Nick Mensio

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Tape Review: Baltimore Ravens

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rotoworld's Nick Mensio is watching every football game from the 2012 season and taking notes. Bang it here for Mensio’s Arizona Cardinals Tape Review, and here for the Atlanta Falcons.

Next up in Mensio's offseason Tape Review series: The Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.

The Offense: The Ravens ran a balanced offense that ranked in the middle of the pack in both passing and rushing attempts. Both offensive coordinators -- Cam Cameron and Jim Caldwell -- dabbled in the no huddle and run a lot of shotgun. Joe Flacco's passing attack pushed the ball downfield and put strain on defensive backs with a high volume of deep shots to Torrey Smith, but could also win underneath with Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, and Ray Rice. A couple of complaints were their poor third-down percentage and bipolar home-and-road performance. They did straighten out those two areas in the postseason under Caldwell. After Cameron was fired prior to Week 15, the Ravens started using more three-wide sets and scaled back FB Vonta Leach's snaps, although he remained a bruising run blocker when he played. The offensive line gave up way too much regular season pressure, but featured two stud road graders in C Matt Birk and RG Marshal Yanda. The issue was fixed in the playoffs by moving Michael Oher from left to right tackle and planting Bryant McKinnie on the blind side. Flacco received much more time in the pocket, and he was brilliant as he captured Super Bowl MVP honors.


Joe Flacco: Flacco has a huge arm and can make any throw look easy. He excels in the deep passing game. … There were plenty of big gains and touchdown bombs to choose from on the year. I’ll start with the very first play of the season against the Bengals. Flacco and Torrey Smith connected for a 52-yard gain over the top of Leon Hall. In the same game, Flacco simply flicked his wrist and connected with Anquan Boldin for a 34-yard TD down the middle. In Week 3 against the Patriots at home, Flacco threw a perfect deep ball over the middle, splitting three defenders for a 41-yard pickup by Jacoby Jones. His best throw of the deep variety, though, was in the AFC Divisional Round against the Broncos. Flacco hit Smith in perfect stride on a bomb deep down the seam for a 59-yard touchdown behind Champ Bailey. You can go back and review any Ravens game, and you’ll see at least five deep-shot attempts down the sidelines per contest.

Flacco isn’t just about the deep ball, though. He showed that he can drop it in the bucket, too. … One example was in Week 4 at home against the Browns. Flacco dropped the ball right in Tandon Doss’ hands over Sheldon Brown’s head for a 39-yard gain. Flacco made back-to-back throws like this in Week 13 at home against the Steelers. This time, they were both to Boldin for gains of 31 and 28, the second good for a touchdown over Cortez Allen. ... The real issues with Flacco during the regular season were head-scratchingly atrocious home-road splits, and spotty play under pressure.

Flacco threw just seven touchdowns all regular season on the road, and his passer rating was 25 points lower away from M&T Bank Stadium. It wasn't a one- or two-game thing; this happened all season long. ... His Week 7 game in Houston was downright horrific. Flacco started the game 4-of-15 passing, and had six passes batted at the line of scrimmage. He couldn’t hit anything deep, while also missing high and wide on basic throws. Flacco averaged a pitiful 3.4 yards on 43 attempts. He threw two interceptions, and one was returned for a score by Johnathan Joseph. Week 5 in Kansas City was much of the same, but the Ravens beat the lowly Chiefs with three field goals. ... Flacco barely showed up in the Ravens’ Week 11 win at Pittsburgh. The only touchdown scored was on a Jacoby Jones punt return. … Perhaps Flacco's best half of football came in Week 14 at Washington, only to fade in the final two quarters. Flacco went 10-of-13 for 127 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, then disappeared the rest of the way as the Ravens lost the game. ... To his credit, Flacco rose up and was lethal in three postseason road games. That playoff run puts free agent Flacco in line to become one of the highest-paid signal callers in the NFL. However, he’s going to have to be more consistent in regular seasons, or the Ravens will regret this upcoming mega-contract down the road.

Running Backs

Ray Rice: Rice quietly had his lowest touch total since his rookie season. He was still a premier back due to his quickness, cutting ability, balance, patience, and vision. Rice can also run between the tackles and outside the numbers. … Rice didn’t have many highlight runs, but a few caught my eye. One was a 34-yard touchdown in Week 13 versus the Steelers. On a run designed to go behind right tackle, Rice identified that nothing was there and ripped off a jump-cut to the left as the defense was collapsing down. Rice took it to the house up the left side. Another was in Week 14 in Washington. Rice picked up 46 yards on a cutback right, leaving Madieu Williams dead in his tracks wondering what just happened. … Rice’s biggest asset is his skill in the passing game. In Week 3 against the Patriots, Rice roasted New England's slow-footed linebackers, catching all five passes thrown in his direction. In Week 11 in Pittsburgh, Rice made a 31-yard grab down the right sideline on a wheel route with LaMarr Woodley in coverage. In Week 16 versus the Giants, Rice burned Michael Boley on a post route out of the backfield for a 27-yard TD. ... Rice's signature 2012 moment was the "Hey Diddle Diddle, Ray Rice Up the Middle” play in Week 12 at San Diego. On fourth-and-29 with 1:59 left and the Ravens down 13-10 at their own 37, Rice caught a dump-off at the 38-yard line. He shimmied and shook his way for a 30-yard pickup, avoiding three Chargers defenders 14 yards away from the sticks, stiff-arming Marcus Gilchrist in the process, and then squeezing underneath Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer right at the first-down marker. The play set up Justin Tucker’s game-tying field goal, before the Ravens eventually won in overtime.

