Ravens take a page out of the Belichick Handbook

The Ravens realized two things:

1.  To win the Super Bowl, they must get past the Steelers.
2.  The team who has seen the most recent success vs. the Steelers has been the Patriots.

The Ravens, therefore, appear to be taking a page out of the Patriots playbook by how they are building personnel and prioritizing their offense.

First and foremost is protection.  The Patriots have faced the Steelers 6 times since 2004.  When the Steelers record 4+ sacks on the Pats, the Pats are 0-2 SU/ATS, losing by an average 19 ppg (one game without Brady).  But when held to between 0 and 3 sacks, the Pats are 5-0 SU/ATS, winning by an average of 13 ppg.  For the Ravens, they are 2-6 SU/ATS since 04 if they allow 3+ sacks to the Steelers, but 7-2 ATS/6-3 SU when holding the Steelers to between 0 and 2 sacks, which they did on Sunday.  The Steelers get most of their sacks in the 3-4 defense from their outside LBs.  But new Raven Bryant McKinnie’s size at the left tackle allowed Michael Oher (last year’s starting LT) to move to RT.  And the Steelers LBs could not get pressure on Flacco, who had longer in the pocket than any other game vs. the Steelers.

Second is mismatches / packages.  As we see the league is a heavy passing league.  Points are being scored in bunches and QBs are airing it out.  But many of the premier teams are not opting to put a 3rd, 4th or 5th WR on the field in their spread packages.  Instead, they are using a new breed of hybrid TE.  Think Brady w/ a pair of them in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.  Think Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley.  Think New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham.  Think the Bengals’ Jermaine Gresham.  The Ravens have their version going, with Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.  The 2010 Draft was ripe w/ talented TEs, so after Gresham went in the 1st round, NE grabbed Gronkowski in the 2nd.  The Ravens took the next TE off the board (Dickson) in the 3rd, later followed in the same round by Tony Moeaki and Graham.  Then when the Pats were back up in the 4th, they grabbed another one, in Hernandez.  And the Ravens had the following pick and grabbed Pitta.  These are players who can stay on the field in running situations, typical passing situations, or spread situations, and are a complete matchup nightmare for any Defensive Coordinator.  These are players who are legitimate #2 receiving options on their team.  They are overgrown freak athletes, with speed, size and strength – too big for a DB, too fast for a LB.  Dickson led the Ravens w/ 5 catches on Sunday and we all saw what Brady did with his TEs last night.

Third is quick timing / efficient offense.  Using the large bodies on their line as well as their TEs, the Ravens came out and punished the Steelers with the run.  They then had Flacco drop back, and with decisiveness and without hesitation, throw the ball downfield to covered receivers.  Due to the route running, the DBs were unable to track the ball, and Flacco was very accurate.  Flacco started off 8 for 9, then 4 for 7, then 4 for 4. Mixing it up between his WRs, his TEs and Ray Rice.

Does any of this ring a bell when you think of Tom Brady and the NE offense the last several years?  Protection, mismatches / packages and quick timing / efficient offense.  It’s what led Brady to over 500 yards passing, 4 TDs and only 1 sack on MNF.  I won’t even list Flacco in the same sentence as you-know-who.  But the Ravens offense certainly deserves to be listed in the same sentence as the Patriots offense.

The Ravens are one of the few, smart teams who realize these hybrid TEs are the wave of the future.  New England started the movement, but not to be surpassed is Green Bay, who has a whopping 5 TEs on their 53 man roster.  Ted Thompson loves the versatility and flexibility that athletic TEs can provide on a roster.  And it’s no coincidence that some of the top teams and GMs in the league are ahead of the learning curve w/ multiple hybrid TEs.

So the question remains, now that the Ravens are attempting to become a more physical, in your face, offensive version of the Patriots, how far can this new look offense take them?  The answer is probably as far as Flacco and his pair of hybrid TEs can manage.

Special “Big Dog” Access – Week 1 Play – Ravens @ Broncos

9/5/13  ||  451 Baltimore Ravens Over 48

Note on line – last night this line got away, up to 48.5, so I held out, and now it dropped and there are even some 47.5s out there.  That’s the discipline it takes to be a bettor in today’s market.  Grab the 47.5 if you have it, otherwise, the 48.

This is the first game where I’m rolling out some unique analysis and an angle I’ve never seen used, and that’s handicapping a city based on altitude to start the season.

Home field advantage is often overrated, but when it comes to the old Mile High Stadium, the altitude makes for an advantage ‘over’ the bookmaker when betting overs.

