Defense Continues Dominance

To provide further exaltation by metrics:

  • The Ravens played only 46 total defensive snaps a week after playing just 43 defensive snaps vs the Panthers
  • The Ravens have won the snap count battle by exactly 33 in consecutive games
  • The WFT went 3-and-out on 5 of 10 drives
  • The WFT gained only 173 yards, or 3.8 yards per play (3.2 per rush and 4.0 per pass)
  • The WFT had only 10 first downs, went 1/11 on 3rd down, and never ran a play inside the Ravens 30.

It was a simple, brutal, unfair massacre.

Nolan’s Wisdom

During the broadcast, Mike Nolan opined that the reason for the Ravens 20-game preseason winning streak is that they are unique on both sides of the ball and since virtually no team game plans against the opponent in the preseason, their unique characteristics make them difficult to beat.

It’s a lucid and well-articulated hypothesis, but I don’t think it’s accurate.  To summarize:

  • Lamar Jackson is a unique challenge for any defense, but he has not played much preseason football during the streak and almost none in 2021.
  • The remainder of the offense had been as objectionably bland as raw tofu prior to Saturday.  They haven’t, for example, taken advantage of play action as they have and will in the regular season.
  • Martindale schemes down in terms of packages during the preseason, including much less in terms of dime and 4-OLB (racecar) packages than I expect we’ll see during the season.
  • Martindale does little if anything to specifically dial the pass rush for a given QB.  He does use a high level of aggression in terms of blitzes, stunts, and simulated pressure, which tends to baffle young/backup QBs.  I think this is the best case for the “unique” claim, but his ability to do so is also a function of having a deep and well-rotated set of defenders.

Diagnose, Contain, and Pursue

After the substitution of Steven Montez to begin the 2nd half, the Ravens defense faced some of the read-option offense they face daily from Lamar Jackson.  They were outstanding in terms of both pursuit and containment and allowed Montez just 8 yards on 3 carries.  They also allowed no run longer than 11 yards.

As most opponents in season do, the WFT tried screen and swing passes to slow down the Ravens pass rush.  The Ravens diagnosed well with Ellis, Ferguson, Smith, and all of the DBs pursuing effectively.

Backside containment on run plays was exceptionally good as was edge setting on the front side.

It’s natural to consider how much of this effectiveness was a function of the WFT offense or the fact the Ravens defense defend it every day.  Both probably contributed to another 1-sided effort on Saturday, but this defense has the same swarming look as the great ones in franchise history.

Justin Ellis

I have not been grading Justin Ellis this preseason because I considered his roster spot secure. I still believe he’ll be with the Ravens on opening day, but he is a candidate for a temporary cut next week.  Whether or not he was playing for his job vs WFT, he came up with a top-shelf performance:

  • (Q1, 7:53):  He got off double team from LT Cornelius Lucas and LG Wes Martin to tackle RB Barber RM1.
  • (Q1, 1:03):  He got off block from RG Benzschawel to tackle RB Jaret Patterson RL-2.
  • (Q2, 6:34):  He diagnosed the screen right to RB Barber and forced QB Kyle Allen to throw away for near INT by Hayes.
  • (Q2, 4:32):  He blocked the 55-yard FG attempt by Hopkins.
  • (Q3, 9:19):  He shed a block from LG Jon Toth to tackle RB Williams RM2 with Smith.

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.

Alaka (0/0):  DNP.  He won’t be on the 53.

Averett (0/+1):  He played only the first 2 series and made a drive-ending tackle of WR Dax Milne despite being held on the play (not flagged).  It’s not impossible the Ravens either trade or extend Averett prior to the season.  He could start for some teams, but he also could be valuable depth for the Ravens.

Board (0/+1):  Chris entered for the last drive of the second quarter with Kristian Welch and played the remainder of the game.  His job is in no jeopardy with the lack of both ILBs and core ST players on the roster.  However, I think there is a good chance he’ll play less than the 25% of snaps he did in 2020.

Crawford (-1/0):  DNP in each of the last 2 games after a fine game versus the Saints.  Crawford is an ideal PS candidate and other teams will be cautious selecting him with his current injury.  As the season wears on and league-wide DL depth erodes, Crawford will be playing somewhere and it’s not hard to imagine him winning a permanent job.

Ferguson (0/+5):  Jaylon entered on the 2nd series and rotated for the remainder of the game.  I scored him for just 1 pressure (Q4, 13:42), but he was aware in containment and pursued well (Q2, 1;17; Q4, 9:26; Q4, 9:03). 

I do not believe his spot on the 53-man roster is in any jeopardy.  The Ravens have a rare opportunity to find a weekly 5-man OLB rotation from among 6 quality players.  Given the age of McPhee and Houston as well as the general stress of the position, being able to rest 1 player on a weekly basis is a luxury.

Harrison (+1/+2): His spot was never in jeopardy, but in this game he showed the ability to bully an offensive lineman on both a run and pass play. 

