PFF Preview 2011 – Baltimore Ravens

| August 16, 2011

No more Kelly Gregg. No more Todd Heap. No more Derrick Mason. Times are certainly changing in Baltimore.
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But despite the out-with-the-old approach, there’s still plenty of what made Baltimore such a tricky proposition on display. The question, however, is can their new players push them over a Pittsburgh-sized hump which seems destined to slow them down.
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There are some reasons to be confident, and some reasons to be concerned as we head into the 2011 season. As is the done thing, here’s five of each.
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Five Reasons to be Confident
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1) Sizzle and Substance

It’s hard to win games without having a guy who can get to the quarterback. For the Ravens, that guy is Terrell Suggs. He’s not just a good, but a great defensive end (and yes, he’s a defensive end). He was our 13th-ranked DE rushing the passer and finished the regular season with 69 quarterback disruptions. What makes Suggs so good is he’s not the type to sell out to get to the quarterback, and is one of the best DE’s at making plays in the run game. Only Trent Cole and Julius Peppers had higher grades in run defense.
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2) Ngata Problem

And by problem, I mean problem for the defense. There was always this issue with Haloti Ngata where he would occasionally not show up. Perhaps part of that can be attributed to overuse by the Ravens, but 2010 was the year where he became the game-to-game terror he had threatened to be. He had our third highest grade for defensive tackles despite a sluggish end to the season. If the Ravens can resist the temptation to play him such a high percentage of the time (he really doesn’t need to be on the field for so many third downs given his impact rushing the passer) he could really dominate.
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3) Re-signing Yanda

While it was generally a quiet free agency period for the Ravens, the big move they were able to make was keeping the extremely talented (and quite versatile) Marshal Yanda. The guard-become-tackle (or tackle-become-guard) was our second-ranked right tackle last year and 14th-ranked guard in 2009 despite only playing seven games. He’s pretty good. Given the troubles the Ravens are having at right tackle, he provides an excellent insurance policy if the pressure off the edge gets out of hand. If it doesn’t, then they’ve got a tremendous guard cemented in.
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4) Bengals and Browns

So it’s a nuisance having to unseat the Steelers atop the AFC North. But it could be much worse. They could have other teams on their tails. They don’t because both the Bengals and Browns are in rebuild mode. Life is a lot easier when the teams you’re competing with, aren’t able to fight back.
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5) Flacco – The Great Divider

This was one player I really didn’t know where to put. There’s a lot to like about Joe Flacco, and a lot that frustrates (as we’ll get to). Last year, he was our our 11th-ranked pure passer in the regular season and was even better when blitzed – have a look here and you’ll see he had the sixth highest grade of all quarterbacks when extra men are sent after him. So the man entering his fourth year has some skills and is more than capable (as he’s shown) of winning in the playoffs. How much of that is down to the talent around him? Keep reading …
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Five Reasons to be Concerned
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1) Flacco – The Great Divider

Firstly, thank you for taking my suggestion – it’s always important to keep reading when instructed to do so … so, where was I? Ah yes, Flacco. An above average quarterback who handled the blitz well, but a guy who struggled when pressure arrived. Flacco was our 28th-ranked quarterback when pressure got to him, strange, because he was so good in that regard in 2009. He also struggled on his deep balls, where he was only the 23rd most accurate passer on balls over twenty yards. So he has some work to do. Hopefully some new weapons will speed up that development but that remains to be seen.
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2) Finding Some Extra Pass Rush

They have Terrell Suggs. But after him what do they have coming off the edge? You’ll struggle to find people who appreciate what Jarret Johnson does more than us, but he’s not a great pass rusher. In fact, he’s a below average one that does nearly all of his best work in run defense. So if they want to take some of the pressure off T-Sizzle, they need for someone like Sergio Kindle to step up. Can he? It’s a big question.
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3) The Blindside: Featuring Sub Standard Play

As a rookie, Michael Oher had it all: movie hype, the top spot among tackles in his draft class, and he backed it up with exceptional play. At right tackle. Unfortunately, the Ravens have seen fit to place him at left tackle in the hope he can be the franchise left tackle they wanted Jared Gaither to be. At left tackle, Oher has had issue after issue and offseason reports don’t indicate he’s handling the task with any greater ease. He ended last year with a -12.2 pass blocking grade, a year after ending with a +4.4 (a great brought down by -3.9 in games he started at left tackle). He just struggles against the best rushers in the league, not ideal when you’re going up against James Harrison at least twice every year.
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4) Who is Catching What?

I’ll say it now. I was surprised when the Ravens released Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. I won’t pretend to be a cap expert, but both men still offer something pretty important: a reliable target. Mason isn’t the youngest receiver out there but his performances are chronically underrated. He can still go, and over the past three years has ranked sixth in our wide receiver ratings. New Cardinal Heap has been equally good, finishing as our sixth ranked receiving tight end last year, and seventh a year before. Lee Evans (different role as he’ll be asked to play) and Dennis Pita / Ed Dickson have some big shoes to fill which their previous performances have suggested is unlikely.
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5) Overcoming Pittsburgh

They always seem to play them close, but last year the Steelers were the better team. They picked up two big wins, and their only defeat to the Ravens occurred with Ben Roethlisberger suspended. So as good as the Ravens are – and they are good – have they developed as a team to bring down the well-oiled machine that is Pittsburgh? No one looks more like a wild card team than the Ravens. That extra game, and all the extra travelling that being a wild card team brings, will remain unless they can get past a Steelers team that has lost little.
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In Baltimore there are plenty of reasons to cheer, and some to jeer. They want to win the AFC North, but if they’re going to do so then some recent underachievers are going to have to make an impact along with a host of unproven talent. The defense still has that it factor. I didn’t even mention legends like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis such is the strength of the starters. But that will only carry them so far, and they simply need to play better if they want to be hosting home games in the playoffs.
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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • yaopau

    Thoughts on Boldin’s / Evans’ fantasy numbers this year?

  • Mike Daneshgar

    I just don’t understand Joe Flacco.

    As you say, he’s technically a better passer when blitzed, but still at the same time according to our very own Signature Stats, he has by far the worst “Pocket Presence.” So this means that he struggles at getting rid of the ball and evading the pass rush, yet somehow manages to excel under pressure.

  • regulator

    It’s “re-sign,” not resign.

  • naim15

    Flacco is fast. He should leave the pocket (scramble) more often.