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Ravens Trade For Jeremy Zuttah

March 23, 2014 in News

The Baltimore Ravens have traded a 2015 mid-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for center Jeremy Zuttah.

The Ravens have signed him to a new, long-term contract that reduces his cap hit for this season from what it was on his old contract. At this point in time, terms of the contract are unknown.

Just 27-years old (28 at the start of the season), he had two years left on a four-year contract worth $16.5 million that he signed with the Buccaneers back in 2012. He was owed $4.5 million this season and $4.25 million next season.

Jeremy Zuttah

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This past season, he started all 16 games for Tampa Bay with 15 of these starts coming at center. (The other start was at left guard.) According to Pro Football Focus, he graded as the 22nd best center in the league (out of 35). If his performance at left guard is taken into account, then he would have been the tied for the 19th best center.

Drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Rutgers, he spent his entire career in Tampa Bay before this trade.

As a rookie in 2008, he started five games (right and left guard). In 2009 he started all 16 games at left guard. The next season (2010) saw him lose his starting job, but earn a new starting job at center partway through the season as he started nine games (eight at center and one at right guard). In 2011 he moved back to left guard for 13 starts and one start at center. In 2012 he split his 16 starts between center (seven) and left guard (nine).

His best season came in 2008 as a rookie according to Pro Football Focus, but that was as a limited starter. His best season as a full-time starter was in 2011 where he graded as the 26th best left guard in the league (out of 78).

Playing his college football at Rutgers, he blocked for current Ravens' starting running back Ray Rice. Growing up in Edison, N.J., he grew up about 10 miles away from the Ravens' starting left tackle Eugene Monroe who is from Plainfield, N.J. It is reported that Monroe and Zuttah are friends––which would make sense.

The exact draft pick compensation is unknown at this time, but it is expected to be a 2015 mid-round pick. This makes it the fourth trade that the Ravens have completed in the past year dealing with their offensive line. They have traded for Monroe and A.Q. Shipley while trading away Bryant McKinnie. All of these trades have involved draft picks:  fourth and fifth-round picks for Monroe, a seventh-round pick for Shipley and a seventh round pick in return for McKinnie.

For the Ravens, he is expected to play center. Last year's starter Gino Gradkowski graded as the worst center in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. It was obvious that the Ravens needed to upgrade this position and it looks like they have found their upgrade with Zuttah.

Assuming that Zuttah's brand new contract isn't worth too much––about $3 million per year sounds right––and assuming the 2015 draft pick is a mid-round pick––the fourth and fifth rounds are usually considered this––then this is a good trade for the Ravens. While it sounds like there are a lot of conditions for this to be a good trade for the Ravens, when you consider that his contract is being lowered from just over $4 million per year and the pick is already being called a mid-round pick, then it doesn't look like that.

Overall the Ravens upgraded at center, where an upgrade was severely needed. Zuttah should come in and give the Ravens solid play. He won't be anything special, but he should solidify the center position.

Ravens Fail To Make Playoffs

December 30, 2013 in Observations

Just one season removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans, the Baltimore Ravens have failed to make the playoffs.

This comes on the heals of a 34-17 loss that dropped the Ravens record to 8-8 for the season. A win in this game would have sent the Ravens to the playoffs as the Miami Dolphins lost to the New York Jets. Since both the Ravens and the Dolphins lost, the sixth seed in the AFC goes to the San Diego Chargers who sneak into the playoffs with a 27-24 win in overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs who rested many starters and will be the fifth seed in the playoffs.

Under head coach John Harbaugh, this is the first time in his six-year tenure that the Ravens have missed the playoffs. The last time they missed the playoffs was back in 2007 when Brian Billick was still the head coach, Steve McNair, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith saw time at quarterback and the New England Patriots were in the midst of their 18-1 season.

Called a Super Bowl hangover, many teams struggle to find success in the season after they win the Super Bowl. The 2006 and 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers along with the 2012 New York Giants didn't make the playoffs the next season after winning the Super Bowl. The last team to repeat as Super Bowl champions were the New England Patriots who won three in four years in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Trying to avoid the struggles of a defending Super Bowl champion, the Ravens revamped their roster, especially the defense, and lost many players in free agency due to salary cap limitations.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This seemed like the right idea, but it was to no avail as some fatal flaws killed the Ravens' season — and all of these were evident in the Ravens' loss to the Bengals.

First, and most importantly, is the offensive line. After investing $120.6 million into quarterback Joe Flacco, the offense was expected to perform at a level like they did in the playoffs where he threw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four games. This was never able to happen however.

Returning four of the five starters from that line in the playoffs (center Matt Birk retired), their performance was expected to be as good as the playoffs, but it wasn't.

The entire run game was switched around by run game coordinator Juan Castillo. It was still a zone-blocking system like before — the changes were just made within the current system. These changes seem to have been for the worse though as the Ravens' run game was the worst in franchise history. Gaining just 1,328 yards on 3.1 yards per carry, the Ravens set new franchise worsts in these two categories by some margin. The previous worsts were 1,589 yards and 3.8 yards per carry, both in 1997. That is a different of 261 yards and 0.7 yards per carry.

In 2012, the Ravens ranked 11th in total rushing yards (1,901) and 12th in yards per attempts (4.3). This year though, they ranked 30th in rushing yards and 32nd (last) in yards per attempt.

There wasn't much change in the personnel though as both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce returned at running back after successful years and four of the five linemen returned.

Change quickly happened though as Rice injured his hip causing him to miss only one game, but the lingering effects of this injury impacted his performance.

On the offensive line, left guard Kelechi Osemele made it through seven games before being placed on injured reserve due to a back injury that required surgery. He was replaced by backup center A.Q. Shipley. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie — re-signed to a two-year contract in the offseason — struggled and was eventually traded to the Miami Dolphins after a replacement, Eugene Monroe, was acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars. At center, Gino Gradkowski struggled to make a positive impact in his first season as a starter. His play improved a little bit at the end of the season, but he still graded out as one of the worst centers in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Right guard Marshal Yanda had offseason shoulder surgery and this seemed to impact his play in the beginning of the season. He didn't play bad, but it looked like the bad performances around him dragged him down a bit. Right tackle Michael Oher was inconsistent all season and struggled with penalties.

In pass protection, the offensive line struggled the most with blitzes. So many times there was an unblocked defender in Flacco's face right after the snap. This comes down to communication on the line and with Flacco as to who is going to be blitzing and what protection scheme should be used on this particular play.

Against the Bengals yesterday, Flacco was getting absolutely beaten up. Already playing on a sprained MCL in his left knee, the last thing that he needed was to be hit. The Bengals defense registered two sacks and seven quarterback hits, along with numerous other pressures. After one hit, CBS showed a replay that zoomed in on Flacco's face and you could see him screaming in pain and holding his left knee. On another play he slammed his right arm into the ground hard and injured his right shoulder. He never missed a snap, but it got to a point where backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor started to warm up and the announcers where talking about potentially putting him in to replace Flacco.

For the season, the offensive line allowed 48 sacks which is tied for fourth most in the league. Last year, the line allowed 38 sacks in the regular season and six in four playoffs games. Not shown in the sack numbers are the numerous hits, pressures and hurries allowed by the line.

The line also had a league-high 28 false start penalties which are a sign of lack of discipline and are very easy to avoid.

Due to a change in system, injuries and overall poor performance, the Ravens' offensive line failed to create holes for Rice and Pierce to run through and failed to give Flacco sufficient time to throw the ball. The performance off the offensive line was one of the main reasons that the Ravens were able to win the Super Bowl last season, but it is also one of the main reasons why the Ravens won't be making the playoffs this year.

The other problem that plagued the Ravens' offense was, well, a lack of offense. In their last three games (against the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals) the offense scored two touchdowns. Two. In their last 42 drives of the season, the Ravens offense scored two touchdowns.

In these three games, kicker Justin Tucker made nine field goals, but that still only bring the Ravens to 42 points or 14 points per game. That isn't going to cut it in the NFL nowadays.

When your offense is performing as poor as that, the team does't deserve to be in the playoffs and the Ravens know that.

Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the team was up and down all season. At times the pass rush was one of the best in the league and at times it didn't show up (they finished with 40 sacks, tied for 16th in the league). Against the Bengals, the Ravens didn't record a single quarterback hit, let alone a sack.

There were times when the defense couldn't force a turnover if the opposing team wanted to turn it over and then there were times like yesterday when they intercepted four passes.

The defense could perform well the entire game, but when a stop was needed near the end of the game, they couldn't provide one.

Early in the season the defense was one of the best in the league in the red zone, but they struggled over the last few games. For the season they finished eighth in the league in red zone scoring percentage (touchdowns only) at 48.78 percent. Over the last three games though, they allowed a whopping 87.5 percent of red zone trips to end in touchdowns — easily the worst in that time frame.

Some times the defense would be able to wrap up the ball carrier for little or no gain. Other times they would either not get off blocks, over pursue the ball carrier or just straight up miss the tackle.

Overall, the 2013 Baltimore Ravens football team was defined by inconstancy. At times they looked capable of defending their Super Bowl title and making it back to the big game, but at other times they looked like a team that needs serious change in the offseason. When you put that together, you get a team that is just average. The Ravens 8-8 record showcases just than and they have one more chance to be right in the middle of the pack, as pending a coin flip, the Ravens' will pick 16th in the NFL Draft — right in the middle.

Playoff Spots On The Line: Ravens vs Bengals

December 27, 2013 in What to Look For

With playoff spots on the line for each team, the 8-7 Baltimore Ravens take on the 10-5 Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati where the Bengals are undefeated this season.

