By: John Wachter (@John_M_Wachter)
A 2-0 start led by a dominant defense was cause for a plethora of optimism in Baltimore, and led to the question: what if? What if the offense can find a rhythm? What if this defense is legit as it looks? What if Flacco and his receiving corp can develop chemistry, and a balanced attack can put up points? What if we can make it to the postseason, or even win the division? How far can this team go? 2 weeks later the tone is different, with demands for firings and a new quarterback leading the forefront of angry complaints. The difference between being 3-2 and 2-3 cannot be overstated, and what looked to be an incredibly tough game on the road took a surprising turn last Sunday. You never wish injury on a player, but I'd be a liar if I said Derek Carr injuring his back wasn't extremely fortunate for the Ravens this week. Make no mistake, the Raiders are still a great team, but it is absolutely pivotal that the Ravens capitalize on them missing their leader for a couple weeks.
Did Not Practice - G Gabe Jackson (Foot)
Limited - CB David Amerson (Concussion), QB Derek Carr (Back, confirmed out for the week), HB DeAndre Washington (Hamstring), CB Gareon Conley (Shin)
Returned to Practice - WR Michael Crabtree (Bruised Lung, limited Wed), WR Amari Cooper (Knee, limited Wed), DE Mario Edwards (Back, DNP Wed),
Did Not Practice - DT Brandon Williams (Foot), TE Maxx Williams (Ankle)
Limited - CB Jaylen Hill (Thigh, DNP before this week), DB/LB Anthony Levine (Thigh)
Returned to Practice - CB Lardarius Webb (Thigh, DNP Wed), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles, DNP Wed), TE Ben Watson (Calf, DNP Wed)
Stories of the Game
Dominant Corners - Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr have each given up a quarterback rating in the 20s. For comparison, if a qb lined up and threw the ball away on every snap of the game he'd net a qbr of 39.6 (stat credit user Green.RavensFan from BaltimoreBeatdown). Marlon Humphrey has also looked excellent in coverage, and should see more snaps throughout the year. But with Carr and Smith looking phenomenal, it could be difficult to get Humphrey on the field as more than a rotational piece. It's a good problem to have for sure, but Humphrey figures to be a bigger part of this team in the future than Carr and every snap helps towards his development. One thing to note for this week is Jimmy Smith's place on the injury report. He hasn't netted a full practice yet this week, and the severity of his injury is unknown. Him being anything less than 100% is a blow for sure, but unlike years past we actually have some depth to fill in if that is to happen. Provided everyone in the secondary is active, Humphrey can ideally get some work in the slot this week. Lardarius Webb has made some big plays this year, but has also been picked apart his fair share. While he does appear to be a leader in the backfield, he also looks noticeably slower, and draws a bad matchup against Seth Roberts this week. Roberts is a big receiver at 6 foot 2, and Humphrey simply lines up better against him, if he can play him physically and disrupt his routes he can eliminate an under rated part of the Raiders' offense.
Flacco's Interception Streak vs Oakland's Interception Drought - Joe Flacco has thrown an INT in 10 straight games, dating back to last year. Not all of them are his fault, but you don't have a streak that long if you're not making your fair share of mistakes. Oakland's defense has forced 4 turnovers this year, but all of them are fumble recoveries.
Abysmal Offense - What is our offensive identity? Are we a run first team? We have 2 speedy receivers and a great slot wr in Maclin, surely we're trying to run a West Coast offense right? Maybe something in between the 2? It's hard to tell, we've had almost no success in either aspect of the game, and right now Ben Watson and Jeremy Maclin are our entire offense. Ever since Marshal Yanda went down in the 2nd half of week 2 we've looked completely lost on offense, and something needs to change. Every backup we've tried thus far - Tony Bergstrom, Matt Skura, Jermaine Eluemunor - have been terrible, and James Hurst isn't playing much better on the other side. You can blame the offensive line for a lot of our troubles, but Joe Flacco's statline is inexcusable. Try to find a QB that's looked worse this year, you can't. Breshad Perriman has finally seen the field a ton this year, and has looked like the absolute worst wr in the league. He's dropped easy passes, run the wrong routes, and hasn't shown anything that can scare a defense. Both of them need to turn things around before Perriman digs himself further into bust territory. We're going against a defense that, aside from a few big names (More on them below) isn't anything special. If the offense doesn't bounce back this week, the fan base will be coming for Marty Mornhinweg and Joe Flacco's heads.
