By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Evolution of a powerhouse: The Baltimore Ravens have been good on defense forever. Forever in their case is since 1996, their first year in Baltimore, and the first season of a rookie linebacker from the U. named Ray Lewis.
They’re the only team to hold opponents to under 4.0 yards per rush in each of the last 16 years. They have 51 defensive touchdowns since then. They reached – and won – the Super Bowl in the 2000 season despite failing to score an offensive touchdown in five games. They went the full month of October that year without seeing the end zone on offense.
But these are not Trent Dilfer’s Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens are now driven by strong-armed quarterback Joe Flacco. Since the Ravens selected Flacco with the 18th pick of the 2008 draft, they have sought to end their dependence on winning solely with defense and running the ball on offense.
Flacco is the first quarterback to lead his team to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. Last year, he outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, but was denied a Super Bowl appearance when his pass to win the game was dropped by Lee Evans in the end zone.
“His record alone, I think, should rank him as a one of the elites in the league,” said Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. “The strength of his arm, the way he’s handled the changes in their offense this year, with the addition of the no-huddle or, I think, emphasizing it more. Yeah, I think he deserves to be ranked there.”
Flacco and the no-huddle: The big change to the Ravens this year – one they think will take them back to the Super Bowl – is entrusting their offense completely to Flacco in a no-huddle format. They can be up-tempo or deliberate in it.
Either way, Flacco’s attention at the line of scrimmage – a la Peyton Manning – gives him complete control over every play. The Ravens’ hiring of Jim Caldwell, Manning’s long-time QB coach and then head coach in Indianapolis, was the final step in making Flacco the focal point of the franchise.
“I just like the fact we’re getting up to the line (of scrimmage) and there’s a lot of time on the play clock,” Flacco said on Tuesday. “It gives me and our whole offense a good look at what (defenses are) giving us. And it wears a defense out throughout the course of a game.
“When it does that, it does a lot for our offensive line and for me. They’re not capable of substituting as much. There’s a lot of times they have to just get a call in and live with it and I think that puts us in an advantageous position.”
Jauron knows what that does to a defense. When he was head coach of the Buffalo Bills, he had his offensive coordinator in his final year switch to a no-huddle offense.
“I did,” Jauron said Tuesday. “I really like the no-huddle concept. I thought it was difficult to play against. To some degree, it puts thedefense on edge depending on how you run it. Also, if you have a highly conditioned team, it can take an effect on a team over the course of the game.”
Stressing the Browns’ defense: Knowing what lay ahead, Jauron began preparing his unit for the no-huddle offense in training camp.
“As we got into it towards the end of preseason, we spent a lot more time moving fast in our periods, trying to get lined up and move fast, having the offense attack us,” Jauron said. “It never really simulates exactly what it’s like on game day, but at least it helps us and makes them aware that they’ve got to be ready.”
Conditioning should not be a problem for the Browns’ defense, what with the accent on youth, and all. Jauron’s challenge on Thursday, of course, is to have his young players adjust to different matchups caused by Jauron’s inability to substitute against the no-huddle.
“Over the years, whenever anybody hears ‘no-huddle,’ they’re going to think about Peyton (Manning), I believe. He’ll do just about everything to you and keep you very off balance, including snap the ball really quickly.
“If you try to make any change in your defense, any personnel changes, they can get you for penalties, which is never a good thing. We’ll just have to get a feel for how it goes. Anybody that no-huddles, you just have to be careful defensively, in terms of substitutions.”
Without suspended cornerback Joe Haden, the Browns have allowed six touchdown passes over the last two games to six different receivers. The quarterbacks have been Andy Dalton of Cincinnati and Ryan Fitzpatrick of Buffalo.
Flacco is in another class.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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