Having already clinched the AFC North, the Bengals are guaranteed a playoff spot, but their positioning is still up for grabs. If the playoffs started today, they would be the third-seed, but there is still a chance that they can earn the second-seed and the first-round bye that comes with that. This would happen is the Bengals beat the Ravens and if the New England Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills. This would put the Bengals and the Patriots at 11-5 and since the Bengals won the head-to-head matchup, the second-seed would go to the Bengals.

Moving to the Ravens, they are in a four-way battle for the sixth and final seed in the AFC with the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Between these four teams, there are 16 different playoff scenarios and seven of them belong to the Ravens. No team controls their own destiny as everyone needs and win plus help to get in.

In order to make the playoffs, the Ravens need to beat Cincinnati and have either the Dolphins (vs New York Jets) or the Chargers (vs Kansas City Chiefs) lose. Another way to make the playoffs would be if the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers all lose.

The last time that the Ravens faced the Bengals was in week 10 when the Ravens played host. The Ravens jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead and seemed to be in charge, but then the Bengals made a late comeback which was capped by a 51-yard Hail Mary pass which was caught by A.J. Green for a touchdown as time expired. This led to overtime and the Ravens won 20-17 on a 46-yard field goal from Justin Tucker.

1.  Joe Flacco
As always for the Ravens, the play of Flacco, the quarterback, will be important if they are to win the game.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

After winning the Super Bowl MVP in February and signing $120.6 million contract in March, he has underperformed this season. In fact, he set a new career-high in interceptions with 19 (his previous high was 12 which he had done three times). These 19 interceptions are tied for the most in a single-season in Ravens' franchise history. Vinny Testaverde also threw 19 interceptions in the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996.

Currently, Flacco his playing with a sprained MCL in his left knee. This injury was suffered two weeks ago in Detroit on Monday Night Football when he took a low hit just below his knee. Last week against the New England Patriots he wore a brace to protect the knee and the injury clearly bothered him as he went 22-of-38 for 260 yards, zero interceptions and two interceptions. His accuracy was off all night and he should have thrown more than three interceptions. He was especially unable to accurately throw deep passes as he under and overthrew these passes by significant margins.

He will wear the brace on his knee again this week and will take on the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL. Allowing 211.3 passing yards per game, the Bengals are the sixth-best in pass defense, but have suffered multiple injuries at cornerback this season.

In the week 10 matchup, he went 20-of-36 for 140 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 60.0 while being sacked five times. This stat line perfectly sums up his season as there have been great moments and bad ones which is shown by the touchdowns and interceptions. He has also been under pressure a lot of the time as the offensive line has give up 46 sacks this season which is tied for fourth-worst in the league and the five sacks from the Bengals' game show this.

If the Ravens are to win this game and advance to the playoffs, then they are going to need a big game from him. With his bad knee, it is unknown how likely this will be. However, he wasn't listed on the injury report this week.

2.  Pressuring Andy Dalton
At quarterback for the Bengals will be Dalton who, like Flacco, has been very inconsistent this season. When Dalton is good, he is very good and when he is bad, he is very bad.

This was evident during the game against the Ravens earlier in the season as he went 24-of-51 for 274 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 52.2 while being sacked five times. The Ravens were able to effectively put pressure on him and this caused him trouble.

Expect the Ravens to try and bring the pressure again this week with various looks and alignments to confuse him. The Ravens defense has been at its best when running an aggressive defense. When they shift to a conservative zone defense, opponents have had success. This is what happened when playing the Bengals earlier in the season. In the first half, the defense was blitzing way more than in the second half. Dalton had much more success in the second half when the Ravens were running the conservative style defense.

Two players that have had success blitzing this year for the Ravens have been middle linebacker Daryl Smith and strong safety James Ihedigbo so expect them to come blitzing early in the game.

Getting the five sacks of Dalton in the week 10 matchup were defensive ends Arthur Jones and DeAngelo Tyson (one apiece) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil who had three. Jones is questionable with a concussion this week and hasn't practiced all week so it is up in the air if he will play of not. If Jones can't play, then Tyson would be trust into a bigger role and he has impressed this season and is beating out third-round pick Brandon Williams for playing time right now. Dumervil is second on the team with 9.5 sacks this season, but has gone three games without a sack.

Playing opposite of Dumervil is Terrell Suggs who leads the team with ten sacks. Recently though, he has struggled to put pressure on the quarterback as he has one sack in the last seven games. This one sack came last week against the Patriots.

Despite being able to sack him five times in their prior matchup, the Bengals actually have a good offensive line and they have allowed only 29 sacks this season which is tied for fourth-best in the league.

In order to stop the Bengals' offense, the Ravens will need to apply pressure on Dalton to force him to make quick decisions which can lead to turnovers.

3.  Torrey Smith and A.J. Green
The best receivers for their teams (Ravens and Bengals respectively) both Smith and Green could be looking at big games on Sunday to finish off the regular season.

Starting with Smith, he leads the Ravens in all receiving statistics except touchdowns. He has 62 catches for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns on 131 targets. Entering the season he was mainly used as a deep threat, but he has developed into a more rounded receiver this season.

After a hot start to the season where he went over 80 yards in the first five games (92, 85, 92,166 and 121 yards). Since then though, he has topped 80 yards once and that was against the Steelers in week 13. Against the Patriots last week, it took until the third quarter for him to record a catch.

When the Ravens faced the Bengals earlier in the season he had five catches for 46 yards and one touchdown.

With his 1,101 receiving yards, he is just 100 yards away from the franchise record for most receiving yards in a single season. Michael Jackson set this record of 1,201 in 1996 — like Testaverde. If Smith's recent production holds true, he will be held just short of this record. However, expect the Ravens to target Smith often during this game as he is their most explosive receiver.

Switching to Green, he leads the Bengals in all receiving categories and is near the top in these categories for the entire league. He is tied for fifth in catches (94), third in targets (170), fourth in yards (1,365) and tied for eight in touchdowns (10).

Against the Ravens in week 10 he had eight catches for 151 yards and one touchdown. This touchdown came on a Hail Mary as time expired in the fourth quarter and forced overtime. He was able to catch the ball after Ihedigbo tipped the ball up right to Green.

With 97 more targets than the next receiver on the Bengals, he is by far Dalton's favorite target this season. This isn't just a one season thing either as Green averages 9.78 targets per game in 46 career games (him and Dalton came into the league together in 2011) and had 70 more targets than other receivers last season and 12 more in his rookie year.

Covering him for the Ravens will be a combination of Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Smith has really improved this season and held Calvin Johnson — one of the few, if not the only, wide receiver better than Green — in check two weeks ago. Therefore, expect Smith to align over Green more than Webb. The Ravens don't usually rotate their cornerbacks based on receiver, they usually just keep them on a certain side, but they would be wise to keep Smith on Green.

4.  Ravens' Offensive Line
As mentioned a little earlier, the Ravens' offensive line has had trouble this year with pass protection, but they also have struggled to create holes in the run game.

Michael Oher

Courtesy of ICON SMI

There has been some change throughout the season on the line as starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie was traded away after the Ravens traded for Eugene Monore. Left guard Kelechi Osemele has missed most of the season with a back injury and has been replaced by A.Q. Shipley. Center Gino Gradkowski was the only new starter coming into the year, but the turnover on the left side has changed that. The right side of the line has stayed the same all season with Marshal Yanda at guard and Michael Oher at tackle.

Starting with pass protection, the line has allowed 46 tackles which is tied for fourth-worst in the NFL. The line has struggled the most with blitzes and the Bengals took advantage of this the last time these two played. Backup linebacker Vincent Rey had three of the sacks and defensive end Carlos Dunlap had two. These blitzes usually resulted in unblocked pressure on Flacco and there is not much that he can do when a defensive player has a free run at him.

With 41 sacks on the season (tied for 11th best in the league), the Bengals have a formidable pass rush which the Ravens' line will have their hands full with.

Last time against the Bengals the Ravens averaged 2.8 yards per carry and this falls to 2.25 yards per carry on rushes from running back Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and fullback Vonta Leach. All game long, these backs had no holes to run though agains the now sixth-best run defense in the league (99.8 yards per game and four yards per carry).

These run game woes are likely to continue for the Ravens in this game as the run game hasn't improved since then. The pass protection has improved over the last few weeks so it will be interesting and very important to see how the Ravens' offensive line holds up — especially with an injured Flacco at the helm of the offense.

Ravens Sign RB Bernard Scott

October 28, 2013 in Free Agency, News

With an open roster spot over their bye week, the Baltimore Ravens have signed free agent running back Bernard Scott to a one-year contract.

This roster spot was open due to the trade of left tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins last week.

Bernard Scott

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Over the bye week, the Ravens hosted Scott and another running back, Beanie Wells on separate days. During Wells' workout though, he tore his achilles which seemed to signal the Ravens signing Scott.

After playing college football at Abilene Christian, Scott was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the sixth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. At Abilene Christian, Scott became the all-time leader rusher in just two seasons of play with 4,321 yards. In his senior season, he ran for 2,165 yards and 28  touchdowns. That year he won the Harlon Hill Trophy, given to the best player in Division II football. The previous season, Scott was the runner-up to Danny Woodhead.

Current Ravens running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery was also a standout running back at Abilene Christian and Scott broke some of Montgomery's single-season records.

Scott has a career 4.1 yard average on his rushes in the NFL on 255 carries and also has four touchdowns. He also has caught 29 passes for 165 yards in his four seasons.

He can also contribute on kick returns as he has a career 25.5 yards per return average and one touchdown.

Last season, Scott only played in two games as he tore his ACL. This offseason, the Bengals released him in September as he was still working his way back from ACL surgery and the Bengals had drafted Giovani Bernard in the second round.

For the Ravens, Scott could contribute right away in the running game and should help out on special teams. While Ray Rice is fully healed from a hip injury, backup Bernard Pierce left the Ravens' last game on Oct. 20 against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a hamstring injury and never returned. Since the Ravens didn't practice much during their bye, the extent of Pierce's injury is unknown. If Pierce can't go, then Scott will be the backup to Rice.

