The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Dan Bryden, who blogs about the Ravens for Baltimore Sports and Life.
MV: How does this Ravens front seven compare to what we saw last season?
DB: The Ravens will have a top-five defense this year, and it will be anchored by the new, controlling front seven. The Ravens’ hybrid alignment utilizes both one-gap types (Chris Canty, Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones) who penetrate upfield and two-gap man-handlers (Terrence Cody, Brandon Williams and Marcus Spears) who control the line of scrimmage and take up space. This blend provides stability in gap maintenance while disrupting plays in the backfield. These bodies up front are supplemented by stalwart outside linebackers (Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw) who reliably force the run back inside to inside linebackers who sift through bodies quickly and rally to the ball. Aside from talent, depth is a big asset for the front seven. The Ravens can allow run specialists (Upshaw and Josh Bynes), pass rushers (Elvis Dumervil and Canty) and coverage technicians (Chykie Brown and Corey Graham) to play to their strengths via rotation.
MV: How have -- and how will -- Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark fit in this offense?
DB: Stokley is a smallish slot receiver with exceptional hands and unexpected speed for his age. However, Stokley’s most valuable trait is intelligence. Assuming eventual rapport with Flacco, Stokley can run lateral “option” routes and/or sit between zone coverages, where he can be found after mutual post-snap reads. Stokley can also be an asset as a hot-read, particularly on thrid downs when many defenses, especially ones in the AFC North, like to bring pressure from unexpected locations. Clark is an unknown to me. Having only seen his below-average performance against Carolina, my pessimistic side tells me that his best days are behind him. But my optimistic side says that he simply needs to grasp the scheme. He can potentially be a third-down resource in the middle or in the flat, particularly as part of Flood or Stretch combinations.
MV: The Ravens have a handful of young wide receivers competing for roster spots and playing time. What are your impressions of that group?
DB: Barring unforeseen injury, the locks of the wide receiver group are Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Stokley. Beyond those three, Marlon Brown has been impressive. Aside from his statistical production, he’s shown signs of the subtleties needed to play the position. I’ve come away impressed with his awareness of defender location, his detail in route depth, and his ability to make strong-handed catches. Aaron Mellette played opposite Brown against Carolina and he fared well. Mellette has raw ability but still seems a bit stiff. His deliberate movements may be a product of being coached differently or not quite committing his responsibilities to memory. Lastly, LaQuan Williams has still not honed the minutiae of his position but the talent is there and his chances of making the roster are bolstered by his special teams acumen.
MV: Matt Elam and Arthur Brown haven't gotten a ton of snaps with the first-teamers during the preseason and will likely start the season as reserves, but what have you seen from them over the past few weeks?
DB: Matt Elam has played more deep safety this preseason than he did at Florida. I get the impression they’re testing his range because his primary role in college was in man coverage on slot receivers. Elam seems more comfortable closer to the line of scrimmage where he can use his agility and downhill style without the apprehension needed to be the last line of defense on the back end. Brown’s relegation to third on the linebacker depth chart is less a reflection of his ability and more a reward for Josh Bynes due to his performance. Brown, by his own admission, played too conservatively early in the preseason. This obscured his main strength, which is flowing to the ball in the run game after sorting through bodies on the second level. Additionally, the coaches appear to be comfortable with both Daryl Smith and Brown in coverage of either backs or tight ends.
MV: Overall, now that you have seen this team on the field, how should the Ravens stack up in the AFC North in terms of talent and depth?
DB: With the current rosters, the Ravens will edge out a very stout Cincinnati defense for best in the division only because of a slightly better back seven. That said, it will be tough to consistently accumulate yards on any of the AFC North defenses, so “shot” plays to Smith and Jones will take on a greater importance this coming season. I have concerns about the Ravens’ wide receivers and tight ends, especially when running the ball won’t be easy, even with the sinewy Bernard Pierce backing up Ray Rice. The Ravens could realistically split with every AFC North team creating a bottleneck at the top of the division around 10-6.
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