Late for Work 9/27: How Much Longer Will Teams Dare Joe Flacco to Beat Them?

092718_LFW

How Much Longer Will Teams Dare Joe Flacco to Beat Them?

The Ravens offense has enjoyed a great start to the 2018 season, with the unit ranking No. 5 in points per game (32.3) and No. 13 in yards per game (378.7).

A big reason for the team's success has been the passing game. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been excellent thus far, throwing six touchdowns to just two interceptions while averaging 296.3 yards per game, which is No. 11 in the NFL.

A contributing factor to Flacco's success is how focused opposing defenses have been on stopping the Ravens on the ground. The Bills, Bengals and Broncos all centered their strategies on slowing Baltimore's rushing attack by stacking players up front.

In fact, running back Alex Collins leads the NFL in percentage of rushing attempts with at least 8+ defenders in the box (58.52). That means no running back in the league has had more defenders to contend with at the line of scrimmage than Collins.

This leaves less defenders in the secondary, and thus, more openings for Flacco to do damage.

"Alex Collins and [running back] Buck Allen are facing the most men in the box of any team in the league," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said during an interview on WNST with Nestor Aparicio. "Teams are still daring Flacco to beat them, and so far, he is two-for-three."

It's a strategy that Aparicio thinks may have worked in years past because of the receiving corps Flacco had to work with.

But this year is a different story as all three free agent wide receivers the Ravens signed this offseason – Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV – have proven they're capable of hurting defenses. Rookie tight end Mark Andrews has emerged as a threat, and fellow rookie tight end Hayden Hurst is expected to be one once he returns from a foot injury.

"Flacco knows they have receivers that can win one-on-one matchups," Zrebiec said. "He also knows that if they're well-covered, he has guys that can go up and get the ball. That's what Michael Crabtree can do. They haven't had too many of those guys in recent years."

Aparicio thinks it's a scenario that sets up Flacco to succeed.

"I think he is going to beat you more than not, if that's the way you are going to play Flacco right now given the receivers," Aparicio said.

So now the question becomes how long will opponents continue to dare Flacco to beat them? Zrebiec thinks it could stop soon, saying "They [Ravens passing game] are capable, and I think you'll see teams shift how they're playing them a little bit."

There's a chance it could end this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have allowed an average of 288 yards per game through the air, which is fifth most in the NFL. With the plethora of weapons Flacco has at his disposal, it wouldn't be surprising to see Pittsburgh get away from stacking the box so that they have more players in the secondary to try to keep up with Baltimore's passing attack.

Though that would make life more difficult for the passing game, it should give the running game openings it hasn't been afforded this season. The Ravens are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, which is the second worst mark in the NFL. Collins has rushed for just 116 yards.

"The more they do that [succeed in passing game], I think the better it will be for the running game," Zrebiec said.

It puts the Ravens offense in an unorthodox position because traditional football thought is to establish the run game to open up the passing attack. The Ravens are essentially doing this in reverse, using its passing game to get its running attack going.

It spells good news for the Ravens though, as Flacco has usually done his best when complemented by a strong running game. Collins and co. should be able to do that soon, assuming Flacco continues to thrive.

"You don't need to be running for 120 yards per game," Zrebiec said. "Just a capable running game to keep teams honest and allow them to be successful in play-action, take shots down the field. I think they could have a very good offense."

Eric Weddle Will Retire as a Raven

Safety Eric Weddle gave a candid interview on The Pat McAfee Show and weighed in a variety of topics, including who keeps it light in the Ravens' locker room (his answer was outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive lineman Brandon Williams, safety Tony Jefferson and essentially everyone else on the team).

One topic he did discuss though was how he's envisioning the end of his NFL career. Though he isn't sure when he'll retire, the 33-year-old did say that Baltimore will be the last place he plays.

"I have one more year after this on my deal, and if they want me back for another season then I'm going to give it all I got," Weddle said. "If not, I'm definitely not going to play for another team, so I know that."

That is music to the ears of the Ravens Flock. Sometimes when players are only in Baltimore for a short amount of time, it isn't tough to see them eventually play in another team's jersey. Though Weddle is entering just his third year in Baltimore, he's been a fan favorite from the beginning, and it definitely feels like he's been a Raven for much longer.

"I always tell people that I feel being here for my third year, I was meant to be a Raven, and it feels like I've always played my whole career here," Weddle said.

Weddle has made the Pro Bowl in both of his seasons in Baltimore. He has 164 tackles and 10 interceptions in 35 games played for Baltimore. Weddle already has 12 tackles this season.

"He's regarded as one of the team's leaders, and on Sunday wore the defensive headset in a win over the Denver Broncos while linebacker C.J. Mosley was sidelined with a bone bruise on his knee," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote.

