A Great Day for Baltimore Sports

On Saturday night, the Orioles had their biggest regular-season win in years, maintaining first place with an 8-0 thumping of the Rays.

Looking back, I’ve heard a good argument for the final Saturday of 2016 being a similarly important win, but in my opinion you have to go back to 9/28/96 when Robbie Alomar’s HR clinched the lone AL wild card the day after the spitting incident to locate a win of comparable importance.

That set up a Sunday with a 1 PM matchup between the Ravens and Bengals as well as a 1:35 start of the Orioles’ series finale with Tampa Bay.

Let’s start with the Orioles.

The Sunday thriller included a go-ahead, first ML HR by the Rays rookie SS Gray, a disputed play at the plate which kept the game at 3-2 in the top of the 9th, 2 game-tying RBIs when the Orioles were down to their last out (Frazier in the 9th, Rutschman in the 10th), and a walk off sac fly by Cedric Mullins.  The Orioles fly to Houston 2 games up in the division with a magic number of 10 and 13 games to play.

Then there are the Ravens.

They went into Cincinnati missing 6 key starters (Stanley, Linderbaum, Dobbins, Williams, Humphrey, and Bowser).  Despite 2 more injuries during the game (Beckham, Oweh) they played like the Ravens of the early Lamar years with efficient offense by series and closed out the game exclusively with the run over the last 3:28 despite the fact the Bengals knew exactly what was coming.  They flew home as the only 2-0 team in the AFC (the Dolphins have since joined them and the Browns may on Monday night) having dropped the Bengals to 0-2 with 2 divisional losses.

Definition is the key to this claim, but I would say in terms of the magnitude of importance of the 2nd most impactful win, this may well have been the greatest day in Baltimore sports history.

Even if that’s not the case, I’ll enjoy hearing from folks who can nominate a better one.

Bengals Scheme for Ball Out Quick

As they have in each of the last 4 meetings, the Ravens approached the Bengals game with a preponderance of cover-2 looks to keep a lid on Cincinnati’s receiving threats.

The Bengals again responded with a spread underneath passing game where Burrow had the ball out before pressure could develop on a high percentage of plays (Ball Out Quick or BOQ in my notes shorthand).  Burrow had the second fastest time to throw on Sunday at 2.28 seconds and his average completed air yards were tied for the lowest at 3.1.

I’ll get to more specifics in the pass rush detail (see below) but I have 3 overarching thoughts: 

First, the frequency of BOQ (20 of 42 pass plays, 48%) was certain to create a frustrating day for the pass rush, so Macdonald did not overcommit numbers and the expectations for all types of pressure events should have been much lower.

Second, the number of short passes, particularly those to the outside, are an extension of the Cincinnati run game, which required the Ravens to focus on recognition, assignments, and tackling.  For the most part, the Ravens did very well with all 3 responsibilities.

Last, the 5.1 YPP with 1 INT is far from the efficient frontier of results/ball security (regardless of opponent) from the Bengals perspective.  From the Ravens perspective, it’s a significant coaching victory they were able to contain the Bengals so effectively without 4 of their best pass defenders, Williams, Humphrey, Bowser, and Oweh for most of the game.  

Which leads us to…

Cornerbacks Hold Up vs Burrow and Elite Receivers

Cover-2 provided a great deal of support for the Ravens CBs who each would have greater difficulty staying with any of the Bengals big 3 on an island.  The resulting preponderance of short throws allowed the Ravens CBs to do what they have done well for 2 games now, keep the play in front of them and minimize damage.

Not everything was perfect.  Washington and Darby struggled with Higgins’ size, for example.  However, Ravens did not allow a single completion more than 13 yards from the LoS and the 4 plays over 13 yards all involved significant YAC, specifically:

  • PR32 (3 + 29) to Mixon
  • PM18 (13 + 5) to Higgins
  • PR16 (6 + 10) to Higgins
  • PM20 (11 + 9) to Higgins

Burrow was 0 for 6 on balls more than 15 yards from the LoS in the air, including Stone’s interception) but did have a 17-yard DPI drawn by Chase on Stephens on such a throw. 