Bernard Pierce: Pierce really came on down the stretch, particularly after Week 10 as he earned a significant role. The rookie out of Temple proved to be a powerful downhill runner with burst. Pierce refused to go down on first contact, running through arm tackles with ease. … One of my favorite Pierce runs occurred in Week 14 at the Redskins. Pierce got a second-and-three carry and shot up the middle, busting through a weak arm tackle at the line, and then stiff-arming Madieu Williams shortly after. Another great run was in the Wild Card Round versus the Colts. Pierce broke off a 43-yard scamper between right guard and right tackle, setting up Anquan Boldin’s 18-yard touchdown to seal the victory. The rookie’s longest gain of the season was in Week 16 against the Giants. Pierce exploded up the middle for a 78-yard gain before he was caught from behind at the one-yard line. … Pierce's struggles occurred mostly on perimeter runs. He couldn’t convert a third-and-one outside run to the right in Week 6 against the Cowboys. Pierce also couldn’t manage a first down on a fourth-and-inches outside run in Week 12 against the Chargers. He seemed less decisive when asked to make something happen on the edge. … Overall, Pierce is going to be one of the top handcuffs in fantasy next season. He showed that he’s a lock for 6-10 touches per game, and didn’t disappoint in Week 17 against the Bengals when asked to carry the load behind backup offensive linemen as the starters rested for the playoffs.

Receivers and Tight Ends

Torrey Smith: Smith is a prototypical deep threat with top-notch speed on the outside. After being used mainly in that fashion as a rookie in 2011, Smith's 2012 season wasn’t much different. Flacco looked Smith’s way on multiple deep balls per game as a staple of Baltimore's offense. I’ll just pinpoint a few. … In Week 3, Smith ran by Kyle Arrington for a 25-yard TD on first down. In Week 9 against the Browns, Smith leaped over the top of Joe Haden on the right sideline for a 26-yard pickup. The following week against the Raiders, Smith blew by Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch down the right side for a 47-yard score. In the Divisional Round, we all saw Smith torch Champ Bailey for 59-yard and 32-yard touchdowns. It’s what he does best. … Smith did show that he isn't limited to vertical bombs. In Week 4 against the Browns, Smith lined up in the right slot, and Flacco zipped an 18-yard touchdown over the middle to him on a post pattern. Facing Cleveland again in Week 9, Smith ran an in route and stopped on a dime at the 14-yard line. He ripped off a spin move, then beat Joe Haden to the corner of the end zone for an 18-yard score. In Week 12 against the Chargers -- maybe his best game of the year -- Smith ran a drag route on third-and-seven and picked up gobs of YAC for a 54-yard gain. A final example came in Week 16 against the Giants, when Smith worked over Corey Webster all afternoon. Getting inside of Webster, Smith beat him on a quick slant over the middle for a six-yard score on third-and-goal. … Smith is boom or bust most weeks in fantasy. But if Caldwell can further expand his route tree, Smith could become a superstar on the outside. He just turned 24 in January.

Anquan Boldin: Boldin is the perfect complement to Smith’s deep speed. People that just watched Boldin in the playoffs might think he runs a lot of deep routes, but that’s not reality. He’s a chain mover who will catch anything thrown his way and a go-to guy on third down. Being labeled a "possession receiver" is sometimes viewed as a knock, but that’s not the case here. Boldin has some of the league's most reliable hands, plays with supreme toughness, and is open even when he's not. ... Take, for example, a third-quarter series in Week 4 against the Browns. Boldin reeled in an 18-yard pass on a back-shoulder throw while twisting his body in the air and snatching the ball with his fingertips. Three plays later, on third-and-seven, Boldin lined up in the right slot and plucked Flacco's pass out of the air on a corner route for a 21-yard gain, using max extension. Later, he caught a pass at the 15-yard line on a hook route and barreled through two tacklers down to the two-yard line, setting up Flacco's touchdown sneak. This all happened in the rain. Broadcaster Brad Nessler went on to call Boldin “Mr. Dependable,” and that's precisely who he is.

