Streak Ends with Toothless Pass Rush

The Ravens preseason win streak ended at 24 with their loss to the Commanders.

Of particular note was the Ravens inability to get pressure while rushing 4 which left Macdonald to choose between complex scheme and/or numbers or allowing Washington Ample Time and Space (ATS) far too often. 

On the surface, the Ravens had 3 sacks for 29 yards, which seems quite good.  However, that was accomplished over 55 drop backs resulting in a pass or sack.  Also, sacks typically have an excellent chance to stall drives, but the Commanders came back to both register a first down and score after each of those 3 including 13 points and the game-winning FG.

In the second half, the DL snaps were split among just 3 players (Nichols, Botts, and Caesar) of whom only Caesar had a pressure event (1 QH, 1 PD at LoS) over 28 pass plays.

On the final drive, Macdonald resorted to both scheme and all-out pressure to relieve a very tired group of pass rushers.  That did not go well enough:

  • (Q4, 2:54):  1st/10, 5/0 (rushed/dropped), blitz Welch, QH Caesar, INC
  • (Q4, 2:46):  2nd/14, 4/2 PR, Welch & Moon dropped, blitz Ross, BOQ (ball out quick), PR7
  • (Q4, 2:06):  3rd/7, 6/0 PR, ATS (ample time and space), PM12
  • (Q4, 2:00):  1st/10, 5/0 PR, BOQ, PL8
  • (Q4, 1:42):  2nd/2, 4/2 PR, Ross & Caesar dropped, SF-9 by Simpson
  • (Q4, 1:18):  3rd/11, 4/3 PR, drops from Houston-Carson, Sanders & Simpson, pressure Moon but MT on S-6 allows INC
  • (Q4, 1:09):  4th/11, 8/0 PR, QH by Lucien, INC but DPI Mayfield
  • (Q4, 1:04):  1st/10, 7/0 PR, blitz Lucien, ATS, PM13
  • (Q4, 0:41):  1st/10, 6/1 PR with Botts dropping, pressure Ross, INC
  • (Q4, 0:36):  2nd/10, 5/1 PR with Robinson dropping, ATS, PM6
  • (Q4, 0:31):  3rd/4, 6/0 PR, BOQ, PL6
  • (Q4, 0:26):  1st/10, 8/0 PR, BOQ, INC, PD Washington
  • (Q4, 0:22):  2nd/10, 8/0 PR, BOQ, INC
  • (Q4, 0:18):  3rd/10, 8/0 PR, BOQ, PR8

On the final drive, the Ravens rushed 6+ on 8 occasions including 1 with 7 rushers and 4 with 8.  As a point of reference, the 2022 Ravens defense never rushed the passer with 7+ and executed just 21 rushes with 6 in 18 games, including the postseason.

I am completely on board with the all-out rush as the best means to try to close out this game.  Defending FG range against 4-down football is extremely difficult and requires the DC and players to gamble to get a stop under normal circumstances.  With a tired set of defenders this became an even bigger challenge.  So, I like how this reflects on Macdonald even though it didn’t happen to work out this time.

Base and Nickel Only

While the Ravens relied on both numbers and deception for the pass rush, they never went to a 6th DB when defending their lead.  Every snap of the game was base or nickel with 2 ILB.

In evaluating the win streak, Ravens coaches have been accused of sacrificing player evaluation for the benefit of building a culture of winning during the preseason.  You wouldn’t know it from this game.  To that point, the Commanders rested just 12 men from their 90-man roster while the Ravens rested 35.

DBs Jockey for Position

The Ravens played only 6 different corners (Seymour, Stephens, Washington, Kelly, Mayfield, and Hayes).  Ronald Darby did not play despite the fact he practiced this week.

Versus the Eagles, Swann played himself off the team.  On Monday night, Mayfield and Kelly both struggled to the point where the Ravens may have to look outside the building.

On the plus side, Washington had another outstanding game prior to his late injury.  He suffered the injury while making a remarkable play for his 3rd PD of the night.  Tae Hayes, a waiver pickup last week was also a pleasant surprise with an INT and no receptions allowed for a gian.

Even with Darby slated to start the season as one of the outside CBs, the Ravens may need to move Hamilton back to nickel to cover for a roster-clearing set of losses there, including Stephens (to outside CB), Maulet (to injury), Pepe Willimas (to injury), and Washington.   

