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.
The New England Patriots (10-4) come to Baltimore (8-6) and perhaps what is a new rivalry in the NFL has already gotten the fur flying. A week after Baltimore rookie safety Matt Elam had made some comments about Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions being “old,” the Patriots safety Devin McCourty had something to say about the Ravens as he was interviewed by Tom Curran of CSN New England.
“There would be no better feeling that us beating them Sunday and…we eliminate their season right there. For me and for a lot of my teammates there’s be no better feeling. So it’s gonna be key to come out and play well on Sunday.” He also admitted that he hates the Ravens “a little bit,” and that he feels almost the same way about the Ravens as he does the Jets.
If the Patriots do beat the Ravens, the doesn’t necessarily mean the Ravens can’t make the playoffs thanks to a tie breaker with the Miami Dolphins and the fact they get the play the Bengals on the last game of the regular season. There is still a chance the Ravens could win the AFC North, they would just need some help from the Bengals losing.
Enough of that, let’s get down to business and analyze the match up. Everyone knows the Patriots have Tom Brady and that he is one of the best in the game. He is still one of the best in the game despite the fact that almost nobody outside of Maine can tell you who his starting TE and Wideouts are. You might not even know who his running backs are. This isn’t the same offense that featured Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker. Brady’s targets are now Julian Edelman (leader in yards with 914,and receptions 89), Danny Amendola, Kimbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and TE Micheal Hoomanawanui. RB Shane Vareen who is the third down back is also a weapon as a receiver coming out of the backfield as he’s actually third on the team with receptions. They don’t have that one explosive threat through the air, but their scheme and the fact that Brady is one of the best in the game means they can still put up points and rack up yardage. The Patriots offense ranks 6th in points and 8th in yards. The ground game is formidable with Steven Ridley being the primary back, but also powerful runner LeGarrette Blount is the change of pace back. Between the two they have combined for 10TDs (Ridley 7, Blount 3) and over 1,000 yards (Ridley 645, Blount 507) and both average well over 4 yards a carry.
The defense is missing some key elements as well. Big nose tackle Vince Wilfork who is a dominating presence and clogs up the middle about as good as anyone in the game is out. Jerrod Mayo is also out. Tommy Kelly is also out. This has led to a Patriots defense that is ranked 24th in overall yards given up, 31st in rushing yards allowed, and 18th in passing yards allowed. The Patriots are pretty clutch in the redzone as they employ a bend but don’t break style, being ranked as 10th in points allowed. They are dangerous against the pass with the main pressure being supplied (11.5 sacks) by Chandler Jones, who is the brother of Ravens DE Arthur Jones. DE Rob Ninkovich is second on the team with 6 sacks. Aqib Talib is a big, physical corner who might provide a problem for the Ravens speedy wideouts if he can play his press coverage and physical style.
The Baltimore Ravens enter the game with some question marks on player health. Joe Flacco took a big shot to his left knee which is his landing foot for following through on passes. He will be wearing a leg brace to protect what is supposedly a mild MCL sprain. After the hit last Monday, Flacco’s throws were very errant and sailed well over the heads of his receivers. He; along with Ray Rice who is nursing a thigh injury, and Elvis Dumervil who injured his ankle two weeks ago, are all listed as questionable, but will most likely play. It is no secret that the Ravens running game has been lackluster this season. One might say that Rice’s hip injury is to blame for his lack of success, but Pierce hasn’t been able to be as effective this season as well. To me that indicates that the struggles are on the offensive line which has seen the complete deterioration of Bryant McKinnie and the key loss of Kelechi Osemele. Center Gino Gradkowski also seems to be struggling at bit and replacements at LT (Eugne Monroe) and LG (A.Q. Shipley) have been having trouble adjusting. Micheal Oher at the RT spot also doesn’t look quite as dominating as he once was and continues to be a target for the false start penalty. When they are able to provide Flacco enough time in the passing game, Flacco has responded only to have a lot of passes dropped by his secondary tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson. That shouldn’t be as much of a problem now as Dennis Pitta arrived two weeks ago. Is Joe Flacco healthy and can the line protect him? If the answers are yes, than the offense should have a lot of success moving the ball today. If the running game is going to get healthy, this would be a good opportunity to capitalize.
One the defensive side of the ball the Ravens still rank as one of the best defenses in the game as they are ranked 7th in points allowed and 9th in yardage given up. They are stout against the run and tough against the pass, though the secondary with a lot of new moving parts has shown the propensity to give up the big play. That unit has been coming together nicely lately with Matt Elam learning the defense a bit more and with Jimmy Smith finally starting to look more like that first round talent. Webb is one of the best in the game not only at defending the pass, but he is also one of the surest tacklers on the Ravens defense and that speaks volumes. Daryl Smith has been a blessing and one of those Ozzie Newsome brilliant moves as he has been a tremendous replacement for Ray Lewis. The Patriots offense has some shifty route runners and the weather might not be great for game time. It will really come down to how well Webb, Graham, and Smith can stick with these receivers. Tom Brady has put up some of his worst numbers against the Ravens and the Ravens are the only team he has faced in which he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. If Tom Brady turns over the ball, the Ravens have this game.
