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What to Watch for Against the Ravens

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So the nerd side of me got a hold of the blog, sorry in advance for all of you looking forward to my pop culture witticisms.

<crickets>

Yes. Well. Here we go. I was playing around on [URL="http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef"]Football Outsiders[/URL] this morning and came across our team defense rankings from last year. I figured that since they more heavily rank the later games (vs the early games on the schedule), our rankings at the end of the year would give me an accurate picture of what we should be looking for in the Pre Season and early regular season games. Today, I will focus on our secondary.

The first thing that jumped out at me is that against the opposing teams #1 WR, we were ranked a respectable 13th in the NFL. That means DeAngelo did fairly well against Hakeem Nicks, Mike Sims-Walker, Miles Austin and Mike Williams. Not great, but pretty good.

The opposing team's secondary receiver? Ouch. This may be the reason Carlos wasn't even considered to be brought back, and why the rest of the league wasn't exactly knocking down his door once FA started. We were ranked 24th, giving up nearly 60 yards/game to that postition. Given Baltimore's (relative) success against 2nd WRs, ranked 17th, the Ravens #2 WR bears attention.

The Ravens presumably traded for Lee Evans to stretch the field, and open up undereneath passes for Anquan Boldin, similar to how things were done during some of his great years with Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Against the Steelers, there were two missed long ball opportunities that were the fault of the QB; these are the types of plays Evans was brought to Baltimore for, we need to see how coverage will be.

Against the opposing team's third WR, we ranked 29th, which explains why it took so long for the front office to decide to bring back Phillip Buchanon. Given his four game suspension at the start of the season, I am hoping Barnes can make more of an immediate impact and be more effect than Buchanon was.

Something of note is our ranking against the Tight End position. We ranked 6th in the league, and given that we played against Boss and Witten both in the final four weeks, that is a fairly important achievement. With Atogwe joining the team, assuming Landry's return to health, this should continue to be an area of strength.

The last thing to watch regards RB pass catching. We were in the middle of the pack last year, ranking 17th in the league. Given that pass catching is one of Ray Rice's many skills, this bears attention. We have linebackers who are quick sideline to sideline, and I anticipate some improvement in this area with better personnel and another year in the scheme. Rice will be a good test.

So far, against the Steelers (I am choosing to discount the Colts game as they did not have Peyton and clearly did not care), our secondary has looked decent, but there have been warning signs. Hall can play better, and with much improved safety play (with the arrival of Atogwe and assuming Landry's health) he should be even better. Josh Wilson appears to be a significant upgrade to Carlos, based on stats alone, though he also bears some scrutiny. Hopefully Barnes will push Buchanon to the bench for the season.

The Ravens do not have a prolific passing attack, mainly because Flacco has not yet developed into the QB people think he will. Evans should help stretch the field, though he removes the safety blanket of Mason. Pre Season obviously can only tell us so much, but leading up to the Giants, we can search for signs that our defense is on the way up.
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