Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, CBS Sports analyst Dan Dierdorf and his play-by-play partner Greg Gumbel will broadcast the Raiders vs. Ravens game. Dierdorf is one of the most respected men in the broadcast business by both the players and his peers.
He has the very rare distinction of being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as both a player as well as a broadcaster.
As a matter of fact, only Len Dawson and Dierdorf’s former Monday Night Football partner Frank Gifford share that honor. (As for those wondering about John Madden, he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a head coach and broadcaster.)
Dierdorf also holds the honor of being a network analyst longer than any man in the booth, as he is now midway through his 28th year following the NFL. I spoke to him this week about the Ravens and his thoughts about this year’s team.
JW: Are the Ravens a true Super Bowl contender?
Dierdorf: Without question they are. I know that some of their critics point to their lopsided loss to Houston and look at them as a flawed team. But first off, every team has a day when nothing goes right for them and all teams, the good teams, in the AFC have flaws.
That is not...to say Houston did not dominate Baltimore. It is more to say the difference between the two teams are not as far as the score indicated. The Ravens remain a strong Super Bowl contender and they will have a chance over the next nine weeks to prove it.
JW: You spoke of flaws. What are the Ravens flaws?
Dierdorf: For over a decade, the Ravens' defense has been one of the best in the NFL year in and year [out], which is a clear reflection on the organization, the coaches and the players. They take pride in this defense and veteran players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed make sure that every player on that unit lives up to the Ravens hit-you-in-the-mouth style of defense.
However, this year, partly because of injury, partly because of age the Ravens' defense is not having a year that is up to their high standards. They are giving up much too much yardage on the ground, and when teams run on you they can control the clock.
Through eight games this season, the Ravens opponents have run 89 more plays than has Baltimore. It means that the defense has been on the field on average almost a quarter per game more than their offense has. So you lose linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb, which was to me the team's biggest and most devastating loss.
Webb was a key weapon in stopping the run because he had the very rare ability to play up and hit like a safety, while having the speed to cover the other team's best receiver one-on-one as well as any corner back in the league. You simply can’t replace a guy like Webb.
I will say this: I was so impressed by the return of Terrell Suggs and his ability to play at such a high level after such a devastating injury. When you have a partially-torn right Achilles tendon like he did, and you come back and practice for one week then return against Houston, that shows the dedication that he has to himself and to his team.
Look, with Suggs, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and the rest of that defense, the Ravens should be fine if they can get off the field with some help from the offense.
I have great confidence in head coach John Harbaugh and his staff in making the key adjustments it will take to help the defense get some rest.
JW: What can the offense do to help the defense?
Dierdorf: I will tell you that the no-huddle offense has been great for Joe Flacco. I really don’t want to hear that nonsense about him being an elite quarterback or not. He is a winner and at the end of the day [that] is all that counts. We have seen the emergence of young wide receiver Torrey Smith, who is poised to become a star in this league. Then we have another young man in tight end Dennis Pitta who is making a name for himself as a go-to guy for Flacco.
But as we get into November and December, the weather starts to get colder. The Ravens need to get their biggest offensive weapon into the mix more in running back Ray Rice. As I told you, the defense needs to get off the field more, and that means long, clock-winding drives.
No one player on the Ravens is better suited to make the games shorter than is Rice. That does not mean they need to abandon the hurry-up offense. It simply means they need to look at a mix where they go more to the ground game with Rice and fullback Vonta Leach.
The success of the Ravens rests on them making games shorter, and they can do that by using Rice and the running game more wisely and helping keep the depleted defense off the field. That, to me, is their road to the playoffs and beyond.
*All quotes in this story are from a phone interview with Dierdorf arranged this week by CBS Sports.