For the past few seasons, the Ravens offense was known to have a very vanilla flavor. They would either run the ball up the middle, usually to Jonathan Ogden’s side, or throw a long ball down the field. Teams could stack eight players in the box and have faith that the Ravens quarterback and receivers generally wouldn’t beat them, and that strategy largely worked. However, with the arrival of the new coaching staff and the emergence of Joe Flacco, the Ravens have been able to incorporate a number of new plays into their playbook.
The Ravens have a very creative offense thanks to Cam Cameron. Baltimore’s personnel hasn’t changed a lot when it comes to their offense, so I don’t see many changes when it comes to their play calling. I envision that their coaching approach will remain largely the same, which means a mix of trick plays (such as the “Suggs package”), running the ball, and the occasional down-field pass. It’s also possible that they could start incorporating the tight end into play calling more often now. While Todd Heap is still the starter, the Ravens picked up L.J. Smith from free agency. Smith was secured in the off season because of his pass-catching ability, and Cam Cameron loved incorporating his tight end into the passing game when he was the offensive coordinator for the Chargers. Look for more out routes with a duo of pass-catching tight ends.
Furthermore, look for Le’Ron McClain to take more of a lead-blocker role in the pro set formation, i formation, and goal line formation. With fullback Lorenzo Neal now on the Oakland Raiders, McClain will really have to step up the blocking as he was primarily used as a running back last season. However, his play while running the ball earned him a spot at the Pro Bowl, so it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to see Cameron use McClain’s skill at power running from time to time, especially in goal line situations.
That said, I believe the defense will remain largely the same even with defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s departure. The Ravens are known for their pressure, and if anything, they will turn it up a notch this season. As Head Coach John Harbaugh has said, the Ravens plan to mix even more disguised blitzes into their defensive package, hoping to put all of the pressure on the opponent’s quarterback. With Kelly Gregg’s return from micro fracture surgery, it will be even more difficult to run against the top ranked rush defense. The coaching staff is gambling that less coverage and more pressure means teams will have few options against their defense. Baltimore will also be getting Dawan Landry back from his season-ending neck injury. For Ed Reed to shine like he did last season, Landry will need to take a similar role that Jim Leonard took, covering for Reed’s improvisation.
The defensive unit has a strong chance at remaining in the elite class, but for that to happen, their coverage has to improve. The Ravens added several defensive backs through free agency as well as the draft. Fabian Washington stepped up after several injuries at the corner back position occurred last season to secure his starting spot moving on. While he isn’t the best cover corner, his speed makes up for a lot of the reads that he misses. The Ravens also added Domonique Foxworth to their defense as the other starting corner back. Foxworth is thus far an unproven player, but his mold is similar to that of Washington – he’s not a shutdown kind of player, but speed is his greatest asset. Samari Rolle will see a diminished role in the defense, playing primarily in nickel situations. As a nickel back, Rolle will be a very dangerous player to throw to. In most instances, he should outclass the man he’s covering creating a mismatch. While Rolle’s speed isn’t the best, he is the best coverage player of the current crop of Ravens corner backs.
In short, the Ravens should do many of the things that got them to the AFC Championship game last year. The theme this season will be to put even more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. In that sense, the Ravens defense is taking a page from the Steelers playbook as that was the defensive strategy that won Pittsburg a Super Bowl. And even though Flacco is improving, the Ravens offense will still be run-oriented, eating time off the clock.
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