Over the next two weeks, the Ravens face the Cleveland Browns and the Bengals, so Scott will face an old division rival and his old team in his first two games.

Heading Into the Bye Week: What Is Wrong With the Ravens?

October 21, 2013 in Observations

With the Baltimore Ravens dropping their second straight game and their third in their last four games, it is clear that there is something wrong with this team.

The defending Super Bowl champions completely remodeled their roster in the offseason to try and avoid the Super Bowl Hangover which has effected so many teams over the last few years. At this point in the season though, this remodeling hasn't worked as the Ravens clearly have some problems.

One thing that is currently going the Ravens way though, is that they have a bye this week. This should allow the team to regroup and fix some of the problems that have plagued them throughout the first seven games of the season.

1.  Run Game
Starting off, we have the run game, something that the Ravens are usually one of the best in the league at, but this season, they have major problems.

With 518 rushing yards on the season, the Ravens' attack currently ranks 26th in the league and their 74 yards per game rank 28th in the NFL. However, it gets worse. Gaining a meager 2.8 yards per carry, the Ravens rank dead last in the league in this category and the league leader (the Philadelphia Eagles) average almost double this number with 5.2 yards per carry.

Continuing the with the bad stats, running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce rank 47th and 48th in yards per carry with 2.8 yards per carry each. Who is worse you ask? Well, nobody. The Ravens' two running backs rank as the worst two players (who qualify) in the league for yards per carry.

Last year, the Ravens were 12th in the league in yards per attempt and 11th in yards per game with Rice ranking 15th in yards per carry and Pierce at seventh. So, this problem doesn't extend to last season; this is a brand new problem—and not a good one.

The lack of a running game from the Ravens stems from two issues: a shortage of blocking from the offensive line and the running backs not making defenders miss.

I'll be going into the offensive line more in depth in a minute, but in short, the line has provided almost nothing in terms of running lanes for ball carriers all season, causing them to be taking hits in the backfield constantly. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Not all of the blame can be given to the line though. The running backs need to be able to break tackles and make defenders miss if the team is going to have success running the ball. Yes, the line is struggling to create holes to run through, but even when there are holes, the backs are either not finding them or going down on first contact after running though them.

Against the Steelers yesterday, Rice and Pierce combined for 11 yards after contact, a season low. Eleven. On 21 carries. That means they averaged half a yard after first contact. In other words, they gained 1.5 feet or 18 inches each play after they were first hit. You can gain more than that by falling forwards after contact.

Another problem with the run game is the blocking scheme that is being used. Currently, the Ravens use a zone-blocking scheme which is more of a finesse style and each blocker isn't assigned a specific man.

Last season, this worked just fine for the Ravens, but this year is completely different—as you can already tell from the numbers.

Head coach John Harbaugh has hinted at changing the blocking scheme which is a good sign. This shows that the coaching staff is will to consider changes and isn't fixed to one system.

The current scheme isn't working for the Ravens so a change to a man-blockign scheme would be a good idea at this point. The run game really can't get any worse at this point. Right?

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

2.  Offensive Line
I said I would touch upon the offensive line more in-depth later on, so here it is.

Whether is be pass blocking or run blocking, the Ravens' offensive line has done very little to help quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense.

Acting as a sieve at times, the line has given up 20 sacks and numerous other pressures, which can be just as bad as sacks. While the Ravens don't lead the league in sacks allowed, I would bet they lead the league in unblocked sacks allowed and unblocked pressure as this seams to happen all the time.

For example, against the Green Bay Packers in week six, the line gave up five sacks. Three of these sacks came from unblocked blitzers.

The source of this problem is communication at the line. Center Gino Gradkowski is responsible for making the blocking calls when the Ravens come to the line-of-scrimmage. When Gradkowski makes the correct calls, the other linemen have to communicate with each other still and have to execute the calls.

Gradkowski, in his second year, took over for the retired Matt Birk this season and has underwhelmed. On numerous occasions, he has allowed unblocked blitzers to run right past him, giving up pressure. Making that even worse is he isn't even engaging another player at the time. While run blocking, he has been pushed around by bigger defenders. This is because he lacks the ideal size for the position but has plus athletic ability. The strong, powerful defensive linemen can push Gradkowski around because of his lack of strength.

Seeing that the offensive line needed a boost, General Manager Ozzie Newsome traded fourth and fifth round picks in this year's draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Eugene Monroe, an impending free agent and borderline top-ten left tackle. Monroe replaced Bryant McKinnie, who himself was traded today to the Miami Dolphins for a conditional late round pick. Through two games, Monroe, as expected, has been an upgrade over McKinnie.

The entire Ravens' offensive line has struggled this season after being the chief reason that the Ravens made their Super Bowl run. Despite only one change from that line in the playoffs (Gradkowski at center), the line has failed to regain that form, causing Newsome to make some changes. Even All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda, a model of consistency and excellence, is struggling right now. That is when you know something is going bad.

3.  Turnovers
Ever since their creation in 1996, the Ravens' have become known for their defense. A hard-hitting, physical, smash-mouth defense that will give up little yardage and allow you to score even less. Along with this, they have excelled at forcing turnovers.

Through their seven games this season, the Ravens' defense has forced nine turnovers, ranking tied for ninth best with in the AFC, with two other teams. Four of these turnovers have come via interceptions and the other five via fumbles.

The two best teams in the NFL right now, the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, have each forced 19 turnovers; more than double that of the Ravens. Currently, the NFL average for turnovers forced is 10.9; almost two turnovers more than the Ravens have forced.

Not only have the Ravens had trouble taking the ball away, they have had problems holding onto it. With 11 turnovers, the Ravens ranked tied for ninth best in the AFC in giveaways, with one other team this time. Of these 11 giveaways, eight of them are interceptions and three are fumbles.

This makes for 1.5 giveaways per game from the Ravens and only 1.3 takeaways per game. While this may not seem like much, for the season, the Ravens sit at a turnover differential of -2 which is tied for ninth best (again) in the AFC, with two other teams. A negative turnover differential is uncharted territory for the Ravens, especially under Harbaugh, as the last time this happened for the entire season was in 2007, the last season where Brian Billick was the head coach and the Ravens struggled to a 5-11 record.

The good news on the turnover front is that five of the giveaways came in one game—where Flacco threw five interceptions against the Buffalo Bills and he seems to have put that behind him now.

The bad news on the turnover front is that the defense still isn't forcing many turnovers—in wins or losses.

4.  Slow Starts
I've touched on this before, but now this is getting insanely awful.

In the first half, the Ravens are averaging 5.6 points per game from their offense. When you take away the 17 points their scored in week one, the Ravens offense is averaging 3.7 points per game in the first half over their last six games.

In these six games, the offense has scored zero, three, seven, six, zero, and six points in the first half. Yes, you just saw that right. Over the last six games, the Ravens' offense has scored one touchdown in the first half of games. One.

Even the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team considered by everyone to be the worst in the league, is doing better than this, scoring 4.2 points per game in the first half since week one.

By scoring so little in the first half of games, the Ravens are digging themselves into a hole early and often.

Five out of the last six games, the Ravens have let the other team score first and hasn't had a led after the first quarter since week one. In these six games, the Ravens have had the lead in the first half for about 10 percent of the time.

This absence of production from the offense in the first half of games is severely hurting the Ravens in games right now and is one of the key reasons why the Ravens sit at 3-4 heading into their bye week.

Reading this, it may look like the Ravens are a doomed team this season, but they are not. Despite these four flaws they are still just one game below .500 and are in second place in the AFC North, two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens' season is far from being over, but at this point in time, the team has some serious flaws that need to be worked out.

Ravens Rise To The Occasion

October 7, 2013 in Observations

Coming off a tough 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens traveled to Miami to take take on the Dolphins. Led by a resurgent run game and another solid performance by the defense, the Ravens won 26-23 over the Dolphins. With this victory, the Ravens are 3-2 and the loss by the Dolphins puts them at 3-2 as well.

With less than two minutes left in the game, kicker Justin Tucker kicked a 44-yard field goal to give the Ravens the lead. This is his fourth career game-winning field in only his second season.

The Dolphins gave the Ravens a scare in the last minute as they were able to complete a fourth and 10 and a few plays later attempted a 57-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. However, kicker Caleb Sturgis missed win left giving the Ravens the victory.

The Ravens ran the ball the best they had all season setting a season high in rush yards with 133. On the flip side of things, the defense only allowed 22 rushing yards, good for the fourth fewest ever allowed in franchise history.

Third downs were key in this game and the Ravens went 6-16 (37.5 percent) but held to Dolphins to a meager 3-16 (19 percent) and the Dolphins were only 1-7 in the second half.

With six more sacks this week, the Ravens defense now has 19 sacks so far which is second best in the NFL and is the most ever through the first five games in franchise history.

Joe Flacco
While the stat-line was pretty, Flacco got the job done and was able to lead the Ravens to victory with his 16th career game-winning drive.

Throwing 32 times, Flacco completed 19 passes for 269 yards and one interception and a quarterback rating of 73.6. As always though, the stat-line doesn't tell the right story.

Throughout the game, Flacco was under pressure when passing the ball and he took some vicious hits. To his credit though, he always stayed in there to try and complete the pass. He did a good job of stepping up in the pocket multiple times and had numerous good throws right before getting hit.

The interception that he threw wasn't his fault. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie allowed Dolphins' pass rusher Dion Jordan to beat him to the outside and hit the ball while it was in Flacco's hand and reaching back to throw the ball. This resulted in the ball going straight up in the air and being picked off by Reshad Jones who had no Ravens around him, allowing him to return the ball 25 yards for a touchdown. Some blame also falls on offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell here as it was a third and 22 from their own nine-yard line and the Ravens were passing the ball. They should have just ran the ball playing it safe.

