Ravens 10-pack on the slow-starting defense, offensive production, and the Smiths

  • Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein (left) and cornerback Melvin White (23) converge on Ravens running back Justin Forsett, who gains first down yardage during the first quarter.
Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein (left) and cornerback Melvin… (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore…)
September 30, 2014|By Jon Meoli | The Baltimore Sun

Welcome to the Tuesday Ravens 10-Pack, where I’ll go medium depth on ten Ravens topics that came from the previous week’s game. Sure, Monday is the main analysis day, but if I can get an extra day to make this marginally better than it would be a day earlier, why not? Read ahead for notes on the Ravens’ slow starts on defense, most of the Smiths, and where the production is coming from through four weeks.

1. For the fourth straight game, the Ravens defense allowed a sustained drive to open the other team’s offensive account. The Bengals produced three first downs in an 11-play, 49-yard drive in the season opener. Pittsburgh picked up four first downs and was in the red zone before a fumble halted a 12-play, 64 yard drive at the Ravens’ 15-yard line. The Ravens took the ball first in Cleveland, but after a field goal, ceded an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to the Browns. Carolina, too, marched into the red zone, but a penalty and a sack took them out of field goal range on an 11-play opening drive. So it’s only cost the Ravens 10 points in four games, but those are the kind of drives offenses want to have. The Ravens are fortunate they haven’t been made to suffer even more for their slow starts.

2. Exactly two-thirds of the Ravens' offense has come from players who weren’t on the roster last year. Running backs Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro have accounted for 404 of the team’s 538 rushing yards, while Forsett, Steve Smith, Owen Daniels, and Kamar Aiken have posted 657 of the team’s 1055 receiving yards. The offense has been remade completely with new parts as cogs in the machine, but that’s kind of staggering.

3. Jimmy Smith was in his element on Sunday, in shadow coverage on hulking Panthers rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Quarterback Cam Newton targeted him six times for two completions and 25 yards. Smith had already passed off coverage on Benjamin’s touchdown to Darian Stewart, who bit on a non-existent underneath route and was late to get over. Through a quarter of the season, Pro Football Focus says Smith has been targeted in coverage 19 times for 11 completions and 65 yards. That yardage total is third-fewest in the league among corners that play at least half his team’s snaps, according to PFF.

4. Carolina entered Sunday’s game with one legitimate running back and a shoddy offensive line, and that running back left the game in the first half. Even so, the Ravens’ run defense got push up the middle and the outside linebackers kept the edge well against the Panthers. Carolina averaged 2.6 yards per carry, and the Ravens have allowed 3.3 yards per carry in four games, tied for fifth best in the league coming out of Week 4. Brandon Williams has been a revelation at nose tackle, and veteran Haloti Ngata has been steady at end. Credit inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith as well. This unit has been stout.

5. Joe Flacco has played really well so far this season. He had his share of luck Sunday against Carolina, and is on pace for his first 4,000-yard season, but he continues to leave yards on the field on play-action passes. On the opening drive Sunday, he held the ball too long on a rollout and missed a big-play chance with Torrey Smith, instead completing a 5-yard pass to Marlon Brown. Owen Daniels’ two Week 2 touchdowns were on play-action in the red zone, but the Ravens are also counting on it to be a big-play weapon away from the goal line. That’s one of the last pieces of the puzzle.

6. Pernell McPhee might not get the headlines that Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil do, but he’s such a weapon for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. When lining up at linebacker, he’s been on both sides of the defense for roughly the same amount of snaps. He’s also lined up at defensive end and at nose guard recently, and is becoming a wild card in what’s kind of a static defense that the Ravens run. They can create pressure with McPhee in all situations, and line him up anywhere.

7. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is known for his pass-catching ability, and he’s shown that in limited throws. But he’s gotten plenty more opportunities in run downs than passing situations. According to PFF, he’s played nearly twice as many run plays (74) as pass plays (40). The team simply has other options in the passing game, which doesn’t diminish his skill, it only makes him less utilized. That ratio could help long-term, however, if teams cheat toward the run when Juszcyzk is lined up in the backfield. Same goes for rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore, who hasn’t been thrown to in any of the three games he’s been active, despite Pitta being out for almost two full games.

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