As opponents search for new ways to stop Mark Andrews, the Ravens explore different ways to free him.
The All-Pro tight end is having another superb season, leading the team in receptions (58), receiving yards (671) and touchdown catches (five). However, opponents are spending even more time game-planning for Andrews, making it challenging for the Ravens to get him the ball.
Andrews had two catches for 17 yards Week 14 against the Steelers, and his last touchdown catch was Week 6 against the Giants. Over his past six games, Andrews has averaged 36 receiving yards.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said it's a weekly cat-and-mouse game, looking for ways to counter how opponents are defending Andrews.
"They're paying a lot of attention to him," Roman said. "There are times where he's just purely getting doubled. There's a lot of ways to build a double, but he's getting doubled a lot, more than he ever has in a lot of variety of different ways.
"There's times where you can design some things to beat a double team, and there's times where the ball has to go elsewhere, or else…you're playing with fire trying to throw it into the defensive coverage."
Even when Andrews isn't catching the ball, he's helping the Ravens win. He threw one of the key blocks on Gus Edwards' game-clinching 6-yard run in the fourth quarter that iced the game in Pittsburgh. Andrews stood up reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, allowing Edwards to cut in behind him and find a hole.
"Mark's having a great year," Roman said. "I thought he played incredibly this past week, in terms of playing football. He blocked really well, he had a lot on his plate in that regard. We have all the faith in the world in him. Mark's one of the best tight ends in the game."
Anthony Brown's Poise Factored Into Roman's Pass-Calling
The first completion of Anthony Brown's NFL career received plenty of kudos, because it demonstrated his poise.
With the Ravens backed up at their own 1-yard line, Brown entered the game after Tyler Huntley's concussion and calmly whipped a three-yard completion to Demarcus Robinson.
That helped the Ravens convert a first down, giving them breathing room and quieting the Pittsburgh crowd that was hoping Brown couldn't handle the pressure.
Roman knew he was taking a risk, asking an undrafted rookie quarterback to throw in that situation with the Steelers pass rush aiming for a safety. But Roman said he had complete faith in Brown.
"Isn't that the obvious thing to do? They'd never expect it, right?" Roman said smiling. "I saw the Terrible Towels waving. They were pretty cranked up on defense. I felt that was the best way to get us to the five-yard line. What it really comes down to is I have faith in Anthony in that situation. He did a really good job of stepping in there. He hadn't taken any real reps with the first team. Real credit to him. Really proud of him.
"Pretty remarkable, getting thrown into your first snap in the NFL with the first team offense, in the closed end in Pittsburgh minus-one yard line. I thought he played with ice water in his veins, so I'm really excited about him and his prospects."
Ravens Want Tyler Huntley to Avoid Big Hits
Huntley's mobility allows him to make positive plays, but it also puts him at risk. Huntley left the game with a concussion in Pittsburgh, and the Ravens feel Huntley can avoid some of the hits he has taken.
"We had a nice little chat about that," Roman said. "It's something that he's keenly aware of. We have to do a much better job in that area and we have to emphasize it more."
Huntley was listed as a full participant in practice Wednesday, and Roman likes the way Huntley has been preparing for Saturday's game against Cleveland.
"As he goes through the protocol we're allowed to do certain things," Roman said. "Snoop seems really good to me. Seemed great after the game. Once he clears that protocol, I think all systems go. We'll kind of make some decisions after that. It really doesn't affect you that much because he's in good shape."
Mike Macdonald Strives for Improvement With Two-Minute Defense
Baltimore's defense has been hurt by two-minute drives this season, both at the end of games and during the final two minutes before halftime. The Steelers marched 75 yards in just 49 seconds to pull to two points down Sunday and late-game missteps played a major role in all four Ravens losses.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald is searching for answers, knowing the Ravens defense will likely face more critical two-minute situations during the final month of the season. Overall, the defense is playing very well, but Macdonald would like to see the unit tighten up in those situations.
"It's definitely frustrating when you give up yards in those situations," Macdonald said. "We're not trying to play prevent defense, per se.
"It's something that we have looked at, because it's a situation that I think we need to improve on, in terms of our results. In terms of our process in those situations, I think we're on the right track. We do gameplan it extensively, and when you look at the results on a per-drive basis, it's hard to kind of pinpoint one or two things. I think we've just got to keep chasing it and making sure our execution and communication is on point. Hopefully, we'll get in those situations as the season comes on and come away with the wins."