This week gives us a sneak preview for not only week one, but the entire season. We will trot out the same features each week, so this one serves not only as its own feature, but also as a sample of what is to come. Since we are embarking on week one it will look a little different than most of the others. We will be looking at past numbers and not numbers from 2023.
In particular, we are looking at the basic numbers in addition to PFF. Pro Football Focus comes out with grades on every player. Typically, anything under 60 denotes a player that probably should be a backup. Players between 60 and 70 are usually rotational or platoon players. Players that are 70 and higher are solid starters. Anyone over 80 is playing at a Pro Bowl level.
In each roses and thorns we will ask four basic questions. First, what does that team’s offense and defense want to do to be successful? Secondly, where are some weaknesses that the Houston Texans could exploit? When we do this on both sides of the ball we get an idea of what might happen in the upcoming game.
What do the Baltimore Ravens want to do on offense?
Simply put, this is a hard question to answer. The Ravens offense employs five skill position players that didn’t play last year. Wide receiver Zay Flowers is a rookie. The other four (J.K. Robbins, Gus Edwards, Odell Beckham, and Rashad Bateman) missed the 2022 season due to injury. So, they do not have any PFF scores or basic statistics for last season. This makes predicting the Ravens offense a bit difficult.
To add another layer of difficulty, the Ravens have a new offensive coordinator. In the past, the idea was to put the ball in Lamar Jackson’s hands (85.2 PFF) in space to give him a run or pass option. That strategy also had him miss more games over the past three seasons than most other starters in the league. We imagine this strategy will change some, but by how much we don’t know.
The Ravens were second in the NFL in rushing as a team last season and neither of their top two running backs were healthy. They were 28th in passing yards as a team. A lot of that was due to Jackson being hurt and a lack of receiver depth. Adding Flowers and Beckham has put a huge dent in that, but it remains to be seen what they will do.
How do you want to attack the Ravens offense?
It is a lot easier said than done, but you want to make the Ravens one-dimensional. If you can control their running game and keep Jackson in the pocket you can make life miserable for him. Jackson can still hurt you with his arm, but it remains to be seen what Beckham has left and whether Flowers can immediately become a weapon in the passing game. Mark Andrews (80.7 PFF) is their best receiving weapon and the Texans have shown that they struggle against tight ends. They might need to double him in obvious passing situations.
What do the Ravens want to do on defense?
The Ravens are bringing back most of their starting defense from last season. They surrendered the three fewest points in the league last season, but a lot of that is due to a strong running game on the other side monopolizing the clock. They surrendered the third fewest rushing yards in the league and were a very respectable 11th overall in fewest yards given up. Add to that the fact that they were 8th in turnovers generated and you can see where this is going.
Their best defenders are safety Kyle Hamilton (87.6 PFF), safety Marcus Williams (73.9 PFF), and corner Marlon Humphrey (76.8 PFF). If Hamilton’s name sounds familiar it is because he was linked to the Texans in the 2022 draft before they traded down and selected Kenyon Green. That decision now looks like a whiff, but these things happen.
How do you want to attack the Ravens defense?
As talented as the secondary is, the Ravens’ front seven is rather ordinary outside of linebacker Roquan Smith (72.1 PFF). Teams just didn’t run it often against the Ravens. They were third with 3.9 yards per attempt allowed, but a part of their success might have been an imbalance in time of possession and playing from ahead more often than behind. Clearly, the front seven has some vulnerabilities.
They were tied for fifth in sacks with 48, but teams gashed them in passing yards as they finished a collective 26th. The secondary is strong, but their slot corners are vulnerable and the corners opposite of Humphrey can also be had. If you are able to have some success running the ball you can keep them on their heels. C.J. Stroud might have more success passing it to backs out of the backfield and tight ends underneath.