Finally, 2-time Pro Bowler Jamar Chase was held to 31 yards on 8 targets (3.9 YPT).

Stretched Thin

The Ravens lost 2 more key starters (Beckham, Oweh) who were unable to finish the game.  As of Sunday night, Harbaugh has only issued the standard party line of “I don’t believe those are serious.”

The Ravens can’t afford for either of these injuries to result in a lengthy absence.  However, Nelson Agholor stepped up with 5 receptions on 6 targets for 62 yards including a TD and Tavius Robinson provided pressure on a pair of QHs.

The OLB situation is now dire with a minimum of 2 more games before Bowser can return.  Macdonald is still using simulated pressure from OLB (dropping OLBs to cover) as a component of pass rush deception, including 6 such drops on Sunday.  Fortunately, Jadeveon Clowney has stepped up both to drop as required and rush the passer as effectively as he has in years.


Note: all snap totals exclude penalties resulting in no play, kneels, spikes, and specials team plays resulting in a run or pass.  As such, they will be lower than other published totals.

The Bengals ran 57 such snaps.

Base (2): The Ravens used their 4-DB/3-DL package exclusively with Malik Harrison inserted as 1 of 2 OLBs.  They used this package twice in the 2nd half (3rd/2, Q3, 12:10; 1st/10, Q3, 8:39).  The results of these plays were PR4, PR0.  2 plays, 4 yards, 2.0 YPP.

Standard Nickel (54): The Ravens used the standard nickel as the primary response to the Bengals 11 personnel packages.  The Ravens alternated between Ronald Darby (33 snaps in all packages) and Rock Ya-Sin (24 snaps).  These plays included 14 runs for 61 and 40 pass plays for 212.  54 plays, 273 yards, 5.1 YPP.  

Big Nickel (1): For 1 snap (Q4, 11:38), Macdonald inserted Daryl Worley on the back end and moved Kyle Hamilton to SCB in a big nickel alignment that included 2 DL, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB, 3 S, and 2 CB.  It seems like this was just a change-of-pace option against the Bengals standard 11 personnel.  Mixon ran up the middle for 5 yards on the play where Queen appeared to suffer a stinger.  1 plays, 5 yards, 5.0 YPP.

It doesn’t get more vanilla than what Macdonald used in terms of packages.  That said, the Bengals did not present the Ravens with difficulties that warranted a change to more radical personnel choices.

Pass Rush

Macdonald employed modest numbers but made up for it with other deceptive elements which helped generate some pressure, primarily after halftime.

For the game, Burrow had ATS on 9 of 42 drop backs (21%) a low total.  On those 9 plays, he went 5 of 9 for 36 yards (4.0 YPP), including Stone’s interception.  He also delivered the ball before pressure could develop (BOQ) 20 times (48%, 7.2 YPP).  The Ravens generated a pressure event on 13 plays (31%), including 1 sack but no turnovers.  With pressure, Burrow was 6 of 12 for 36 net yards including a sack for -6 (2.8 YPP).

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer: 1 play, 7 yards

4: 36 plays, 163 yards, 4.5 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO

5: 2 plays, 32 yards, 16.0 YPP

6+: 3 plays, 14 yards, 4.7 YPP

Total:  42 plays, 216 yards, 5.1 YPP, 1 sack

Macdonald dialed up 8 individual blitzes (.19 per pass play) from off the LoS including 1 pair.  Of the 8 blitzes, 5 came from ILB, with a pair from Ar’Darius Washington and one from Brandon Stephens.

The Ravens stunted 7 times, all singles.  None of the loopers generated a pressure event, but there was a pressure generated on 2 of these plays.  While I think the Ravens believed they could best deal with Burrow with a straightforward rush and occasional blitz, stunts did not create a large scramble risk given Burrow’s calf injury. 