A few plays before this, Flacco almost threw an interception and this was all his fault. The Ravens ran a screen pass to running back Ray Rice and Flacco never saw Jordan who read the the play and jumped in front of Rice. Thankfully for Flacco, Jordan dropped the pass.

Early in the second half, we got to see Flacco the running back. On a third and five, he stepped up in the pocket and found no defenders in the middle of the field so he ran and picked up 14 yards before smartly sliding.

Ray Rice
As already stated, the Ravens had their most success of the season running the ball yesterday and Rice was a big part of this.

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Running the ball 27 times for 74 yards and two touchdowns, he only averaged 2.7 yards per carry, his longest carry was just seven yards, and he fumbled once. Despite the fumble and the lackluster average and long run, Rice had his best game of the season. His 27 carries almost totaled as many as he had through the first three games of the season (27).

Starting with the bad, his fumble came on an outside zone run to the right and was knocked out by Paul Soliai how got his hand on the ball while tackling Rice. The ball was recovered by former Raven Dannell Ellerbe putting the ball at the Baltimore 29-yard line. This field position resulted in a field goal for the Dolphins.

Moving to the good, two of Rice's runs went for first downs and another two for touchdowns. His first touchdown was on first and goal from the two and Rice just powered through the pile on an inside run to score. The other touchdown came from three yards out on an outside power play and Rice went untouched as the Dolphins had stacked the inside.

This was his first multi-touchdown game of the season and his 10th of his career. With his first touchdown, he tied the beloved Todd Heap for the second most touchdowns (41) in Ravens history. Rice's second touchdown gave him sole possession of second place. Running back Jamal Lewis sits in first place with 47 touchdowns so Rice should be able to pass him this season.

Torrey Smith
Another game, another great game from Smith this year. With six catches for 121 yards on nine targets, Smith continued his great start to his season.

All of his six catches went for first downs and he was able to draw a pass interference for a first down as well. His first catch of the game was on third and five where he ran a short crossing route and turned it into a 41-yard gain. This catch set up the Ravens first points of the game. The Ravens have used him on these crossing routes quite often this season allowing him to get into the open field and use his speed. The next catch came on second and seven for a gain of 13 on a deep in route. Another deep in on a third and 10 led to a gain of 22. A slant on first and 10 gained 13 yards and a post route led to a gain of 16 on second and nine. Lastly, he made a leading catch on a first and ten while running a deep crossing route. The pass interference that he drew came when he ran a slant-and-go into the end zone the defender was flagged at the two-yard line giving the Ravens a gain of 18 yards.

There were two negatives from this great performance though. The first is a pass interference call that went against him. He was called for pass interference when he hit his arm against the helmet of the cornerback. However, Smith was just trying to get his arm over the cornerback to be able to catch the ball. The other negative came from a dropped pass. On a first and 10, Smith had the ball in his hands but the defender was able to knock it out before Smith had full control of the ball.

Throughout the game, the Dolphins cornerbacks played about seven yards off of Smith to protect against the deep pass. This stopped the deep pass, but Smith was constantly able to get open underneath and then turned this shorter catches into more yards with his exceptional speed.

Other Pass Catchers
With Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown inactive due to injuries and Brandon Stokley was cut before the day before the game (though he was re-signed today), the Ravens were down to three active wide receivers: Smith, Tandon Doss, and Deonte Thompson.

Doss got the start across from Smith and made the most of it catching three passes for 58 yards and all of them went for first downs. The first was a third and 11 where he gained 11 yards, the second came on, first and 10 and resulted in a gain of 40 yards, and the last came on a third and two for a gain of six.

The most impressive of these catches was the one that went for 40 yards. Flacco under-threw the pass as he got drilled as he threw the ball. Doss was able to adjust to the pass in air and made the catch.

Thompson had two catches for 11 yards with one going for a first down. The one that went for a first down was a gain of six on second and two and the one that didn't go for a first down was a play-action pass were Thompson came in motion and ran a short out route for a gain of five.

Dropping six passes so far this season, tight end Ed Dickson has been a major disappointment but this week he was able to actually make a catch and a contribution. On two catches, he had 51 yards with both going for first downs. Both catches were on play-action crossing routes with the first going for 43 yards and the other for eight.

Dallas Clark was nowhere to be found and I honestly can't even remember seeing him on the field.

Overall, these other pass catchers stepped up their game this week and gave someone other than Smith to throw to and trust for the first time this season.

Offensive Line
Well, it is easy to see why the Ravens traded for left tackle Eugene Monroe in the middle of last week as the incumbent, McKinnie, had a terrible game yet again.

McKinnie gave up the already mentioned hit that caused the interception, and allowed a few more quarterback hits/pressures and a sack. The first pressure came on a third down and forced Flacco to have a bad throw, an incompletion. Next he was beat to the outside on the last play of the first half. On the aforementioned 40-yard pass to Doss, McKinnie was the lineman that gave up the pressure that got Flacco lit up, getting beaten on an inside speed rush. The one sack that McKinnie gave up actually wasn't really his fault. Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher both gave up instant pressure on the play forcing Flacco to scramble to McKinnie's side where he initially had his man stopped. However, Flacco's scramble ran towards where McKinnie was blocking his man, causing a sack.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele lasted just one drive before leaving the game with back spasms. This started pre-game but after the in-active list was already handed in. Osemele tired to play but wasn't able to. Backup center A.Q. Shipley came in for him and played decently. He was called for a face-mask penalty pushing the ball back to the Ravens' own 10-yard line, gave up a quarterback hit, and allowed his man to bat down a pass at the line-of-scrimmage.

Center Gino Gradkowski allowed a hit when a linebacker ran right past him on a blitz and gave up a few other pressures.

Yanda, the right guard, saw the end of his streak of not allowing a sack and he should have allowed two. On the last play of the first half, McKinnie gave up the initial pressure but Yanda's man bull-rushed him and came in for the sack. Yanda also gave up a pressure on the play where McKinnie gave up a sack but Flacco was able to escape from Yanda's man.

Oher, the right tackle, also gave up a pressure on this play but Yanda was beaten worse. On a separate occasion, he allowed an unblocked blitzer to hit Flacco. Oher had two rushers coming at him and with no help Oher had to chose one and he correctly took the inside player. The outside player ended with a hit on Flacco and that needs to be fixed with a pre-snap read. Too many unblocked players are coming through the offensive line.

Terrell Suggs
Like Smith, Suggs is having a dominant season and yesterday was no different; though it took him three quarters to get going.

Through the first three quarters of the game, the only impact that Suggs had was two run stops, one for a gain of two yard and the other for a gain of one yard. Once the fourth quarter rolled around though, he stepped up and played lights-out.

In a span of eight offensive snaps for the Dolphins, Suggs had three sacks, giving him seven on the season, and tied the franchise record for consecutive games with a sack (five), and his seven sacks during that five games are sure to be a record.

The first sack came on a second and two where he beat the left tackle Jonathan Martin with a speed move to the outside for a loss of four. Martin was the victim of the second sack where Suggs bull-rushed him, pushing him straight back for a loss of four on first and ten. Two plays later on third down, Suggs beat right tackle Tyson Clabo for a loss of six yards.

These last two sacks came at a key time as the Dolphins defense had just scored and quickly stalled the next Ravens' drive. The Dolphins had all of the momentum in a tied game with five minutes left. Suggs single-handedly stopped that with his two sacks that drive. His sacks forced a three-and-out by the Dolphins and the ensuing drive for the Ravens, Flacco drove them down for the game winning field goal.

While recording his fifth career three sack game, Suggs led the Ravens defense and changed the momentum at the end of the game and his five tackles were good for second on the team.

Elvis Dumervil
Playing across from Suggs on pass rushing downs, Dumervil made his impact in the passing game as usual, recording two tackles, one sack, and a pass defensed.

He made his presence made the most on the Dolphins final drive recording a pressure and a sack on this drive. On the fourth and 10 play, Dumervil got almost instant pressure and forced quarterback Ryan Tannehill out of the pocket. While Tannehill ended up finding an open receiver, Dumervil did his job on the play by getting pressure. Two plays later, after the Dolphins spiked the ball on first down, Dumervil recorded his sack for a loss of five yards. This push the Dolphins field goal five yards further back and they ended up missing this kick. If the kick is 52 yards instead of 57 yards, who knows is Sturgis is able to connect.

Early in the game, the Dolphins had a snap go though Tannehill's hands for a loss of 18 yards. Dumervil was the first Ravens to get to Tannehill and got credit for a tackle for a loss, not a sack.

Dumervil's pass defensed came when he hit Tannehill's arm when he was throwing it. This came on a third and six play in the third quarter. Dumervil beat his blocker and was able to get his hand on Tannehill as he threw the ball causing it to only a few feet.

Going up against a weak Dolphins offensive line, Dumervil joined Suggs in having a good day.

Daryl Smith
Yet again, Smith led the Ravens in tackles, making it the third time this season, with his six — a surprisingly low number to lead a team in tackles with.

One of these six tackles came as a run stop for a loss of one yard but most of his tackles came while in pass coverage as the Dolphins only ran the ball 11 times and these were usually bottled up by the defensive linemen before linebackers like Smith could get to the play.

In coverage, Smith had a good game allowing just two passes to be completed against him and neither of them went for first downs. The first was a gain of five on second and nine and the other was a gain of five on first and ten. Fifteen of Tannehill's 21 completions went to wide receivers, leaving only six to tight ends and running backs, the players that Smith would be covering. This stayed the same in targets as 28 of Tannehills 38 targets went to wide receivers.

Smith's best play of the game came on a third and 10 with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter. He broke up a pass by diving in front of the intended receiver. This pass break-up set up fourth and 10 for the Dolphins, which they ended up converting.

