Scouting and scheming for the Baltimore Ravens defense this week is even more important for the Raiders since they will be without franchise quarterback Derek Carr. QB E.J. Manuel will face a Ravens defense that is under performing. Baltimore’s defense is No. 15 in points and No. 21 in yards which is low for a franchise that traditionally has a top-10 unit.
Last season, Oakland scored 28 in Baltimore which earned them a one-point victory. Carr threw three touchdowns to Michael Crabtree and four for the day. It is possible that Crabtree misses this game too. Don’t forget the Raiders also beat Baltimore 37-33 in 2015. Therefore, the Ravens and defensive coordinator Dean Pees will look to rebound from consecutive fourth quarter losses to the Silver and Black.
Pees is in his sixth season as play caller and defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. From 2014-16, Baltimore finished as a top-10 defense. Last season, the Ravens tied for the lead with 18 interceptions and they were the No. 7 defense in yards per game. Pees was the defensive coordinator when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012, his first season as coordinator. Pees is one of eight coaches to lead a Super Bowl defense with two different teams.
From 2004-09, Pees was the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.
His coaching resume includes six seasons as head coach of Kent State, three seasons as defensive coordinator and assistant at Michigan State, four years as a defensive coordinator at Toledo, three seasons as a secondary coach at Navy, four years as a defensive coordinator and assistant at Miami-OH, three seasons as coordinator and secondary coach at University of Findlay, one season at Notre Dame and six years coaching high school football. Pees has coached defense at every level. He’s worked with Pro Bowlers like Ray Lewis, Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, C.J. Mosley, Elvis Dumervil, Mike Vrabel, Vince Wilfork, Asante Samuel, Tedy Bruschi and James Harrison.
Oakland is again facing a form of the base 3-4 defense this week. Considering Pees has coached every level of football and he has played this Oakland offense the past two seasons, expect him to be ready for everything. The Raiders haven’t done much of their heavy set with extra offensive linemen but they should. Pees will and should be prepared for this since Oakland desperately needs to run the ball to protect Manuel at quarterback. Oakland ran for less than 75 yards in Baltimore last season. Pees’ defenses are known for stopping the run since his days in New England.
Pees is also known for using simple blitzes and coverages with alignments and packages that disguise what he is doing. As a play caller, he likes to keep teams off balance with intricate blitzes and different alignments. There should be an even bigger emphasis on that this week since Manuel will not have the same command at the line of scrimmage as Carr.
Baltimore can use even and odd fronts to confuse an offensive line that has not been playing to the standard they’re used to over the past few seasons. Oakland must find ways to get push against a defensive line that includes Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Carl Davis.
The Ravens also bring a physical group of corners into Oakland which is something the Raiders have struggled against the past two weeks. Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Ladarius Webb are all big corners who are good with their hands. They can also use a variety of coverages to rattle a Raiders WR corps that has been flustered the past two games too.
The Raiders also have the benefit of facing the Ravens and Pees’ play calling the past two seasons. They should have enough tape on this defense to predict and recognize Pees’ blitzes and coverages in certain scenarios. Since Carr is out, it will be on the offensive line to get back to par by recognizing these blitzes no matter the defense’s alignment.
As far as personnel, the Ravens do not have a lot of weaknesses. Their defensive starters are ranked Average to High Quality by Pro Football Focus standards, except at safety. Safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson were free agency acquisitions over the past two offseasons. Both brought ball-hawking reputations as well as tendencies to gamble in coverage. Weddle and Jefferson both have poor grades from PFF. The Raiders should use this to their advantage by using double tight ends (Clive Walford and Jared) and attacking the safeties with big pass catchers in coverage. They should also try to take advantage of any opportunity that Amari Cooper can go one-on-one versus these guys.
Otherwise, Oakland will need as much creativity as they can get in the passing game. They may need a trick play or two to compensate for the lack of big plays behind a Manuel led offense. Oakland should also look to take advantage of an over aggressive front seven by mixing in some zone read versus Baltimore. Marshawn Lynch ran a lot of this with Russell Wilson in Seattle and Manuel ran this from time to time in Buffalo.
On the edges, Baltimore has Suggs who is one of the all-time grades. At this point, Suggs is no Von Miller or Ryan Kerrigan. The Raiders have faced those two rushers the past two weeks so they should be prepared for Suggs. They should not let Suggs takeover this game. Manuel should be moved all over the field so he can take advantage of his mobility versus average edge defenders including Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.
Either way, Pees is a secondary and linebacker coach by trade. Expect him to have both groups prepared for whatever new wrinkle the Raiders bring. Nonetheless, the Raiders offensive coaching staff and entire unit will face a real test without Carr bailing them out. Can they execute without their franchise QB? We will soon find out.
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