The Ravens showed simulated pressure on 8 occasions where 2 or more (3 players once and 4 players twice!) dropped from the LoS.  Burrow completed 5 of those 8 passes for 48 yards (6.0 YPP).

I define a deceptive pass rush as incorporating 2 or more of the above elements (off ball blitzes, stunts, and simulated pressures).  The Ravens ran 6 deceptive rushes (14%) on which the Bengals gained 25 yards (4.2 YPP).

Clowney led the team with contributions to 7 pass rush events including 5 pressures, 1 sack, and a QH where he was also credited with a PD.  Pierce and Robinson also had 2 pressures each.

Other Individual Notes

  • Justin Madubuike was pulled from the game after a late push down of Burrow resulted in a roughing the passer flag.  It was his 4th penalty in 2 games.
  • Kyle Hamilton had a quiet day patrolling the back end, but he mad a terrific open-field tackle of TE Irv Smith on 3rd and 11 to force a punt (Q4, 10:27) when the Ravens had rushed 7 for the only time all day.
  • Travis Jones made 4 run tackles in just 7 run snaps including 2 defensive wins, but he may be remembered for being pushed by the Cincy rugby scrum on Mixon’s (Q4, 4:45), which was more a function of the Ravens failure to rally to the tackle.
  • Malik Harrison tracked down Mixon for PR0 (-3 + 3) [5] on 1 of his 2 defensive snaps.

Star Treatment

Jadeveon Clowney

  • (Q2, 9:07):  He was blocked by TE Sample then LT Brown to help lead RB Mixon RL14
  • (Q2, 7:54):  He bulled LT Brown for pressure as Oweh beat RT Williams inside for QH on PL6
  • (Q3, 13:33):  He beat LT Brown inside for pressure negated by IDP on C Karras
  • (Q3, 8:04):  He bulled LT Brown for pressure as Burrow threw PL7 (-2 + 9) [1] to WR Chase
  • (Q3, 5:15):  He beat the chip from TE Smith then the pulling RG Cappa for pressure as Burrow threw PM18 (13 + 5) [3] to WR Higgins
  • (Q3, 3:27):  On 1st/4, he shed LT Brown to tackle Mixon with Pierce on RM1
  • (Q3, 2:38):  He bulled LT Brown for pressure as Burrow threw PL3 TD to Higgins
  • (Q4, 11:07):  He beat RT Williams outside, missed initial swipe at ball, then recovered for S-6 as Pierce phoneboothed the pocket
  • (Q4, 7:40):  He bulled RT Willams for pressure as Burrow threw incomplete left for Mixon at the LoS
  • (Q4, 5:43):  On 3rd/4, he beat RT Williams outside for QH and was credited with a PD as Burrow’s pass floated right into open space, incomplete
  • (Q4, 4:02):  On 3rd/1, he was sealed inside by TE Smith and engaged by RT Williams to lose the right edge on Mixon RR3 conversion.  After the play, he hit his helmet with both hands.

Jadeveon used Orlando Brown like a sock puppet in this one.  Over the first 2 games, Clowney has been the most effective Ravens pass rusher by a wide margin.  He’s had contributions to 12 pass rush events thus far.

Geno Stone

  • (Q1, 6:13):  On 2nd/14, he upended WR Boyd on PM6 (6 + 0) [2]
  • (Q1, 2:38):  On 2nd/9, he tackled WR Chase on PL0 (-4 +4) [1] with assist from Queen
  • (Q3, 12:24):  He forced Mixon OOB on PL2 (-4 + 6) [1]
  • (Q3, 12:19):  On 3rd/2, he was slow mirroring the motioning TE Smith who caught PR4 (-1 + 5) [5] to convert
  • (Q3, 10:48):  On 2nd/8, he undercut WR Higgins 15 yards [3] for an interception at the 2-yard line.  On the return, appeared to have a possible pick 6 but allowed himself to be diverted OOB when Ojabo pancaked Burrow on the left sideline.
  • (Q3, 8:04):  He cleaned up Queen’s missed tackle of PL7 (-2 +9) [1] to Chase
  • (Q3, 5:39):  On 3rd/4, he trailed WR Boyd on PM12 (10 + 2) [3] to convert
  • (Q4, 7:36):  He made a fast tackle of Boyd on PL13 (11 + 2) [1] with assist from Washington who trailed in coverage

