Ah, Baltimore. Close enough to my current home to tempt, but expensive enough to make getting to the gate a tough sell. Locals love their Ravens, whom they hate very much, and will pay exorbitant amounts for a seat where they can lament their misfortune. Who am I to deny them that?
First, a caveat: we shouldn't overlook the Ravens -- this is a team whose biggest loss is by 8 points, 26-18 at the hands of the Cardinals. It's a team that downed the Steelers (yes, without Big Ben) in OT and lost by 4 to the Bengals. But it's also a team that's 1-1 against the Browns, fell to the Jaguars, lost to the 49ers, and was topped by the Dolphins 15-13 last week.
This season, they seem to be the kind of team that plays just below their opponent's level, and if they're playing a little too well, they Gillooly one of their better players to restore normalcy. The Ravens are just good enough on defense to make every game look respectable, but bad enough on offense -- especially now that Joe Flacco is out, several top receivers are gone, and the running back corps is decimated -- that they don't look like much of a threat.
Let's start on the ground, where Baltimore has been weakest. The team topped 100 yards rushing (104) two weeks ago (against the Browns) for the first time since Week 5 (against the Browns); as of Week 5, the Ravens had managed 100 rushing yards three times. The difference, of course, is that early in the year they had Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro, while today they're led out by Buck Allen, whose 3.9 yards per attempt (93 attempts, so we're not working on small samples here) is fine for a change-of-pace back but hardly bellcow material. And even then, Allen sports a line that's heavily influenced by that success against the Browns.
Allen is more of a threat in the passing game, where he's caught 29 passes for 242 yards and a pair of scores; three-fourths of that production has come in the last three weeks, including a 12-107-1 line against the Fins last week.
Actually, the whole team goes more for the passing game, partly out of necessity in playing catch-up. So far, they're indifferent to who's under center when it comes to game-planning, throwing about 62% of the time with both Flacco and Matt Schaub under center. Schaub has led them to a 1-1 record the last couple weeks, and though he's completing 65% of his passes in relief, his 3:4 TD:INT ratio has been less than helpful, as he's chucked a pick on 5% of his throws. Jimmy Clausen -- well, he's not as good as Schaub, and we've seen his 3-and-out specials before.
Baltimore splits shotgun and under-center about 30-70, but it doesn't run much out of the shotgun since its top two backs went out. If you see shotgun with this Ravens team, figure on a a 98% chance of it being a pass.
Expect Richard Sherman to pay attention to Kamar Aiken, the target hog wide receiver; Aiken has hit double digits in targets each of the last two weeks. He's joined by deep threat Chris Givens -- 17.8 yards per catch, including long completions of 36 and 48 yards in the last two weeks. DeShawn Shead shouldn't have to break up accurate deep passes like he did two weeks ago, but he should be on his toes and might get a free pick or two out of the deal.
Since the Ravens are generally thin at receiver, they angle to get their tight ends involved. That's fortunate for them because...wait, no, Dennis Pitta is out (along with 3 other listed tight ends), and "top dog" Crockett Gilmore suffered a back injury last week and is currently questionable to take the field. If Gilmore goes, watch for him to run mid-range crossing routes that Baltimore Quarterback of the Week may or may not be able to hit.
On the line, Baltimore suffers from Repetitive James Hurst Syndrome. Hurst has been terrible, like, possibly all-time terrible by Pro Football Focus standards, as a pass blocker in relief at left tackle for Eugene Monroe -- not a superstar in his own right -- and gives up pressure about every two dropbacks. He plays across from the also-poorly-rated Rick Wagner, who gives a little more for the run but gives up a lot of ground in pass protection.
On offense in general, the Ravens might be their own worst enemies. The team has just 3 games this year where it hasn't committed at least 2 turnovers -- and one of those was against (you guessed it!) the Browns.
Seattle's normally strong run defense should be more than enough to keep Buck Allen treading water, and its defensive front should be able to crush this line on almost every throw. Forcing Schaub (or Clausen!) to make quick decisions is a recipe for interceptable passes. Look for a lot of Marsh and Clark action to go with the other usual suspects.
Defensively, Baltimore has been decent, thanks in part to not losing quite as many players to injury as the offense. Elvis Dumervil is having a solid year at linebacker, leading the team with 6 sacks, but he tends to meet plays too far upfield to be much help against the run. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith pursue better and minimize gains from short passes; they also provide decent coverage in the middle of the field.
The Ravens have fared poorly against quality running backs this year. Le'Veon Bell notched a 22-129-1 line in a Baltimore win; Chris Johnson went 18-122-1 when Arizona bested the team; and Lamar Miller posted 20 totes for 113 yards in Miami's victory last weekend. Thomas Rawls should have little trouble finding yardage, and the Seahawks should look to feed him early and often.
The hosts have done only marginally better against the pass. The Ravens gave up 422 passing yards to (who else?) the Browns and 326 to the 49ers in losses, but their 290 against Phillip Rivers was enough to take home a win; they've also given up big games to Derek Carr (351 yards) and Andy Dalton (372 yards). Tight ends have had limited success against this team, though Gary Barnidge -- well, the Browns.
Meanwhile, wide receivers of all shapes and sizes give them headaches, especially deep: opponents have logged 7 receptions of 50 or more yards to players as diverse as Michael Floyd, Amari Cooper, and Taylor Gabriel. Baltimore does relatively well defending mid-range throws and contains short-yardage tosses effectively, but it's managed to produce just 4 interceptions this season, a stat that looks particularly ugly in light of that comment above about how many turnovers they've committed.