Weddle is definitely still held in high regards by his peers and opponents.

"You have Weddle back there, a guy who I respect," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said yesterday. "He's calling the defense. That's crazy to think about a safety wearing the green dot on the helmet and calling the defense."

Weddle also divulged a little information about his free agency period, saying that along with Baltimore, he considered playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and … the Pittsburgh Steelers.

At the time, Weddle thought Pittsburgh would be "a perfect fit" for him. Off the field, Weddle is friends with Roethlisberger, and he also wanted to play for a team that would be regularly competing to make the playoffs.

In the end, Weddle says it came down to Baltimore and Dallas, where he knew members of its coaching staff from his days of playing for the San Diego Chargers. He says the two franchises were "neck-and-neck" to acquire his services, but thankfully, he landed on the Ravens.  

"In my gut it just felt like Baltimore was the best spot for me," Weddle said. "I've loved every second of it here."

Kenny Young Cracks ESPN's Top Rookies Power Rankings

There aren't many seats left on the Kenny Young hype train.

The rookie inside linebacker's ascent from being a fourth-round pick to getting his first start in the NFL on Sunday has caught the attention of a plethora of pundits. The latest to buy into Young is ESPN's Jeff Langwold, who included the UCLA product in his Top 10 NFL Rookies Power Rankings.

Young, who was included in the rankings for the first time, came in at No. 9, one slot ahead of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, a first-round selection in the draft.

"With the injury to [inside linebacker] C.J. Mosley, Young now leads the team in tackles and has played 102 snaps combined in the past two games," Langwold wrote. "The Ravens lead the league in total defense and are No. 5 in scoring defense. Coach John Harbaugh has said the fourth-round pick doesn't 'get overwhelmed by a mistake' and keeps playing fast."

That the national media is starting to recognize Young is not surprising considering how enamored the local press has been with him, especially after the Denver game when he led the Ravens with 10 tackles.

"It's becoming apparent that even when Mosley returns, Young belongs on the field," PressBox's Bo Smolka wrote, while RavensWire's Wola Odeniran noted, "you have to be excited with a duo of Mosley and Young as inside linebackers within Baltimore's 3-4 hybrid defense."

Indeed, a potential pairing of Mosley and Young is a fun prospect for the Ravens. Don't forget about inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor though, who had three tackles and a clutch interception, Baltimore's lone turnover against the Broncos.

It should also be noted that while Young cracked Langwold's list, he was left out of a similar rookie power ranking that was put together by Pro Football Focus' William Moy. Tight end Mark Andrews was included in that one as an honorable mention.

Keep An Eye Out for the Other Eisenberg's Next Book

In case you didn't know, there's another guy with the last name Eisenberg who writes for the Baltimore Ravens. His name is John, and he's about four inches shorter than me.

Anyway, that Eisenberg has a new book coming out October 9, so I figured I'd give him some free publicity. Not that he needs any help, because "The League: How Five Rivals Created the NFL and Launched a Sports Empire" is getting rave reviews.

"Of more immediate interest is John Eisenberg's account in his deeply researched, surprise-on-every-page, and altogether marvelous new book The League," The Weekly Standard's Michael Nelson wrote.

It's Eisenberg's 10th book, and focuses on the influential owners during the early days of the NFL when it was a borderline failing enterprise. For those interested, it can be preordered on Amazon.

This'll be a must read for all football fans!

As a side note, one of our other esteemed writers, Clifton Brown, also has a book out about Irv Cross entitled "Bearing the Cross: My Inspiring Journey from Poverty to the NFL and Sports Television." It's available here.

Quick Hits

  • In total, 18 members of the Ravens' 53-man roster have never played in a Ravens-Steelers game. While it'll be a new experience for all of them, Zrebiec noted that rookie tackle Orlando Brown Jr. has some familiarity with the rivalry because his father played for the Ravens. "Pittsburgh was always a big game for my Dad and our family. Why that is? I don't know," Brown said. "I can just tell you it's going to be a physical game, and it's exciting to be a part of it."
  • Collins was included in Good Morning Football's Nate Burleson's Top 5 Touchdown Celebrations for Week 3. The Irish dancing continues to impress all, especially those of us with two left feet.
  • Speaking of GMFB, the show's pundits shared their Top 5 power rankings after Week 3, and Kyle Brandt included the Ravens at No. 4.
  • Baltimore jumped seven spots in PFF's Offensive Line Power Rankings from No. 28 to No. 21. "The Ravens have held up fairly well while protecting Joe Flacco, as the team owns the 10th-highest pass-block grade," Michael Renner wrote.

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