Objects May Be Further Than They Appear

The final score was not representative of the dominant performance by the Ravens, but the Cardinals ability to move the ball in the fourth quarter was troubling despite a soft defensive approach.

With 9:27 remaining, the Ravens led 24-7.  Comparing the play to that point with the play after:

As of (Q4,9:27): 153 yards allowed, 11 first downs, 7 points

After (Q4, 9:27): 167 yards, 11 first downs, 18 points

Despite the onside kick recovery allowed, the Ravens still found time among the 18-point deluge to drive 75 yards on a 9-play TD drive of their own for what ultimately would be the difference in the game.  

Desire to Play Small Pot Poker/Winning Large Pots

When playing any lesser opponent, the better team is well served to minimize it’s number large gambles, even those with positive expected value (and large variance).  This concept permeates business, finance, and our daily lives in many other ways we may practice intuitively such as:

  • Comparing expected return to best case/worst case scenarios (qualitative or numeric) in business decisions
  • Risk-adjusted return on assets
  • The personal purchase of insurance products (life, health, casualty, etc)

In football, it means the better team will typically sacrifice some expected win probability in the name of keeping the range of WP outcomes smaller for any given play.

To that end, the Ravens did not attempt a 4th down of their own.

However, not all of the highest-leverage plays were decisions made by the Ravens.  The Cardinals decisions included:

  • Failing on 4th and 1 at the Bal 44 (Q2, 14:27)—good risk by AZ
  • Failing on 4th and 1 at the Bal 36 (Q2, 8:55)—good risk by AZ
  • Making a 2-point conversion to cut the Ravens lead to 9 (Q4, 6:45)—good risk by AZ (41% break-even success rate)
  • Failing a 2-point conversion to cut the Ravens lead to 8 (Q4, 1:18)—good risk by AZ (<3% break-even success rate)
  • Succeeding on onside kick (Q4, 1:14)—necessitated risk
  • Failing on onside kick (Q4, 0:26)—necessitated risk

To summarize, the Cardinals did not make a single bad game-management risk decision, but the Ravens won most of the highest-leverage plays.

Second and Short

The Cardinals success in the first half, and the first TD drive in particular, was a function of their ability to stay on schedule with solid plays on first downs.  They averaged 5.2 YPP on their 1st-and-10 plays in the first half, despite the fact they did not have a single such play over 9 yards.  That, along with 2, drive-extending penalties on the secondary) was enough to help Arizona nickel-and-dime their way down the field for their opening-drive touchdown.

For the game, Arizona averaged 5.6 YPP on first down and 3.4 YPP on all other plays.


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 Cardinals ran 70 such snaps.

Base (21): The Ravens used their 4-DB/3-DL package just 4 times with the last occurrence on Stone’s interception (Q3, 1:51).  These included 15 runs for 51 yards and 6 passes for 30 with 1 INT.  21 plays, 81 yards, 3.9 YPP, 1 TO.

Standard Nickel (49): The Ravens used the standard nickel as the primary response to the Lions 11 and 12 personnel packages.  The Ravens played the same defensive backfield for every such play with the exception of 1 (Q4, 7:41) when Seymour replaced the injured Maulet for 1 play (29-yard pass to Wilson).  These plays included 16 runs for 79 and 33 pass plays for 151.  49 plays, 230 yards, 4.7 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO.

Macdonald did not deviate from what have become (effectively) the only 2 packages for the Ravens in 2023.  If Bowser returns or the Ravens acquire another OLB at the trade deadline, we may see a return of more rush nickel (3 OLB on passing downs).

Pass Rush

Macdonald again minimized the use of numbers and also reduced deceptive elements vs Dobbs who has been successful when facing pressure.

For the game, Dobbs had ATS on 11 of 39 drop backs (28%).  On those 11 plays, he went 6 of 11 for 50 yards (4.6 YPP) with 1 INT.  He also delivered the ball before pressure could develop (BOQ) 14 times (36%, 4.9 YPP).  The Ravens generated a pressure event on 14 plays (36%), including 2 sacks and 1 interception.  With pressure, Dobbs was 8 of 12 for 75 net yards (5.4 YPP).  The fact that those numbers are similar makes it an inverted game for Dobbs with much better than expected results vs pressure and vice versa.

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer: None

4: 33 plays, 161 yards, 4.9 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO

5: 6 plays, 20 yards, 3.3 YPP, 1 TO

6+: None

Total:  39 plays, 181 yards, 4.6 YPP, 2 sacks, 2 TO

Macdonald dialed up 5 individual blitzes (.13 per pass play) from off the LoS, all singles.  All 5 off-ball blitzes came in the first half, 3 from ILB and 2 from SCB.  On those 5 plays, the Cardinals gained 23 yards (4.6 YPP).

The Ravens stunted 10 times spread among 9 plays.  Those plays resulted in 40 net yards (4.4 YPP), including 1 sack. 

The Ravens did not use a single instance of simulated pressure with 2 or more dropping from the line of scrimmage.

I define a deceptive pass rush as incorporating 2 or more of the above elements (off ball blitzes, stunts, and simulated pressures).  The only such instance employed by the Ravens Sunday was a twin stunt from Clowney and Van Noy which resulted in a 7-yard gain.

Madubuike led the team with 4 pressure events (S-5, QH, 2 pressures) and lost a 5th to Hamilton’s illegal contact.  Pierce was the only other with 3 (S-22, pressure, pressure/PD).