No team has gone over the total the first 3 weeks of the season in their home stadium like the Broncos, who are 9-2 (82%) to the over, going over by an avg of 6.4 ppg.  Since 2011, they are 4-0 to the over.

This isn’t a recent phenomenon either, the Broncos home overs are 67% since 1998, including 14-6 (70%) if the total is set at 40 or higher.

And in true week 1 games since 1998 at home the Broncos overs are 6-1 (86%).

Why does this happen?  Well a large part of it could be the fact that opposing defenses are NOT in full game condition, and now must play a game in warmer weather (September vs December) at altitude, which they are not accustomed to.

Making it even more unique this year?

1.  Baltimore played in the Super Bowl last year, and surely got a lot of rest this offseason, more so than other teams.
2.  With the new limitations on padded practices and hitting, 1st team defenses are less prepared for both hitting and full game speed.  And with preseason being viewed as “successful” if your players retain their health, these defenses start slower than ever.

I wanted to test if this was unique to football in Denver, or Denver in general, so I researched their NBA team, the Nuggets.  I found that the same thing happens in the NBA: since 2006, when road teams play their 1st or 2nd game of the season in Denver, the overs hit at  80% and games go over by 9 ppg.

I’ve never heard anyone discuss this angle before, but hitting 86% of overs over the last 15 years, and seeing 80% of NBA games fall into the same pattern is strong.

Looking league wide in week 1:

– Last 20 years, week 1 home favs on a total above 44 who are favored by 7+ have seen overs go 14-4 (78%) including 8-2 (80%) in non-divisional games.

– The last 2 seasons, when two 10+ win teams meet in week 1, the over is 100%, going over by a whopping 10 ppg.

Last season I was higher on the Broncos defense and more down on the Ravens defense, but this year that role is reversed.  The Broncos defense is dealing with injuries and the loss of key pass rushers from last season’s team.  Elvis Dumerville made the switch from the Broncos to the Ravens and they are without Von Miller due to suspension.  And arguably their best cover corner, Champ Bailey, is hobbled and is unlikely to play.

I anticipate a very balanced game from the Ravens, featuring heavy doses on the ground with multiple shots deep down field, which Flacco should get without having the stress of a heavy pass rush.  On the other side of the ball, Manning likely will likely be throwing early and often, as the Ravens had the 7th most efficient rush defense last season.  When the Broncos go with 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TD, 3 WRs) they should be very proficient and the tempo between snaps will likely be high.  Both the Ravens and Broncos are top 5 teams in explosive pass offense last season.

Surprisingly, last season Denver was 26th in red zone defense, but they ranked higher by not allowing many attempts.  Offensively Baltimore was 5th overall (9th when factoring in attempts) last season in the red zone.

Since the new hit rules were implemented in 2010, Peyton Manning’s teams (Colts in 2010, Broncos in 2012) have gone over 86% of the time (12-2) vs non-divisional opponents with a total lined below 51 points.  The average total has been 47 points and they go over by 7 ppg, averaging 30 ppg themselves and allowing 24 ppg.

The last 2 years, when the Ravens are road dogs and their total is between 42 and 50 points, the over is 6-0, going over by 11 ppg.  And under Harbaugh (since 2008), the over is 12-3 (80%), going over by 6 ppg.

If you were with me last season, you know that much was made about how “cold” it was in Denver last season.  The public and the media thought of the “Ice Bowl”, and thought immediately that “cold = low scoring”.  I shared an in depth analysis showing that games in cold weather tend to go over the total at a much higher rate than warm weather.  Well the total of 44 was smashed to the over, with a total of 73 pts scored.  It sure was cold!

I don’t know that we’ll see that level of scoring, but I have a feeling its going to be “cold” in Denver tonight, which is great for an over.

Welcome to my Blog

I’d like to welcome you to my blog.  My hope is to use this as an avenue to share pertinent research and information that I uncover with you.  Many of you first found me on forums where I’d post myth-busting topics and analysis that you don’t find from most more mainstream outlets.  Eventually I started my own blog where I continued to share this research.  Once I started an official non-blog website, I stopped sharing this research.  However, I continue to perform a ton of studies and analysis each and every week.  Some of it leads to personal plays that I issue to clients, others get stored in my archives to be pulled out later.

Now I finally have a medium to share this information with you once again.  I’ll also be able to lend some insights and opinion, so you will get some statistical research and some opinion in this blog.

Between Twitter ( @SharpFootball , and if you don’t currently use Twitter, I strongly recommend it even if its just to create a list of people to follow and not post anything yourself) and this Blog, you will be able to see and hear more from me than at any point since I started publicly sharing plays, and I couldn’t be more excited!