Jacoby Jones: Jones’ usage was inconsistent throughout the season, but he made plays when given the opportunity. He’s a strict, straight-line speed guy who lined up on the outside in three-wide sets, pushing Boldin to the slot. … In Week 2 against the Eagles, Jones beat Nnamdi Asomugha’s jam at the line on third-and-four for a 21-yard score down the right sideline. He had a 43-yard grab in Week 15 versus Denver, skying over the top of Tony Carter and snatching the ball at its highpoint. Jones would again come back to hurt the Broncos. In the Divisional Round of the playoffs, Jones caught the game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass behind Rahim Moore in the fourth quarter. He again had a monster 56-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl, getting behind Chris Culliver on third-and-ten down the middle. Jones did have a couple of blatant drops on the year. … Jones’ most significant contributions were on special teams, with one punt return and three kick return touchdowns. The most momentous came in the Super Bowl, returning the opening kick of the second half 108 yards to put the Ravens up 28-6. Jones deserved Super Bowl MVP over Flacco.

Dennis Pitta: Pitta was the third-highest targeted receiver in the Ravens’ passing game. He brings a second set of reliable hands on third down and worked often in the slot, so Pitta and Boldin often traded off big games. Pitta was a force over the middle. … In Week 1 against the Bengals, he caught a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle on third-and-eight while grabbing the ball at its highpoint over the top of Leon Hall. In Week 13 versus the Steelers, Pitta hauled in a 19-yard pass on third-and-11 to set up a 34-yard Rice touchdown. Pitta’s best game was in a Week 15 loss to the Broncos. He had full extension over the deep middle on second-and-25, rolling into the end zone for a 31-yard score. On the offense's very next play, Pitta caught a short out route near the right sideline. He proceeded to lower his head on Tony Carter, and then spun off a Jim Leonhard tackle attempt before finally stiff-arming Rahim Moore on his way to a 61-yard touchdown. … Pitta isn’t much of a blocker. Ed Dickson was used mainly as Baltimore's in-line blocker, even though he wasn’t great. Just to touch on Dickson a bit, he really only had one good game as a receiver. In Week 10 against the Raiders, he had a 40-yard catch down the seam, beating Phillip Wheeler in coverage, but Dickson stumbled at the four-yard line on what would have been an easy score. Dickson later had a 19-yard catch on third-and-four to set up a five-yard Pitta touchdown, where he beat Matt Giordano over the middle. … To finish on Pitta, he ended the year as the No. 7 fantasy tight end. In 2013, his numbers could swell at Boldin’s expense.

The Defense: In theory, the Ravens run an aggressive 3-4 under Dean Pees. In 2012, they were a middle-of-the-pack, aging defense that was decent against the run, but gave up a ton of big pass plays. … On the defensive line, there’s a key cog at five-technique tackle in Haloti Ngata. I loved what I saw from him, especially early in the season before he dealt with injuries. Ngata owned Bengals RG Kevin Zeitler for a 13-yard sack in Week 1. In Week 3, Ngata chased down Wes Welker nine yards downfield on a third-and-21 screen, showing he never quits on plays and is always hustling. In Week 4 against the Browns, Ngata shed an Alex Mack block to wrap up Chris Ogbonnaya in the backfield. The next week in Kansas City, Ngata powered right over Chiefs LG Ryan Lilja to bring down Jamaal Charles for a five-yard loss on second-and-seven. ... The Ravens are really weak at nose tackle with Terrence Cody and Maake Kemoeatu. They rarely made plays and their ineffectiveness was a primary reason for Baltimore’s run-defense woes. ... The linebacker spot is bookended by stud pass rushers Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs. Kruger, a free agent, set himself up for a monster pay day with his work in the playoffs, mainly versus the Colts. He also showed he can defend the run in Week 5, when he had five tackles for loss against Jamaal Charles. ... Suggs was pretty quiet for much of the year, but that was to be expected after returning from a torn Achilles’ and then tearing his biceps. ... On the inside, Ray Lewis couldn’t cover anyone in the passing game. His run defense was okay, especially early in the year when he was fresh. ... Dannell Ellerbe was a young player who emerged and played really well. He was nails versus the run. ... The secondary was where the Ravens were abused. Cary Williams was the main culprit, giving up big play after big play. Williams blew coverage in Week 2 on Jeremy Maclin, letting him slip into the end zone for a wide-open 23-yard touchdown on third-and-three. He was beaten twice for TDs in Week 6 against Dez Bryant. Even Kevin Walter beat Williams for a 25-yard score in Week 7. Eric Decker burned Williams for a 51-yard touchdown in Week 15. It was a weekly occurrence. Some team might overpay Williams as a free agent. ... Ed Reed gave up some big plays himself, but that’s to be expected from a 34-year-old. He’s wearing down. ... Bernard Pollard was stout as an in-the-box safety versus the run and as a pass rusher. He’d also take a receiver’s head off over the middle, as he showed in Week 13 against Emmanuel Sanders. ... No. 1 corner Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in Week 6, but he should be back to full health for the 2013 opener. … The Ravens have holes opening all over the defense with guys hitting free agency and Lewis retiring. They won it all at the perfect time.

2013 Fantasy Players to Watch: Torrey Smith and Bernard Pierce.

Nick Mensio is a football writer for The 2014 NFL season marks his third with Rotoworld. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.
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