In Week 3, our Indianapolis Colts will travel to take on the Baltimore Ravens. Knowing the party was hitting the road this weekend I sat down with Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown. You can find him on Twitter @KylePBarber. We swapped questions about the Colts and Ravens and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
You can find my answers to his questions here.
Chris Shepherd: If you were designing a defense to stop this new look Ravens offense, what would your focus be? What are you trying to take away? The Ravens offense is going to have some success, so what are you willing to live with as the opposing DC?
Kyle Barber: Two weeks in, the Ravens are blending short throws and quick strikes with an under center rushing game complemented by the trio of Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. The way to defend them, in my mind, is to stick close to the line of scrimmage with cornerbacks to eliminate the timing throws and short throws to wide receivers Zay Flowers and Rashod Bateman. Mark Andrews will get a first down and outperform most linebackers and dime backers but if you can keep a linebacker in and around him you can do well. Make Jackson have to go to his second and third read as you press receivers at the line and force more downfield throws. Not that he isn’t good in such an area, but it’s one of the few weaknesses of Jackson’s game.
Jackson’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season with a clean pocket. Disrupting him is key, but it’s challenging to get after him because of his elusiveness in space. He can create where no other quarterback can. So, rushing with four and getting home, especially when the Ravens are playing with their backup left tackle and backup center, is how you’re hoping to attack and take advantage. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy for the Bengals, who had pass rusher Trey Hendrickson lined up against backup tackle Patrick Mekari and he allowed only one pressure.
CS: Watching Ravens games this year, it’s impossible not to notice how comfortable Lamar Jackson looks in this new Ravens offense (that has him completing some 75% of his passes). What have you noticed has been the biggest difference from years past to this season, both with the system and in Lamar’s command of it?
KB: The surplus of weapons is the most noticeable. No longer can teams just say “Double No. 89 and their No. 1 WR” and call it good. Even without Odell Beckham Jr., who hasn’t practiced all week due to injury, the Ravens have explosive rookie Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Andrews and the depth at tight end, too.
Also, Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken has honed in on what Jackson can excel at. Getting the football out quickly and making good reads. This, combined with gifting Jackson more freedom at the line of scrimmage to make the decisions and call audibles has breathed new life in an offense desperate for change last season.
CS: What are the weakest points of the Ravens team on both offense and defense? Do you think the Colts can exploit those weaknesses?
KB: As I mentioned, the Ravens are hampered with injury right now. On offense, they’re expected to be without left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center Tyler Linderbaum, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill, and Beckham. These are all starters save for Hill, who has been the 1B of the rushing tandem this training camp and preseason. So, attacking offensive line with pressure and maybe versatile looks at left tackle and center could pose an issue.
On defense, the Ravens are also dealing with injury. It’s been their flaw this season. They’re going to be without safety Marcus Williams, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and now outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. They’re running thin on outside linebackers, too, Oweh and Tyus Bowser out, they’re looking to Jadeveon Clowney and David Ojabo to take hefty snaps. They’ll likely use Malik Harrison at outside linebacker, who doesn’t possess a strong pass rush skillset. It’s appearing they’ll likely call up Jeremiah Moon, a practice squad pass rusher who was on the team in the same role last season.
I think these are areas the Colts can exploit, but it won’t be some simple or easy task. Both Monken and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald have schemed brilliantly for their deficiences. That said, there is only so much you can hide or disguise before the flaws get poked and prodded. The Colts could find ways.
CS: Can you give me a couple names of guys that you expect to make an impact in the game on Sunday that Colts fans might not know?
KB: Gus Edwards is definitely one. With Hill dealing with turf toe, the Ravens are likely to lean on Edwards as their primary rusher. He’s a strong, physical back that does have some speed and agility to combine with his big frame. He’s been a guy they’ve leaned on to get the first downs and he’s come through consistently. He’s a guy that Colts fans might not like as the defense looks to make a stop on third and short and he hammers through for a chain-moving gain. He did so against both the Texans and Bengals defense, and has made a living doing so.
Defensively, look for safety Geno Stone. He’s never been the starter but he’s played in many games filling in for an injured safety. Last season he filled in nicely for the injured Williams and he’s doing so again this season after Williams suffered a pec injury. Last week Stone intercepted a Joe Burrow pass in the end zone and was an impact player. He does an excellent job of not only filling in for the starter, but making plays. He’s a cerebral, disciplined safety that could arguably start elsewhere.
CS: As of right now DraftKings Sportsbook has the Ravens as 7.5 point favorites at home over the Colts. Is that line fair and how do you see this game going?
KB: I think the line is fair. After all, the Colts are expected to be playing with a backup quarterback. Though Minshew isn’t a slouch, the Ravens at home are a formidable opponent that can really get after a team. The Colts have a good team but I think the Ravens have the horses to outrace them, pun intended.
I’m taking Ravens -7.5. Jackson’s a phenom and we have yet to see the best of him this season. But he’s gaining comfortability in the offense and I expect it on Sunday.
Originally there was some concern over Tropical Storm Ophelia and this game. But the latest weather reports are showing that while we should probably expect rainy conditions, we’re unlikely to see a monsoon. A wet, ugly game could favor the Colts who are strong in the trenches, especially so, given that the Ravens have so many injuries along both of their fronts. It may not be enough in the end as the Ravens have seemed like a much more talented team so far this season. But time will tell.
I’d like to thank Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown for taking the time to answer my questions and giving us some insight on what the Colts are up against this weekend. Hopefully it’s a fun game and both teams walk away from it as healthy as they came into it.
As always, go Colts.