Jason Butt of SB Nation's Ravens blog, Baltimore Beatdown, was kind enough to sit down and answer some of my burning questions about our annual purple foe.
1) As a Ravens fan, what are your emotions as the return of Ed Reed to Baltimore approaches? Do you expect the crowd to cheer or boo?
I'm in a weird situation writing for Baltimore Beatdown in that I'm not a Ravens fan. I'm just a writer. Boring, I know. I grew up in SEC country, went to the University of Georgia and consider myself a college football fan that loves the NFL and everything about the league — all of which without a particular team. But I digress. I will try to answer this from the perspective of Ravens fans, in that this is the third year I've been around them.
When history looks back on Reed and his time in Baltimore, he'll go down as the greatest safety to ever play the game. Outside of Ray Lewis, Reed was the next most revered player in the city. He'd have his detractors every now and then, but the majority of the fan base still adores him. On a conference call last year, when the Ravens were getting ready to host the Broncos in the regular season, I asked Peyton Manning what makes Reed "one of the best safeties to play the game." He then asked me to repeat the question. I slightly rephrased — perhaps, knowing what he was getting at — and dropped "one of" and turned "safeties" into a singular noun. Manning then said something to the effect of, "Oh OK, I thought you said 'one of' and then I was going to have to correct you."
To get to your question, I expect the crowd to cheer loudly. Yes, he's not the same Reed he once was. Yes, some of the things he'd say irked the fan base at times. And yes, his tackling suffered due to injuries in the last couple of seasons. Even so, no one could cover the field at the position like Reed could. Mentally, he's still sharp. He got the Baltimore DBs in and out of all the necessary calls and would occasionally change things in a split second if he noticed something different from the offense pre-snap. Most Ravens fans are aware of what Reed meant to the organization and will give him the proper respect he's due.
2) Are you at all concerned with the perceived lack of weapons for Joe Flacco this season? Can Torrey Smith do enough to pick up the slack and become a complete number one receiver?
Most definitely, at least until Jacoby Jones returns from his knee injury. I know you folks in Houston aren't too fond of Jones but the Baltimore fans love him, considering his special teams prowess a year ago. He's also developed into a better receiver, though he's probably not the No. 2 weapon the Ravens need right now. Needless to say, with Jones missing time, the receiving group has a lot of issues.
For starters, starting alongside Smith is undrafted rookie Marlon Brown out of Georgia. He's been a pleasant surprise, though time will tell if he can continue his scoring ways. Brandon Stokley's had a great career, though it's tough to imagine him being a real threat outside of third-and-short situations.
It's even worse at tight end, where Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark have struggled mightily so far. The Ravens need better production out of the tight end group with Dennis Pitta most likely lost for the season, but with the chance to come back late in the year if his recovery goes well. Clark did have 87 yards against Denver but also had three drops. The stats were a bit deceiving that game.
The lack of weapons, beginning with Jones' injury, allowed Denver and Cleveland to key the run. I expect Houston to do the same. The one x-factor the Ravens may have here could be receiver Deonte Thompson, who's recovering from a sprained foot. Thompson's the fastest member at any position on the Ravens and can stretch the field. He's unproven, though, as he's a second-year undrafted wideout out of Florida. He was expected to compete for a starting spot before the injury and has a chance to be back this week. If he is, maybe that's where the Ravens can keep Houston honest defensively.
3) What is the status of Ray Rice's hip injury? As a Texans fan, it would of course benefit my favorite team to not have him on the field, but Rice is widely considered one of the nicest, most down-to-earth players in the entire NFL and I hate to see him hurt. Can we expect him to be out there this Sunday?
It's probably 50/50 at this point. The organization is keeping it mum at this point, except for that there's a high likelihood he doesn't see any practice time this week. Coach John Harbaugh also said that Rice could play without practicing, so there's that.
You're right about Rice — he's a great guy with a lot of character (though Phil Taylor may disagree after last Sunday. You be the judge.) Injuries are a part of the game, however, so it's something that comes with the territory. Ravens fans don't want to see Rice out because of the versatility he can add in the passing game. But in Week 3, against a strong Houston team, resting Rice might not be such a bad idea.
If Rice can't go, Bernard Pierce will get the nod with Shaun Draughn backing him up. Draughn turned out to be a pretty solid pickup last week, considering the Ravens had just two backs on the roster for Week 1's game against Denver. Now, Draughn has had a week to learn the playbook and can be called upon to back up Pierce if Rice is unable to go.
4) I saw that Matt Elam has been given the starting free safety spot over Michael Huff. How has he looked so far this season?
Huff struggled against Denver in both coverage and tackling. He was seen as the replacement for Ed Reed and he definitely didn't look the part. He was accountable for his play, though that didn't do him much good in terms of keeping his starting spot. Huff only played four defensive snaps against the Browns.
Elam has displayed flashes at times but is still raw as an NFL safety. It's a tad strange, because before the preseason, it was assumed Elam would start at strong safety next to Huff. As it turned out, James Ihedigbo had a great training camp and won the starting strong safety job. Elam cross-trained at free safety and nickel back, which is why the coaches felt comfortable giving him a try at free safety a week ago.
The jury's still out on Elam through two games. He's a bit anxious on the field but can deliver crushing blows when he connects. Free safety is a little different though, with coverage being more important. So we'll have to see how Elam adjusts to that.
5) I want to make it known that I am still extremely bitter about Arthur Brown being taken from us by Ozzie Newsome just one pick before Houston in the second round....sigh...this one hurts....how has he looked in purple? Can we expect him to play a significant role this weekend?
Hey, the Ravens Nation is probably not sorry for your disdain unfortunately. However, I wouldn't be that upset — at least not yet. Brown hasn't had the opportunity to do much on the field as an inside linebacker. He only played 15 defensive snaps against Cleveland and six against the Broncos. He's not where the Ravens coaches want him to be in terms of his development at this time.
It was anticipated that he would work in on passing downs but the Ravens have gone with Josh Bynes to play the majority of the reps. If Jameel McClain ever gets cleared from a spinal cord contusion sustained a year ago, then Brown might wind up relegated to special teams duty only.