Week three is typically the last game action that the starters will get before the start of the regular season. The Baltimore Ravens will host the Washington Redskins in a dress rehearsal preseason match up. The starters are likely to play into the third quarter which will give them plenty of time to establish some sort of momentum rolling into the regular season. The Redskins have an offense that is loaded with weapons. Here are five things to watch in the Ravens vs Redskins preseason battle of the beltway.
Getting Off to a Fast Start on Offense
The Ravens got off to a slow start against the Dallas Cowboys last week. They sputtered in the first couple of drive. A part of that can be attributed to how long it took them to get on the field because of touchdowns by the defense and Deonta Thompson on a kickoff return. The West Coast offense that the Kubiak has brought to the Ravens uses a lot of timing and short passes. It will be important to get Flacco into a rhythm early. This will allow him to get comfortable as he makes his quick reads and gets the ball out of his hands early.
They will surely continue to focus on running the ball as well. A strong running game will be trademark for this team this year. This will also allow them to work the play action passing game. Flacco has a big arm and Torrey Smith is one of the best deep threats in the NFL. Once the running game gets going, they will be able to take advantage of safeties cheating up and throw the ball right over them to Smith on a vertical route. Smith will run by most corners so not having safety help over top will hurt them.
Red Zone Offense Improvements
The Red Zone is an opportunity for improvement on a lot of teams. Gary Kubiak’s offense places an emphasis quicker reads and throws which should reduce the number of sacks that the team suffered from last year. Joe Flacco said: We’re doing a good job getting the ball out, getting it where it’s supposed to be, winning one-on-one coverage. Those are the key things down there – quick wins and getting the ball out of your hands and just keep going forward.”
The Ravens where second to last in the NFL when it came to touchdown scoring efficiency in the red zone last year. Obviously, this will be a point of emphasis this season. Expect to see more quick hitting routes in the red zone tonight. They have been working specifically on developing timing on the slant pattern. Steve Smith Sr. has excelled at getting open on slants and other short speed routes because of his ability to beat press coverage. Kamar Aiken is 6-2 but has excellent footwork and is very difficult for corners to get their hands on at the line of scrimmage also.
Marlon Brown is a big bodied receiver that will continue to be a threat in the red zone. Torrey Smith is more of a deep threat, so the condensed field in the red zone takes away the advantage of his vertical speed. However, he has also been working on being able to operate within the red zone. Having Dennis Pitta back along with the emergence of Kyle Juszczyk will also help out the passing game in the red zone.
Additionally, the running game will be greatly improved under Kubiak. Kubiak has stressed the importance of running the ball well in order to be effective in the red zone. The Ravens are averaging a league leading 194 yards rushing per game in the preseason. The running backs are gaining 4.9 yards per carry. The team has been in the red zone five times and scored touchdowns four times. Being efficient in the red zone is a must and John Harbaugh has his team striving to improve. “Red zone has been good in games; it’s been good in practice,” he said. “Every single day we’re working on red zone, and hopefully that’ll pay off, because it’s the most important part of the field.”
Gearing Up Bernard Pierce to be the Starter at Running Back
Ray Rice will be suspended for the first two games of the season. Pierce will be the starter so with this game being the final “dress rehearsal” for the season, expect to see him get the bulk of the carries with the first unit. As mentioned before, Pierce is perfectly suited for the zone scheme. He was a standout in the same scheme at Temple. Carrying the load is nothing new to him. Pierce has refined his body to get ready for what he expects to be a big season.
Watch how he is able to run north and south with little wasted movement or time. Plays look like synchronized swimming when the offensive line is in sync with Pierce and opens the designed cutback lane opens up. Pierce hits the hole hard and gets to the second level quickly with a single cutback.
Ravens Corners vs Redskins Receivers
The Redskins picked up Desean Jackson and Andre Roberts via free agency this off season. They bring a lot of explosiveness to a team that already has a steady possession receiver in Pierre Garcon. Jordan Reed is a tight end that can work the seams very well also. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are not expected to play against the Ravens. Asa Jackson will not play in this game either. This will mean extra reps for Chykie Brown and some of the reserve corners.
Robert Griffin III has the kind of deep passing accuracy and passing ability that fits the vertical abilities of Jackson and Roberts. Jay Gruden will be looking to get his new offense into a rhythm. The corners on the outside will be tested. Franks and Brown will have to go against the top receivers on the Ravens.
Head coach John Harbagh said that’ “Our top three corners are going to be out, and it’s going to be an opportunity for those guys to go against the best for a long period of time,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to give us a good chance to evaluate where we’re at and give those guys an opportunity to prove they can play with the best.” Tramain Jacobs and Dominique Franks are the front runners for the final roster spots at corner. They will see plenty of Redskins receivers Aldrick Robinson and Ryan Grant. Grant has come on recently and presents a challenge to the Ravens reserve defensive backs.
Ravens Rushing Defense
The Redskins will pose a threat to the Ravens rushing defense. They are averaging 147 rushing yards per game during the preseason. Last year they averaged 135.2 yards rushing per game. Alfred Morris is a tough runner inside the tackles. The focus will be mostly on C.J. Mosely as the rookie continues to get adjusted to the NFL. He has already shown his ability to make plays from sideline to sideline. The Redskins also like to work screen passes to Roy Helu Jr. His speed will usually allow him to be the first to flow to the ball so he will get a chance to stack and shed his blocks and make the play.
Another player to watch in the run defense is Brandon Williams. He is now starting at the zero tech position. This means he will go head up with the center and be called upon to occupy two gaps. That position was normally occupied by Haloti Ngata but he has been moved to defensive end. Williams has done a really good job of taking on blockers and getting them off of him in time to get to the running back. Inserting Williams onto the line makes them a much stronger unit. They will be tough to run against this season.
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