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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Baltimore at Tampa Bay: 5 Things We Need to Know

The NFL. The National Football League. Full of action, excitement, and surprises. Shocks aplenty, leaving us a bucket load to talk about. Twists and turns, the kind of stuff you couldn't DREAM of happening. Players doing things no person in their right mind would do.

And I haven't even gotten to the football.

Yep, like has been the case all season, players off-field behaviour continues to make the headlines. The latest being Adrian Peterson admitting to a court official he "smoked a little weed." I assume he must have been high at the time to have done that. Maybe Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrete Blount gave him a lift to the courtroom. Or maybe he shared a cab with Justin Blackmon. Or maybe he was hanging out with Ray Rice. I feel AP and Ray Rice would've been useful when the Titanic was going down. Only instead of being there to save the rafts full of women and children, they could've just beaten the cockney out of them. Maybe then I wouldnt have to sit through the movie every three months, whilst my girlfriend sings along to my love will go on. More like my barf will go on. Can't stand that damn movie.

Ok. I see i've gotten off track. As you can see, all this off the field stuff has just gotten out of hand. It's taking our attention away from some awesome on the field action, so it's time to once again focus on some football. And here we are now, with the Baltimore Ravens travelling to Tampa Bay to take on the 1-4 Buccaneers. From a distance, it doesn't look like a very enticing game of football. But take a closer look, and there are a few juicy matchups in this one. 

Baltimore come into this after a tough loss at Indy last week. The main takeaways for Baltimore weren't to different then what they've dealt with for years. Defence was good, offence was not. The defence, as it has all season, has the ability to work with short fields and keep teams out of the end zone. Even when it looked like the Colts were knocking on the door to score six, the Ravens were able to keep them to field goal attempts. They have averaged only 16 points allowed per game, which is good for third in the league.

The other side of the ball, not so good. The most concerning thing was their ineptitude on third down. Baltimore were only 1 of 11 on third downs in this game, which was a stark contrast to the offence we had seen the previous two weeks. The Colts looked strong defensively, but a big part of it was the performance of Baltimore's offensive line. The Ravens were coming in high off a three game stretch in which they didn't give up a single sack. It wasn't just in the numbers either, as Flacco was given ample time to find open receivers. That line was also performing strongly in the run game, allowing the Ravens to control the clock and limit 3rd and long situations.

With Eugene Monroe out, and undrafted rookie James Hurst slotting in at left tackle, that line was just torn to shreds. Joe Flacco was sacked four times, and hit six. Hurst was the biggest struggler by FAR in pass protection, allowing three sacks, three quarterback hurries and a hit. The Ravens were looking good on the ground, notching up 90 yards on just 15 carries, but turned to throwing the ball early on. The Ravens need far better protection if they hope to get a win in Tampa.

Tampa Bay roll up into this game after a heartbreaker at New Orleans. After a horrible start to the season, including a game against Atlanta where they looked more Pop-Warner than NFL team, they have had a really solid two game run. A surprise win against the Steelers in their own house, they went into New Orleans without being given much of a chance to keep it close. Keep it close they did though, holding an 11 point lead in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Buc's, the Saints were able to take the game into overtime, where a Khiry Robinson rushing touchdown ultimately saw them go down. They certainly pushed the Saints all the way though, and were able to force Drew Brees into three interceptions. They certainly have weapons on both sides of the ball, and if all those weapons are in sync, this team can compete with just about anybody.

The Buccaneers have looked far better with Glennon under center, and last week his connection with Vincent Jackson was explosive, with Jackson catching 8 passes for 144 yards. Having big targets gives Glennon more room for error on his throws, he can afford to throw it up and let the receiver make the play. This can be a positive for a young quarterback, knowing he can throw it downfield gives him the confidence to go deep and play a positive brand of football. It also utilizes one of Glennon's strengths - his strong arm. Having these big receivers can also be a curse. The tendency to throw it up can obviously lead to more turnovers, something Tampa can hardly afford. They aren't a team that score enough to make up for turnovers, so it's vital they take care of the ball.


So now let's get into it. Here's the 5 things you need to know about this matchup :



Moseley came into this season knowing he had big shoes to fill, as the Ravens needed to find the "next Ray Lewis." I put that in quotation marks because it's a silly notion, the Ravens didn't need to replace what Ray Lewis brang to the team, they just need a solid MLB to come in and play well. This kid hasn't just played well, he looks to be the runaway favourite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has played well all season, but just went to another level against the Colts. He was all over the field, making 14 tackles, intercepting Andrew Luck, and also managing to sack Luck on a blitz play. He did miss a few tackles, and a touchdown was scored by Dwayne Allen in his area, but nothing you wouldn't expect considering he played every single defensive snap. Moseley was the best player on the field last week, and will look to repeat that performance in Tampa Bay.



Maybe the most intriguing matchup in this game, we have one of the game's more underrated cornerbacks up against one of the most physical wide receivers in the league. Jimmy Smith has played outstanding football this season. Last week against the Colts, Andrew Luck was only able to complete one pass in Jimmy Smith's direction. He is tasked with a more difficult challenge this week, as he tries to contain a big, powerful receiver in Jackson. Whilst Smith has been playing at a Pro Bowl level, it would be very surprising to see him completely shutting down Jackson. The most likely result would be for Jackson to make a few big plays downfield with him and Smith going back and forth. If Glennon forces the issue look for Smith to cause a turnover or two.



It wasn't long ago that Webb was one of the key players on this defence. Right now he might be a weakness. Still not all the way back from his lower back injury, Andrew Luck had a lot of success targeting Webb in the passing game. If Tampa want to be successful in the air, they need to take advantage of this. The worst thing Glennon can do is target Jackson all night. Webb allowed  seven completions on 10 targets for 91 yards. He also allowed six first downs. If Tampa can expose Webb, they can keep the chains moving, and utilize Jackson in the red zone.



If J.J Watt wasn't a freak playing at such a freaky level, Gerald McCoy might actually be getting a slither of the respect he deserves. Whilst J.J Watt is the best defensive lineman in the game, McCoy isn't far behind. In fact, he might be right there. He is playing at an All Pro level, even whilst battling injury. He has freakish acceleration for his size, breezes past players with that incredible first step, and is an absolute weapon for this defence. Such a disruptive presence, which helps his teammates take advantage of rushed decision making by the opposition. If the Baltimore offensive line don't somehow keep him somewhat in check, he will wreak absolute havoc.

Coming off a horrible performance against the Colts, left tackle James Hurst lines up against experienced defensive end Michael Johnson. Johnson is no stranger to playing the Ravens, having played for the Cincinnati Bengals for five seasons. Johnson has 2 sacks on the season so far, and if Hurst doesn't improve ten-fold on last week, look for that sack total to at least double. If that's the case, Baltimore will REALLY struggle to move the ball.



A serious issue last season was Baltimore's obsession with throwing the football. In their defence, they really struggled on the ground. They had the worst running game in the league. Last week they ran the ball only 15 times. They dropped back to pass 42 times. This is not a recipe they can continue to use. Understandably, they were behind. But they were running at 6 yards a clip, which keeps you away from difficult 3rd down situations, which is what they struggled with last season. Expect Justin Forsett to get the bulk of the carries, with a sprinkling of Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro as well. I expect for the Ravens to run the ball a lot more then they did last week, maybe 30-35 times. If they can continue to have the success they've had so far this season on the ground, they put themselves in great stead.










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