The Ravens may be further incented to move Hamilton based on the emerging safety talent with Stone, Worley, Lucien, and Houston-Carson all playing well.

Missed Tackles a Problem

Missed tackles depend heavily on definition, but I think it would be difficult not to be concerned about the tackling by the Ravens in the first 2 preseason games.  Per PFF, the team missed tackle rate was 17.4%, which would not cut the mustard at any position.  By comparison the 2022 Ravens missed 12.5% of tackles in the regular season. 

Individual Grades and Notes

As in past years, I have given each Ravens player a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on this year’s team changed based on their performance (game grade before the front slash, cumulative grade after).  I don’t rate starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment.  The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities this season, in positional battles, or have otherwise have something to prove.

Amos (0/-1): DNP 

Armour-Davis (0/0):  DNP.  He’s now missed all 5 preseason games as a pro to go with just 50 regular season snaps on defense.

Blackson (0/+1):  Angelo retired after the third Commanders drive (18 snaps), but contributed a pressure (Q1, 6:16).  He had 1 assist and was miscredited for a 2nd in the gamebook on a play where he was pancaked.  Based on his early exit, it appears both he and Brent Urban will be on the opening day roster although both may be handshake returns.

Botts (0/0):  He was party to 1 defensive win among 3 tackles in 42 snaps but did not have a pressure event as I scored it.

Caesar (0/0):  Kaieem entered midway through Q2 and played rotationally for the remainder of the game (42 snaps).  He didn’t register a tackle, but he had a QH and batted down a pass at the LoS. 

Clowney (0/0):  DNP.  He seems to be making friends with Lamar on the sidelines.

Darby (0/0):  DNP.  He played 11-on-11 this week, but given that he did not see action in this game, there is a good chance he stays in bubble wrap until the opener.

Hamm (+1/+3):  Malik played rotationally beginning with the first drive of the second quarter (22).  To summarize:  

  • (Q2, 2:44):  He cleaned up RB Robinson RM2 after missed tackles from Welch and Ross
  • (Q2, 1:25):  On 2nd/17, he bulled RT Scott to flush Howell RR8 negated by Kelly’s defensive hold on WR McLaurin
  • (Q3, 1:41):  He shed FB Williams for FF on Rodriguez RF5, recovered by Houston-Carson

In a positive development, Hamm was asked to drop to coverage on 5 of 16 pass plays (31%), up from 6 of 25 (24%) in week 1.  He has yet to be targeted (also good) and the team seems to be trying to see if he can handle SAM responsibilities.  

Harrison (0/+1):  Malik started at Mike and played the first 2 drives (23 snaps).  He had a DPI to extend the Commanders second drive (Q2, 15:00), but came back with a pressure to force the drive-ending incomplete pass (Q3, 13:01).

Hayes (+1/+1):  Tae entered midway through the 3rd Qtr and played the remainder of the game (41 snaps). Summarizing in racing form notes:

  • (Q3, 4:35):  On 2nd/10, he pushed RB Rodriguez OOB for PR4 (3 + 1) [5]
  • (Q4, 11:23):  He twisted down RB Williams PL-1 (-1 + 0) on a swing pass
  • (Q4, 10:43):  On 3rd/5, he delivered a diving interception of Brissett’s pass thrown behind TE Bates in zone coverage
  • (Q4, 1:18):  He and Simpson both covered underneath as TE Hodges got behind them and in front of Lucien, but Fromm’s pass was overthrown
  • (Q4, 0:41):  He had step-for-step coverage of WR Tinsley 30 yards [5], INC

Houston-Carson (0/0): Deandre is in his 8th NFL season and joined the Ravens this week.  He has the reputation as a fine special teams player with 1,815 career snaps to go with another 1,004 on defense.  That is a combination the Ravens value.  He would also provide roster flexibility by being a handshake candidate because he does not need to go through the waiver process.  Against the Eagles he had the fumble recovery and return (Q3, 1:41) and temporarily helped keep Washington from scoring with the first of 2 PDs credited on the same play (Q2, 2:00, with Ar’Darius Washington) in the back of the end zone versus Dyami Brown.  On the other side of the ledger, I noted him for 2 costly missed tackles (Q4, 8:57; Q4, 4:15).