James Ihedigbo
All but one of the notable plays that Ihedigbo made were in pass coverage which is no surprise for the strong safety considering the Dolphins struggles running the ball.

His best play of the game was one that didn't end up counting but we will still look at it. On the first play of the Dolphins second drive, he jumped an under-thrown deep pass and made a diving interception. He was able to get both feet down on the catch, but his left came down out-of-bounds as he was trying to brace his fall. Initially this was ruled an interception but it was reviewed and overturned. Even though it was overturned, this is still a great play from Ihedigbo.

In other coverage plays, he gave up two catches with both going for first downs — which isn't unusual for safeties considering they play the deep zones — for a total of 91 yards — which is unusual and not good. The first catch he allowed was on a third and six and tight end Charles Clay beat him deep for a gain of 45 yards, putting the ball on the Baltimore 31-yard line. A few plays later, the Dolphins kicked a field goal. The other pass that Ihedigbo allowed to be completed was for 46 yards to wide receiver Brandon Gibson. If the 46 yards gained wasn't bad enough, this completion came on the fourth and 10 play that the Dolphins had with about 1:30 left in the game. Since the Dolphins missed the field goal, this play didn't come back to haunt the Ravens though it would have if the Dolphins tied the game and won in overtime.

In the run game, he had a run stop for no gain. For the day, he had three tackles and one pass deflection (the overturned interception).

Cornerbacks
With most of Tannehill's passes being completed to receivers, the cornerbacks allowed most of the catches on Sunday.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with Lardarius Webb, he gave up five catches for 82 yards and two first downs, a very good ratio. The two that went for first downs were a second and four gain of six and a 49 yard deep pass allowed on second and eight. Webb only deserves half of the blame for this catch as safety Matt Elam was beaten deep on this play as well and Webb was expecting Elam to be there to help.

Despite these five completions, Webb had almost as many good pass breakups/coverages with four. The first came on a third and three pass into the end zone where he dove to break the pass up. The next came on a deep pass with under two minutes left in the second half. Another came when he hit Mike Wallace on a slant route causing him to drop the pass. The last came on the play between Suggs' two sacks. Webb dove in front of a curl route breaking the pass up.

The Dolphins made a clear attempt to go after Webb who was playing with a hamstring injury and for the most part, Webb held up well.

Allowing three catches for 40 yards with one first down and a touchdown was Jimmy Smith. On the catch that didn't go for a first down of touchdown, he made a nice play stopping the pass for a gain of only one. The first down he allowed came on a third and 10 with under two minutes left in the first half and put the Dolphins in field goal range. Smith gave up the only touchdown allowed by the defense when Tannehill hit Clay on a back-shoulder fade on third and goal from the nine with under one minute left in the half. In man coverage with no help, Smith didn't turn around and find the ball until it was too late. Smith was also called for holding, giving the Dolphins a first down at the Ravens' 24-yard line.

Nickel cornerback Corey Graham gave up four catches for 63 yards with three going for first downs. These first downs were a gain of 11 on second and five, a gain of 21 on first and 10 putting the ball on the Baltimore 9-yard line, and a gain of 19 on first down and 10. On the play where Ihedigbo had his overturned interception, Graham was beaten deep by the receiver but Tannehill under-threw the pass allowing Ihedigbo to get to it. Graham did have two good pass deflections though on an under-thrown deep pass and a diving breakup on a third and two pass.

Offense Needs To Produce: Ravens vs Dolphins

October 4, 2013 in What to Look For

In a 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills last week, the Baltimore Ravens' offense turned the ball over five times (all interceptions). The offense also ran the ball a total of nine times for 24 yards. Despite this dreadful performance, the Ravens only lost by three, and were on a drive with about one minute left in the game but, predictably, they turned it over. This week, the 2-2 Ravens continue their travels as they head to Miami to face the 3-1 Dolphins.

1.  Joe Flacco
Throwing those five interceptions was the quarterback, Flacco. Making matters worse was that the Bills' secondary was missing three starters and a total of four players.

This week he will need to bounce back against the Dolphins who have the 24th ranked passing defense based on yards per game (297).

At this point in his career, Flacco has had no problem bouncing back from a bad day. After throwing three or more interceptions in one game, he is 3-0 in the next game. In these games he has a passing rating of 123.9, a completion percentage of 70.2, and has thrown five touchdowns. Most importantly though, he has thrown zero interceptions in these games which is quite impressive. This shows that Flacco is able to put these bad games behind him and move on to the next one. If you want to be a top quarterback in the NFL, you need to be able to put these game behind you.

None of those games that he had to bounce back from were as bad — interception wise — as last week. Five interceptions is a new career high for Flacco. These aren't the type of career highs that Flacco wants to be setting, especially after becoming one of the highest paid players in the entire league this offseason.

One way for Flacco to have a bounce-back game is to target running back Ray Rice more. Rice, who is normally one of the most targeted Ravens in the passing game, was only targeted once against the Bills and he never had a chance to catch the pass as Flacco forced it into double coverage in the back of the end zone.

Expect the Ravens to come out running a few short passes to get Flacco's confidence up. A play that the Ravens like to run that would fit this is a play-action pass to fullback Vonta Leach. After that, expect the Ravens to try and go deep, which is Flacco's strength.

2.  Run Game
One way to help Flacco out is to actually gain some yards in the running game. Normally a team that focuses on running the ball, the Ravens are averaging 2.6 yards per carry, which is tied for second worst in the league.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

The source of this problem is the offensive line which isn't opening up any holes. At running back, the Ravens have Rice and Bernard Pierce which is one of the best one-two punches in the league but it doesn't matter how good your running backs are if the offensive line can't create any holes.

To try and fix this problem, the Ravens traded for left tackle Eugene Monroe this week. Playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Monroe didn't get much media attention but Pro Football Focus graded him as the 10th best left tackle in the NFL last season. His main strength is pass blocking but he is a quality run blocker as well. He is certainly an upgrade over current left tackle Bryant McKinnie whose overall play, espcially run blocking, has been poor all season.

Currently, it is unknown if Monroe will play on Sunday as his first practice with the Ravens was yesterday. He needs time to be able to get down the playbook and the offensive line calls that the Ravens use. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said the amount of playing time that Monroe will receive Sunday depends on how fast he is able to learn the Ravens playbook and line calls. This makes sense; even though Monroe is better than McKinnie, they don't want to send him out there if he isn't ready.

Not helping he situation is the Dolphins' run defense which ranked 10th in the league allowing 98.5 yards per game. However, they allow 4.2 yards per carry which is 24th in the league. This disparity comes from the fact that the Dolphins have been leading in most games that they have played so their opponent has needed to pass more then run.

There is no way that the Ravens' running game can get worse, so it has to get better this week. Right?

3.  Pass Rush
So far this season, the most consistent part of the Ravens has been the pass rush, which is led by outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

Over the first four games of the season, the Ravens have 13 sacks, which is tied for seventh best in the league. The Dolphins offensive line is tied for last in the NFL allowing 18 sacks, which equates to a whopping 4.5 sacks per game.

Facing Suggs for most of the game will be second-year left tackle Jonathan Martin. In his rookie season, Martin played right tackle and struggle immensely. This offseason, he switched to his college position of left tackle and the results aren't exactly better. He has allowed four sacks so far which is tied for second worst out of all offensive tackles, left or right. Considering how Suggs is playing right now, this will be a concern for the Dolphins. Expect them to either leave a tight end or running back in to block on Suggs' side to try and stop him.

With a sack this week, Suggs will tie a Ravens' franchise record of five consecutive games with at least half a sack. So this season, he has had a full sack in each game. This ties his old record where he had a sack in his first four games as a pro.

If the Ravens are to win this game, they need to pressure Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This pressure could lead to mistakes from him and mistakes lead to turnovers, which lead to points.

4.  Force Turnovers
Coming into this game, the Dolphins have a record of 3-1 and turnovers have played a key role in every game that they have played. When the Dolphins win, they have two turnovers and in their only loss they had four turnovers.

All of the Dolphins turnovers this season have come from Tannehill. He has thrown for four interceptions and has lost two fumbles.

On the Ravens' side of things (defensively speaking that is), they have forced five turnovers this season (three interceptions and two forced fumbles). Surprisingly, in their two wins, the defense has only forced one turnover.

The best way to stop any offense is to force turnovers and the Dolphins' offense is no different. The one game where they failed to take care of the ball, they lost.

As stated above, the best way to do this is by getting pressure on Tannehill. If he is has to hurry his decision-making process, he will makes mistakes and since he is only in his second season, he is more likely to make mistakes when under pressure.

If the Ravens are to win this game, they need to force at least two turnovers. Not only do they need to force turnovers, the offense then needs to capitalize on these turnovers and turn them into points.

Defense and Special Teams Sparks Victory

September 23, 2013 in Observations

On a day where Ray Lewis and Ed Reed returned to M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens defense led the way to a 30-9 victory over the Houston Texans. This victory puts the Ravens at 2-1 and drops the Texans to 2-1. With this win, the Ravens now have a 14 game win streak in home games during the month of September and they are 17-1 in their last 18 home games against non-divsional opponents.

With 15 penalties for 143 yards at halftime, this game had the most first half penalties in one game so far this season and by the end of the game the 24 accepted penalties are the most so far this season.

For the second straight week, the Ravens' defense allowed no touchdowns, just three field goals, all in the first half.

The Texans started out strong grabbing a 6-0 lead and this lead could have been 14-0 if not for strong red zone defense. With the Ravens' offense struggling in the first half (65 total yards), their defense and special teams took over with an interception returned for a touchdown by linebacker Daryl Smith and a punt return for a touchdown by Tandon Doss within a span of two minutes. After these two plays, the Ravens had new life and the Texans were never the same.

Also, the Ravens released S Brynden Trawick today after claiming S Jeromy Miles off of waivers from the Cincinnati Bengals.

