We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.
INSIDE THE RAVENS’ OFFENSE
The Ravens offense has made strides this year as evidenced by their 33 points per game. Two big reasons are the improvement of quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Flacco has stepped up to the plate thus far and made the necessary throws to put the team in position to win games. It can also be said that Cameron is finally calling the necessary plays to give the Ravens a chance offensively.
Cameron has a history of being a mixed bag as a play caller. At times, he is creative and does a good job of designing plays to get receivers open and running lanes for the ball carriers. Other times, he is very vanilla and appears to have drawn up the plays on the fly.
This season, he has done a good job of using stacked and bunch formations with 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends), which are his dominant packages along with 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end), personnel to get his pass catchers open and cause confusion for defenders.
Baltimore’s pass catchers are getting open by running a lot of designed inside-breaking routes, especially various forms of seam routes that appear in many of the pass plays called. These routes include deep dig routes from the likes of tight end Ed Dickson and receiver Torrey Smith. As with every other team, the Ravens also run a lot of out and comeback routes to beat man coverage.
When it comes to the running game, the Ravens are once again led by running back Ray Rice, who is executing a lot of the same concepts that were ran last year. These include the Counter and Power concepts along with the two forms of zone stretch runs: Inside and Outside Zone.
INSIDE THE RAVENS’ DEFENSE
While the offense has had its inconsistent performances in the past, the defense has not. It is still led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and it is still one of the league’s best despite losing pass rusher extraordinaire Terrell Suggs.
Baltimore has made up for this loss with strong coverage on the back end and five sacks, two of which have come from star defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. Ngata and his stout teammates have been playing a variety of fronts (as usual), which includes 1- and 2-man fronts, as well as the over and under philosophies from both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.
In the back end, defensive coordinator Dean Pees has a lot of very talented defensive backs and has used them in various ways.
One of the most notable is cornerback Lardarius Webb, who has played both outside and in the slot this season. He is a very dynamic player and a playmaker, proving on numerous occasions that he can do damage in coverage or blitzing, which he has done very much of from the inside alignment.
Reed hasn’t lost a step at safety despite contemplating retirement this past summer. Reed still has great instincts, ball skills and range that gives Pees great coverage flexibility. This has been evident by the sheer amount of coverages they’ve used, which includes Cover 2 and 3 (the most often played I believe), Cover 1 and Cover 1 Robber, Loaded Zone and quarter-quarter-half.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
TE Dennis Pitta - Former BYU tight end Dennis Pitta is one of Flacco’s favorite targets because he works the underneath so often and is very quarterback friendly. Pitta has seen a lot of targets this year and currently leads the team in receptions. One of the areas where he’s been utilized is on slants from the backside of the Trips (three receivers to one side), where he could once again appear on Sunday.
Ravens Interior OL vs. Patriots Interior DL - This was the matchup that created headlines last year in the AFC Championship Game and will be something to watch in this game because the Ravens have actually gotten weaker in this area. The departed Ben Grubbs has been replaced by Ramon Harewood, who has had some issues with quick pass rushers. Veterans Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda have also had some issues with power, which Patriots DT Vince Wilfork brings plenty of.
LT Michael Oher vs. DE Chandler Jones - I point out the matchup for Chandler Jones every week because I believe they are significant. This week is no different when he goes up against Michael Oher. While Oher has had some good play thus far, he has a tendency to bend at the waist and lunge forward. This may be able to be exploited by Jones, who possesses strong hands to knock Oher off balance.
Up-tempo vs. Ravens Defense - The Ravens are a tough defense to beat but one way to possibly increase your chances of doing so is by going to an up-tempo offense. Philadelphia did this in Week 2 and had success running the ball, which they did not do well when they gave the Ravens time to get to their alignments.
Patriots Offensive Matchups vs. Ravens Defense - There are a couple of players and areas on the Ravens defense that New England could look to target, so I’m going to put them together in this one category. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is a two-down player that’s primarily out there for run defense. If the Patriots can isolate him in coverage on early downs, they could find it to be more successful than attempting to run the ball. It should also be noted the Ravens play a 3-3-5 package that consists of Lewis-Ellerbe-McClain, so there’s another opportunity to isolate and attack the linebackers.
Two other players that may be able to be attacked for different reasons are cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith. Williams plays a lot of soft coverage and will give up easy yards underneath while Smith is very aggressive and can be caught on double moves.
Last, the one area that may be able to be attacked is the middle of the field. The Ravens have played a lot of Cover 2 this season and Ray Lewis, who is not as fleet of foot as he once was, is policing the seam. When they play man coverage against empty sets, Lewis will walk out with the running back often.
CB Lardarius Webb & FS Ed Reed - Webb is dangerous. He is fast, instinctive, and a ballhawk. Pees uses him as a rusher when using the Fire Zone Blitz (5 man pressure that should also be noted as something to watch for) and he has caused problems for quarterbacks as was seen in week one against the Cincinnati Bengals. The play of Ed Reed speaks for itself, making him a mandatory watch.