Jones (+1/+4): Travis rotated throughout the first half (22 snaps), which meant he saw action primarily against the Washington starters.  He wasn’t as dominant as he was against the Eagles.  However, he still collected an impressive set of notes/stats, including:

  • 3 tackles (2 defensive wins), including a 13-yard cleanup sack
  • a pass tipped at the LoS that still found its way to the intended receiver (Q2, 3:22)
  • a holding flag drawn on LG Charles
  • a pressure by bull rush of C Gates (Q2, 13:44)

He also jumped offside (Q2, 13:05).  He remains one of the Ravens who could provide upside surprise for 2023.

Kelly (0/0): After some solid late play against the Eagles, Kelly got a long look (54 snaps) beginning with the third drive.  To summarize:

  • (Q2, 1:25):  On 2nd/17, his defensive hold on WR McLaurin extended the Commanders TD drive
  • (Q2, 0:55):  He lost coverage of WR Dotson on his come back for PM16 (17 – 1) [4]
  • (Q2, 0:30):  He was unable to stay with WR Dotson on PR21 (21 + 0) [5] on an extended play during which Washington and Robinson missed tackles in the backfield.
  • (Q2, 0:17):  He was bodied out by WR Brown for PR11 TD [4]
  • (Q3, 4:41):  He contacted Brown’s helmet after Brissett’s underthrow fell incomplete but no flag was thrown
  • (Q4, 4:08):  On the 2-point try, he tackled 255-lb FB Armah PR0 (0 + 0) [5] to deny the tie
  • (Q4, 0:22):  He had tight coverage of WR Tinsley 30 yards [5] which forced Fromm to overthrow INC

Lucien (+1/+2): Jeremy entered on the third drive and played the remainder of the game (63 snaps, tied with Houston-Carson for most on defense) at safety and played well.  To summarize:

  • (Q2, 5:55):  On 2nd/2, he made a downhill tackle of RB Robinson PR3 (0 + 3) [5]
  • (Q3, 15:00):  He was positioned to deliver a bit hit of RB Rodriguez as Brissett threw incomplete 3 yards [5]
  • (Q3, 6:34):  He cleaned up Brown’s PL16 (4 + 12) [2] after missed tackles by Mayfield, Welch, and Houston-Carson
  • (Q3, 5:54):  He made an open-field tackle of WR Pringle PR5 (2 + 3) [4]
  • (Q4, 6:23):  On 2nd/4, he filled to tackle RB Patterson RM3
  • (Q4, 2:54):  He had tight coverage of TE Hodges 22 yards [5] despite push off on face, INC
  • (Q4, 2:49):  On 2nd/14, he made a quick tackle of Hodges PR7 (7 + 0) [5]
  • (Q4, 1:18):  He was late covering TE Hodges 22 yards [5] on a ball overthrown by Fromm
  • (Q4, 1:09):  On 4th/11, he rushed unblocked off the ORS for a QH as Fromm threw INC for WR Tremayne 14 yards [1], negated by Mayfield’s DPI

Maulet (0/-1):  DNP.  I think his chance to make the team is low, but if he’s ready to go by the opener, he could be the last man standing.

Mayfield (-2/-2):  Corey had a difficult game (55 snaps).  To summarize:

  • (Q2, 5:23):  He worked off WR McLaurin’s block to tackle WR Dotson PL6 (-3 + 9) [2]
  • (Q2, 0:55):  He had illegal contact away from the pass which was declined after PM16 completion to Dotson
  • (Q2, 0:21):  He had tight coverage of WR Brown 15 yards [1] in EZ, INC
  • (Q3, 6:34):  He was the first of 3 Ravens to miss the tackle of Brown on PL16 (4 + 12) [2]
  • (Q4, 13:37):  He was closest in coverage of WR McGowan on PR14 (6 + 8) [3]
  • (Q4, 2:06):  On 3rd/7 with ATS, he was closest in coverage of WR Allen on PM12 (12 +0) [3]
  • (Q4, 1:09):  On 4th/11, his DPI on WR Tremayne negated a game-sealing INC
  • (Q4, 1:04):  He was soft in coverage of Tremayne on PM13 (10 + 3) [3]
  • (Q4, 0:31):  He tackled Tremayne inbounds for PL5 (4 + 1) [1] which converted 3rd/4
  • (Q4, 0:18):  On 3rd/10, he was soft but pushed WR Allen OOB PR8 (3 + 5) [5] to set up game-winning FG

Moon (0/0):  Jeremiah started the game at OLB and rotated throughout (58 snaps).  Summarizing by racing-form notes:

  • (Q1, 6:58):  He was blocked by pulling RG Cosmi on RB Robinson RM9
  • (Q1, 4:04):  On 3rd/6, he missed the tackle on Howell but was cleaned up by Washington for RM3
  • (Q2, 1:29):  He rushed unblocked off OLS for S-7 as LT Lucas picked up the blitzing Simpson
  • (Q4, 14:08):  He failed to close down the backside quickly enough allowing RB Rodriguez to cut back for RL7
  • (Q4, 11:57):  He was blocked on the 2nd attempt by FB Armah on Rodriguez RL6
  • (Q4, 11:23):  He pressured Brissett on a swing left for RB Williams which resulted in PL-1 (-1 + 0) [1]
  • (Q4, 7:42):  He beat RT Jones-Smith outside with good bend for a QH, INC
  • (Q4, 1:18):  On 3rd/11, he pressured Fromm but missed S-6 on INC overthrow of TE Hodges

Nichols (0/0):  He played rotationally for the entire game (46 snaps).  In the first half he had a pair of pressure events (Q1, 9:42, initial vs C Gates on S-13; Q2, 15:00, shed RG Charles inside but negated by DPI).  He also missed 2 tackles (Q2, 4:48; Q3, 5:23).  

Ojabo (0/0):  David played the first 2 drives (15 snaps) and contributed a drive-ending pressure by bull rush of LT Lucas (Q1, 4:04).  He did not make the defensive stat sheet, nor did he have any run notes for being blocked effectively or failing to contain/set the edge.  After looking to aggressive to contain effectively in the first game, it appeared his pass rush suffered from tentative play against the Commanders.  He needs to find a healthy mix of run and pass aggressiveness if he’s going to be an effective early-down player instead of just a situational pass rusher.

Phillips (0/+2):  Del’Shawn again started with Malik Harrison, but the pair played just 23 snaps prior to retiring.  He was party to 3 tackles, 2 of which were defensive wins.  He also blitzed unblocked through the right B gap to pressure Howell right for an incomplete pass (Q1, 4:10).

Robinson (-1/-2):  Tavius rotated at OLB for the entire game (31 snaps).  He had a drive-ending QH of Brissett when he stunted through the right A gap (Q3, 3:56).  He also missed a sack in pursuit of Howell (Q2, 0:30) which resulted in an extended PR21 to WR Dotson.

Ross (0/0):  Josh entered on the third drive and played in rotational pairings with Welch and Simpson for the remainder of the game.   

  • (Q2, 4:48):  He missed the tackle of RB Gibson but retracked him and Welch cleaned up for PL-2 (-4 + 2) [2]
  • (Q2, 4:00):  On 3rd/6, he pushed Gibson OOB for PL3 (-1 +4) [1]
  • (Q2, 2:44):  He redirected RB Robinson but missed the tackle with Welch.  Hamm cleaned up RM2
  • (Q3, 5:23):  He was redirected by C Larsen on RB Williams RR8
  • (Q4, 8:57):  He and Sanders were unable to fill in time and Houston-Carson MT at 4 yards, resulted in RB Gore RL15
  • (Q4, 6:58):  He made a quick tackle of WR Tinsley on PR6 (4 + 2) [4]
  • (Q4, 5:38):  He slipped entering the backfield to open space for Gore RM8
  • (Q4, 0:41):  He ran over RB Patterson to pressure Fromm on INC 30 yards [5]

Sanders (-1/0):  Kelle entered in the second quarter and played rotationally for the rest of the game (35 snaps).  I noted him on 3 occasions for being one of the key blocks on a Washington run play.  He was also pancaked by RB Gore on a pass play (Q4, 7:37) and did not record a pressure.

Seymour (+1/+2):  After playing 3 quarters against the Eagles, Kevon sat down after 2 drives vs Washington (23 snaps).  He was in trailing coverage of TE Turner on his 16-yard conversion of 3rd and 15 on which Howell had 4+ seconds to throw.  On the next drive he had fine coverage on consecutive plays (beginning Q2, 13:05) on both Turner and WR Brown including a drive-ending PD.  With the Ravens CB health, he’s now being protected like a starter.

