Authors: Dan Bryden (@PlainMilksFine) and Chris Worthington (@C_Dubs87)
Week 10 is almost here, and next on the slate is Carson Palmer’s Raiders. The one-time division nemesis brings his new team to Baltimore, where the Ravens defend their league-best home winning streak of 10 games. What should Ravens fans expect on Sunday? Know Your Enemy has the answers.
Oakland Prefers the Pass
One of your writers remembers an old statistic about Palmer when he played for Cincinnati: his accuracy went up the further he threw the ball. That, of course, is an amazing stat (maybe Oakland staff had that same stat in mind when they gave up two 1st-round picks for Carson). But it was a stat Palmer was unlikely to replicate for his entire career. Fast-forward to the 2012 season, and Palmer’s accuracy is one of his biggest weaknesses. So why does Oakland pass the ball so much?
Like any offense they want to run the football. The problem is they are not so good at it. Oakland primarily runs with one back or a leading FB, and they utilize outside zone runs, power schemes, and often use a trips-bunch of receivers to crack or lead block. In games vs. Tampa Bay and Kansas City, the Raiders offensive line looked sieve-like. LG Cooper Carlisle, C Stefen Wisniewski, and RG Mike Briesel have problems with aggressive gap shooters. Therefore, the Ravens need to get playside penetration on run plays to disrupt runs in the backfield. Between Suggs and Upshaw, the Ravens should have success reaching the ball carriers early.
Unfortunately for Oakland, both Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have high ankle sprains from the TB game. Both will likely not play, which leaves FB Marcel Reece and RB Taiwan Jones as the primary running backs. It is hard to judge their abilities, though; they have a combined two carries this year. But for what it’s worth, they’ve rushed for a total of -5 yards.
The loss of DMC and Mike Goodson clearly hurts the Raiders. McFadden is very fast in the open field, and was a large part of the passing game. He was a favorite target of Palmer’s on short swing passes and checkdowns. Against Kansas City, almost a quarter of Palmer’s passes were thrown his way (6 of 26). But he continues to be injury prone (as any fantasy player who has been near him knows). McFadden has been in the league since 2008 and has never played a full 16 game season. And, interestingly, despite his speed, DMC did not look every elusive on film. So here’s your free fantasy tip of the week: next year, stay away from Run DMC in the draft. Let someone else chase that pipe dream.
Which brings us to the passing game. Whether it’s because of their poor running game or because Oakland brass needs to justify overpaying for Palmer, the Raiders prefer to throw. When the running game was unsuccessful against both TB and KC, they resorted to running back screens and wide receiver tunnel screens. Oakland found a lot of success off WR screens, especially to WR Denarius Moore, who gained a lot of yards after the catch. Against KC the tunnel screen to Moore went for a big gain twice. The Ravens secondary will need to stay disciplined and tackle well—something that, as we noted last week, they don’t do very well without Webb.
Palmer and the Raiders clearly like to open up the deep portion of the field by passing short and making DBs come up and be aggressive. Against TB, Palmer had 37 pass attempts under 10 yards in the air versus only 10 attempts over 20 yards. To this effect, they run a ton of quick-hitting hitches, slants, and stick routes. They call very few 2 to 3 man route combos; almost everything is an isolation route underneath. But, as we said before, they get a good amount of YACs because of the speed of WRs Moore, Rod Streater, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Also, their TE Myers is targeted on a ton of short passes, reminding us of Jason Witten in the middle of the field (13 targets, 8rec, 59y, 2 TD vs. TB).
Another thing that is very obvious on film: Palmer wants to throw the fade. This means that Ravens corners will be tested—it will be interesting to see if Smith and Williams are up to the task. Against TB Palmer threw no fewer than seven isolation fade routes. Though Oakland saw some success with this strategy (two touchdown passes), most of Palmer’s throws were inaccurate. In fact, he reminded us a lot of Flacco, whose deep ball accuracy is slightly below the league average at 40.4% (we’ve all seen the games, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise). In general Palmer displays poor deep-ball accuracy: take, for instance, the first play of the KC game, where he threw an interception on a deep 9 route.
Yet another problem with Oakland’s passing game is that all of Palmer’s WRs are young. Consequently, they run into a lot of trouble with miscommunication and dropped passes. This is exacerbated by the fact that Palmer doesn’t handle the pass rush well. He tends to step up into the pocket and create his own pressure. He checks down far too quickly, even when pressure is not actually there. And against real pressure Palmer begins to lose his form and throw sidearm, which has not been productive for him. Against TB, Palmer went 5 for 13 against pressure with an interception and two sacks.
Now, we are going to try something new. Below is a breakdown of a Carson Palmer interception against Tampa Bay. We hope to illustrate four things by breaking down this particular play. The first is Oakland’s poor offensive line, which is unorganized and has struggled all year to protect Palmer. This play is an example of a misdiagnosed blitz from the line not just by LG Carlisle but also by the line as a whole. Second is Palmer’s lacking rapport with his receivers. WR Denarius Moore fails to read the blitz on his own and doesn’t alter his route. He needs to see the pressure and shorten his route to give Palmer a chance. Next, we’d like to show how Palmer makes poor decisions under pressure. In this instance, he forces a ball to Moore that had no chance of being completed. Finally, we’d like to highlight what the Ravens need to do. Like TB does here, the Ravens need to blitz from different levels. Safety and LB blitzing, mixed with solid pass coverage, is a recipe for big plays. The Ravens need to use some of the exotic schemes that we’ve seen in the past to confuse the o-line and force Palmer to make bad throws.
