Injuries have forced the Ravens to lean on a patchwork defense
Weak-side linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who had elevated his play in Lewis’ absence, is in danger of missing his third straight game with an ankle injury. Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, whose season has been marred first by a torn Achilles and now by a torn biceps, is also a game-time decision.
Only four defensive players — McClain and defensive backs Cary Williams, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard — have started all 13 games for the Ravens. That number will probably decrease by two as McClain is out today and Pollard likely won’t play because of a chest injury.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has missed just one game, but shoulder and knee injuries have contributed to his looking ordinary at times. Second-year defensive end Pernell McPhee, who was second on the team last year with 6.5 sacks, has just a half-sack this year, and he has played just nine games because of injuries.
Peyton Manning. Ravens injuries. Ordinary Ngata.
Even a Ray Lewis pep talk isn't saving the Ravens now.
The Broncos need to win tomorrow if they're to keep alive any hopes of gaining a top-two seed and first-round bye in this year's playoffs.
But beyond those loftiest of goals, a Denver victory tomorrow would be significant on its own, as it would ensure the Broncos of being no worse than the AFC's number-three seed in the playoffs. Denver would move to 11-3, drop Baltimore to 9-5, and also own a head-to-head tiebreaker over them, were both teams to finish with 11 wins.
The difference between a three and four seed may not seem that great at first glance, but without knowing how the rest of the AFC will shake out, it certainly could end up being a big deal.
Good Afternoon, friends. We've never been shy about touching upon hotly debated issues here, but have only done so when prompted by words and actions from NFL figures.
Today is different though, because for the past 24 hours, it's been impossible to go more than a few minutes without thinking of the 20 small children who were murdered yesterday. That's murdered, mind you.
Immediately following the horrors in Aurora, and again yesterday, the airwaves and social media have been strewn with claims that it's "too soon" or "not the time" to discuss our nation's status as the mass-murder, assault-death capital of the developed world, and what must be done to fix that.
No day is better or worse to have this conversation, because by the time the self-appointed arbiters of national dialogue deem it's appropriate to broach the topic, we're onto our next mournful episode. Sadly, there's no law of nature that says today won't bring the next tragedy.
Happy Friday, friends. We got a question about the productivity of Elvis Dumervil from a reader the other day, and along with Doc, I am coming off the other edge to help answer it. It’s hard to contain a rush that’s coming off of both sides.
Doc took the position that Elvis has fine numbers, and I agree with him completely. I’m going to come from the schematic angle, and talk about how team strategy is directly feeding into his numbers, and the tactics he’s employing.
If I use the term Wide-9, what does that mean to you? Over the last couple of years, NFL talking heads have decided that it was a scheme that was being employed in Philadelphia. In the true sense of the term, Wide-9 simply means that a defensive player is aligned on the outside shoulder of a second TE, if there were one. He’s very far outside the offensive tackle.
In a column posted yesterday at Pro Football Focus, Ben Stockwell suggests that, outside of favorable matchups against the Chargers, Elvis Dumervil hasn’t done a very good job of rushing the passer this season.
It even discusses the idea that potential opponents might just try and shut down Miller (good luck there) and let the rest of the line try and beat them. I think that in this case, even PFF’s own stats show this to be a weak argument. So does the film.
In this explanation, I used some numbers that I took out of PFF's own website - an article from earlier in the week on pass rushing productivity on third and fourth downs. According to PFF, Miller is second in the league in total late down pressures, which isn’t surprising. Who’s tied for tenth? Elvis Dumervil, the player who supposedly isn’t performing well. This ignores, incidentally, the fact that Von and Elvis have each forced six fumbles - which only serves to expand the impact of their pressures.
Happy Friday, Broncos fans! The AFC playoff picture got slightly clearer last night, as Cincinnati (8-6) pulled away in the second half of a 34-13 slopfest, turning over the Eagles (4-10) five times along the way.
The win puts them a half-game ahead of Pittsburgh, whom they'll visit next Sunday. A Steelers loss this week at Dallas would give the Bengals a chance to clinch a playoff spot next weekend with a win over Pittsburgh.
Cincy and Pittsburgh are essentially in a battle for the AFC's sixth seed, with an outside shot at overtaking Baltimore for the AFCN title.
The Jets have a slim chance at a wild card, while the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, and Chargers are essentially holding lottery tickets. To make the playoffs, San Diego needs to win out, have four other games go their way, and not be joined at 8-8 by Cleveland.
Meanwhile, a Denver win at Baltimore would almost ensure they'd be at least the number-three seed, and maintain their hopes of gaining a first-round bye.
Film Room: Quick Reels
Cameron didn’t do a lot schematically to make life easier on Joe Flacco. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell should be able to fix this. He’s never been a play-caller at the NFL level, but it doesn’t take any experience to know that in order to throw on Denver, you have to intertwine some routes. The Broncos have one of football’s best man-to-man outside tandems in Champ Bailey and Tony Carter. Plus, Chris Harris is one of the few nickelbacks capable of hanging with Anquan Boldin one-on-one in the slot.
Caldwell is no spring chicken, and this won't be his first rodeo; but it will be his first time ever calling plays in the NFL, and at any level since 1999 (he'll do so from up in the coaches' booth). Many have suggested this week that Caldwell's task will be a simple matter of giving Ray Rice more touches, and letting Joe Flacco go no-huddle. Pete Prisco thinks it won't quite be that easy.
Meanwhile, Jack Del Rio has drawn hefty praise for the wide variety of defensive looks he's shown opponents this season. Think he'll have a few wrinkles up his sleeve to greet Caldwell and the struggling Joe Flacco?
As this week draws on, we're finding it increasingly hard to think this will be such a difficult game for Denver, what with Baltimore's turmoil on offense and the mountain of injuries facing its defense. What do you think?
Further, Tagliabue emphasized that Goodell had done the right things the wrong way and that, as an investigator, Goodell pretty much makes Torquemada look like the chairman of your local ACLU. By vacating the suspensions levied by Goodell, Tagliabue may have defused a number of the inevitable lawsuits, and created a kind of détente with the NFL Players Association. (The NFLPA might well have settled for any finding that just made Goodell look ridiculous, which Tagliabue certainly did.) It is devoutly to be hoped that Vilma, whose lawyer may never stop crowing from the rooftops, goes ahead with his defamation suit against Goodell, because the discovery process alone in that one would be surreal.
You have to love Charlie Pierce, especially if you're a fellow liberal asshole from New England like I am. He uses his standard big/obscure words (like mountebank!) and employs his trademark rational thought. Like the best liberals, he doesn't automatically reach the predictable ideological point that the players are "martyrs for union solidarity and the rights of due process." They're no such thing, of course, and they pretty clearly behaved in a discreditable manner. The NFL (and Brother Ginger) were far worse, though.
Read the article, and give it a thought. It'll probably be the smartest thing you read all day.