As we all know, the Ravens beat the Bengals in a must-win division game last week to keep their (still slim) playoff hopes alive. A win against the Bears would put them back at .500 and potentially just a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. Interestingly, the Browns play the Bengals this Sunday, meaning one of the two teams the Ravens are competing with at the top of the division will win and the other will lose. If the Browns win, there will be a serious logjam atop the division. 6-5 Bengals, 5-5 Ravens, 5-5 Browns. Basically, we’ll have ‘em right where we want ‘em…maybe.
Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Ravens leading up to the team’s game against the Bears in Chicago. You can discuss this piece on the Message Board.
Pierce vs. Rice
This is the topic du jour. Will Pierce get the start over Rice? Who will see the majority of the carries? As I pointed out on Sports Tonight with Rob and Mike, the Bears have an atrocious run defense, meaning if there was ever a week for the Ravens to finally get their running game going, this is that week.
I also put in my vote for keeping Ray Rice as the starter over Bernard Pierce – though I admitted I’m fine with them getting equal carries. But the bottom line is I’m not ready to give up on Rice. I think he still has the burst and cutback ability to be the same old Ray Rice – he just needs a little bit of help.
I realize that Pierce is running behind the same line, and he produced better stats against Cincinnati. I also realize that the atrocious play of the Baltimore offensive line has been nearly beaten to death. But I’m going to harp on it again. Maybe this will be the death blow. Here’s what Rice was working with on a few of his carries against the Bengals:
In the red zone, the Ravens line up in a single back short shotgun formation. Rice starts on Joe’s right, but Joe audibles him to the left side instead. Several players along the line begin pointing at #57, Vincent Rey. He has been run blitzing all game and looks to be doing the same on this play. If you look close enough at the picture, you can see #60 Eugene Monroe pointing at Rey. As best I can tell, when Rice was on the right, Shipley was supposed to double team the 1-tech with Gino. However, after the shift, and given the blitz alert, Shipley’s man is now #57.
Unfortunately, Shipley awkwardly tries for the double team and nearly trips over Gradkowski. That leaves Rey unblocked and Rice with almost nowhere to go. Tackled after a minimal gain.
Then there’s this play, from the first drive of the game:
This time, the play is an outside zone. The line is going to block this play very well, actually…except for Eugene Monroe. With this play, the backside tackle is taught to ignore the backside defensive end and reach for the WILL (#57 V. Rey). Instead, Monroe goes for the DE. This is particularly bad by Monroe for two reasons. First, the backside DE is not even on Monroe’s play side…he’s on Monroe’s backside shoulder. Second, Rey’s run blitz should be an instant pickup for Monroe. You can imagine what happens here…
Rice is easily taken down for no gain by the run-blitzing linebacker.
Just for good measure, we’ll look at one more run blocking fail that leaves Rice with nothing to work with.
Here, the Ravens line up in a two-back pistol formation with Leach lined up to Flacco’s left. Ray Rice is going to take the handoff and attempt to shoot the B gap, which should give him some room to run. Key word: Should.
Unfortunately, Monroe is REALLY late out of his stance, allowing the DE to get on his inside hip with a full head of steam. Without video it’s hard to tell just how badly Monroe timed this snap, but you can look at the two guards and the center who are fully engaged in a 3-on-2 block, while Monroe is just taking his first step and getting out of his stance. Leach briefly considers coming up to help with the block, but he’s forced to contain the outside linebacker and hope Monroe can hold his own.
In this final image, you see that Monroe has failed to re-establish his block and Rice is being tackled for a two yard loss. Monroe had a pretty ugly first half against Cincinnati. Hopefully that’s not a sign of things to come from the Ravens new left tackle.
Bottom line: I know Rice has struggled, and Pierce finally offered a glimmer of hope in the Cincinnati game. But the blocking is just so bad, and I want one more week. If Pierce clearly outplays Rice this week against a bad run defense, then I suppose the writing is on the wall.
Jimmy Smith has come on strong lately, finally putting together a string of games that lives up to his potential. Many critics had written Jimmy off before this season even started, but so far, it looks like the Ravens are being rewarded for their patience. What has Smith been doing lately to elevate his play? Let’s take a look.
Here, the Ravens appear to be in Cover-6. Jimmy Smith has a middle zone on his side of the field, with safety help over the top (also a zone). A.J. Green is going to run a deep out at almost the perfect depth – right at the top of Smith’s zone, but below the safety.
Here you can see that Smith is turning his hips to shadow Green while also looking for the ball (which you can see in the air at about the 42 yard line… Smith appears to be looking right at it).
Jimmy gets underneath Green and makes a fantastic play on the ball, deflecting it away. In my preseason film review of Jimmy Smith I said that his strength was definitely man coverage and that he looked less comfortable in zone. But plays like this are convincing me that Smith is rounding into a very solid starting NFL corner.
Here’s a bonus screenshot from another Jimmy Smith pass break-up…
On this play, Jimmy was playing man coverage. He backpedals and turns his hips fluidly to stay with the dig route. Then he times his disruption perfectly, waiting until the ball hits the receivers hands to get a hand up and break up the catch.
