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The Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Baltimore Ravens

James ReaganCorrespondent IIDecember 4, 2016

The Biggest Early Season Storylines for the Baltimore Ravens

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    Although they've only played two games, the Baltimore Ravens have shown their fans two teams that look very different. 

    The first team was a strange sight to see in Baltimore. One with a high-flying passing offense that put up over 40 points in their home opener. Add in an opportunistic defense that won the turnover battle and you had what looked to be an unstoppable juggernaut. 

    Then you have the team from this past Sunday. This one was a little more familiar as the offense started out hot and then faded in the second half while they were protecting a 10-point lead. There was also a tragically familiar sight of the defense breaking down and allowing a last minute touchdown.

    So which of these teams is more accurate? It's possible that the Ravens aren't as good as they looked in their win against the Cincinnati Bengals. At the same time, they probably aren't as bad as they looked against the Philadelphia Eagles, a game where one or two less mistakes would have given them the victory.

    Though it's true that through two games we don't know all that much about any team, we've still been able to garner some information. Here's a look at the Ravens storylines going into their Week 3 showdown against the New England Patriots.

The Arrival of the No-Huddle Offense

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    Throughout the preseason, the Ravens seemed to be determined to commit to a new-look no-huddle offense. By using this offense, they show more confidence in Joe Flacco and exploit ill-prepared defenses. 

    The no-huddle was very effective in Week 1 when they put up 44 points on a Cincinnati Bengals defense that was one of the best in the league in 2011. However, the Ravens ultimately opted to abandon the no huddle during their Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. They only ran six plays in the no-huddle offense as opposed to 22 the week before. 

    Part of that has to do with the circumstances of the game. It's a lot easier to run a no-huddle offense in the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, instead of in a hostile road stadium where the noise is very distracting. 

    Still, the Ravens may want to consider increasing their use of the no-huddle. Flacco clearly appears more comfortable in it and the numbers support their use of it. Expect their use of no-huddle to be a continued storyline, especially if it brings them more success. 

The State of the Pass Rush Without T Sizzle

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    The Terrell Suggs injury was a major storyline this offseason as common consensus was that the Ravens pass rush would struggle without him. It's still too early to tell, however, there is little doubt that the pass rush will be an area the Ravens really need to succeed at.

    The new pass rush has been responsible for six sacks so far, four of which came in Week 1. Haloti Ngata leads the team with two sacks. So far, he's been one of the guys that really stepped up during Suggs' absence. 

    From the outside linebacker position, there hasn't been that much input yet. Courtney Upshaw has put together half-a-sack while also getting 10 tackles. Although he lost the battle for a starting job in the preseason, Paul Kruger's injury allowed Upshaw to start in Week 2 and he looks like he could get more playing time. 

Youth on the Offensive Line

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    After the conclusion of the preseason, it seemed that the Ravens were looking to go with an older offensive line. This line would thrive on the experience of veterans like Bobbie Williams and Bryant McKinnie. It was a risky proposition, especially as age and injury could catch up to the three offensive linemen who are over 30 years old.

    So maybe it's not surprising that just before game day, the Ravens decided to get younger at the offensive line. McKinnie and Williams were replaced by Kelechi Osemele and Ramon Harewood, respectively. 

    Harewood, in particular, was a surprise player as he wasn't even considered a lock to make the roster back in the summer. However, both he and Osemele allowed only three quarterback pressures during their great performances in the season opener. Those numbers were a lot worse against the Philadelphia Eagles—Osemele allowed one quarterback hit and four quarterback hurries, while Harewood allowed two quarterback hits and two quarterback hurries. 

    Clearly, the game in Philadelphia was a struggle for these two players. Hopefully, they can pick things up in the future and justify their roles as starters.

The Emergence of Dennis Pitta

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    Through two games, the Ravens leader in both receptions and receiving yards is Dennis Pitta. This comes as a bit of a surprise as Pitta had broken his hand and missed almost all of training camp.

    Yet that doesn't seem to matter to Joe Flacco, who has clearly shown that he has a rapport with Pitta. Pitta has 13 receptions for 138 yards and those numbers could be higher considering how many times Flacco is targeting him.

    In Week 2, Flacco targeted Pitta a staggering 15 times which accounted for 35.7 percent of his total passes. It could be argued that the level of dependency is almost unhealthy as the Ravens top four receivers combined for a total of 12 targets in the game. Flacco just continued to search for Pitta, sometimes even throwing into triple coverage.

    It's fine for Pitta to remain as Flacco's top receiving target. Still, the amount of receptions going Pitta's way are almost at an absurd rate and for the Ravens passing offense to take off, the ball is going to need to be spread out a little more.

Ray Rice's Role in the New-Look Offense

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    The Ravens move to become a more pass-oriented offense is a little surprising when considering that they have arguably the best running back in the league in Ray Rice. Running the ball with him would seem to be a priority, even on today's pass-happy NFL

    Yet increasing their passing attempts could still be a good thing as Rice truly is a dangerous Plan B for the team to have. He'll now be seeing less defenders in the box which, in theory, should open up more running lanes for him. It definitely worked out for him in Week 1 where Rice had 10 carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Rice fans need not worry as he'll still be getting his carries. He also should get involved in the passing game too, as he's one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. Who knows? Maybe the reduced carries will prolong his career and keep him as a dangerous threat longer.

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