Once again, the fine folks at Football Outsiders have decided to fill us in with some valuable information concerning the Baltimore Ravens. This time, it's Scott Kacsmar that was kind enough to lend us his insight. We asked Football Outsiders five questions, with Kacsmar taking his time to respond.
Here's what he had to say:
Baltimore Beatdown: Based on the skill sets of Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett, can these backs transition seamlessly into Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme? We've seen this scheme work well for lots of running backs in the past, but which of these seems more of a fit?
Scott Kacsmar: Yeah, it's historically a system that has made studs out of just about every back it's had. We assume the run blocking will be better this year, so I always have to go with the best runner regardless of scheme, and career-wise that has been Ray Rice. The game is still going to be about vision and accelerating through the holes. Rice has the two-game suspension to overcome, along with a terrible performance last year, but when he gets back, the Ravens have to hope he's still their best back.
Last year was awful for Rice, but the same was true for Bernard Pierce. That makes us think the line was the main problem, but there were a lot of bad indicators last year for both backs. Rice was poor at blocking and receiving, which usually isn't the case. We'll see more of Pierce than usual to start the year, but I expect Rice will bounce back to lead the team in rushing.
BB: Steve Smith compared himself to what Kevin Walter's role was in Houston. Therefore, what would be realistic expectations for Torrey Smith in this offense? Does he translate to Andre Johnson or would he be a different type of No. 1 receiver for Kubiak?
SK: That might be the first time anyone has compared themselves to Kevin Walter. That's pretty interesting, but I think Torrey Smith is the consummate deep threat in this offense and there's not much to tinker with there. Andre Johnson is a better all-around receiver. While it would be nice if Smith developed more of that kind of varied skillset, I think the Ravens have enough weapons overall to keep him as the designated vertical threat.
BB: In Baltimore's first eight games of 2013, Terrell Suggs had nine sacks but only mustered one over the final half of the season. What do you think was the biggest reason for the second-half slump?
SK: Splits happen. Ha, but that's a nice split to pick out. Sacks can be tricky, because they are the ultimate reward for a pass-rusher, but sometimes getting the pressure can be as valuable too. We credited Suggs with 10 quarterback hurries in his first eight games and 14 in his last eight games. In addition to sacks, Suggs had six quarterback hits in his first four games, but four the rest of the way. So he just wasn't finishing as many plays as he did early in the season.
I think the opponents had something to do with this split. Suggs' only multi-sack game last year came in Miami against a really outmatched line where he picked up three sacks (two against Jonathan Martin). He had one coverage sack against Buffalo, and indecisive quarterback play was a big problem for the Bills last year. In the last eight games Suggs played the Bengals twice. Their line had the top two left tackles (Anthony Collins and Andrew Whitworth) in terms of the best snaps per blown block rates. The Steelers were blocking much better by Thanksgiving than they did earlier in the year. Detroit had some of the better blocking at tackle in 2013. New England is usually good at protection, though beating Logan Mankins was the one sack Suggs had in the second half of the year. Suggs had three pressures against Chicago, but no sacks.
The only other explanation I could offer is some of Suggs' early-season success was the result of either better scheming by Baltimore or poor play by the lesser opponents. In the first eight games, Suggs had four hurries and three hits when he came in as an untouched rusher. In the last eight games, he had one hurry and zero hits as an untouched rusher. It's easier for anyone to get pressure when no one blocks you, especially when it's someone like Suggs.
BB: Based on his production throughout his career, where do you think Haloti Ngata is best used? Last year, he was primarily a nose tackle. But he's played all over the line and has a chance to be used more as a three-technique lineman this year. Do you think this would be ideal for Ngata and the Ravens or should he play inside again?
SK: Personally, I don't put as much value on the nose tackle as most do, because I have seen too many high-profile cases of those guys being replaced admirably by lesser players. Casey Hampton was one of the best in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers didn't miss a beat when Chris Hoke played for him. If you're big, strong and can eat up blockers, you're pretty much fully qualified for the position. Ngata can do that of course, but I think he'll have more value as a three-technique tackle. Let Brandon Williams play the nose, and Ngata can do what the departed Arthur Jones did last year. That means rushing the passer more, and we know Ngata's still great against the run. Statistically, pressure up the middle, while harder to achieve, is very effective against most quarterbacks. I know the Ravens have done a lot of hybrid defense in his career, but I wouldn't just pigeonhole Ngata into the nose.
BB: C.J. Mosley figures to be the leading candidate to start at Will linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 defense. Is this a good spot for him as a rookie alongside Daryl Smith? How does his game translate from Alabama to the professional ranks?
SK: Some of the earliest work I did in this book was on Baltimore, and as early as May the coaching staff was raving about Mosley. He seemed destined to be a Week 1 starter, and I think the Ravens won't regret that decision. Alabama keeps churning out NFL talent, because Nick Saban runs a very pro-oriented system down there. He's a hard-ass too, so players have to be smart and on their toes with him. He called Mosley one of the best playmakers he's had. Scouts always mention his instincts, which can go a long way at this position, but he also has the speed and athletic ability to back it up. On draft night I thought it was a perfect pick for Baltimore.