As the 0-2 St Louis Rams gear up for this weekend's matchup with the 1-1 Baltimore Ravens, most Rams fans are picturing the relative historic trajectories of these two teams and asking themselves, "Do we have a chance in hell in this one?" Whether it's their physically dominating defense or their punshing "do enough to win" offense or their lengthy history of playoff contention, this looks like a mismatch on all angles, even for an improving Rams team.
However, that was before the decidedly mediocre Tennessee Titans surprised them with a 32-16 victory last week. While that win might provide extra motivation to the purple and black, it also lives vividly in the memory of Ravens observers. At least, that's the upshot of my Q&A session with Thomas Jackson of RavensFootballMachine.com, our site for Baltimore coverage on the Bloguin network.
RamsHerd: Aside from an emotional letdown following their impressive week 1 victory over the Steelers, how did the Ravens allow themselves to get beaten by Matt Hasselbeck’s Titans?
RFM: The Titans are a much better team than the Ravens anticipated...and they simply played faster and better than the Ravens. Some say the heat and humidity in Nashville was a factor as the Ravens seemed to wear out late in the game defensively. But that's just an excuse.
Hasselbeck got decent protection in the pocket and he utilized a 1-step drop which completely threw off the Ravens' zone coverages and blitz packages. He used WR Kenny Britt with great precision and Britt did the rest with his supreme pass-catching and running abilities... Nobody could cover Kenny! Seems the Ravens defensive game plan was obsessed with stopping Chris Johnson's running game... which they for the most part accomplished... but Hasselbeck exposed the back end of the Ravens defense.
RamsHerd: The Ravens seem just as much a running team now as ever. Does Joe Flacco eventually take a step forward as quarterback, or is what we see what we’re going to get?
RFM:If the running game is working for the Ravens, Flacco likes to run play-action stuff off it, which makes him a better passer in the pocket. The Ravens' run game was pretty well shut down by the Titans when it counted, and their linebackers (especially Ruud) had a great game filling the B gaps and stopping the run. Plus, the Titans' defensive rushers were coming off the edges very well... Ravens' offensive tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie had a tough day. Pass protection wore down as the game progressed for the Ravens.
In order to take the next step to becoming an elite QB, Flacco needs an extra half-second or so in the pocket to make his reads. He still needs to improve upon his "hot" reads and he still needs a go-to receiver who can react on a "scramble" drill, break off a route and come back to help him.
RamsHerd: Rhetorical question: Is there any stopping Ray Rice?
RFM: Ray Rice can be stopped... he effectively was limited by the Titans. They used a linebacker "spy" on him the whole game, and sealed off the gaps he likes to run between the tackles and guards.
RamsHerd: I don’t think any player defines a franchise right now the way Ray Lewis defines the Ravens. When he eventually retires, what will the impact be on this team?
RFM: Ray Lewis has lost half-a-step going sideline to sideline... but he still seems to be in the right place at the right time on most plays.
He's playing linebacker more on the strength of his knowledge gained from film study and positional spacing than ever before... When he does retire, that will be the biggest thing the Ravens will lose--the ability he has to see offensive keys and line up the rest of his guys with the right signal calls.
RamsHerd: What’s your game prediction?
RFM: Tough game to predict as usual... The Rams are desperate for a W and are protecting their house... it should be loud in the Dome, which may distract the Ravens O-Line and cause some confusion there... Flacco's best deep-threat receiver (Lee Evans) is not healthy (ankle and foot issues)... If the Rams studied the game film from last week, I think they can keep it very close until the end...and it comes down to a FG attempt to tie or win for the Rams in the final minute of play.
Many thanks to Tom for his time. Follow @RavensMachine on Twitter for live in-game conversation from the opposing sideline.