As always it should be an interesting game between these two budding rivals. Depending upon the health of some players and the field conditions this could be a game in which both teams score 20 points or more. In typical Ravens fashion it will most likely come down to one last minute score to determine the winner. I’m going out on a limb here though and stating that if Joe Flacco is healthy, this will be a surprise blowout by the Ravens.
- Joe Flacco avoid injury against Lions after low hit (sbnation.com)
- What To Watch For: Another Playoff-Like Feel To Patriots-Ravens (boston.cbslocal.com)
- Patriots-Ravens: Many new faces, same old rivalry (miamiherald.com)
Two 7-6 teams who are on the cusp of the playoff picture in their respective leagues battle it out tonight in the dome of Detroit. With the way both leagues are shaking out whomever loses this match up may very well be saying goodbye to their postseason plans.
The Lions enter the game with an offense that scores more points per game, rushes for more yards a game, and passes for more yards a game. Led by WR Calvin Johnson, RB Reggie Bush, and QB Matthew Stafford, their offense ranks third in the league in total yards per game, mostly led by the 3rd ranked passing yardage per game while the rushing attack ranks 18th.
Unsurprisingly in a year that has seen Anquan Boldin walk, TE Dennis Pitta miss most of the season, and an offensive line in flux since day one, the Ravens offense is ranked 29th in total yardage. The passing attack is ranked 20th, and the rushing attack; if you can call it one, is ranked 30th.
So, throw in the towel Baltimore, this game is over, right? Not so fast. Depsite the loss of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and a lot of new faces, the Baltimore Defense still ranks 9th in total yards given up. They are a bit more susceptible to the passing attack as the pass defense ranks 13th, but teams are still having a tough time rushing against the Ravens defense as they are the 7th best in allowing yards on the ground.
On the other hand the Lions defense is ranked 17th in total yards allowed, 16th against the pass, but 5th against the run. The Lions have also had a propensity for giving up the ball lately in their last six games, and have proven to be the key factors in their last three losses.
Important to note is the return of Dennis Pitta to the offense and his impact was felt immediately in the Vikings game. No longer will Joe Flacco have to worry about the stone hands of Ed Dickson or the fragility of Dallas Clark. Knowing that teams need to worry about Pitta, this could free up more underneath passes for Ray Rice. Pitta isn’t much of a run blocker and I don’t see his presence helping much there, especially against the Lions who feature two of the more talented DTs in the game in Suh and Fairley. What we saw out of Rice last week was a change in offensive philosophy and perhaps that makes a difference in this game as well. Elvis Dumervil may also be back for this game, helping out a Ravens pass rush attack that will be key in forcing turnovers.
For the Lions, Reggie Bush may be out, but the back up plan is a powerful Joique Bell. The Ravens usually have more trouble with the power backs more than the speedy cut back guys. Tackling fundamentals seem to be sorely lacking. The key of course is containing Calvin Johnson. Challenging him doesn’t seem to be a great idea as Dez Bryant and the Cowboys discovered, and rookie FS Matt Elam didn’t seem to get the memo as he called Johnson, “old.”
Calvin Johnson replied, and John Harbaugh also voice his impression of Matt Elam’s statement essentially saying that Johnson doesn’t exactly need the extra motivation.
Jimmy Smith, the 6’2” 200lbs corner is expected to get the call against the 6’5” and 230lbs Calvin Johsnon. The key here is that Smith is going to have to play his more physical game and not allow Johnson to get wide open. One thing I have noticed a lot of about Smith is his propensity to fall down and that he has terrible footwork. Hopefully on turf he won’t have that issue. He is going to need help so hopefully Matt Elam can provide it. The major problem with Johnson is that even when he is covered, he’s open and that is not a cliche’ in this context.
The keys of course will be trying to establish a run game. A lot of ground and pound with Leach, Rice, and Pierce. The passing attack should do well now that Pitta is back, so third downs and that crucial catch for first downs should be there. The Lions are also very thin at corner and in the secondary right now with injuries to Chris Houston and Darius Slay. The deep ball to Smith and Jones might be there tonight. They’ll have to watch out for OLB De’Andre Levy who leads the team with 6 interceptions. Protecting Joe Flacco won’t be easy as the Lions come at you with every position along their 4-3 defense and Suh can literally take over a game at times. Special teams will also have to be on the lookout for return man Jeremy Ross who has a TD on both kick and punt returns. The Ravens also can’t sleep on Bush, Bell, and Pettigrew in the passing game if they contain Johnson. If Bell gets the call due to Bush being hurt, tackle, tackle, and tackle!
Get the pass rush against Stafford, don’t allow him to get the ball out, and force him to make mistakes. Regardless of the outcome, this should be another great game that could come down to the final moments. Go figure? A last minute finish involving the Ravens, nah.