  • (Q1, 15:00):  He bulled RB Barber into QB Allen for pressure.
  • (Q1, 14:22):  On the next play, RB Barber ran through Harrison for 5 extra yards RM7.
  • (Q1, 1:03):  He lined up effectively as ROLB and bulled LT Lucas to help blow up RB Patterson RL-2.
  • (Q2, 10:51):  He bulled C Tyler Larsen into RB Patterson to tackle RR1 without having to wrap-up.

It has often been suggested Harrison could line up at OLB in some passing situations.  He’s been on the end of the line of scrimmage many times, but in the above instance Oweh was in a 3-point stance immediately to his left.

Hayes (0/+3):  It’s great to see him well positioned for 2 interceptions (Q2, 6:34; Q2, 0:20) and making a professional pass rush move (dip, Q3, 3:22).  He’s on track to be part of the SAM rotation and would be an effective bookend with Bowser on obvious passing downs.  Such positioning would offer Martindale the coverage flexibility to fuel his pass rush scheme.

Houston (0/0):  He played just a few snaps on the first 2 series before retiring for the evening.  His spot is secure and it will be interesting to see if he continues as a situational pass rusher in the regular season.  He’s never played less than 59% of snaps (2020) when he’s played all 16 games, but given his age, the Ravens depth at his positional group, and Martindale’s penchant for rotation, I expect he’ll be in the 45% range of games for which he dresses.

Levine (+1/0):  He did not play any snaps other than dime vs the WFT.  That allowed for extended trials for Stone and Stephens as well as a series at safety for Ar’Darius Washington.  It was good 1) to see Anthony play well at the position he excelled at 3 years ago and 2) the Ravens rely on the dime package extensively in passing situations.  He made a fast tackle of RB Patterson for a 3-yard pass gain in bounds (Q2, 0:39).  He had tight coverage of RB Williams 35 yards down the left sideline on a ball thrown out of bounds.  This is an extraordinarily deep safety group, but Levine is not making it easy for the Ravens to keep the young guys.  I believe he’ll be cut on Tuesday but will return to the Ravens at some point in 2021.

Oweh (+1/+1):  He entered on the 2nd WFT series and played rotationally until the end of the game.  He flushed the pocket with a spin move vs LT Sam Cosmi, who maintained his block, but gave ground, leading to a throw away by Allen (Q1, 1:10), He had good push vs LG Wes Marlin (Q1, 1:03) which contributed to blowing up RB Jaret Patterson for a 2-yard loss.  He added a fast, unblocked pressure (Q2,10:15) and got a hand on QB Allen when he beat LT Cornelius Lucas outside (Q2, 0:35).  While lacking a splash play, it was a balanced and positive defensive effort marred only by the offsides flag.

Queen (0/0):  He and Harrison retired after the 5th series that ended in the 55-yard blocked FG with the Ravens leading 16-0.  He was unable to shed center Martin (Q1, 14:22) on Barber’s 7-yard run.  He had a fast QH through the right B-gap to beat RB Barber for a hard QH (Q1, 13:44) which ended the first WFT drive.  He pursued well to tackle RB Barber RR3 (Q2, 7:12).  I did not record an instance where his assignment was targeted in coverage.

Smith, Chris (+1/+2): Smith played well and will play in the NFL somewhere this season.  His versatility to play standing OLB and kick inside on obvious passing downs make him a perfect fit for the Ravens.  Sadly, his tenure and 1-year contract don’t fit as well.  If he remains available and anything happens to one of the Ravens OLBs during the season, he’s the first guy I expect the Raves to call.  I doubt he would last for long on the Ravens practice squad, even if no one has room for him to start the season.

Against the WFT, I scored him for 5 pressures (Q1, 0:21; Q2, 5:25; Q2, 0:46; Q2, 0:35; Q4, 10:51).  He also showed good containment vs the run (Q3, 9:54; Q3, 9:19; Q4, 9:03).  His grade is a function of the Ravens depth at OLB, which is going to make it difficult for him to contribute to the 2021 team despite a fine preseason.

Stephens (0/+3):  He entered during the 2nd defensive series for the dime and from the start of the 3rd series through the end of the game he played every snap with time at FS, SS, and the final series at outside CB.  He made my notes 3 times:

  • (Q2, 5:25):  He was in position for an overthrow tipped wide by WR Antonio Gandy-Golden
  • (Q3, 8:39):  On 3rd/5, he drove TE Sammis Reyes out of bounds PR2 (1 + 1)
  • (Q4, 9:31):  He had tight coverage of WR Tony Brown 24-yards left sideline but ran past the play as QB Montez’s pass was underthrown, INC

Stone (+1/+4):  He missed a tackle (Q4, 10:12) but otherwise delivered high-motor (euphemism for “late”) pass rush (Q1, 1:10; Q3, 4:07).  The latter was a QH that should have been a big loss on intentional grounding.  He also showed up with the back end of tight brackets in coverage on 2 drive-ending plays (Q3, 3:22; Q4, 13:42).  I have a hard time believing the Ravens will cut him with 3 years left on his rookie deal.