Special Teams
Starting with the obvious, Doss returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown with one minute left in the first half. Occurring soon after Smith's interception, this punt return gave the Ravens all the momentum heading into halftime. On the return, Doss fielded the punt and ran up the near side of the field. He went untouched and for the last 45 yards, he was right along the sidelines. His momentum almost carried him out-of-bounds but he was able to fight that and stay in-bounds. Punter Shane Lechler's 58-yard punt outkicked his coverage on the play and Doss made him pay. This is Doss' first career punt return for a touchdown and is the 5th longest in Ravens history. Cut during the final roster cuts before the season, Doss was only re-signed after week one when starting returner Jacoby Jones went down with an injury.

Tandon Doss

Courtesy of ICON SMI

When you take away Doss" return, the Ravens' special teams didn't perform well, getting called for four of the Ravens 10 penalties. The first of which came on the Texans first drive. The Texans had lined up for a field goal on a fourth and four but, the Ravens had 12 men on the field so a penalty was called. This gave the Texans a first down and allowed them to continue their drive. Although the Texans ended up only scoring a field goal on this drive, the penalty greatly shortened the distance of this field goal.

On the ensuing kickoff from the Texans first field goal, the Ravens offense was set up at their own seven-yardline by a holding penalty. This was called on rookie John Simon.

On a Ravens punt, another rookie, Trawick was called for a penalty, this time a personal foul. This penalty gave the Texans the ball at the Ravens 29. With this field position, the Texans were already in field goal range and they ended up kicking one. This is probably the reason that he was released to day as the only reason he made the team was due to special teams contributions and he had a costly penalty and he was the one who ran into Jones week one, injuring him.

The last of these four special teams penalties can on a punt return. Courtney Upshaw was penalized for holding, setting the offense up at their own five.

Overall, when you take away Doss' touchdown, the Ravens' special teams was very poor basically giving the Texans free points and pinning their own offense inside their own 10.

Joe Flacco
For the entire first half, the Ravens offense struggled to move the ball, though they weren't helped by bad field position. Flacco is a big part of that as in the end, the responsibility of the offense will always fall to him.

Throwing for 171 yards, Flacco went 16-of-24 with no touchdowns or interceptions and a QB rating of 87.3. It wasn't a spectacular performance but it got the job done.

In the second half, the offense came out throwing more and was more aggressive with these passes. After not throwing deep at all in the first half, Flacco tried going deep multiple times on the opening drive of the first half and the offense found a rhythm, driving 80 yards in nine plays, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from Bernard Pierce.

The best part of Flacco's day comes from his snap count. He was constantly confusing the Texans with it, forcing five offsides penalties, giving the Ravens much more manageable down and distances. One time, this hard count caused a false start by fullback Vonta Leach, but by then, the game was already won as there were just two minutes left in the game.

Torrey Smith
Catching five passes for 92 yards, Smith the Ravens in receiving yards for the third straight week. His nine targets on Sunday also led the team.

Two of his catches went for first downs, both on the same drive. First of which came on a third and 13 from the Ravens own 17-yardline. Smith ran a fly route and Flacco hit him for a gain of 48 yards — the longest play from scrimmage for the Ravens so far this season. Later in the drive, he caught a second and seven pass for a gain of 23 yards. However, the Texans challenged this play and it was overturned as Smith didn't have full possession of the ball as he rolled out-of-bounds after his leaping catch. The next play, Smith caught a short crossing route and gained 25 yards, most of it after the catch, setting the Ravens up at the Houston eight-yardline. Four plays later, the Ravens scored a touchdown.

Coming out of halftime, the Ravens made it a clear priority to target Smith more and this led to more success from the offense. He is the Ravens' top receiver so this only make sense.

Offensive Line
Another underwhelming performance by the Ravens' offense line. If you just look at the Texans' defensive stat line, it doesn't look bad as the Texans only had two sack and two other quarterback hits in 26 pass attempts. However, sacks and hits don't tell the whole story as the Texans seemed to get some sort of pressure on most pass attempts.

In the running game, Pierce had no holes to run through, so having a healthy Ray Rice would have made no difference. The offensive line couldn't move the Texans front seven out of the way and it showed. Pierce was constantly having to dodge defenders in the backfield. The Ravens ran 31 times for 75 yards, an average of 2.4 yards per carry. When you take away the 25-yard run that Pierce had when there actually was a hole, the Ravens averaged a putrid 0.6 yards per carry. Let that sink in.

Right tackle Michael Oher gave up a strip-sack on a third and 33 for a loss of two yards. On the first play of the second half, Oher was beaten by J.J. Watt for a sack which resulted in a loss of nine yards.

Right guard Marshal Yanda was able to recover the aforementioned fumble. Other than this, Yanda had a quiet day going back and fourth with Watt.

Center Gino Gradkowski had another quiet day as well. He isn't doing anything awful, but he also isn't doing anything great so far this year.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele was whistled for a holding penalty which set up a first and 20 for the Ravens.

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie had the worst day off all Ravens offensive linemen, being called for two penalties and giving up one sack. The first penalty came on a first and 10 where he was called for a facemask, taking away an 18-yard pass to Ed Dickson. However, this was a questionable call. A few plays later, on third and 18, McKinnie was called for the exact same penalty, only this time is was blatantly obvious. By himself, McKinnie was able to completely kill the Ravens third drive of the game.

Arthur Jones and Haloti Ngata
Since both of these two had extremely similar days, I'll talk about them together.

They had the exact same stat line in the box score: three tackles with one sack. Not only that, but they beat the same offensive linemen for their sack, left guard Wade Smith. Jones beat him on a first and 10 with a bull rush for a loss of seven yards. Ngata beat Smith with a swim move on a second and seven for a loss of nine.

The only difference between these two is that Jones got great penetration on a first and 10 run that blew the play up. Other than that, their play was very similar.

Terrell Suggs
Expected to have a bounce-back year after an injured riddled season led to just two sacks, Suggs is living up to expectations so far, recording sacks in all three games so far.

This week's sack came on a second and nine play where he beat right tackle Derek Newton with a perfect inside spin move causing a loss of eight yards. Making this sack even more impressive was the fact that the Newton was called for holding Suggs on the play. Just a play earlier, Suggs missed a sack as quarterback Matt Schaub was able to step up in the pocket and avoid Suggs.

For the day, Suggs recorded two tackles and his sack. One of these tackles was a run stop for a gain of one, so he made the most out of his plays that made it into the box score.

Daryl Smith
The big play that Smith made was his interception that he returned for a touchdown. This play changed the momentum of the game as it gave the Ravens the lead despite having done absolutely nothing on offense.

Despite having already played two games this season, this was the Ravens first interception of the season. On this interception, Smith jumped a short pass to Owen Daniels on a first and 10. He then went untouched for a 37-yard touchdown. This type of play comes from watching lots of film and reading the eyes of the quarterback. Smith knew that Schaub was going to throw it to Daniels so he was able to jump the route. This is his seventh career interception and his first career touchdown. Since 2003, the Ravens have 30 interceptions returned for touchdowns, the most in this time frame.

Other than his interception, Smith had another good day recording 10 tackles, 1 QB hit, and a pass deflection. He was able to get a run stop for a gain of one and also gave up one pass in coverage on a first down for a gain of nine.

James Ihedigbo
Expected to be replaced by rookie Matt Elam, Ihedigbo has quietly put in a great season so far, including an outstanding game against the Texans.

James Ihedigbo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Recording nine tackles, with two for a loss, and 2 pass deflections, Ihedigbo had a great statistical day, stats never tell the whole story. In run defense, Ihedigbo had three run stops for short gains. The first came on first and goal on the Texans first drive where he made the tackle for a loss of two. The other two stops were for gains of two and one. In the Ravens' defense, the strong safety needs to be a good run defender and Ihedigbo was exactly that yesterday.

In pass coverage, he was equally as good. I have him down as giving up zero catches on the day. On a running back screen play, he burst through the Texans blockers and was able to stop the play for a loss of two yards. The following play, Doss returns his punt for a touchdown.

The first of his two impressive plays in pass coverage came on third and goal on the Texans first drive. Ihedigbo had tight coverage on his man and was able to break the pass up, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal.

The other play came on a fourth and two with about five minutes left in the game. The Texans ran a screen to running back Arian Foster (lined up as a wide receiver) and Ihedigbo had him in man coverage as the only defender on that side of the field. He was able to disrupt that pass forcing an incompletion. Right away, he diagnosed that is was a screen and he was with Foster step-for-step.

Overall, Ihedigbo had two stops on goal-to-go situations on the Texans first drive and stopped the Texans last important offensive play. Add that tow three other impressive plays and you have yourself a great game.

Matt Elam
Making his second start of his career, Elam had another solid but unspectacular day. After Michael Huff's week one performance, the Ravens won't be complaining about solid but unspectacular for awhile.

Elam made five tackles and had one pass deflection. In coverage he allowed two passes to be caught, both going for first downs. The first was a first and 10 pass that went for 12 yards and the second was a second and four pass that went for four yards. On a third a four play inside the Ravens' 30-yardline, Elam had tight coverage which forced a bad pass, leading to an incompletion. For most of the game, Elam was playing in a deep zone, making sure the Ravens weren't beat deep.

Cornerbacks
In a game where the Texans passed 35 times with 25 competitions, the cornerbacks allowed most of these.

Number one cornerback Lardarius Webb allowed six catches with four of them going for first downs. Of the ones that went for first downs, three of these were on second down and one was on third down. He did allow a third down catch to Andre Johnson for a loss of one as Johnson bobbled the ball on the play. Webb had seven tackles with one pass deflection.

Starting ahead of Corey Graham for the second straight game, Jimmy Smith allowed seven catches with four of them going for first downs. The Texans seemed to target him on first downs as he allowed six of his catches then with the other coming on third down. He was whistled for illegal contact when he was beaten by rookie DeAndre Hopkins on a double move. Smith also had a good pass breakup on a play late in the game. Smith had six tackles and one pass deflection.