Geno’s presence on the back end helped force the Bengals into their small-ball offense and when they tried to probe the Ravens deep, he provided the biggest play of the game.  With the way Ojabo pancaked Burrow on the sideline, Geno should have been able to cut back to the inside for a much longer return, if not a house call.  Of his team-leading 9 tackles, 3 were defensive wins, which is a good rate for a free safety.

Patrick Queen

  • (Q1, 2:38):  He assisted Stone on tackle of Chase PL0 (-4 + 4) [1]
  • (Q1, 1:54):  On 3rd/9, he anticipated and tackled RB Williams PR1 (-6 + 7) [4] with a fine open field tackle to force punt
  • (Q2, 9:07):  He was blocked by TE Sample to help lead Mixon RL14
  • (Q2, 7:54):  He assisted Stephens on tackle of Higgins PL6 (4 + 2) [1]
  • (Q2, 4:25):  He tackled Mixon by the ankle on PR2 (-4 + 6) [5], again anticipating the swing pass
  • (Q2, 3:44):  He anticipated RB swing and pushed Williams OOB on PR3 (-3 + 6) [5]
  • (Q3, 14:22):  He was blocked by C Karras to help lead Mixon RM7 
  • (Q3, 11:27):  He penetrated to trip up Mixon RM2 who was initially rerouted by Pierce holding up double team
  • (Q3, 8:04):  He whiffed on Chase when he attempted non-form shouldering to allow PL7 (-2 + 9) [1]
  • (Q4, 5:15):  Burrow threw to Higgins PM20 (11 + 9) [4] behind Queen in zone
  • (Q4, 3:42):  He rushed after Robinson bulled LT Brown to flush Burrow right and delivered a late QH which could have been flagged

Patrick has been noticeably better in terms of anticipation and positioning on pass plays this season.  He continues to frustrate as a tackler when he tries to use his pads rather than his arms to wrap up.  One other thing that I noticed twice in this game was readjusting other defenders (once linemen and another time the LCB) before the snap.  He contributed to 5 defensive wins among 8 combined tackles.

Michael Pierce

  • (Q1, 6:35):  He was held as he tried to shed RG Cappa to negate Mixon RM4
  • (Q2, 8:30):  He disengaged from RG Cappa and RT Williams to tackle RB Brown RM2
  • (Q3, 15:00):  He was outraced by Burrow for RL5 after he danced through the ankle grab by Madubuike
  • (Q3, 14:22):  He was kicked out by RG Cappa to help lead Mixon RM7
  • (Q3, 11:27):  He stood up the double team from LG Volson allowing Queen to trip up Mixon RM2
  • (Q3, 3:27):  He shed LG Volson to assist on tackle of Mixon RM1
  • (Q4, 11:07):  He bulled through a double team from RG Cappa and C Karras to pressure Burrow by phoneboothing the pocket and allow Clowney to recover for S-6
  • (Q4, 4:07):  He bulled LT Brown into Burrow as he overthrew TE Smith in back of endzone   

Michael was the immense bulwark we hoped he’d be last season.  He had contributions to the pass rush and stood up well to double teams on both pass and run plays.  Both of his tackles were defensive wins.  It was a little funny watching him rush against LT Orlando Brown.  Pierce now lists at 355 pounds to Brown’s 345.  Even with consideration for the 8” height difference, Michael looks like a much larger man.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Jadeveon Clowney
  2. Geno Stone
  3. Patrick Queen

Honorable mention to Michael Pierce.