Daily Focus: Ravens could be run-heavy in 2016
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Flacco’s struggles, injury, mean Ravens right to be run first in 2016: Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said the Ravens are a run-first team, with plenty of people finding amusement in the fact that they are paying quarterback Joe Flacco an average of $22.1 million until 2022, yet their offensive coordinator views their offense as going through the running game more.
He’s right though, and he’s right for a variety of reasons.
Joe Flacco is coming off a serious knee injury, with uncertainty around how confident he’ll be in his knee, or how he’ll overcome that first big hit he takes when he is back out on the field. And it’s fair to consider how good Flacco actually was when healthy last year too. The Ravens had plenty of injury issues to contend with before their starting signal caller went down, but Flacco was playing poorly throughout the year.
He was our 24th-rated starting quarterback last year, and really struggled under pressure, where he had a 42.8 quarterback rating from the 130 dropbacks where he felt pressure. There was almost a 46-point swing in his quarterback rating compared with plays where he wasn’t under pressure, coming in at 98.7 on those 300 dropbacks. Considering he struggled with pressure last year, before injury, and has already stated that he is unsure how he’ll react to getting hit when he is back on the field, there’s plenty of uncertainty in the Ravens passing game just looking at the quarterback position alone.
That’s not even considering the question marks surrounding the playmakers around him, with Steve Smith Sr. coming off an Achilles injury, Breshad Perriman injuring his knee in minicamp after missing all of his rookie season and new signing Mike Wallace coming off a season where he was the fourth-lowest-graded receiver in all of football. That’s not to say that they won’t be good — they certainly have potential — but there are a lot of question marks at the receiver position to say the least.
Then you look at the Ravens offensive line, which should be one of the strengths of the team, at least on the right side, with Marshal Yanda not only the best guard in football, but also up there among the best offensive linemen full stop. A perfect fit for the Ravens offensive scheme, he has been our highest-graded guard in each of the past two seasons, excelling as a run-blocker. Center Jeremy Zuttah doesn’t quite challenge the top centers in the league for the crown, but he has graded positively in every season since he entered the league in 2008.
Right tackle Ricky Wagner did struggle last year, but he is just one year removed from being the highest-graded right tackle in all of football, so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to get back on track this year. If he can, the Ravens are set up well to run off the right, regardless of whether it’s Justin Forsett, Kenneth Dixon, Javorius Allen or any of the running backs fighting for playing time behind them.
The combination of Flacco’s comeback from a knee injury, his struggles pre-injury and the fact that the strength of the Ravens offense looks to be the right side of their offensive line, means they are set up to be a team that leans at least slightly on the running game early in 2016, regardless of how much they are paying their signal caller.
Smith battling injuries to prove he was a draft steal: One of our favorite picks in last year’s NFL draft was the New York Jets drafting Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Devin Smith in the second round. In a draft that had seen the Baltimore Ravens draft Breshad Perriman and the Indianapolis Colts draft Philip Dorsett as speedy deep threats at wide receiver, it was Ohio State’s Smith who had lead the nation with 754 yards and 10 touchdowns on passes travelling at least 20 yards in the air downfield in 2014.
Unfortunately for Smith, he’s battled two serious injuries despite only being in the league for one year. Broken ribs led to a punctured lung on a catch in training camp, and while he eventually got back on the field, he managed just nine receptions before a torn ACL ended his rookie season in December. Smith was fantastic at Ohio State, and dropped just two of the 35 catchable passes thrown his way, but as a rookie he struggled, dropping two of the 11 catchable passes thrown in his direction. He faces an uphill battle to be ready for the season starting in September, and then he has to prove that 2015 wasn’t a true reflection on how good he is.
Bears new QB will likely be their third-string quarterback at best: The Chicago Bears claimed former Cleveland Browns and South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, but it’s unlikely that either starting QB Jay Cutler or new backup Brian Hoyer will be concerned about losing their positions on the team. While Hoyer had the worst-graded playoff game in playoff history in the wild card round of the playoffs last year, a record he held for two weeks before that Carson Palmer performance in the NFC Championship game, he did have six positively graded starts last year.
Shaw has taken snaps in just one regular season game in his career, a -4.3-graded performance in Week 17 of the 2014 season. He really struggled throwing the ball downfield in that game, completing just one of the six passes of 20 yards or more downfield he attempted against the Baltimore Ravens. His lone completion downfield did go for 49 yards, but overall it wasn’t enough to expect him to be much more than a camp arm for the Bears, though he is at least a camp arm with an NFL start to his name.