FB and moved away from the rather one dimensional lead blocker in Vonta Leach to go with the more versatile Kyle Juszczyk. The Ravens can also take a TE off the field and deploy one of their larger body wide-outs in Marlon Brown or Kamar Aiken. Crockett Gillmore was drafted this season and is primarily known as a big, strong, blocking type. Gillmore himself will downplay his receiving prowess but what many might not know is that in high school he was voted first team all district at both DE and WR. He also led his college team in receptions in 2011. He might measure out as slow, but he is an underrated athlete who will make the catches he should. The coaching staff has done a good job of adjusting on the fly and coming up with strategies to utilize the weapons they have available.
Image courtesy of Amarillo Globe-News
Helping the cause this week will be the injuries that are plaguing the Cincinnati Bengals. The major news getting all the press is about WR A.J. Green. What I think will be more telling is the depleted line backing unit for the Bengals. Vontaze Burfict has emerged as a bonafide leader on the defense and the team looked lost without him. He should be back for the game this Sunday but how healthy is he? Rey Maualuga is also listed as “out” for practice this week and will probably also miss the game. Another linebacker; Emmanuel Lamur, was limited in practice on Wednesday but was a full participant Thursday. The middle of the field might be wide open for the Ravens to exploit and despite the loss of Daniels and Pitta there are still weapons to be deployed in that area.
Gandalf; the fictional character from the Lord of the Rings, once proclaimed to a Balrog, “You shall not pass!” Having satiated the impulses of my inner nerd please allow me to get to my point. The Ravens defense has had some issues in the secondary that hasn’t quite put that quote into action. The story tells a strangely different tale when it comes to the ground game. It involves injuries, outrageous feats of athleticism from giants, and acts of sheer will. It is just about the halfway point in the season and the thought hit me. Will any running back tally 100 yards in a game versus the Ravens? We should take a look at what the unit has accomplished so far this season.
The first thing to get out of the way is how many total yards teams have put up against this tenacious run defense. Week one the Bengals totaled 79 yards on the ground. In week two the Steelers managed 99 rushing yards. The Browns notched 85 yards running the ball in week three. Week four saw the Panthers scratch out 67 yards. The Colts would crack the century mark as a team and get 127 yards in week five. In week six the Buccaneers amassed 87 yards via the ground game. And finally, this past week against the Falcons the Ravens defense allowed a total of 68 yards. The most yards the Ravens gave up to any one runner was 68 to Ahmad Bradshaw of the Colts. So what runningback; if any, will crack that elusive number? Here is a list of the upcoming candidates.
Next week the Ravens will face the Bengals in a rematch on the Bengals turf. Giovanni Bernard has had a few big games this season, but against suspect defenses such as Atlanta, Tennessee, and Carolina. In the first meeting the Ravens allowed only 48 yards to him. Bernard got pounded in last week’s game against the Colts but isn’t seriously injured.
Up next for the challenge would be Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount of the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Bell has had some 100 or more yard games this season. The biggest one was the 147 yard game in which Blount also had 118. Blount hasn’t had a game anything close to that performance against the Panthers and Bell tallied only 59 yards against the Ravens. Bell is coming off of two 80 plus yard games.
The Tennessee Titans will come to Baltimore the following week and it remains to be seen if starter Shonn Greene will be healthy by that time. Even if he is the best game he has had so far was in week one with a 71 yard effort. He hasn’t had over 40 yards in any game after that. If he is not available the team will most likely turn to Bishop Sankey. Sankey’s best game on the season has been a 61 yard effort on only ten carries. In his last two games as the starter he tallied 61 yards again and 56 yards respectively.
In week twelve after the bye the Ravens will travel to New Orleans to face a number of backs. Injuries have plagued the backfield of the Saints and they have used Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson, and may need to use Travaris Cadet depending on the health of Thomas who suffered a shoulder injury in week seven. Ingram had two very productive games before getting injured but came back to face the Lions and was awful. Thomas has seen backup work behind both Ingram and Robinson and is a change of pace option. Robinson has been the go to guy when Ingram was out and has had some success but also some fumbling issues. He’s got two 80 plus yard performances under his belt. Cadet if he’s active will see limited duty.
The next opponent will be the San Diego Chargers and by that time they might have a healthy Ryan Matthews. He currently is trying to recover from a sprained MCL. The team has turned to Donald Brown and he is currently trying to come back from a concussion. He’s missed a couple of weeks so far and if all things are going well for him he should be back by this game. The team has had to rely on an impressive rookie; Branden Oliver. Oliver so far in his three starts has had two 100 plus yard games and also looked pretty good in his week seven performance against Kansas City. The Chargers will have a decision to make once Brown and Matthews are healthy. Based off of performance only I don’t see how they could stop going to Oliver if he remains productive.
The Ravens will travel to Florida to meet the Miami Dolphins and their feature back Lamar Miller. Knowshon Moreno is out for the season with a knee injury and Miller has been forced into starting duty. He’s being backed up by Daniel Thomas and rookie Damien Williams. It is unfortunate because Moreno tore up the Patriots in week one when he was healthy. Since then Miller has shown some life in a 108 yard game against the Chiefs, but has been rather pedestrian since then as his output has been 64 yards, 53 yards, and 61 yards. Both Thomas and Williams see limited touches behind Miller and should not be much of a factor.
