Opponents Thoughts: Baltimore Ravens

Today we continue our summer time film series with a breakdown of the Baltimore Ravens.

When I study the Ravens, I have a great deal of respect for their head coach John Harbaugh who I worked with in Philadelphia but also the way that general manager Ozzie Newsome has built this team.

It might not be the most talented team say at wide receiver but I have always been a fan of Anquan Boldin and having watched Jacoby Jones just signed from the Houston Texans gives them an explosive vertical player on the outside. Boldin is a big-bodied receiver that doesn't have a burst or any type of deep speed but he runs well enough. He is a good route runner and he shows the ability to adjust his body to catch balls that are thrown poorly.

The best player on the offense is running back Ray Rice. What is the most impressive trait about Rice is his ability to play with vision. It's rare that you see Rice make the wrong read. He is one of those backs that is always playing down hill. Low center of gravity and a powerful lower body. Keeps his pad level down and defenders have a hard time getting a good shot on him to bring him to the ground. Very effective goal line runner that shows the ability to use power to get the ball home. Rice is also an outstanding pass receiver out of the back field. In 2011, he led the Ravens with 76 catches but what is most impressive is his ability to catch the ball in traffic. Rice can position his body in front of the defender or can catch the ball going a way.

The Ravens offensive line will have some question marks going into the 2012 season. Can former Bengals and Eagles guard Bobbie Williams take over for the steady Ben Grubbs who took the money and signed with the Saints? Will Bryant McKinnie still be able to hold up at left tackle? The matchup between he and DeMarcus Ware will be a difficult one because McKinnie will struggle to move his feet and tends to be slow out of his stance. Michael Oher at right tackle is not a bad player and will be able to hold his own on that side.

At quarterback, I have never been a big fan of Joe Flacco and I feel there are plenty enough times when you watch the Ravens play that they win despite of him taking the snaps. I believe you can say this about any quarterback in the NFL but the more pressure you put on Flacco, the more difficult it is for him to make a play. There is no quickness to his game when it comes to getting rid of the ball. When I studied the Jets contest, it was amazing to me how long he would hold the ball waiting for a route to develop. It got to the point where the Ravens had to keep the tight end in to help on the pass protection just to give him a chance. I didn't observe an accurate passer. I mentioned how Boldin had to work for the ball when it was thrown in his direction. I have never felt like Flacco was going to beat you down the field throwing the ball. I know last season he averaged 6.7 yards per completion which is not that great. With the addition with Jacoby Jones on the outside that might change but again, I haven't seen it. 

Where the Ravens make their living is on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Ray Lewis can still play at a high level but the loss of Terrell Suggs to the torn Achilles tendon is a huge blow. The Ravens drafted Courtney Upshaw from Alabama and he will be able to provide a physical point of attack player but he will struggle to put the pressure on quarterbacks like Suggs would be able to do. 

Inside on the defensive line, the Ravens play with two loads. Haloti Ngata is difficult to move in the running game but he also creates problems in the passing game with his pocket push. I was impressed with Ngata and how he played with his hands shedding blocks. Nose tackle, Terrence Cody is like Ngata in that he is hard to move and for a man so large, he is able to get down the line of scrimmage to deal with the run.

I believe the strength of this Ravens defense is in the secondary. I understand how solid the front seven are but these corners and safeties come to play each week. A young player you need to keep an eye on for future huge pay-days is cornerback Ladarius Webb. If there are holes in his game, I had a hard time finding them. Webb will line up inside and play the slot in the nickel. Webb is a hard guy to run away from. He plays with quickness and there is not much separation in routes. He can press you, or he can play off and drive on the ball to knock it down. When he gets his hands on the receiver, it's trouble. He is one of those corners you don't want to mess with during a game. On the other side is Jimmy Smith a second year player from Colorado that I loved studying for the 2011 draft. If you just watched him play, he was a top 10 player but had some off-field issues in college that drove him down the draft board. The game that Smith played in college that opened my eyes was against A.J. Green of Georgia who he completely shut out. Safety Ed Reed is in his 10th season but like Lewis, doesn't appeared to have slowed down much. Reed is one of those safeties that is always around the ball. He plays with range whether he is up or back, it doesn't matter.

Overall this will be a difficult game for the Cowboys to have to deal with on the road. This Ravens squad is well coached and rarely lose at home. Since 2008, the Ravens are 27-5 at M & T Bank Stadium. The keys will be controlling Ray Rice and forcing Joe Flacco to beat them. On offense, be ready for a physical battle with this Ravens front seven but also not allow Webb or Reed make plays in the secondary. Coming off a bye will help in prepartion in order to try and get a victory here.

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