Despite a 1-1 record with two polar opposite performances there is one common thread in the Ravens 2011 NFL season: injuries to the secondary. Chris Carr (hamstring) will attempt to play but may be limited and Jimmy Smith (ankle) will be out for Sunday’s game against the Rams. These injuries are especially disconcerting because the secondary has been dominated by the opposition’s #1 receivers. In Week 1, Mike Wallace caught eight passes over 11 targets for 107 yards and in Week 2 Kenny Britt toyed with the Ravens secondary grabbing nine catches over 13 targets for 105 yards.
The good news is that the depleted secondary will get a reprieve in Week 3. The Rams don’t have a single receiver anywhere in the class of Wallace or Britt and Sam Bradford’s preferred receiving option, Danny Amendola, is expected to miss the game with a dislocated elbow. This is significant, last year Bradford treated Amendola as his security blanket, throwing to him on third down more than twice as often as he threw to any other one receiver. Making things even less favorable for Sam Bradford is the possibility of Steven Jackson, an excellent receiver out of the backfield, sitting out Week 3 with a strained quad. In Jackson’s and Amendola’s stead the Ravens secondary will be faced with Cadillac Williams (RB), Jerenious Norwood (RB), Mike Sims-Walker (WR), Danario Alexander (WR), Brandon Gibson (WR) and Greg Salas (WR). Of these six players the only one who deserves significant attention is Sims-Walker, a big target who has scored 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons. While he is not in the class of Wallace or Britt he is the only Rams receiver who deserves extra attention on Sunday.
As we discussed in the By the Numbers Week 2 Review, one predictive statistic of a team’s season long offensive plan is their run/pass splits in the first half of games. The idea is that in the first half the score does not dictate play calling and you get a more pure sample of a team’s game plan. These statistics are even more meaningful for the first two games because the team has spent an entire off season planning their attack. So far the Rams have shown a propensity towards the pass, posting a 28/36 run/pass split throughout the first two halves of the first two games. Given the Rams Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ historical preferences, the possible absence of Stephen Jackson and the Ravens secondary issues I’d expect the Rams to continue to favor the pass. However, they’ll be doing so with a C-List cast.
Defensively, the Rams feature Chris Long who had a breakout season in 2010, posting a career-high 8.5 sacks with a league-high 42.5 QB hurries. Long’s ability has had a positive impact on veteran James Hall, who recorded 10.5 sacks in 2010. In addition to the standout seasons by Long and Hall, another factor in the Rams’ increase from 27th to eighth in caused sacks + intentional grounding penalties was defensive tackle Fred Robbins. Robbins posted ten tackles for a loss and collected a career-high six sacks with 14.5 quarterback hurries. Each of these three pass rushers will continue to test the Ravens offensive line on Sunday. While the group has played reasonably well given their lack of experience together it will be interesting to see how they handle a talent like Long.
Its fairly pointless to call any game that doesn’t end a team’s season a must-win but the Ravens’ should win Sunday’s game against the Rams to make life easy on themselves. According to Football Outsiders DAVE Rankings, which include performance this season combined with 2011 season projections, they are a much better team than the Rams (Ravens rank 6th, Rams rank 30th). Furthermore, the upcoming slate of games is fairly daunting. In the next six games the Ravens will face the Jets (2nd), the Texans (7th) and the Steelers (3rd). Throughout the tough first half of the season, the team needs to collect easy wins when they can. The good news is that the second half of the schedule appears much less harrowing with two games each against the Bengals (19th) and Browns (18th), and games against the Seahawks (32nd) and 49ers (15th).