This week we’re chatting with Baltimore blogger Jeff Pilson of Right Off Russell – a blog that covers all Baltimore sports, and does an especially good job with the Ravens. Here’s our exchange:
1) Have there been any substantial changes to the Ravens defense, scheme-wise, with Rex Ryan having moved on?
After 3 games it is hard to say if the changes we have seen are going to be substantial the rest of the way, especially when you consider that the Ravens have not needed to make things too complicated on defense in 2 of the 3 (KC, Cleveland). But what I have seen and heard so far is that new DC Greg Mattison is not as big a fan of the exotic blitz schemes as Rex Ryan is. Mattison’s preference is to apply as much pressure from the defensive line and Terrell Suggs as possible and not leave the Ravens secondary too exposed. I think that will need to change though as the front four have not been able to generate consistent pressure on opposing QB’s. I think Mattison will pick his spots more with the blitz pressure when facing better QB’s and offenses, so we may see that some this week against Brady and the Pats. Also, the Ravens have been effective in some cover 2 schemes this year, something we rarely saw with Ryan. Cover 2 worked very well in San Diego and was a big reason for the Ravens success defending the red zone.
2) The Ravens offense has been noted by many as an early surprise in the NFL. What’s been the biggest reason for this?
The obvious answer is that Joe Flacco has made huge leaps in his ability to read and react to defenses, which has led to more of Cam Cameron’s playbook being opened up. This has made the Ravens much more unpredictable and capable in the passing game, and for a team that already runs the ball well that is huge. But I would argue that there are some other factors at play as well. First, the offensive line has been superb. They are young, talented and at times nasty. Throw in a guy with the presence and ability of Matt Birk and you have a line that is the greatest strength of the Ravens offense and maybe the whole team. Secondly, the Ravens have yet to be tested by a top flight defense. San Diego has some big names, but they were depleted by injury and I question their toughness. This week will be a good test to face a defense that can bring toughness, talent and smarts.
3) Give us a name that probably isn’t all that well known up here, but that we’ll know for sure once the game is over….
I think the guy who is most unsung on the Ravens defense is Jarrett Johnson. Johnson is an OLB who brings a ton of versatility as a pass rusher and run defender. Johnson also has the athletic ability to cover backs and tight ends in pass defense. In short there is not much that Johnson does not do well, and that makes him very valuable for the Ravens. Johnson has been bothered by a shoulder injury that slowed him against Cleveland. I am sure he will play this week, but it may limit his effectiveness and his playing time.
4) If you were coming up with a game plan to face the Ravens defense, what would you look to attack?
If you watched the Ravens game at San Diego then you saw that the weak spot on the Ravens defense is the secondary and specifically the corners. The Ravens do not have a physical shut down corner. In Fabian Washington and Dominique Foxworth the Ravens have guys that are fast and good in coverage, but they are smallish and have trouble against bigger/more physical receivers. The Chargers did present some unique match-up problems because they have one of the biggest receiver corps in the league. I am certain that the Patriots will look to exploit the Ravens secondary because, let’s face it, they do not have a real commitment to the run game and not many teams can run the ball on the Ravens. That is why in some ways New England is a match-up nightmare for the Ravens defensively.
5) I don’t know how closely you’ve followed him here, but many consider Adalius Thomas to be something of a disappointment. What was he like at his peak with the Ravens, and what do you think of him now?
I have not followed AD that closely since leaving Baltimore. I really enjoyed him while he was here. Adalius was extremely versatile and Ravens defensive coordinators, especially Rex Ryan, did a great job of using his combo of size and speed all over the field. Adalius was great in that he afforded the Ravens the flexiblity to stay in their base defense no matter the situation. He was big enough to rush the passer and defend the run, but also fast enough to take on some nickle responsibilities in pass defense. I will say this, and this is not a knock on AD, but when he was here I always felt he was a system type player and that the way he was used combined with the talent around him freed him up to make a lot of plays. He is a talented guy, but not a star type player.