The Baltimore Ravens return home to the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium and continue their tour of the NFC South with a week 12 showdown with the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Ravens are undefeated at home in 2010 andhave the advantage of closing with 4 of their last 6 games in Baltimore. Questions surround how good the Bucs are this season. They are exceeding the expectations many had placed on them entering the season, but they face many doubters who point to most of their wins coming against suspect competition. Regardless, Tampa is a young and improving team and will pose a challenge to the Ravens in what is undoubtedly a game they cannot afford to lose. Let’s look at how the Ravens can attack the Bucs defense.
Through the Air: Tampa Bay’s strength on the defensive side of the ball has been against the pass. Tampa has a good mix of experience and talent int he secondary as well as athletic linebackers. If the Bucs are smart, they should force Joe Flacco and the Ravens to beat them through the air. It is imperative for Flacco to get off to a hot start since the Ravens have not been able to consistently move the ball on the ground for most of the season. Tampa covers well and is likely to through more cover 2 at Flacco. In order to attack Tampa’s defense successfully Flaccowill need to work the middle of the field, as well as be able to locate the one-on-one match-ups. The big advantage that the Ravens have in attacking Tampa’s zone is the abundance of weapons. Despite the Buccaneers talent int he secondary, I am not convinced they can contend with the numbers the Ravens will throw at them. Tampa struggles to rush the passer, only 14 sacks in 10 games six of which came in their last game, andgiven time the Ravens will find holes. What will be interesting to watch is whether or not more deep shots will be taken by the Ravens offense. The opening touchdown to TJ Housmanzadeh was one of the few vertical throws that Flacco made against Carolina. There will several big yardage plays by the Ravens int eh first half last week, but can Cam Cameron find ways to get a guy like Donte Stallworth, or the other Ravens receivers in one-on-one’s down-field?
On the Ground: For several weeks the Ravens have been facing porous run defenses, but they have not been able to take advantage. This disturbing trend seems to point to the lack of run blocking by the Ravens offensive line. The Ravens line is having trouble controlling the line of scrimmage and getting good push down-field. More and more the Ravens are having to resort to draw plays, runs out of the shot gun and reverses to keep defensive fronts off balance. Does that change this week, or will the Ravens need to rely on deception to be successful running the ball, as opposed to brute force. Tampa Bay has a poor run defense. They are ranked 29th in theNFL, allowing just over 136 yard per game on the ground. Tampa will look to force the Ravens into a more pass oriented attack, but if the Ravens can soften them up with a good passing attack early in the game, I think this in one opponent the Ravens can pound the life out of in the 2nd half. Ray Rice could finally have that elusive big game.
By the match-ups the Ravens can put up a big number this week. If they limit turnovers and play well on special teams, I can see 28+ points for the week. Tampa will come to Baltimore with a lot of confidence and a chip on their shoulder, looking to prove they can be considered among the NFL elites. But I think we will see the Ravens do to Tampa what Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Atlanta have done against them, win.