Swann (0/0):  He had a fast, bull-rush pressure vs LG Martin (Q2, 0:39) and otherwise contributed to a stifling run defense.  He, like Crawford, is an excellent candidate for the practice squad.

Warrior (+1/0):  Nigel played exclusively RCB, entering on the 3rd series and retiring after the next-to-last.  In the most intense positional battle, he posted another solid game with some highlights:

  • (Q2, 5:15):  On 3rd/10, he beat a block by WR Milne on screen left for a fast tackle WR Gandy-Golden PR1 (1 + 0) [1]
  • (Q2, 1:17):  He assisted Ferguson to tackle RB Patterson PL1 (0 + 1) [1]
  • (Q2, 0:52):  He was a little soft in coverage of WR Gandy-Golden PL12 (8 + 4) [1]
  • (Q2, 0:46):  He maintained outside leverage on RB Patterson PM11 (1 + 10) [2] for in-bounds tackle but Levine and Board were late to arrive inside
  • (Q2, 0:16):  On 3rd/10, he stripped Gandy-Golden for a PD 8 yards [2] to force a field goal attempt
  • (Q3, 0:51):  He and Stone helped stretch Montez’s read option RL5
  • (Q4, 14:26):  He missed the tackle on RB Williams PL3 (-3 + 6) [1] but Welch cleaned up quickly

I expect the Ravens have room for 3 of Stone, Warrior, Washington, and Westry.  Unfortunately for Nigel, I believe he’s the most likely to be released by Tuesday.  He’ll have to clear waivers for the Ravens to sign him to their practice squad, but I believe he’ll be selected by another team that needs a 5th or 6th healthy corner.

Washington, Ar’Darius (+1/+3):  Ar’Darius had another game of generally positive results:

  • (Q3, 9:54):  He was quickly in backfield on Montez’s zone read and tackled RL3 with Smith
  • (Q3, 1:30):  He forced RB Williams inside for Ferguson’s tackle RL5
  • (Q4, 15:00):  He missed the tackle which allowed 8 extra YAC on WR Brown PL8 (-1 + 9) [1]
  • (Q4, 9:26):  He and Ferguson immediately took down WR Milne PR3 (2 + 1) [4]

I expect him to make the team and be active on game day for some of 2021.  Either he or Stephens may be next man up if something happens to Tavon Young.

Washington, Broderick (0/+3):  He had another solid, if less spectacular, game of run defense, including impressive push to bull RG Benzschawel which helped blow up RB Patterson’s RR1 (Q2, 10:51).

Welch (+1/+1):  He and Board played some on each series for the remainder of the game after Queen and Harrison departed in the 2nd quarter.  He twice made his presence felt as a pass rusher (Q3, 8:39, flushed QB Montez as he was being pancaked; Q4, 9:31, unblocked pressure/QH?).  He also made a nice tackle of RB Williams (Q4, 14:26) to clean up Warrior’s miss for a gain of just 3.  The Ravens may be tempted to carry only 3 ILBs with depth at other positions.  However, Welch is a core ST player among a group that figures to be decimated by veteran injuries and cuts.

Westry (0/+1):  He entered on the 2nd series after Peters departed and played the remainder of the game.

  • (Q1, 6:40):  He was pancaked on screen left to WR Milne PL7
  • (Q2, 10:12):  On 3rd/9, he had tight coverage (missed receiver) 11 yards by the right sideline INC
  • (Q2, 7:12):  He stood up WR Milne to force RB Barber inside RR3
  • (Q2, 6:28):  On 3rd/7, he was beaten by WR Gandy-Golden on slant PR8 (5 + 3) [4] and dragged for first down
  • (Q2, 5:52):  He was step-for-step with WR Milne on PR26 (25 + 1) [5] but he did not find the ball and it was perfectly dropped in
  • (Q2, 5:20):  He had good position on WR Isaiah Wright 22 yards by the right sideline and Allen threw INC
  • (Q3, 3:22):  On 3rd/6, he and Stone formed a tight bracket  of WR Wright as Montez threw INC
  • (Q4, 10:51):  He was soft in coverage of WR Wright as Montez threw PR12 (12 + 0) [5]

Of the logjam of DBs often cited as on the bubble (Stone, Warrior, Washington, Westry), Westry’s spot is most secure, because he has the highest ceiling based on his physical gifts.

Young (0):  He played the first 2 series at SCB before Washington took over.  Prior to his appearance, I thought there was a chance he would make the cut, but immediately go on IR to start the season.  Assuming he is active for the opener, the Ravens will have 1 less roster spot with which to kick the decision down the road.

Defensive MVPs:

  1. Ellis
  2. Smith
  3. Harrison