After I lambasted Brandon Williams last week, the team clearly took my analysis to heart and made him a healthy scratch against the Bengals. In his stead, DeAngelo Tyson got the nod. Tyson was on the field for 23 snaps, his first since week 6 and his most in a single game this season. I was impressed by the seventh round draft pick out of Georgia (2012).
In his limited playing time, Tyson looked stronger and more disruptive than Williams. Tyson is a better hand fighter and looks like he more instinctively works to keep the lineman from locking him up. Tyson lined up at NT a bunch, much like Williams, but got better push and was better able to hold his ground. Let’s take a look at a few plays from Tyson:
Tyson is engaged with the Bengals’ RG on a running play. The center, behind the RG, is off balance, and Tyson is about to drive the guard backwards into this mess. His push on this play was really impressive.
Tyson pushes the guard right over the fallen center and then falls on top himself and actually manages to tackle the running back while caught up in the pile. That’s how you use a good push to disrupt a play in the backfield.
Above, you can see Tyson lined up above the RG in a 4-3 over variation. The Bengals are going to run an inside zone.
Tyson is faced with a double team at the point of attack.
However, the left guard #68 is going to move to the second level, and Tyson is going to fight off his block to make a solid run stop for no gain.
Tyson also got a sack in this game, albeit on an Andy Dalton scramble. However, Tyson showed the ability to shed his blocker and close on the scrambling Dalton. Take a look…
Tyson is engaged with the Bengals center after the snap. He is lower than his man and appears to be driving up and through the blocker.
As Dalton begins to scramble, Tyson sheds his block and makes an athletic, leaping sack for a loss of about six yards.
Smith has been doing his best Brian Urlacher impression all season. He’s a force against the run and refreshingly adept in pass coverage. I’d almost forgotten what an ILB who could hold his own in the pass game looked like (sorry, Ray). Below I’ll highlight a few plays against Cincinnati that demonstrate just how valuable Smith has been to this defense. His acquisition was among the least-talked about FA moves this offseason, but our defense would be significantly worse this year without him. Let’s take a look at a couple key places from the Cincinnati game:
On third down, rookie RB Giovani Bernard is going to run a quick out route. ILB Daryl Smith is in man coverage against the RB.
Here you can see Gio breaking his route. Dalton is about to make the throw, and Smith has about a five yard cushion between him and Gio, not to mention Gio has a step on him already.
No problem. Daryl turns on the jets and tackles Gio a yard shy of the first down. After a few years of suspect play from the ILBs, Baltimore once again has an athlete with side-to-side speed at that position.
Smith really had a good game against Cincinnati against both the pass and the run. He was credited with 10 tackles, 7 for a stop – meaning either a sacks, a stop on third down, or a stop for little-to-no gain on 1st and 2nd down. He also had at least one deflected pass, too.
Old Joe. What to say? During the offseason, I told anyone who would listen that Joe was going to look like the same Joe we’ve come to know (and love, for the most part), despite his mega-millions contract. Some of his perennial problems still persist (questionable accuracy on some easy throws?), and they’ve been aggravated by the pressure to do it all by himself this year.
One of the biggest problems lately is Joe holding the ball too long. To his credit, he’s moving around in the pocket, even rolling out and keeping his eyes downfield, doing everything he can to extend a play and try to make something out of nothing. But sometimes the play simply isn’t there, and it’s causing late throws, sacks, and interceptions. Let’s take a look at a few plays from the Cincy game where Joe is just trying to do too much by himself.
Here, Joe wants to go to Marlon Brown in the slot. Prior to the snap, the Bengals had as many as seven potential rushers on the LOS. In red, you can see the blocking assignments. For Gino, his job is to take whichever man comes into the right A gap. However, both players in his assignment drop into coverage. Meanwhile, Ray Rice is left to take on the blitzing linebacker in the left A gap.
But as you can see in the middle of the play, Rice is pretty much getting worked over by his man. Gino looks lost in space, and initially I laid the blame on him for this play. But it’s up to Rice to hold this block. It will be very difficult for Gino to recover and help Rice seal off the linebacker before Joe gets in trouble.
Joe has successfully stepped up into the pocket but he’s about to be tackled from behind because neither Rice nor Gradkowski can recover their block. At the top of the image, you see Marlon Brown open (assuming Joe can get the ball over that defender sitting along the seam). Unfortunately, Joe gets hit as he tries to throw, the ball flails out and falls right into the defender’s waiting arms. The problem I have with this throw is that Joe knew the hit was coming. He tried to step past the defender and seemed to feel him the whole way, so why throw it up? If it’s at all short, there are three defenders waiting to pick it off. I know Joe has elite arm strength, but to me this reeks of Joe trying too hard to make a play, unwilling to take the sack and live to fight another day.
Let’s look at one more play…
I alluded to this play on the Sports Tonight show as well. Joe starts out under center, drifts to his left a little, then scrambles to his right. He does a great job of keeping his eyes downfield and searching for an answer. But there’s no answer forthcoming. All Joe has to do is throw it away.
Instead, he takes a sack. Why? I timed it, and Joe had the ball for 7.1 seconds before he was wrapped up by the defender. Throw it away, Joe!
I’m curious to see how Joe reacts if the running game suddenly gets on track. Will he allow himself to stop forcing throws and extending plays? Maybe this Sunday will be the day we finally see a balanced attack from this Ravens offense. One can only hope.