Star Treatment

Justin Madubuike

  • (Q1, 14:27):  On 2nd/3, he bulled LG Colon to bubble RB Demercado where Queen cleaned up RL-1
  • (Q1, 13:57):  On 3rd/4, he cleaned up Clowney’s initial pressure for S-8, negated by Hamilton’s illegal contact
  • (Q2, 15:00):  On 4th/1, he bulled LG Daley into cone as Pierce’s PD forced turnover on downs
  • (Q2, 11:55):  He was blocked by RT Johnson and RG Hernandez on RB Demercado RL7
  • (Q2, 8:58):  On 4th/1, he penetrated vs. RG Hernandez as Pierce tackled RB Demercado RM0 to force turnover on downs
  • (Q2, 2:37):  On 1st/10, he was sealed by RT Johnson as part of Demercado RR7
  • (Q3, 12:31):  He hustled to tackle Demercado RR9 from behind on a well-blocked play that appeared headed for more
  • (Q3, 4:47):  On 2nd/4, he stood up then shed RT Johnson to tackle Demercado RM0 with assist from Robinson
  • (Q4, 15:00):  On 3rd/18, he bulled then pancaked LG Daley in cone as Dobbs threw PL1 (-3 + 4) [1] to Demercado
  • (Q4, 8:01):  On 3rd/2, he was blocked by RG Hernandez as part of RB Ingram RR14
  • (Q4, 7:41):  He beat RG Hernandez inside for late QH as Dobbs threw to Wilson PL29 (20 + 9) [2]
  • (Q4, 7:10):  On 2nd/10, he beat LG Daley with spin inside for S-5 as Oweh phoneboothed the pocket from the OLS
  • (Q4, 0:59):  On 3rd/6, he stunted past LG Daley for QH as Dobbs threw to TE McBride PM22 (19 + 3) [2]

Justin leads all IDL with 6.5 sacks, a total that is tied for 8th among all NFL defenders. 

Michael Pierce

  • (Q2, 15:00):  On 4th/1, he bulled C Froholdt into Dobbs and batted down his pass for turnover on downs
  • (Q2, 11:55):  He was blocked by C Froholdt and RG Hernandez as part of RL7
  • (Q2, 10:12):  He worked off double team from C Froholdt and RG Hernandez to tackle RB Demercado RR1
  • (Q2, 8:58):  On 4th/1, he immediately shed C Froholdt to tackle Demercado RM0 for turnover on downs
  • (Q2, 4:05):  On 1st/10, he bulled then shed LT Humphries for pressure as Dobbs threw incomplete
  • (Q3, 11:21):  On 2nd/10, he bulled then shed RG Hernandez to tackle Demercado RR-1
  • (Q3, 10:40):  On 3rd/11, he beat C Froholdt right for SF-22 recovered by Froholdt after Clowney’s failed scoop
  • (Q3, 0:40):  He bulled LG Daley 3 yards into backfield to blow up RB Ingram RR-5 cleaned up by Maulet

It’s difficult to imagine a more dominant individual performance by a nose tackle.  The renegotiation with Pierce that eliminated the 2024 season from his contract now appears to have been a mistake.  He is now one of many UFAs the Ravens will want to retain for next season.  

Brandon Stephens

  • (Q2, 10:48):  He made a quick downhill tackle of WR Brown PL4 (2 + 2) [1]
  • (Q2, 2:00):  On 2nd/3, he intercepted an overthrow for WR Wilson 13 yards [2]
  • (Q3, 1:51):  He was in position to intercept Dobbs’ pass for TE McBride but was undercut by Stone who collected his 5th pick
  • (Q4, 15:00):  On 3rd/18, he tackled RB Demercado PL1 (-3 + 4) [1] to force punt
  • (Q4, 7:41):  He missed tackle on WR Wilson at 21 yards as part of PL29
  • (Q4, 7:13):  On 1st/10, he had tight coverage of WR Wilson 18 yards [1] in endzone to help force overthrow
  • (Q4, 2:32):  He appeared to have wrong coverage (man on shallow crossing route, appears to be zone call).  Dobbs threw to McBride PL21 (16 + 5) [1] with Stone coming from deep middle to clean up
  • (Q4, 1:14): On 2-point try from 12, he missed tackle on Brown at 2 yards but Ravens defenders arrived en masse with Hamilton tackling to deny attempt
  • (Q4, 1:05):  He had tight trailing coverage of WR Brown 16 yards [1] who caught Dobbs’ pass OOB
  • (Q4, 0:34):  On 1st/10, he had tight coverage of WR Pascal 28 yards [1] in endzone to help force overthrow

Aside from a blown coverage assignment, Brandon had a fine game including tight coverage on several deep overthrows and 2 drive-ending plays.

Geno Stone

  • (Q1, 11:15):  He had missed tackle of TE McBride at 3 yards as part of PL7 (1 + 6) [1]
  • (Q3, 1:51):  He had coverage of McBride crossing but undercut Stephens for INT on ball intended for either Brown or McBride
  • (Q4, 8:49):  He forced Dobbs OOB on RL5 scramble
  • (Q4, 6:45):  On 3rd/15, he wrapped up TE McBride short of 1st down on PL17 (14 + 3) [3] but was unable to tackle before 4 Cardinals’ OL arrived to push him into endzone as officials choked on swallowed whistles
  • (Q4, 2:32):  He came from deep middle to cover for Stephens zone abandoned by missed assignment to tackle TE McBride PL21 (16 + 5) [1]

Geno continued with his perfect conversion rate of PDs into INTs (now 5 for 5).  This one came in underneath coverage of McBride rather than as a deep safety.  The Ravens had one of their few blown coverage assignments of the season (see Q4, 2:32, above), but Stone was there to minimize the damage.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Michael Pierce
  2. Justin Madubuike
  3. Brandon Stephens

Honorable mention to Travis Jones, Roquan Smith, Patrick Queen, Jadeveon Clowney, Geno Stone, and Kyle Hamilton