We've been having a pretty good time this week exchanging questions and good-natured barbs with the folks from Baltimore Beatdown, but I received a request this week for a Five Good Question exchange with the folks from Right Off Russell, another Baltimore-centric blog, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to branch out a bit. You can check out the questions he sent me and my responses to them right here, and what you see now are the questions I sent to the good folks at Right Off Russell and their answers. Enjoy!
1) The Ravens lost defensive coordinator Rex Ryan this past off-season, and replaced him with Greg Mattison. What has changed about the defense to this point in the season, and what have you seen that's remained the same?
If you looked at the base Ravens defense, it would be hard to tell the difference. Systematically they are the same. The biggest difference is that Mattison, unlike his predecessor, is not a believer in "exotic " blitz packages. There is none of this walking around trying fake out the offense. While the defense is struggling, I’m not sure this is to blame. Ryan’s defense has been torched over the past 2 weeks. I wonder if the league is figuring it out.
Mattison has some work to do because down linemen are not generating enough pressure up front and it’s exposing the Ravens B-level cornerbacks.
2) Minnesota has a couple of pretty good running backs on their roster, but the Ravens bring the proverbial three-headed monster to town this weekend. Detail for Viking fans that may not see the Ravens on a regular basis how the team utilizes Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and LeRon McClain.
I think we are still trying to figure out the 3-headed monster. What we do know is that Rice is accumulating the majority of the carries. He is the quickest of the 3 and is great at the catch and run. Willis has been extremely effective in the red zone. Not exactly sure why he disappeared last week against the Bengals, but 7 TDs this season is no joke. As for McClain, he is an extremely talented back as was displayed last year. He is almost cursed in that he is also a good blocker. He will see 5 carries a game, but he is desperately needed as a lead blocker.
3) Joe Flacco is quickly becoming one of the league's better young quarterbacks. What do you feel has enabled him to make such a massive leap from 2008 to 2009?
We are definitely happy with Flacco’s emergence this year especially with all the fears of a sophomore slump. I think his success is due to a full year of learning Cam Cameron’s offense. Last season, he was only named the starter because of attrition. While he definitely earned his spot as the starter, it’s amazing how much opening the playbook has allowed him to flourish.
4) Which member of the Ravens that's a little more obscure do you think could play a major role in this Sunday's contest?
I would keep an eye on WR Kelley Washington. Washington was primarily a special teams player with the Pats last year and he tried out for the team in the spring and has yet to look back. He provides size at the receiver position that the Ravens need. He has also made some crucial catches this season. With Derrick Mason demanding most of the attention, I see Washington being able to make some big plays.
5) What is the injury status of the Ravens right now, and how will any injuries they might be working through affect their strategy against the Vikings this weekend?
LT Jared Gaither is still struggling with his neck injury. He has yet to practice since being carted off the field in Foxboro 2 weeks ago. At this point he is being listed as doubtful. The Ravens will continue to deal with the injury by moving RT Michael Oher to the left side and filling the right side with converted Guard Marshal Yanda. The Ravens lost their backup tackle to season ending surgery in the preseason. I think this injury makes their line solid as opposed to dominating.
I also think the Ravens are still recovering from the loss of LB Brendon Ayanbadejo. Brendon was a stud on special teams and he made some huge plays on certain packages on the defense. He was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week during Week 3. Now the Ravens are forced to play some 1st and 2nd year linebackers who are more prone to make mistakes. They did however just sign Super Bowl XLII hero David Tyree to help shore up their special teams.