May 23, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh watches his defensive line during an OTA at the team practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE
1.) Pass Rush
The Baltimore Ravens first team defense generated next to no pass rush against Atlanta's first team offense last Thursday night. It has been said time and time again that new defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have to be creative in generating a pass rush without the former NFL Defensive Player Of The Year Terrell Suggs on the field.
I know you don't want to give away too much about how you will be running your defense come week one against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the defense will have to practice whatever schemes they will be running in game situations not just in practice but in real game time situations.
Pees is well known for being a master of disguise when it comes to showing or not showing where his blitzes are coming from. One thing is certain however, the Ravens pass rush will start and end with penetration up the middle in 2012. If Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody can push the pocket back from the inside it will make life much easier for outside rushers like Paul Kruger and defensive end Pernell McPhee.
The team will also need to get solid contributions from situational pass rusher Segio Kindle and rookie OLB/DE Courtney Upshaw. Also, I would not be surprised to see the team blitzing safeties like Bernard Pollard and inside linebackers like Jameel McClain and Ray Lewis now that he has shed some poundage. Don't count out some corner blitzes as well from Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. Both are sure tacklers who have the speed and tackling ability to take down any opposing quarterback. In any case disguise will be key in catching the offense off guard without the dominant speed and strength of Suggs as the center piece of the pass rushing attack.
2.) Special Teams
The Ravens didn't make too many moves in free agency i the off season, but the moves they did make were geared towards improving their much maligned special teams unit from last season. They decidedly failed in their fist game giving up a long punt return early on in the game. Luckily linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo came up huge with a red zone interception that he then returned for nearly half the distance of the field.
Rookie Kicker Justin Tucker has shown a big and accurate leg so far in camp and in the first preseason game. Friday will be another chance for him to distance himself from Ravens senior kicker Billy Cundiff. Most fans are pulling for Tucker but it would be nice to see a positive showing from both kickers against Detroit. Experience counts for a lot in this league because you never know how a player will react when the game is on the line. Unfortunately most Ravens fans have a pretty good idea of how Cundiff will react in those situations. Tucker, on the other hand, would be a complete question mark.
3.) Offensive Line
It is time for everyone on the offensive line to play the positions they will be playing in week one. That means Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Bobby Williams at left guard, Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Michael Oher at right tackle. How are they supposed to gel as a group if they are all moving around all over the place week in and week out. Let's practice how we play, huh boys? If there are problems with the starting line up, then we will know which areas we need to fix and we now have the depth to do something about it.
Kelechi Osemele is ready for NFL action and could fill in at multiple positions. Let's find out what position he may be needed the most so we can start getting him some reps in that spot. With the offensive line it is all about depth. Right now. McKinnie at LT and Oher at RT gives Baltimore it's best option as starters in case someone were to go down with injury. Then we can start to move things around and see who needs to be replaced by who. For now though, let's let the big boys do what they do and see where the cards lay at the end of the day.
4.) Offensive Play Calling
Again, I understand that you don't want to give away your game plan before the season even starts but it has been publicly said by the team's front office that they want to show off their vertical passing game this season. All reports are that quarterback Joe Flacco is in control of the offense and he is developing great chemistry with his receivers new and old. Well, it's time to see that against some real NFL competition. No more five and outs to Anquan Boldin on second and ten. Let's open things up a bit. After all it is the preseason. It's not about winning the game. It's about seeing what exactly your team is capable of. Let's not wait until week one to open up the flood gates on the passing game only to find out they are not yet ready for that type of offense when it is too late and we have to turn back to the running game while already behind on the scoreboard.
The Ravens finally have the speed on the outside to hurt teams deep. That should help Flacco gain chunks of yards over the middle with Boldin and his tight ends as well with the safeties having to play deep and the corners manning up on our speed receivers. That is if Joe can stop over throwing wide open receivers speeding towards the endzone. He needs to trust that his receivers are good enough to beet out a corner back for the football, even if it is a bit under thrown. Without Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta on the field the team should line up in more four wide sets. If this is the case then someone will have to be open with the speed and separation ability we now poses.
5.) Back Up Running Back
Bernard Pierce needs to get a heavy work load in the next few games so the Ravens can figure out exactly what they have in the talented youngster. If, in fact, he turns out to be a rare miss by Ozzie Newsome then the team will need to completely reexamine their depth at the running back position. It's not too late to bring in a veteran running back if need be. Or they can start to work Bobby Rainey, Anthony Allen or Damien Berry into a larger role with the team. In which case they will all need to work on their pass blocking so Joe Flacco doesn't get killed out there by a free backside blitzer.