The situation: Oakland ball, 1st and 10 at the TB 38. Oakland calls a slant/flat combo. TB is playing 4-3 press-man-free, a man-coverage scheme with the DBs pressing the receivers and a safety over the top (who will end up being the safety closest to the bottom of the picture). Pre-snap, though, TB is showing cover 2-man.
Post snap: The SS Mark Barron has crept up to the LOS and will blitz (shown in Orange). This is now Press-Man-Free and TB will rush 6 (4 DL, 1 LB, 1 FS)
At the snap, the 4 defensive lineman slant to the weak side of the formation to allow the safety and LB (both in Orange) to attack the strong side of the formation
LG Carlisle (#66) leaves DE Te'o-Nesheim in order to block the slanting linebacker and
Te'o-Nesheim is now unabated to the QB and Palmer needs to rush and throws off his back foot.
(Image is blurry due to camera movement) As Palmer is throwing, WR Moore has not turned around and has no idea the ball is in the air. Unfortunately, for him (and the Raiders), CB Leonard Johnson jumps the throw to pick it off in front of Moore.
One in the I-N-T column for CB Johnson.
The Ravens Need to Bring Pressure
We’ve heard this all year: the Ravens need to bring pressure. Oakland has a poor offensive line, so it’s very possible. But Baltimore will need a lot of pressure to disrupt the run game and to force early throws from Palmer. Exotic blitz/cover schemes will work well if the Ravens can get to the QB.
Baltimore’s DBs will really be tested on the outside, especially if the pass rush doesn’t get to Palmer. Expect Baltimore to show two deep safeties to help with young/struggling corners. Unfortunately, it is very likely that Baltimore will give up big plays to this offense. But the Ravens can and hopefully will make big plays on the back end, too. If they can get a few of them and put a modest number of points on the board, this will be another win for the Ravens.
Can the Oakland Defense Stop the Run?
Oakland’s defense is coming off of a game against TB where they gave up 251 yards and four touchdowns to rookie Doug Martin. Martin is built similarly to Ray Rice but runs with a bit more power (Martin is forcing a league-high 38 missed tackles compared to Ray Rice’s 10). While the game against TB led us to believe that Rice will have a career day, we’ve seen, after watching a good deal of film on Oakland, that the TB game was more of a worst-case scenario.
What makes us say this? Well, the Oakland defensive line is very talented. They pushed the KC and TB O-lines around (specifically DT Richard Seymour and DE Lamarr Houston, who both got good penetration). These two, along with DE Matt Shaughnessy, can absolutely disrupt the Raven’s run game in the backfield. The Ravens will need solid run blocking, possibly with additional help, to make sure the Oakland D-linemen don’t force their way into Rice’s path.
Right behind the DL is a decent set of linebackers. SAM ‘backer Phillip Wheeler is an incredible pass rusher, and MIKE ‘backer Rolando McClain appears to have a nose for the football. But poor gap control is a problem for both, and they are both caught out of position at times. These may be reasons that a DB (SS Tyvon Branch) leads the team in tackles.
The Oakland secondary has struggled this season. CBs Joselio Hanson, Shawntae Spencer, and Pat Lee are liabilities in pass coverage. Worse still, the entire secondary, minus Branch, are very poor tacklers (10 combined missed tackles against TB and KC). The shining star of the secondary is SS Branch. He will often sneak up to the LOS on early downs to either blitz or run fill (he excels at both), and on later downs he shows impressive pass coverage for a safety with a reputation as a run stuffer. The Baltimore O-line will need to be attentive when Branch comes up to the line—picking up his blitzes will be key. Flacco will also need to be aware of Branch dropping into coverage.
The Ravens strategy should be to target the middle of the field in the passing game. The Oakland LBs, particularly the WILL, Miles Burris, struggle against tight ends in both zone and man coverage. Pitta could have a big game for us, as well as Boldin. Anquan has been a workhorse in the middle of the field, making tough catches against good coverage. The Raiders tend to gamble on blitzes and they tend to hang their secondary out to dry. Though we may all hate it, this looks like a game to keep a TE and a RB in to block on passing downs. The Baltimore O-line will likely need help in pass rush/blitz pick-up (Oakland visibly pressured Freeman on 41% of dropbacks and Cassel on 38% of his).
This is obviously a winnable game for Baltimore. We are a better team at home—with respect to Seattle and Atlanta, possibly the best home team in the league—and the Oakland offense is banged up, missing its most valuable player, McFadden. If we can generate a pass rush, Palmer should throw a couple gifts to the defense. Even at 34 years old, Ed Reed is usually still around the ball when it’s up for grabs. And despite his struggles in coverage, Cary Williams has four interceptions this year. If the offense can protect Flacco and stave off the Oakland D-line, we should be successful on offense and should score points.
We all want to see Baltimore blow Oakland away like they did Cincinnati in week one. Will that happen? Maybe not. Oakland has some talent on the defensive side of the ball. But another win and a 7-2 record going into the hardest stretch of our season doesn’t sound so bad to us.
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Lastly, we want to thank Pro Football Focus (@PFF) for a great deal of our stats.