Keeping with the Florida theme, the Ravens will play the Jacksonville Jaguars the following week but will do so at home. Jacksonville has used a runningback by committee approach to the season and finally one emerged as a star in week seven. Denard Robinson broke out with a 127 yard game in his first stint as the go to man against Cleveland which was the Jaguars first win of the season. It will be interesting to keep an eye on him in the following weeks. Toby Gerhart is currently out with an injury and could be back by this game, but he hasn’t been much of a factor this season. The third option is rookie Storm Johnson who seems to only give the starter a breather.
Next on the list will be the Texans as Baltimore travels to Houston. And in Houston we may have a problem. Arian Foster when healthy has been on an absolute tear. He’s noticed 100 yards or more in every single game he’s started and finished on the season. He’s been nicked up here and there this season and has missed one game completely and most of another. Aside from that he has been he normally tremendous self. This could be a great game to watch and the biggest challenge to the Ravens run defense.
And the last challenge on the season will be at home against The Browns. The Browns also have a have a three headed attack featuring Ben Tate, Terrence West, and Isiah Crowell. In the first matchup between these teams Tate was hurt and didn’t play. There was some hype around West as he came out of the gates with a 100 yard game in week one. He hasn’t come close to that number since and has also been injured. In limited duty in week one Crowell punched in two touchdowns in what was supposed to be a strong Steelers defense. Crowell has been up and down in his performances but he can be a factor. Tate had a big game in his return against Tennessee but hasn’t been impressive in his two weeks following that 124 yard game. So now that we’ve met all the challengers for the opposition let us take a look at what is to account for the Ravens success.
It all starts in the trenches. Last season Haloti Ngata wasn’t completely healthy and Terrence Cody wasn’t exactly the force the Ravens had hoped for. Chris Canty was the other end in the base 3-4 alignment deployed by Baltimore. Ray Lewis was gone and though Daryl Smith filled in admirably, his cohort was Jameel McClain who wasn’t a bad player but he wasn’t elite. This season Haloti Ngata is healthy and to go along with his eating up of defenders and hole clogging ability he has added the team leadership; currently anyway, for interceptions. Brandon Williams has taken over for an injured Cody and the results have been outstanding. Williams is known for his freakish strength and uncanny athleticism for a big man. He can be seen collapsing the line of scrimmage making progress in the ground game very difficult. He may not make the play himself, but he does his job to take on blockers and free up another player to do their job. At the other end position there has been a rotation of players since Chris Canty has been injured. DeAngelo Tyson, Timmy Jernigan, Pernell McPhee, Lawrence Guy, and Christo Bilukidi have all seen work. McPhee has emerged as a star in the pass rushing game but this line combination has allowed for Daryl Smith and rookie phenom C.J. Mosley to clean up and play as the tackling machines they are. We can’t forget how good Terrell Suggs has become in playing against the run as well. He can often be seen in the backfield disrupting running lanes and making big plays even if he’s not tallying sacks. Elvis Dumervil is a pass rushing specialist but on clear running situations the Ravens will deploy Courtney Upshaw who is a bigger body and more stout against a run. Add in the fact that you have safeties Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks, Darian Sterwart and Will Hill that are not not come up in run support and you have the recipe for a great run defense. Does any team out there have the game plan to solve this defensive puzzle?
The NFL has shifted away from the 30 plus carry a game running back philosophy. Most deploy two backs where one might be the primary ball carrier and see around 20 touches while a change of pace back might see a handful. The emphasis in the passing attack and scoring more points also has seen the emergence of specialists that are more or less receivers and good blockers out of the backfield as opposed to strict runningbacks. Some teams do not even have a full back on the roster anymore and if there is one, he is more of a hybrid H-back type. A player who is a jack of all trades. He could run a bit, block some in the ground game, pass block, and go out for a few catches. So do you see any challengers in this list. I am circling the Houston Texans if they have a healthy Arian Foster. I don’t see any other team or runningback that I think is up for the kind of tenacious attack the Ravens deploy against the run.
Another week and another collection of goodies for you at Purple Reign Show.
Phil Gentile leads off with a special Flacco vs. Ryan edition of his weekly recap about the Ravens vs. Falcons game. You can also catch video coverage of the Ravens tribute to the Baltimore Orioles season right here if you missed it. Phil also ponders which team might sign Ray Rice if he was reinstated.
Newcomer Andrew Frank goes “Inside the Huddle” and gives us some Pro Football Focus ratings on some key contributors for the Ravens in their lopsided win against the Falcons.
Tim Horsey, Phil Gentile, and Lindsey O. return for this week’s installment of the podcast featuring a special guest to talk about the Bengals match up.
Brandon Spiegel offers up a look at what directions the Ravens and Bengals are seemingly moving.
Zeyd Khan takes a look at how Joe Flacco has been distributing the football this season.
And I provide the preview of possibly the second hottest rivalry as the Ravens travel to Cincinnati, complete with keys to the game for both teams, my prediction for the outcome, and up to date injury news.
Come on over to Purple Reign Show and check out how much we love our followers by continuing to offer you fantastic content!