Kyle Boller appeared to be on his last tour as a Baltimore Raven but after shredding the Packers and Vikings, he has bought himself another look. Boller has struggled for a variety of reasons. The pass protection has been very suspect. Until this year, he simply had no receiving threat other than Todd Heap. He also had too many voices telling him how to be a quarterback, instead of that one steady voice that is vital for a young quarterback. Kyle was also asked to be a quiet game manager that would not win games nor lose them.
All of these items and more worked against Kyle but when he realized he had nothing to loose, he began to play like it. Kyle is still slow at going through his progressions and has that same bizarre throwing motion but he is getting the ball to where he needs it, especially when he must. Last week, he simply destroyed the Vikings with third down completions and has now given Ravens the one thing opposing coaches fear most - a passing attack to go with their running game and dominating defense.
When you break down the Ravens line, you have to begin with the tackles. Jonathon Ogden will be heading to another Pro Bowl appearance. While Ogden may not be as dominate as he once was, he remains one of the elite left tackles in this league. The Ravens will look to run the ball behind this mammoth tackle until the Browns prove that they can stop it.
On the opposite side is Tony Pashos. Tony is now becoming a very good right tackle. He is a powerful run blocker that provides stability in the passing game. His emergence has been a key ingredient in Kyle Boller's development.
The combination of Jonathon Ogden and left guard Edwin Mulitalo is the bread and butter of the running game but right guard and center has not been nearly as effective. Look for this interior to see quite a bit of change during the off-season.
The Ravens came into this season expecting their running game to dominate the league with a 1-2 punch of Lewis and Taylor, but this has not been the case. At 5-11 and 245lbs, Jamal Lewis has been a nightmare for Browns defenses and Chester Taylor was perceived as a true complete back but neither back is comfortable with time-share opportunities and neither has done enough to remove the other from the rotation. Lewis is still capable of putting up huge yards as one of the most physically imposing backs in football. His body and rushing style can wear down any defense but I am wondering if this style of rushing, has also worn out his body prematurely.
Chester Taylor is not the physically dominating back of Lewis, but he is a well-balanced back with adequate size, the speed to get outside and take it the distance. He is vital in the passing game, as he has shown to very efficient at picking up the blitz and becoming a threat receiving the ball.
Todd Heap is having another great year at the tight end position. Heap is one of the most difficult players in football to cover. He has the size and physical dominance to overpower any defensive back that is asked to cover and he has the speed to run by any linebacker that is asked to cover. To make it even more difficult is the way Heap uses his body to shield the defender while the ball is in the air. Combine all of these assets with one of the best set of hands in the league with solid route running and you get a playmaking tight end. His blocking has been a bit suspect since he came into the league but Heap has shown steady improvement and while he isn't in the same league as a Tony Gonzales when it comes to blocking, he is proficient and making steady improvement in this area.
Derrick Mason has produced his fifth consecutive 1000-yard season. Mason may have slowed a bit with age but whatever he lost in speed, he makes up for with experience. Mason is a superb route runner that can break down zone coverage and he is deceptive enough to get beyond man coverage. Mason's biggest attribute this year may not be his skills but his leadership in developing rookie Mark Clayton.
Mark Clayton suffered through the normal progression that a rookie receiver must endure but he also struggled with a shell game at quarterback and the injury bug. Clayton is beginning to show signs of what made him so special at Oklahoma. He may not have the size, most seem to look for in modern receivers but he has that speed and quickness that makes him a nightmare to cover. He is also much stronger and more physical than he appears. He is adding that deep threat to pull teams off the line of scrimmage. Mark has been a sponge absorbing the knowledge of the veteran Derrick Mason and it is beginning to show.
The Ravens struggled early in adapting to Rex Ryan's 46 defense in part due to change in philosophy but also because they lacked the defensive line personnel that fit this penetrating style of defense. The Ravens defensive interior is better suited for controlling the line of scrimmage by taking up blockers but in the 46, they need players to attack and penetrate the pocket.
The Ravens without Ray Lewis are still loaded with defensive talent. Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas are pass-rushing beasts. They will move around and attack from all angles and positions. This creates confusion amongst the offensive lineman as they are often unsure whom they are to block, leaving one free to attack the quarterback.
Linebacker Tommy Polley continues to improve and impress. He has not produced great numbers but he has produced when it has counted. He simply has a knack for finding the ball carrier in short yardage and goal line situations.
With Ed Reed healthy, the Ravens can turn up the heat by using only three defensive backs to control the passing game while the extra linebacker is used to get to the quarterback. Reed has dropped a number of passes since his return but the fact he is getting in position to make plays is a positive sign.
Deion Sanders may have lost more than a step but he is still contributing to the defense. He has shown a willingness to blitz and although he hasn't made any sacks he has forced the quarterback into the arms of Thomas and Suggs. He is also able to use his experience and speed to give opposing quarterbacks a false sense of security. He lies in the middle of the field and sells the intermediate zone but recovers quick enough to make a play on the deep post.
Cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Somari Rolle are often forced to live on an island with little or no help. They are physical corners that can jam the receiver at the line giving the blitzers time to penetrate the pocket. They also have the speed to run with the receiver while rarely giving up the big play. If these two corners can continue their stellar play as the Ravens improve up front, we could see that same terrifying defense that made Buddy Ryan and his 46 defense, a household name.
B.J. Sams appears to be healthy once again and this is not good news for Browns fans. Sams is one of the best punt and kickoff returners in the game. Anytime this kid gets his hand on the ball he is a threat to score.
Matt Stover is also one of the leagues best kickers as he not only has a very strong leg but he is also a very consistent kicker. He also does a fantastic job of hanging the ball up on kickoffs allowing his coverage time to establish their position and preventing the long returns.
Browns Battle Plan
Reuben Droughns appears to have the "dead legs of December", due to so many carries. This does not mean the Browns should abandon the run. William Green and Lee Suggs must be given opportunity this week to show why they deserve a roster spot. The Ravens are vulnerable to the run if you are willing to run at them. They are simply to fast and talented to run around. Take the loss of yardage but keep grinding at their interior. Over the course of the game, this interior will slowly begin to open.
The Browns must also improve their game planning. The wide receiver screens do not work with Frye at quarterback. All this is doing is allowing the defense to tighten their grip. If you wish to use a screen, use the RB and TE screens to take advantage of the all out blitz.
Frye will need to stretch the field. Teams are playing the dink and duck by jamming the receivers, while unloading with their front seven. Take your shots deep anytime there is one on one coverage on the outside. If you cannot make teams respect the threat of going deep, you have no chance in this league.
The Browns must tackle. This team may be the worst tackling team in the history of football and I am including the scab teams during the strike. There is no excuse for allowing everyone to run all over this team, especially when we often put nine men in the box to no avail. If you are not good enough to make the solo tackle, hold up the runner until help arrives. No one wants to see a repeat of Jamal Lewis's record performance but if the Browns tackle like last week, it could very well happen.
The Browns secondary will need to keep their heads up, as Boller will over throw the receiver. It will be vital to take advantage of this type of mistake and get the defense off the field. Covering Heap can be a nightmare but the key to defending him is playing in front of him while letting the safeties cover the over the top throw.
The Browns need to play the youngsters this week. There is no reason not to see what players like Sean Jones, Brodney Pool, Nick Speegle and Nat Dorsey have to offer. Simply put, they can not do any worse than what we have seen from the veterans. I would like to say we have a good chance in this game but when you lay down for the Steelers, it will be hard to get up for the Ravens.