Graham only allowed one catch but the Texans didn't target him much at all. The one catch that he did allow was on third and four where he gave up five yards. Graham had a total of three tackles on the day.

Defense Leads Ravens To Victory

September 17, 2013 in Observations

What a difference a week makes. Last week, the Denver Broncos torched the Baltimore Ravens' defense for 49 points on the way to a 49-27 victory over the Ravens. This week, the Ravens' defense rose to the occasion, allowing just 259 totals yards and held the Cleveland Browns to just 6 points in the Ravens 14-6 victory.

Constant pressure disrupted the Browns' offense and an improved secondary had tight coverage throughout the game.

For the first half of the game, the Ravens' offense couldn't get much going and had to settle for two field goal attempts–50 yards and 44 yards. However, the usually reliable Justin Tucker missed both of these attempts wide right, giving the Browns a 6-0 lead heading into half time.

In the second half, the offense was able to finish off drives, scoring two touchdowns after an added emphasis on the run game.

Joe Flacco
Less than one hour before game time, Flacco's wife, Dana, gave birth to their second child, who was named Daniel. Despite this, Flacco played for the Ravens and was able to lead them to victory in their home opener.

For the game, Flacco went 22-of-33 for 211 yards and one touchdown pass with a QBR of 57 and a QB rating of 94.4. He started off strong, going 6-of-11 but soon cooled down throughout the rest of the first half. In the second half, the Ravens came out in a hurry-up offense, something Flacco has had success in before and marched right down the field for a touchdown

His main target was wide receiver Torrey Smith but on key third downs, he looked for, and found, wide receiver Brandon Stokley. Stokley caught three of his four passes for first downs, and all three of them came on third down. Two of these were first downs that kept touchdown drives alive, instead of having to settle for a field goal.

When Flacco was off-target, his throws ended up being high, as usual.

Running Backs
Running the ball 36 times, both of the Ravens running back got in their work on Sunday. Starter Ray Rice ran 13 times for 36 times and backup Bernard Pierce rushed 19 times for 57 yards and one touchdown.

Rice also added three catches for nine yards and seven of these yards came on one screen pass. Rushing the ball, he ran for two first downs and had one fumble. His fumble came on a second and eight and a Browns defender was just able to get a hand on the ball and knock it out. The Browns recovered the ball on the Baltimore 45-yardline but, the defense stopped the Browns from getting any points.

On the second play of the game Rice got into a confrontation with Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor who was flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting Rice on the helmet. Taylor claims that Rice spat on him but  you can't tell based off of the video replay whether Rice did or not.

In the fourth quarter, Rice left the game after going down untouched, holding his left hip. After the game it was determined that he strained his left hip flexor and had been ruled as day-to-day.

Pierce was able to find more success than Rice when running the ball. However, he still only averaged three yards per carry compared to Rice's 2.8. Like Rice, Pierce ran for two first downs. Receiving—not one of Pierce's strong points—he had caught one pass for minus two yards.

Rarely did Pierce go down after first contact. Two prime examples of this come on back-to-back plays. On first and ten from the Cleveland 13-yardline, Pierce took a handoff and ran eight yards, breaking multiple tackles. The following play, Pierce scored a five-yard touchdown. On this touchdown, he seemed to be stopped one yard short of the endzone but was able to power through two Cleveland defenders to reach the endzone.

Due to Rice's injury, Pierce played more snaps than expected and he impressed in these snaps rushing and in pass protection. In pass protection, he had multiple good blitz pickups, allowing Flacco to get a pass off.

Torrey Smith
Targeted early and often, Smith was clearly Flacco's favorite target on Sunday. Leading the Ravens with 13 targets, Smith caught seven passes for 85 yards, all while going up against Joe Haden, a top cover cornerback. Of his seven catches, four of them went for first downs.

Torrey Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Used a mainly a deep threat last season, Smith has become the Ravens' number one receiver and with that comes more variety in pass routes. Against the Browns, Smith ran lots of underneath routes with many crossing routes and curls.

His day could have been better though as he caught a touchdown pass out-of-bounds. The throw from Flacco was right on his hands but Smith bobbled the pass and by the time he recovered possession of the ball, he was out-of-bounds. Another pass that Smith missed was a little harder. Early in the game, he tried to make a leaping, twisting catch, going across his body but the ball went just by his hands. This shouldn't be counted against Smith though as it was a bad pass by Flacco and Smith was open so Flacco needs to get a better pass there.

Marlon Brown
Two games into his NFL career, Brown is already setting records for the Ravens. With his touchdown catch yesterday, Brown became the first Ravens' rookie to catch a touchdown pass in his first two games. Making this even more impressive is that Brown was an undrafted free agent.

For the day, Brown caught four passes for 45 yards and one touchdown on six targets, with two of these catches going for first downs. Mid-fourth quarter, Brown had an impressive three play sequence. On a third and seven, Brown caught a 18-yard pass, bringing the ball to the Browns 6-yardline. After a one-yard run by Pierce, Brown caught a five yard touchdown pass.

On this touchdown, Brown lined up an outside receiver and ran a simple slant route. Open by a couple of step, Flacco threw it to Brown who dove into the endzone for a touchdown.

Offensive Line
As an overall summary of the offensive line, they weren't able to get much push in the run game, hence the 2.8 yards per carry on rushing attempts. Combined, they gave up two sacks and were called for zero penalties, which is something to be proud of as a unit.

Moving on to individuals, right tackle Michael Oher had a good day. Oher kept Paul Kruger from getting a quarterback hit, a big accomplishment considering that Oher was coming off a sprained ankle. He did give up a pressure on third and seven though, along with two other linemen, in what is best described as a combined failure. Lastly, he allowed Jabaal Sheard to hit Flacco as he threw, forcing an incompletion.

Right guard Marshal Yanda and center Gino Gradkowski both had quite days, a good thing for offensive linemen. They were the only two linemen not involved in the combined failure on the one play.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele allowed a sack along with left tackle Bryant McKinnie, so both get credited with half of a sack there. McKinnie was beaten on a speed rush by Browns rookie Barkevious Mingo for a sack early in the game.

Terrell Suggs
Of all the Ravens' defenders, Suggs was the one getting the most pressure on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden. Despite going up against All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, Suggs was getting into the backfield all day long, recording six tackles, one sack, and three quarterbacks hits. The box score doesn't tell the whole story though.

Starting with run defense, Suggs have a run stop after a gain of three yards when the Browns where inside the Ravens' 10-yardline on their first drive. On a second and two, Suggs got into the backfield right away and blew up a run play. While he didn't make the tackle, Josh Bynes did, Suggs did most of the work as he slowed Richardson down and effectively stopped the run in its tracks.

Moving on to pass rushing, as stated, Suggs had success against Thomas. On Suggs' sack, he beat Thomas with a speed rush to the outside and forced Weeden to move up in the pocket. Arthur Jones then missed the sack and Suggs was able to make his way back around to take Weeden down for a loss of two. One the sack that Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown shared, Suggs also had pressure and ended up on top of Weeden with Smith and Brown. On a second and seven with seven seconds left in the first half, Suggs, along with Terrence Cody got instant pressure and forced Weeden to throw the ball away. With three minutes left in the game, the Browns had a forth and ten and Suggs was able to flush Jason Campbell (in for the injured Weeden) out of the pocket.

Elvis Dumervil
On the outside with Suggs is Dumervil and like Suggs, he also had a big game, recording four tackles, one sack, and three quarterback hits.

Not known for his run defense, Dumervil had a run stop, along with an assist from Daryl Smith, after a gain of two yards. Dumervil also assisted Haloti Ngata on a run stop for a short gain.

Dumervil gave Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz problems all game long with his speed rush. Unsurprisingly then, Dumervil's sack came on a speed rush where Schwartz never got his hands on Dumervil until it was way to late. This sack occurred on third and ten from the Ravens' 41-yardline and resulted in a loss of nine yards. Two plays earlier, on first down, Suggs recorded his sack, so Suggs and Dumervil stopped a Browns drive single-handed.

Daryl Smith
In a box score stuffing effort, Smith had a game-high 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and two quarterback hits. His 1.5 sacks are a career high.

Daryl Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with pass coverage, Smith allowed four catches with two of them going for first downs. The two first downs came and a third and four (gain of 12) and a first and ten (gain of 12). The two other catches were when he was in coverage with James Ihedigbo where they stopped the receiver one yard short of the first down on third down and a first and ten where he gave up four yards. On a  second and 18, Smith deflected a pass. Later on in the game, he dropped an interception after Jimmy Smith tipped a pass right to him.

Smith was able to make up for this dropped interception by recording a sack two plays later on a third and ten for a loss of ten yards. Early in the game, Smith had a pressure on a blitz but overran Weeden and missed the sack. Another pressure came on a third and ten much later in the game where his pressure forced an incompletion. His half sack came on a third and four play on the first snap after the two minute warning in the first half. Along with Arthur Brown, Smith got to Weeden bringing him down for a loss of nine.

Moving to run defense, Smith assisted Dumervil on a run stop after a gain of two yards. On a toss play, Smith missed a tackle on Browns running back Trent Richardson. Smith had Richardson wrapped up for a gain of three yards but Richardson was able to escape, gaining four more yards.

Safeties
After a poor outing against the Broncos, veteran Michael Huff was benched in favor of rookie Matt Elam at free safety and James Ihedigbo stayed put at strong safety. Elam ended the game with five tackles and Ihedigbo had two.

