Behind Enemy Lines: with Ravens Football Machine
Patrick D. Starr
In part two of Behind Enemy Lines, we get help from Thomas Jackson of the Ravens Football Machineand they gave us some insight into the Ravens for this upcoming Sunday. We talk about Joe Flacco, the ex-Texans, Ravens' rookies, the Texans Oline, Brian Cushing, The Ninja, and much more.
Question to Ravens Football Machine
Is Joe Flacco the only issue from the Ravens getting to the top?
The biggest thing keeping the Ravens from getting to the AFC Championship is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Big Ben... not Joe Flacco. This season it looks like the Steelers are beatable...but never count them out as long as Mike Tomlin and Big Ben are running the show.
Flacco's been given more control of the Ravens offense this season, and I think it's paying off. Flacco is emerging as a Top-10 quarterback in the league.
Head coach John Harbaugh got more involved with the offensive schemes this past offseason, and Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron has kept opponents on their toes. When the Ravens were expected to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary, they ran right at it for 170 yards. When fans and pundits thought they would run against the St. Louis Rams, they threw.
Baltimore came out gunning versus the New York Jets, then when that went cold, it showed the flexibility to pound the rock 12 straight times on 24 out of 28 plays. The ability to run the ball, particularly late in games when the opponent knows it’s coming, is “critically important,” Harbaugh said.
But the Ravens’ ability to stretch the field more vertically has also opened up offensive possibilities. Joe Flacco notched the second-most attempts over 20 yards in the NFL through the first four weeks. It has allowed tight end Ed Dickson to rack up a team-high 16 receptions, mostly on underneath and drag routes. It’s also helped open up the running game and Ray Rice.
Flacco is more of a field general now than just a pure pocket passer... He calls audibles at the line more than ever...He's evolving.
How have ex-Texans Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach contributed to the season so far?
Vonta Leach has quickly become my favorite new Raven. Besides being a great lead blocker, he is also excellent at pass protection. He is the best fullback I've seen in a long time. And he is articulate and a great interview. The Texans were lucky to have him...Bernard Pollard has added something to the Ravens' secondary: hard-hitting, excellent anticipation and the ability to blitz from the safety position. He seems to be thriving in his role with the Ravens and comes up with a lot of big plays in key situations. Fans are really starting to notice and appreciate him...
Rookies Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith were considered solid picks for the draft, how is their adjustment going to the NFL right now?
Jimmy Smith suffered a high-ankle sprain in his first special teams play of the year and has been out of action since the first game. He probably won't be ready to go until Week 7 or Week 8... Torrey Smith, the wide receiver draft pick from Maryland, is gradually learning how to play in this league, but is still not the big answer the Ravens are looking for as a constant vertical threat. Against St. Louis, though, Torrey Smith had a breakout game with 3 long TD's from Flacco in the first quarter. It was a sensational preview of what may yet to come in Torrey's career here...
With Kelly Gregg leaving for the Chiefs, has Terrence Cody stepped up?
Terrence ("Mount") Cody has filled in very nicely at Defensive Tackle for the departed veteran Gregg... He fills a lot of space against the run. We haven't heard his name called that much in pass rush situations yet. He shares time in the Ravens DT rotation with Arthur Jones and Cory Redding as sharing the Defensive Tackle rotation with Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody and Brandon McKinney...
Who is most important to the Ravens D, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed or Haloti Hgata?
If you ask me who is the most indispensable player in the Ravens defensive system, I would say Haloti Ngata... He is still in his prime at age 27, and at 6-4, 350, and with great speed and agility for his size, his dominating play sets the tone for everything that gets done at the next levels behind him.
Ray Lewis is in his 16th year as inside linebacker, but still calls the signals for the defense. He's still acknowledged as the team leader and motivator. Ray's lost maybe half-a-step in coverage from side to side, but is still one of the best readers of plays and best tacklers in the business.
Ed Reed at free safety is in his 10th year and has been banged up quite a bit during his last few years, but when he's playing he coordinates the defensive backs and has a special talent of being able to diagnose routes and jump patterns. Reed studies a lot of film.
All three of these guys will be in the Hall of Fame someday. But right now, you could lose Reed or Lewis for a few games during the season and still have a chance to win while they were out. I could not say the same about Haloti Ngata...he creates the pressure from the defensive line that makes everything go for the rest of the Ravens defense.
Questions to SOTT
Everyone talks about Arian Foster and the big yardage he runs for, but could you let us know more about your Offensive Line? Who are these guys and what makes them so good as a unit?
The Houston Texans offensive line has been together since the beginning of the 2010 season and left guard Wade Smith was the last piece to the puzzle. The offensive line consists of Duane Brown (LT) Wade Smith (LG) Chris Myers (C) Mike Brisiel (RG) and Eric Winston (RT). The strength of the line is the left side of the line and are pretty solid against the rush and great in run blocking. The Houston Texans scheme goes all the way back to the Super Bowl days of the Denver Broncos when Mike Shanahan was the head coach and his offensive coordinator was now Texans head coach Gary Kubiak. Kubiak has masterminded the offense and turned the Texans offensive line into a well oiled machine. The line does not have to be massive, instead they are more athletic and concentrate moving the line of scrimmage with their zone scheme. The zone scheme takes brains and able to think on the run and this line has been together for 21 weeks straight heading into the Baltimore week, which is important because they seem like they can read each other mind on what they are going to do as the play develops. The best offensive lineman has to be Duane Brown and the most underrated is Chris Myers, both are the key pieces to the Texans offensive game plan.
Matt Schaub has got a reputation now as a very good quarterback. With his best receiver Andre Johnson out for this game, who are the guys you think he will target most with his passing attack?
In the Oakland week he depended on tight end Owen Daniels and wide receiver Jacoby Jones, I don't see much change in that mentality heading into this week despite the poor performance by Jacoby Jones. With Andre Johnson out Jones is only the real speed threat on the field for the Texans, but he works better in sitting in open spots in zone coverage than trying to beat someone deep. I do expect Matt Schaub to look for wide receiver Kevin Walter and running back Arian Foster though the air, because when they touched the ball last Sunday they made things happen when they touched the ball.
Who are your linebackers and do you think they are up to the challenge of stopping Ray Rice on those screen plays and cutback runs he's known for?
The starting linebackers for the Texans will be on the outside Connor Barwin and rookie Brooks Reed and on the inside Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans. I would expect Ray Rice to be Cushing's main focus for the game, and Cushing is playing at a high level and is making plays sideline to sideline. I think defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will have Reed and Barwin trained enough on the cutback, because the Texans rush defense has been pretty solid so far this season. They held the leading rusher Darren McFadden to only 51 yards on 16 carries, so I would expect the Texans defense up to the task.
Who are your best pass-rushers? If they can get to Flacco a few times, it might be a huge game-changer for the Texans...
It was Mario Williams, before he was lost for the season with a pectoral injury, but don't sleep on defensive end Antonio Smith. He has 4.5 sacks in 5 games and really causes issues for opposing lines. Also, the rookie Brooks Reed will be taking the place of Williams, he is nowhere in the same league as Williams but has proven he can get to the quarterback, so it will be interesting how he adapts to being a starter.
Who does the offensive play calling for the Texans these days? Does Matt Schaub get any leeway to change plays at the line of scrimmage?
The offensive coordinator Rick Dennison does the play calling with input from head coach Gary Kubiak, but it mostly falls on Dennison. As for Schaub, the Texans call multiple plays in the huddle and depending on what they get that is what is run. This has been a discussion among many people I talk to, but it honestly looks like Schaub does no audibling at the line.