Will the Real Ravens Defense Please Stand Up - What happened to the Ravens defense from the first 2 weeks? The one that forced 10 turnovers and allowed only 10 points? Through 2 weeks the defense managed to pick off a whopping 8 passes, through 4 weeks they have 9. After a terrible showing in London we returned to force a pretty lackluster day for Ben Roethlisberger, but since Brandon Williams has gone down we've been near the bottom of the league in run defense. Williams is one of the best at his position, and was expected to be a huge part of the team this year after receiving a huge contract in the offseason. There are a few silver linings, however (Not a Raiders pun, I swear). The last 2 weeks we've gone against Leanard Fournette, who has had a rookie season similar to Ezekiel Elliot from a year ago, and Leveon Bell, who is likely the best back in the league. You hope for the team to perform better regardless, but those are 2 of the toughest matchups you can draw in back to back weeks. This week they go against Marshawn Lynch who, after a decent start, has looked pretty ineffective the last couple weeks. With Williams likely out once again, Michael Pierce, who has quietly been having a great season of his own, will be in charge of making "Beast Mode" look more like "Least Mode"
Expecting More, Getting Less - Continuing with the topic of Brandon Williams, this team is filled with players that we had high expectations for that have been disappointing through the first quarter of the season. Williams' injury is a let down for sure, but it's not really his fault and there are plenty of healthy players that need to step up and be what we expected to have when we acquired them. Remember when Mike Wallace claimed we would have a trio of 1000 yard receivers this year? His 76 yards through 4 games (55 of which came a week ago), and Perriman's 2 catches for 11 yards through 4 games say otherwise. Jeremy Maclin hasn't put up insane numbers, but at least he's made a few noteworthy plays and shown legitimate frustration in the struggles of the team. On the defensive side of the ball, Tony Jefferson was our big pick up. After a great first week, he hasn't really lived up to the hype. He's consistently late in coverage, and hasn't forced any game-changing plays. He and Weddle looked to be arguably the best safety duo in the league before the season started, now they're just big names underperforming. There's still time to right the ship, but thus far they've both been a let down. Whereas he was a big signing, our young guys haven't stepped up the way we were hoping for either. It's difficult to be tough on young guys, but when you're spending early draft revenue you have to expect better results. With Brent Urban down again, Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley have failed to step up. This is a team that is sorely missing Timmy Jernigan at the moment, but both guys are young and need time to develop. Matt Judon has also been the weak link in an otherwise promising OLB corp. Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams should both begin to see more snaps, as Judon has seen almost 3x the snaps of Bowser and nearly 4x the snaps of Williams, while being arguably less effective than both.
Matchups to Watch
Ravens Corners vs Oakland Receivers - Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper can both line up on either side of the field, so Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr will see a good amount of both of them on Sunday. Both Cooper and Crabtree are likely not 100% this week, they both missed time earlier and will only net a couple of full practices, but both should be active for the game and are difference makers. This year Cooper hasn't looked quite as good as he has the last couple years, he's had the most drops in the league and can't get anything going regularly, but he's shown what he can be already and is still young. It's likely he's just in a slump and will break back out, hopefully just not this week. I touched on how dominant Carr and Smith have been above, and they'll need to continue that level of play against a top-notch receiving duo. In the slot, Seth Roberts is one of the best, and got a big payday because of that. The Ravens would be wise to let Humphrey play here this week, as that looks like a potential mismatch against Lardarius Webb.
Khalil Mack vs Austin Howard - Mack NEEDS to be double teamed, and with Yanda on the field, I think we could actually do that effectively. He's not though, and whoever we put in at RG is not nearly the same quality, and will have a tough time handling him. Unless Howard can win outright, which very few tackles have been able to do, Mack is going to be a disruptive force that shuts down the run and pass game alike. I don't believe anyone in the league can stop Mack completely, which is one reason why he won defensive player of the year, but we have to limit his impact. We can't allow him to force turnovers that set up easy points. Ravens Front 7 vs Raiders Oline - The Raiders have one of the best lines in the league that especially thrives in pass protection. Pro Football Focus actually has the unit ranked as their #1 squad in pass blocking proficiency this year. With that said, Derek Carr gets the ball out of his hand incredibly quickly, and EJ Manuel holds onto it for significantly longer. Dean Pees needs to call more exotic blitzes or he'll have all day to make plays down the field. Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, and Donald Penn are all in the top tier of their respective positions with a legitimate claim for the number 1 spot, and the only reason we were able to sign Austin Howard is because the raiders were comfortable with Marshall Newhouse at RT. The only weak link this year is Gabe Jackson, who's been battling injuries. It'll be an uphill battle and we'll need to be creative, but getting to EJ Manuel early and often to prevent him from settling into a groove is immensely important. It's unlikely we'll win many 1-on-1 battles against an elite level line, Dean Pees' ability to get creative in blitz packages may be the deciding factor of this game.
Joe Flacco vs himself - It's time for Joe to step up. Fans in Baltimore have always been quick to throw him under the bus, but his play has been horrible. Yes the line is bad, yes he's dealt with some drops, but at some point he needs to share the responsibility. To the media, Flacco has recognized his play isn't up to par. He regularly blames himself and acknowledges he needs to be better, but so far those are just words and I've seen no positive change. Joe's mechanics have regressed, he has no confidence in any receiver, and he's making stupid mental mistakes constantly. If you know the line sucks you know you're going to get hit no matter what, so step up and deliver that ball and make them think twice about blitzing you while you find guys open downfield. Make more presnap reads, stop staring down check downs, and play like you've been there. Reggie Nelson has shown to be a playmaker in the past, and this year Karl Joseph is looking like he can develop into a star, but aside from that this defense isnothing special against the pass. Maclin can find room to get open around below average coverage linebackers, use him and Watson to open the field for your speedy options on the outside. The offense as a whole is lost, but it all starts with the leader and biggest cap hit, Joe needs to step up and give us a reason to not look towards a replacement in the draft.
Ravens win and move to 3-2, but this game is unnecessarily close. For the first time in weeks, the offense isn't horrendous but it still isn't good. Despite mentioning we caan't allow Khalil Mack to force a turnover earlier, he does just that with a strip sack that gives the Raiders the lead in the second half. Our defense forces a pair of turnovers throughout the game that prove to be the difference maker. Aside from the defense, Justin Tucker is our difference maker. We score more FGs than TDs, and Tucker hits the game-winner with under a minute left. We are barely able to beat a backup-led team, which creates more questions than answers, but get a much-needed victory before returning home against the Bears and rookie QB Mitch Trubisky in week 6.
BOLD PREDICTION - Breshad Perriman triples his receptions on the year, picking up 4 this game, one of which goes for a long TD.