Offensive Game Plan
1.) Attacking different 4-4-3 alignments: A number of analysts have pointed to Cleveland's use of an eight man defensive front against the Ravens as the blue-print for stopping Baltimore's rushing attack. However, it was not the first time that a defense stacked the line so heavily against Baltimore.
Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis devised a similar game plan to stop Jamal Lewis in both of last year's encounters.
In both games, the Bengals used a number of sets that featured a fourth linebacker or a third safety on the field to help support the run defense. Lewis' plan produced mixed results: He was able to stymie Jamal in the first match-up in Cincinnati, but the Ravens ran all over the Bengals in a pivotal game in Baltimore.
Lewis will again depend on a stacked front to defend the Ravens' offense, especially with Todd Heap being out of the lineup on Sunday.
The Ravens should adjust their scheme according to what Marvin Lewis shows on defense.
If he goes with four linebackers, a one back, one tight-end and three-wide set should be used to attack that alignment. The emphasis of lining up in this formation is to expose the match-up that would take place involving the fourth linebacker covering a third-receiver (probably Clarence Moore). The Ravens could also toy with the notion of using Daniel Wilcox, an athletic pass catching tight-end, instead of Moore to expose one of the Bengals' linebackers in the passing game.
If Lewis goes with three safeties, the Ravens should counter by hammering the ball out of the I-Formation. Lewis could use this front because two of his safeties, Madieu Williams and Kevin Keasviham, are solid run defenders and possess ideal size. Plus, free safety Kim Herring has enough athleticism to potentially line up against one of the Ravens' outside receivers on certain snaps, although it's unlikely that this move would take place.
2.) Making the proper protection adjustments: An issue that the Ravens still need to clean up is the pass protection, or lack thereof. In the first two games against the Browns and the Steelers, Kyle Boller has been hurried, sacked, hit and flushed out of the pocket too many times. Obviously, not having Jonathan Ogden against Cleveland had much to do with the pass protection breakdowns in that game. However, the Steelers were also able to get to Boller more frequently than one would like to see happen.
Against the Bengals, it will be imperative that Boller and center Casey Rabach are on the same page when it comes to making protection changes before the snap of the ball, because the Bengals will blitz often, especially when the Ravens are in obvious passing situations. Boller needs to accurately locate potential blitzers before the snap of the ball, and make the proper blocking adjustments to pick up those rushers, while Rabach needs to relay the audible accordingly.
If the pass rush is blocked successfully, Boller will have the opportunity to hit on some long pass plays.
3.) Getting a hat on Nate Webster: As it did in Baltimore, Marvin Lewis' defense revolves around his linebackers. The defensive lineman are expected to tie up blockers up front so that linebackers Nate Webster, Brian Simmons and Kevin Hardy can roam unimpeded from sideline-to-sideline. The point man of this group is Webster, who Lewis is depending on to be the Ray Lewis of his defense.
Webster is a fast, rangy player with a nose for the football. If he's kept clean, he'll make a lot of tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. However, Webster is an undersized player that has a tough time disengaging blocks.
Forcing him to engage a blocker on running plays is a must. If a guard or a center can spring loose to hit Webster consistently on first and second down, not only will he be out of position to tackle Jamal Lewis or any other ball carrier, but Webster will wear down as the game progresses.
Defensive Game Plan
1.) Using different looks: As Brian Billick stated this week during one of his press conferences, it doesn't matter if the Ravens are facing a rookie quarterback or a seasoned veteran, they will attack the quarterback every week no matter what. That is what defensive coordinator Mike Nolan prefers to do.
Nolan however, doesn't always use the blitz to get to the quarterback. In fact, Nolan blitzed sparingly against the Steelers last week, using more four and five man rushes to pressure Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger.
What Nolan did was mix up the looks of his fronts to bait the Steeler quarterbacks into making the wrong pre-snap reads. Specifically, he threw a lot of smoke in their faces by utilizing the zone blitz. He had his linebackers and safeties show blitz, only to have them flood the passing lanes after the ball was snapped. Nolan also used stunts and twists at the line of scrimmage to allow his outside rushers to tangle with the interior lineman.
One should expect to see a similar move used against first year starter Carson Palmer in order to test his ability to make the proper checks and audibles before the play takes place. The Ravens will account for Palmer making the wrong calls, and when he does, they will try to capitalize on his mistakes.
2.) Double teaming Johnson: A move that worked well for Baltimore in last year's final game against the Bengals was to use bracket coverage against Pro Bowl wideout Chad Johnson. What that means is that Chris McAlister handled Johnson one-on-one in the intermediate area, but received help from safety Ed Reed on the vertical routes that Johnson ran. With Reed staying disciplined in his deep coverage assignments to assist McAlister, Johnson was relegated to making smaller gains that covered less than 20 yards.
Using the same strategy in Sunday's game seems logical because Johnson is one of the top three deep play receivers in the game, and he will make a defense pay when he has one-on-one coverage to work against. Of course, if Johnson is contained, that will just give Peter Warrick more chances to make plays against the Ravens' secondary. However, Warrick is not as explosive as Johnson, so the Ravens will have to take their chances and force him to be Palmer's go-to option.
One-on-One Match-up to Watch:
Justin Smith versus Jonathan Ogden: Everything in the world seemed right again when future hall of famer Jonathan Ogden returned to his blind side post against the Steelers. As he always does, Ogden controlled the left side all afternoon against Pittsburgh, which forced the Steelers to attack other spots along the offensive line.
The Bengals will likely follow the Steelers' strategy and attack the Ravens up the middle or off the right side of the line using the blitz, while hoping that speed rusher Justin Smith can occupy Ogden.
Smith has yet to have a breakout season from a statistical standpoint, but he is none the less considered a dangerous right defensive end, because he has such a quick first step and is relentless.
Ogden should be able to handle Smith, but he will need to make sure to get Smith blocked and completely out of the play in passing situations.
Dev Panchwagh - Ravens Insider