With the Ravens’ defense uncharacteristically struggling through the first four weeks, there has been plenty of finger pointing from fans and the media. Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith have caught a lot of the blame and outside linebackers Paul Kruger and rookie Courtney Upshaw have received their share as well. But one guy that hasn’t gotten a lot of criticism – at least that I’ve heard – is Pernell McPhee. Big things were expected out of the second-year defensive end who was second on the Ravens last year with six sacks and led all Ravens’ rookies with 23 tackles in a part-time role. After the departure of Cory Redding, McPhee stepped into a starting spot but there has yet to be a spike in his production. Through four games, McPhee has a half sack and nine tackles. He was credited with two quarterback hits in last Thursday’s victory over the Cleveland Browns, so perhaps that’s a good sign. The Ravens badly need to get a pass rush from their front four, or specifically from somebody other than Haloti Ngata. Some of that falls on McPhee and the Ravens could also use a little more out of defensive end Arthur Jones and nose tackle Terrence Cody in their roles as well.
Three positive developments recently for Ravens:
1. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe - Remember when there was some talk that he could be on the roster bubble early in training camp? Well, he leads the team with 2 1/2 sacks and he’s second on the team with 25 tackles. The Ravens need him to stay healthy and stay on the field.
2. Running back Bernard Pierce – He rushed six times for 48 yards against the Browns and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him worked in the game plan more and more. He certainly hits holes hard and is a tough north/south runner.
3. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin – Everybody loves to focus on what Boldin is not at this stage of his career, but he still has good hands, blocks well down the field and makes clutch catches. Every time the Ravens needed a play against the Browns, Joe Flacco looked Boldin’s way and he delivered.
Three negative developments recently:
1. Personal foul penalties – Browns tackle Joe Thomas did flop on what should have been the final play Thursday, but it still was a needless shove by Kruger and it’s not a stretch to say that it could have cost the Ravens the game. Between that, a big personal foul on Bernard Pollard for fighting after the whistle against the New England Patriots and Cary Williams throwing punches in back-to-back weeks in post-play altercations, the Ravens are going to need to get a handle on the extra-curricular stuff. As it stands, they are tied for the league lead in penalties.
2. Tight end Ed Dickson – Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have done a great job getting everybody involved, but Dickson is probably the one exception. He has five catches for 50 yards in four games and hasn’t been much of a factor in the passing game. Through the first four games last year, Dickson had 16 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown, including five catches in Week One alone.
3. Third and fourth downs – The Ravens are just 17 of 51 (33 percent) in these situations. I don’t have much to add to that other than it’s going to have to improve significantly for the Ravens to get where they want to go.
I wrote today about how the noise level on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, could have an effect on the Ravens’ no-huddle offense. But there’s a way around it that has nothing to do with hand signals or non-verbal cues. It’s called an early lead. The Chiefs’ fan base is a loyal and passionate group. However, there are a lot of unhappy Chiefs fans these days and just yesterday, the Kansas City Star ran a column advocating the dumping of general manager Scott Pioli, coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Matt Cassel. The Chiefs have given up 77 points in two home games and things got so bad in a loss to the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday that some fans were chanting for third-string quarterback, Ricky Stanzi. My point in mentioning all this stuff is that it probably wouldn’t take that much for the Ravens to redirect the jeers toward the home sideline. A couple of early prolonged scoring drives and a turnover or two would probably do the trick.