Starting off with Elam, he allowed two catches both going for first downs. The first of these catches came on the first defensive play of the game for the Ravens. Tight end Jordan Cameron ran deep and caught a 53-yard pass. Elam was playing a deep-middle zone and wasn't able to get over in time to stop the pass. The other pass came on a second and six, giving up 21 yards to Cameron again. This pass was lofted between Elam and Daryl Smith who were both in zone coverage. On a third and seven, Elam was finally able to get the better of Cameron as Elam's tight coverage forced an incompletion. Late in the game, Elam was called for one of the Ravens' three penalties, a 21-yard pass interference call. For the most part this was a good first start for the rookie out of Florida.

Huff didn't get much playing time due to Elam taking his starting spot, and most of this time came on special teams. The one time I did notice Huff on defense was the play were Elam was flagged for pass interference. On this play Huff dropped an interception, though it would have been called back due to the penally.

The first noteworthy play that Ihedigbo made was a pressure on a blitz coming around the right tackle. In coverage, Ihedigbo only allowed one reception and wasn't really tested by the Browns during the game. In the second half, the Browns opened up with a couple of toss plays but Ihedigbo completely blew one of them up by blitzing to this side and getting deep into the backfield. He didn't make the tackle but his penetration set the edge and forced Richardson back inside where a gang of Ravens were waiting to tackle him. This play ended up going for a three yard loss. On special teams he was flagged for a holding penalty while blocking for a punt. Not a punt return, a punt. Ihedigbo was beaten by the man he had to block so instead of risking having the punt blocked, he held him. This wasn't that bad of a penalty as it saved a possible blocked punt.

Cornerbacks
Up last are the cornerbacks: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Corey Graham. Webb paced the group with nine tackles followed by Graham with four tackles and Smith with three tackles and three pass deflections.

While a high tackle total from a cornerback usually means that they gave up many receptions, however, with Webb this is almost never the case. Webb is a rare cornerback who excels in both pass coverage and run defense. In this game, he only gave up three catches with two them going for first downs. The one that didn't going for a first down was a gain of three on first and ten. The two that did go for first downs were a gain of 22 on second and nine (aided by a missed tackle by Webb) and an eight yard gain on second and seven. In the run game, Webb had a run stop for a gain of four yards and was involved in a couple of other tackles.

The most impressive game from a cornerback yesterday was by Smith. Against the Broncos, Smith gave up over 100 yards in coverage and one touchdown. This week saw Smith give up three catches with two of them for first downs. The two that went for first downs were a gain of 18 on a first and ten and he allowed a three yard gain on third and three, injuring himself in the process, missing only a few plays. The one completion that wasn't a first down was a quick screen, not something that a cornerback can breakup when they are playing of the line-of-scrimmage. Smith did a great job on this play though as he came right up and slowed the receiver down enough for the rest of the defense to come over and stop the screen after a gain of three. One of his pass breakups went right to Daryl Smith but he dropped it. Another was on a corner route where Smith was able to jump up and bat the pass away before the receiver could catch it. The up-and-down play from Smith continues as he follows up a bad game with a great game. If he can cut down on the bad games, then him and Webb will form top cornerback tandem.

While Smith had a bad game against the Broncos, Graham had an awful game, causing Smith to actually get the start against the Browns. This game was pretty uneventful for Graham as he had one special teams tackle and allowed two passes to be completed against him. The first of which came on a third an eight and Graham was able to push the receiver out-of-bounds three yards short of the first down. The other reception went for a first down on a third and four where he allowed an eight yard catch. Both of these catches were on short crossing routes.

The Return Of Football: Ravens vs Broncos

September 4, 2013 in What to Look For

While it may not seem like it, the NFL season will start in two days with the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens heading to Denver to face the Broncos in a rematch of one of the best games, if not the best game, from last season where the Ravens stunned the heavily favored Broncos 38-35 in double overtime.

1.  New Players

By now, everyone knows the story of the Ravens offseason.  They lost many key players on both offense and defense and have since replaced them, but nobody knows how they will play in-game for the Ravens.  We have seen them in limited preseason time but considering the Detroit Lions team that went 0-16 in the regular season went 4-0 in the preseason, it wouldn't be smart to judge anyone off of their preseason play.

The most roster turnover is on defense where there will be seven different starters from the starting lineup from Super Bowl XLVII.  On the defensive line, Chris Canty comes in and will start at defensive end and the 6'7" Canty is a great fit for the position.  There will be three new starters at linebackers where Elvis Dumervil comes in on the outside and Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes will play on the inside.  The secondary has three new starters as well in cornerback Lardarius Webb who is coming of a torn ACL and Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo at safety.

Out of these seven, the main player to watch is Dumervil as he will be going up against his former team.  The split between these two was very publicized and became known as "Faxgate."  Paired with Terrell Suggs, Dumervil should make an impact with his pass rushing ability.

On the offense, everyone is looking at the receiver position and who can replace the production of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.  Brandon Stokley will contribute as a slot receiver but someone else is needed as well.  The candidates are Deonte Thompson, Aaron Mellette, and Marlon Brown.  Thompson is injured and probably won't play, which leaves Mellette and Brown.  Brown showed the best connection with Flacco in preseason, but that needs to be shown in a real game.  After this game, we should get a better look at who else will be a key contributor in the passing game.

This game is going to be won or lost depending on how these new players play.

2.  Offensive Line

During the Ravens playoff run last season, the most important thing for their success was the offensive line.  The line was moved around for the playoffs and played the best it had all season.  Quarterback Joe Flacco had plenty of time to find receivers behind the revamped line and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce found plenty of running lanes.

Elvis Dumervil

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This play needs to continue into this season for Flacco and the Ravens to be successful.  There has been one change on the offensive line as Gino Gradkowski takes over for the retired Matt Birk at center.  While there might be some growing pains, the transition from Birk to Gradkowski should go over well.

Last year when the Ravens faced off against the Broncos, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil were playing for the Broncos and giving offensive lines fits.  Now, they have neither as Miller is suspended for the first six games of the season and Dumervil is now a Raven.  In two games against the Ravens last year, Miller and Dumervil combined for 2 sacks and 7 QB hits.

Replacing that pass rush will be Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers who combined for 11.5 sacks compared to the 29.5 sacks from Miller and Dumervil.  Those 29.5 sacks accounted for 56.7 percent of the Broncos 52 sacks from last season.

Offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher will have a much easier time trying to block Phillips and Ayers instead of Miller and Dumervil.  This will allow Flacco more time to find open receivers and he showed during last year's playoffs that he can be a dangerous quarterback when he has time to throw.

3.  Stopping the Pass

The Broncos passing game has the potential to be lights outs.  With future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, you don't need to have a top receiving corps, but the Broncos do with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker.  This combination can give defensive coordinators nightmares.

These three receivers form arguably the best receiving corps in the league.  Thomas is the deep threat, Decker is a sure-handed receiver, and Welker is the perfect slot receiver.  Welker sprained his ankle in the preseason but is expected to be fine for the season opener.

Stopping the passing game will be a tough assignment.  In order to do this, the Ravens defense will have to confuse Manning at the line-of-scrimmage with different looks, trying to make him think the defense is doing one thing when they are doing another.  If the defense can do this, they will have won half of the battle.  However, Manning is one of the best at diagnosing defenses and audibling to a play that works good against the defense.  Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was great at changing the defense's calls when Manning changed his, but Lewis has retired, and Daryl Smith now has his job.

The Ravens secondary will have their hands full no matter what.  Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' number one cornerback, missed both match-ups with the Broncos last year due to a torn ACL.  Corey Graham intercepted Manning twice in the playoffs, including one that was returned for a touchdown.  The nickel cornerback will be Jimmy Smith who has been up-and-down throughout his NFL career.  Forth cornerback Chykie Brown will see some time in sub-packages as well.  When this happens, Webb and Graham will move inside to cover the slot receivers and Smith and Brown will take the outside ones.  Webb has shutdown Welker from the slot before, when Welker was with the New England Patriots.

With all the new players on the Ravens' defense, communication is going to be a huge factor.  They haven't played a full game together yet so nobody knows how well they will communicate.  Manning is a big test for this due to his audibles.  The defense will have to be communicating before every play to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to.  The lack of playing time together for the defense could become an issue.

The main reason that the stopping the pass will be important is that the Broncos running game is anything but stable right now.  Ronnie Hillman is having fumbling issues and wasn't very effective in spot time last season, Montee Ball is a rookie and it is unknown what he will offer, and Knowshon Moreno keeps getting relegated to the backups but then becomes a starter after the other backs fail.

With the running game being uncertain, the Broncos will rely on their passing game to try and win the game.  If the Ravens can slow this passing game down, they can probably stop the Broncos entire offense.

4.  Special Teams

Often overlooked, special teams played a big role in both the Ravens' 2012 season and the playoff matchup against the Broncos.

After not giving up a return touchdown at all in the regular season, the Ravens' coverage teams suffered a meltdown in the divisional playoffs against the Broncos where they allowed Trindon Holliday to return a punt 90 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown.

Broncos kicker Matt Prater missed a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter.  This miss turned out to be crucial as the Ravens used the good field position they received from the miss to drive for a quick touchdown right before the half ended.

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker won the game with a 47-yard field goal in the second overtime.  Just in this one game, special teams had a big impact.

For the Ravens regular season, special teams were key throughout.  Returner Jacoby Jones had two kickoff returns and one punt return for a touchdown in the regular season.  Adding to that, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.  Without Jones' returns, the Ravens season would have looked very different.  The punt return for touchdown was crucial as it was the only touchdown that the Ravens scored in a win over the Steelers.

As a rookie kicker, Tucker more than exceeded expectations as he went 30-of-33 for the season in the regular season and 4-of-4 in the postseason.

In this game, special teams will be important for a few reasons.  If either team gets a return touchdown, they will probably end up winning as this should be a very close game.  Since it should be a close game, field position will be huge, so punting will be important in setting up field position for each team.  Lastly, a field goal very well could decide this game, like before, so both kickers will need to be on top of their game.