Colts-Saints: How it should be played

Will the Ravens ever get to that level?

February 09, 2010|By Mike Preston

Regardless of which team won the Super Bowl on Sunday night, true football fans had to appreciate the game.

It featured the No. 1-ranked team in each conference and two of the best offenses in the NFL. And it doesn't get much better than Peyton Manning versus Drew Brees, or was that Drew Brees against Peyton Manning?

Either way, most fans went to bed entertained and satisfied.

That hasn't always been the case when watching the Ravens play.

We understand the tradition here in Baltimore, and how defense wins championships, and blah, blah, blah. …

But you can't replace good offensive football, and watching the Ravens play compared with the Super Bowl teams was like watching the junior varsity against the varsity. These teams operate at a different speed.

The question is, will the Ravens get to that level? Unfortunately, we won't know for a few more years, but it would make Sunday afternoons much more enjoyable.

The NFL loves to see touchdowns, and that's why the league tweaks the rules to favor the offense. On Sundays in the fall and winter, New Orleans and Indianapolis fans are entertained by Brees and Manning, and some of the most electrifying football in America.

In Baltimore, we never know what offense will show up because the Ravens have no identity, as opposed to the Colts and Saints, who don't care that the opposition knows they're going to pass 30 or 40 times a game.

I've always advocated a strong running game, and that won't change, but that doesn't mean you can't have a strong passing game as well. Both New Orleans and Indianapolis have a lot of pass plays predicated off play action.

The major difference between the Saints and Colts and the Ravens is the play at quarterback. Brees and Manning are the best while the Ravens' Joe Flacco is still learning. Brees and Manning have quick releases and know how to maneuver in the pocket, a major area of weakness for Flacco.

They also know how to look off defenses and go to their hot reads without hesitation, other areas in which Flacco needs to improve. Development in those areas, though, will come in time.

But there are other areas in the passing game that concern me. New Orleans and Indianapolis run crossing routes underneath, and they run patterns across the middle of the field. These two teams attack the entire field.

The Ravens don't. They usually stay safe with a lot of simple patterns outside the numbers. It's pure vanilla. The Colts and the Saints flood zones with two or three receivers, and they attack the deep third in the middle of the field regardless of the coverage. They dictate to other teams what they will and will not do.

Very seldom does that happen with the Ravens. When good teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis play two-deep coverage to take away the deep pass, the Ravens don't challenge them.

Right now, you can't tell if it's because of the scheme or if the Ravens lack confidence in Flacco, who has played well overall during his first two seasons.

Manning and Brees throw to big receivers while Flacco throws to a bunch of Smurfs. That ought to change during the offseason because the city and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti have turned the heat up on general manager Ozzie Newsome to find Flacco some weapons.

And once that happens, maybe things start to change. Or maybe not.

There is no guarantee, especially from what we've seen in the past two seasons. Actually, we can go back to 1999, when Brian Billick replaced Ted Marchibroda as coach. At least with Marchibroda, the Ravens had strong-armed Vinny Testaverde at quarterback, and speedy, big receivers in Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander.

They had a small, speedy play maker in the slot named Jermaine Lewis, and were able to spread the ball around.

They could score 40 points, but give up 41. No one is asking the Ravens to be that team, but it's not out of the question for them to become more prolific on offense.

As Newsome said last week, he wants to win a 6-0 game, but he'd like to be able to win a shootout, too. Watching the Saints and Colts on Sunday night made clear that the Ravens aren't in that class.

And no one knows whether it will ever happen.

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