We haven't seen the Ravens exciting young tight end duo on the field together since the first preseason game of the year. Last season Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson proved to be integral parts of quarterback Joe Flacco's passing attack. Dickson has the size and speed to be a match up nightmare all over the field and Pitta catches everything thrown his way. Dickson is especially good in traffic where he uses his elite size and speed to make sure he's the only one to bring in the ball. Pitta may not be quite as quick off the line as Dickson but he is a play maker all the same. He has a talent for boxing out defenders, outfighting them for the ball and finding the weak spot in zone coverage.
Both tight ends will go a long way in helping this young Ravens offense reach the next level. How much can we truly expect from them week one though, neither has played at game speed in almost a month. That is an awful hard thing to over come week one, at home, against a talented division rival with a good defense. You know the Bengals will try to exploit any weakness the Ravens may have. Will Dickson or Pitta be that weakness?
4.) How will Dean Pees generate the dominant pass rush this team will need to hold off the young passing attack of the Cincinnati Bengals?
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was good last season. He was good enough to get his team to the playoffs in the toughest division in football. He did not fair so well against his division rivals Ravens and Steelers however... Why was that? The Ravens and Steelers both had dominant pass rushes that could wreak havoc on a young quarterback and dominant players that you couldn't just scheme around.
The Ravens will be missing the best defensive player in the NFL in Terrell Suggs and that will drastically change the Ravens pass rushing schemes and how offenses choose to block the remaining pass rushers they do have. Normally the opposing offense would have to keep an extra blocker in to deal with Suggs off the edge but now they have the option to use that blocker on another lesser pass rusher or use that position to bring out another receiving option such as tight end Jermaine Gresham who is also a match up nightmare and could have a big game against the Ravens if he is not needed to block as much. Gresham likes to eat safeties and linebackers for appetizers in passing situations, much like Ed Dickson.
Pees is known for creating situations pre-snap in which the offense is not able to decipher where the pass rush is coming from and supposedly this has not been used in the preseason but from what most of us have seen so far the Ravens have not found any consistent ways to create pressure on the quarterback. This in turn leaves the secondary in lengthy coverage in which they are bound to get beat at some point. We'll talk about that a little later though.
The Ravens will be trotting out the pass rushing threats of Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and Courtney Upshaw. Not to mention more corner, safety and inside linebacker blitzing as well. Hopefully, Terrence Cody can pressure the inside of the pocket a bit more when he has Haloti Ngata lined up next to him. I wonder if Upshaw spent the off season on the tennis courts with Bryant McKinnie? They both seems to be using the same diet any way.3.) Are the Ravens ready for a Joe Flacco-led offense?
Is Joe Flacco ready to lead an NFL offense for that matter? So far the word is that he is eager and very ready. Flacco has, by all accounts, had the best off season/preseason of his career. He has been throwing sharper and into tighter windows and seems to have a firm grasp on the plays he and his team can run and against which defensive fronts he needs to run them. Not only that but new quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell seems to have fixed Joe's footwork issues and helped him to get the ball out quicker when he feels pressure coming or take a sack rather than a turn over if need be.
Flacco seems to be doing and saying all the right things so far but for some reason I feel like we've been fed this line before only to have the team quickly turn back to the run, run pass offense as soon as there was a bump in the road. Luckily they have the talent in the backfield to still win in this offensive attack as well. We will find out really quickly how long/short Flacco's leash is in 2012. Maybe even week one.
2.) How will the offensive line hold up once "the best five linemen are on the field"?
The Ravens have shown all sorts of offensive lines so far in the preseason but rarely have the supposed starting line up started in all of their starting positions on the field at the same time. So, I'm assuming that the line up will be: from left to right, Bryant McKinnie, Bobbie Williams/ Kelechi Osemele, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher.
On paper that looks like a great line. I'm assuming that Williams will start over Osemele until he proves that Kelechi is the better option. Hopefully he wont but the word is that he is still not fully back from hi ankle injury yet, no matter how badly he wants to be. Being that he comes from the Bengals you know they will go straight at him if they think there is any weakness there. Birk should be good for the beginning of the season I hope an I think we all pretty much know what we will get from Yanda and Oher. Actually I think Oher will improve once again this year and surprise a lot of people but that's just me...
So the last "big" issue is McKinnie. He is still over weight but his play doesn't seem to have slipped so even though the Ravens would like a bit more off the field work from him, I'm pretty sure they are pleased with what they think they will be getting from him this season.
1.) How will the secondary hold up against the bevy of top tier quarterbacks and receivers they will be facing this season?
Let's just come right out and say it. The secondary has looked bad for the most part this preseason. Again, there has not been much time to put all of the starters in the positions they will be playing along side each other for the majority of the season so far in the preseason. However, Jimmy Smith has looked good at times but seems to fall down to much and has trouble with the bigger receivers that he was drafted to cover and Cary Williams has been killed by the comeback route all preseason. The only stating corner who has played up to his talent so far is Lardarius Webb, who will most likely spend the majority of his time in the slot.
Of course much of this has to do with the pass rush again. The Ravens simply did not get to the quarterback in preseason which paved the way fro many long passing plays that you can not entirely blame on the secondary. Yes there were some blown coverages but when a quarterback has five seconds or more to throw he is going to make some big plays at the NFL level.
In week one the corners will have a legitimate play maker to cover in A.J. Green. He and Andy Dalton have now had an entire off season to work together and if the Ravens can't find a way to put Dalton on his back a few times or at least hurry him so he always has that pass rush in the back of his mind, the two of them will have a field day at M&T Bank Stadium.
So, the secondary and pass rush kind of go hand in hand as does the offensive line and Joe Flacco. Once again no matter how much things change in the NFL they still stay the same. The battles are still won in the trenches and whether or not the Ravens are able to win those battles on both sides of the ball will decide who wins this game.
These five questions are just the beginning of a long laundry list of questions that we as fans have going into the first real contest of the season. Special Teams have looked as bad as last season, if not worse, and the receiving threats behind Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are still mostly question marks. Not to mention the outside run defense has looked horrid at times with Paul Kruger actually being turned around backwards on some plays. Feel free to leave a comment about your biggest concern going into this week one match up below.