Simpson (-1/-2):  We got our first look at Trenton Simpson.  It was a mixed effort. To summarize:

  • (Q2, 1:29):  His B-gap blitz forced LT Lucas to pick him up and allow Moon to race off the OLS for an unblocked S-7
  • (Q4, 12:31):  He was blocked by the pulling RG Gates to lead Rodriguez RL8
  • (Q4, 4:56):  He crashed off the OLS to tackle Patterson RM1
  • (Q4, 4:15):  He missed the tackle at 3 yards and committed a facemask on Patterson PL15 TD (3 +12) [1]
  • (Q4, 1:42):  He lined up in the left A gap and ran over RB Patterson to dislodge the football from Fromm for SF-9
  • (Q4, 1:18):  On 3rd/11, he and Hayes covered the underneath receiver by the right sideline allowing TE Hodges to break wide open 25 yards [5] where he was overthrown by Fromm

We saw glimpses of his athleticism, but it looks as if it would take an injury or trade for him to see much time on defense in 2023.

Stephens (0/+1):  He played the first 2 series and was targeted just once for a 13-yard completion to McLaurin (Q1, 5:34).

Stone (0/0):  Like many of the starters, he retired after the first 2 drives (23 snaps).  He and Moon both missed the tackle on Howell that Washington cleaned up for RM3 to end the first Commanders drive.

Urban (+1/+2):  Brent retired for the night after the 3rd drive (14 snaps).  He contributed to the tackle on each of the game’s first 3 snaps, including a nice ankle take down of RB Robinson to hold the 3rd-down screen conversion to only PR3 when it looked like a big play.  He denied the right A and B gaps vs RT Scott to redirect Robinson for RM2 eventually cleaned up by Hamm (Q2, 2:44).

Washington, A. (+2/+4):  He had another fine game with 3 PDs and looks like the best bet to start to start the season at SCB if he remains healthy.  Summarizing his play Monday:

  • (Q1, 4:10):  He had tight coverage of WR Dotson in EZ as Howell threw away
  • (Q1, 4:04):  He cleaned up missed tackles by Moon and Stone to take down Howell RM3 and force FG attempt
  • (Q1, 0:39):  He was picked from a bunch formation on Howell’s completion to WR Samuel PL11 (6 + 5) [1]
  • (Q2, 13:44):  He made a downhill tackle of RB Robinson PR3 (0 + 3) [5]
  • (Q2, 6:38):  He and Kelly tackled Robinson PR8 (2 + 6) [5]
  • (Q2, 2:00):  On a ball initially deflected by Houston-Carson which WR Brown then attempted to secure, he punched free to deny TD
  • (Q2, 1:55):  He took a late, cheap shot from T Scott after Gibson’s TD and went right back after the much bigger man resulting in offsetting flags
  • (Q2, 0:45):  With ATS, he delivered a PD vs. WR Dotson 10 yards [3]
  • (Q2, 0:37):  On 3rd/10, Howell completed PM18 (13 + 4) [2] between Washington and Houston-Carson
  • (Q2, 0:30):  He blitzed through the right B-gap and past RB Robinson but missed the sack after Robinson also missed, Howell rolled right for PR21 (21 + 0) [5] to Dotson
  • (Q3, 14:12):  On 3rd/5, he made a downhill tackle of WR Milne PL4 (4 + 0) [2] to force a punt
  • (Q4, 2:00):  Fromm completed PL8 (7 + 1) [2] slant to WR Tinsley who beat Washington underneath
  • (Q4, 0:36):  He made a fast inbounds tackle of Allen PM6 (6 + 0) [2]
  • (Q4, 0:26):  With an 8/0 PR, he had single coverage of Tinsley 18 yards [2] and punched the ball free as he went down with his right hand

Welch (+1/+1):  He entered on the third Commanders drive and paired with both Ross and Simpson at ILB for the remainder of the night (38 snaps).  He finished with 6 tackles, including a cleanup of RB Gibson PL-2 (-4 + 2) [2].  He missed a tackle on RB Robinson which helped redirect him for a cleanup by Hamm (Q2, 2:44).

Worley (0/+3):  The Ravens did not lean on Worley (2 drives, 23 snaps) to try to help them win the game as occurred against the Eagles.  He did not make my notes, which, to paraphrase Earl Thomas, is a good thing for a free safety.

Defensive MVPs:

  1. Ar’Darius Washington
  2. Tae Hayes
  3. Travis Jones

Honorable mention to Malik Hamm, Brent Urban, Kevon Seymour, Jeremy Lucien, and Kristian Welch