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Mike Preston on Ravens’ running game, Browns cutting WR Odell Beckham, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’ vaccination status and more | COMMENTARY

The Ravens need to re-establish their old identity, at least for a week, and possibly for the rest of the season.

They host Minnesota (3-4) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, and the Vikings are deceptive on defense. They’re ranked No. 20 overall — 18th in pass defense and 21st against the run. The Vikings are allowing 120.9 rushing yards per game but they also have 24 sacks, one behind the league-leading Los Angeles Rams.

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So, if the Ravens can’t run on first and second downs, they’ll be in trouble against a Minnesota front-four led by defensive end Everson Griffen. Patrick Jones II is expected to replace left end Danielle Hunter, who is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Hunter had six sacks before his injury last week and Griffen has five. The Vikings’ line is athletic and agile, and like the Ravens, Minnesota will present a lot of defensive looks.

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But if the Ravens are physical up front, they should be able to win. The Ravens are No. 3 in rushing offense this season, averaging 149.4 yards.

“They can do it all,” said Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. “Historically, coach [Mike] Zimmer, he can rush four, five, six, seven [or] eight — whatever. He has it all. They’ve been doing a great job with the four-man rush, and Hunter is an excellent player. He was playing at a high level. The thing about it is, though, the guy they have coming in, I’ve seen him; he’s pretty good. No. 97 [Griffen] is playing at a super high level — [it’s] the fountain of youth for him.”

Because of season-ending knee injuries to running backs J. K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards in the preseason, there are only a few things Roman can do to help the running game. Two of the team’s top two runners, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman, are both one-cut, downhill-type backs.

But still look for the Ravens to make a big push with the running game, especially late in the season. Because of the unpredictable weather, especially in late November and December, a lot of teams on the East Coast prefer a dominant running attack.

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It’s like having the hidden ace in a card game.

“I think any team that can run the football has an advantage,” said Roman. “It basically creates opportunities for everybody. This time of year, we really need to get our run game going. It opens up the play-action opportunities, keeps the defense honest [and] helps you control football games — that will never change. Especially when you start getting into some of these inclement weather games, you have to be able to control the game on the ground. So, our guys are working hard at that. Knowing these guys, I really feel like we’re going to keep improving in that area.”

Pads out

Ever since the debacle against Cincinnati when the Ravens were beaten, 41-17, the coaching staff has re-emphasized the importance of tackling, which is strange considering this is the NFL, not the PWL (Pop Warner League).

So, the Ravens went out in pads earlier this week. Maybe this could be a crisper, wrap-them-up bunch Sunday.

“I think it helped us practicing in pads and just the emphasis on angles and feet and eyes,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale. “Some of our missed tackles are coming where we’re just trying to blow somebody up, where it’s OK to just get them down — that’s the biggest thing. So, we’re going to continue to work on that and attack that every day. And if we get this defense tackling, watch out, because then you’ve got everything working, everything clicking.”

In the words of former Ravens and Jets linebacker Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”

How ‘bout a pass-rushing coach?

Maybe it’s time for Ravens coach John Harbaugh to invest in a pass-rushing specialist as an assistant coach.

The lack of a top-notch pass rusher has hurt the team for several now years. They believe they might have one in rookie Odafe Oweh, a first-round pick in April out of Penn State.

Oweh leads the team in sacks with three and has a strong motor but is pretty one-dimensional right now. He is a speed guy who needs more moves in his arsenal. In recent years, there have been several players leave the Ravens and sign with other teams before becoming top pass rushers.

Yannick Ngakoue was expected to be the pass-rushing specialist last season but only had 11 total tackles and four sacks in the 11 games he played. He has four sacks already for Oakland (5-2). Outside linebacker Matt Judon had 9 ½ sacks for Baltimore in 2019, but he already has eight in eight games with the Patriots. Green Bay outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who hasn’t played this season because of a back injury, had a personal best of 8 ½ in 2018 with the Ravens, but then had 13 ½ and 12 ½ the next two years with the Packers.

“I think that he just needs to keep growing as a player,” Martindale said of Oweh. “Every day we have different things for him to do, [and] every game we have different things for him to do and different assignments, and he keeps just knocking them out and doing a great job of it. The guys like Justin Houston are talking to him about using his hands more in pass rush, and the little, technical stuff like that. [Outside linebackers’ coach] Drew [Wilkins] is constantly working with him — he and Daelin [Hayes]. So, it’s a challenge for him, and I think that he has … out of rookies, for rush wins, I think he’s No. 1 or No. 2 — I think he’s No. 1 — as far as just winning in one-on-one rush situations.”

Sounds like an area for specialization to me.

See ya, OBJ

It’s hard to believe that it took the Cleveland Browns almost three years to part ways with one of the NFL’s ultimate “me” guys, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

It was Beckham’s time to leave. He hadn’t contributed much to the Browns since 2019 when he had 74 catches for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns.

He had only 23 receptions for 319 yards in an injury-riddled 2020 and only 17 catches for 232 yards this season. The problem is that Beckham wants to be a star like he was when he was with the New York Giants, but the Browns don’t need him in that role. That was clearly evident when they made it to the divisional round last season without him.

And then once Beckham’s dad released a video of his son getting open earlier this week and quarterback Baker Mayfield not throwing to him, it was time to find another employer. Actually, this sounds like something out of the recreation leagues where a dad gets involved with the coaching staff about his son’s lack of playing time.

Only this time, the son (Beckham) is 29.

Get it together, Rodgers

Someone needs to huddle up with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tell him to shut up. Call an audible on old No. 12.

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During the summer, he claimed he was mistreated and disrespected by the organization, which was basically his way of saying that he wanted to be in on every major decision.

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And then earlier this week reports came out how he lied months ago about getting vaccinated for the coronavirus, and then apparently committed multiple violations of NFL COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated players, including attending parties with teammates and being unmasked at multiple postgame press conferences.

It’s apparent Rodgers is so full of himself and won’t stop talking, which gets both him and the Packers into more trouble. There are rules for Rodgers, and then the rest of the NFL’s players.

In contrast, Baltimore fans are mourning the death of former Colts running back Tom Matte, 82, who died Tuesday. Matte was just a blue-collar-type player who got every ounce of energy and athleticism out of his body to play 12 years in the NFL.

Even though Matte became a Baltimore legend and a national figure in some households, he treated everyone the same and was so humbled to have been able to play in the NFL. He had endless amounts of stories to tell, and he could always make you laugh.

Matte could work a room like a politician because he liked people — and people liked him.

Some Green Bay fans probably aren’t saying that about Rodgers anymore. His act of trying to be the smartest guy in the room has gotten old.

Tragedy with Ruggs

I have sympathy for both Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and the victim, Tina O. Tintor, who died after her car was rear-ended by Ruggs’ early Tuesday, according to Las Vegas police. Prosecutors have reported that Ruggs was driving at a speed of 156 mph just before impact and that his blood-alcohol level was 0.16. It’s just so senseless and easily could have been avoided.

There have been some who have no sympathy for Ruggs. And honestly, I can’t blame them.

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