Behind Enemy Lines: An Inside Look at the Ravens

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. –The Titans face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.

The Titans are coming off the bye weekend, and currently have a 4-3 record.

The Ravens are coming off a 40-0 win over the Dolphins, and they're 4-4.

This week, I caught up with Jeff Zrebiec, who covers the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffzrebiecsun, and join over 25,000 others.

Here's how our conversation went …

Wyatt: Hey Jeff. I appreciate you taking the time. Right out of the gate I want to ask you about Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Everyone has seen the hit he took against the Dolphins. How is he? And is he expected to play on Sunday vs the Titans?

Zrebiec: I think everyone is pretty surprised how quickly he has bounced back to this point. He was in their team facility the day after the game and he was telling people he felt really good, and he wasn't really experiencing lingering issues. At this point I think he is on track to playing. But we all know, what the player says doesn't really matter. It's whether he will be able to pass all the tests and clear concussion protocol and be ready. But all indications at this point in the week are very good, and he'll be ready to go. I would imagine, due to that hit, you have to wonder which quarterback is going to show up if he is indeed out there. But no question they feel like he gives them the best chance to win. So if he passes protocol, he'll be out there on Sunday.


**

Wyatt:** Halfway into the season, the Ravens are 4-4. The team is ranked 31st in the NFL on offense, and 10th overall on defense. What's gone well for the Ravens so far?

Zrebiec: Well, they are not eye-popping with numbers on offense. But the run game has been a little bit of a surprise. They are top 10 run offense, even though they kind of have a makeshift offensive line and they don't really have an elite game-breaking back. But they hired Greg Roman to kind of come in and revamp their run game. They are not one particular scheme, they are kind of every scheme. They have been pretty hard to prepare for with all the different looks they give in the run game, in a year when their offense and their passing offense has just been really bad. Their running game, other than one or two weeks, has been their whole offense. And I think that has been a little bit of a surprise because they have been a very poor running team over the last couple of years. And the other thing I would say is defensively, they lead the league in interceptions, they have managed to force turnovers. They have gotten really good cornerback play, and Jimmy Smith is having a Pro Bowl type year – he has two defensive touchdowns. Brandon Carr has played really well for them and the rookie Marlon Humphrey has looked the part and has been as advertised. So after a couple of years of not having much at cornerback, they have been pretty deep and productive there. And when you pair those guys with the safeties – Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson – they have really managed to force a lot of turnovers and score some points when the defense is on the field.


Wyatt: You mentioned the run game. I noticed Alex Collins is averaging 6.0 yards per carry, and he has 480 yards so far. He's come out of nowhere it seems. Has his emergence been a surprise?

Zrebiec: Yeah. You look at him and you think: How did the Seahawks just give up on this guy? He runs really hard, he breaks a ton of tackles, and he is very decisive. It is night and day considering what we have seen from them at running back over the past few years. The issue with him has been the fumbles. He has fumbled twice with the Ravens, and they worked on the way he carries the ball, went kind of what Tiki Barber did and that similar style, and since he hasn't fumbled the ball and he has been very productive. But I think it's fair to say he has come out of nowhere, and even if Terrance West is back healthy this week, I think the starting job will belong to Collins. He will continue to get more and more carries as long as he holds onto the ball.


**

Wyatt:** So what have been the biggest issues so far for the Ravens?

Zrebiec: The pass offense has just been bad. It's just been a combination of everything, but Joe Flacco wears most of that – he hasn't played well, there's no question. He was having a decent game (vs. Miami) before he got hurt. And he's had a couple of stretches, a couple of halves here and there where he has looked good. But for the most part, he just hasn't looked like himself. He's been inaccurate, he's made some poor decisions, and he hasn't shown a whole lot of pocket presence. I think part of that is he missed the whole summer with a back injury, and he hasn't been fully healthy. And the other part of it, and he doesn't say this, but I don't think he has a whole lot of confidence with his wide receivers and his offensive line. The offensive line has been OK at times, and been really poor at others. They've also gotten really spotty play at wide receiver. They've had a lot of injuries -- (Mike) Wallace and (Jeremy) Maclin have been really banged up, and (Breshad) Perriman, their former first round pick, just has not done a thing. They just don't have much stability there with their pass catchers. At tight end, they don't have a lot of speed. Benjamin Watson is solid, but he's not going to run by anyone. I just think the passing game has kind of been broken all year, and it starts with the quarterback. He is just a part of it, but they haven't been strong in any area there. And defensively, they haven't stopped the run at all, and that's been a hallmark of every Ravens good defense – they have always stopped the run, and been in the top 10 pretty much every year under Harbaugh. But before this last game against Miami they were the 32nd ranked run defense, and that has sort of been shocking. I don't think anyone has been surprised their offense has struggled, given all the circumstances, but the run defense looking so vulnerable has been shocking. They did completely shut down the Dolphins in that area, and they feel like they've made some adjustments to help moving forward, and obviously that will be challenged by how Tennessee runs the football.


Wyatt: I know the Ravens have a bye week coming up after the trip to Tennessee. Right now, they're still in the thick of things in the AFC. What's the team's mindset leading up to this week's game?

Zrebiec: I think it's a huge game for them. The season is kind of at a crossroads. They have been good enough to completely dominate Miami, who was 4-2 and had won three straight coming in. They went into the Raiders home field and dominated them. But they lost to the Bears at home (and lost 44-7 to Jacksonville). So everyone is just kind of waiting to see what this team is. So far, it has not shown the ability week in and week out to put together a consistent effort. If they are able to do that, and come out of Tennessee with a win, they'd be over .500 with the bye. There's a lot of mediocrity in the AFC right now, and they're supposed to get Danny Woodhead back after the bye, so they should be getting healthier. This game is a huge game for them, because if they go into that bye under .500 with not much margin for error the rest of the way. … No one is going to say "must win" or anything, but they understand if they are going to be legitimate as a playoff team this year they are going to need to start stringing together some wins, and they need to start now.

TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the Baltimore Ravens. (Photos, Donn Jones, AP)

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