Packaging a Win
The Ravens produced a win with an assortment of defensive packages that decisively addressed the team’s ongoing weaknesses at ILB.
The 23-17 victory wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated as the Ravens dominated on both sides of the ball. The offense delivered the NFL’s longest drive of the year (18 plays, 83 yards in 9:46) to salt away the game starting from their own 15-yard line with 13:32 remaining. The Ravens enjoyed a 2:1 time of possession advantage and outsnapped the Bengals 77-55.
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.
Base (4): The Ravens played 4 snaps of their base 3-4 defense, including 3 rushes for 1 total yard and the interception by Humphrey.
Standard Nickel (13): Martindale lined the Ravens up in the standard 3-CB nickel for 13 snaps. Those plays resulted in 4 runs for 20 yards and 9 pass plays for 43.
Big Nickel (2): The 3-safety nickel with 2 down linemen and 2 ILBs was used just twice for 4 total yards (2.0 YPP). In each case, Clark lined up opposite the slot receiver, the role he most commonly played before Jefferson’s injury and Elliott played the back end.
Jumbo Nickel (4): The Ravens lined up with 3 down linemen, 1 ILB, and the nickel for 4 plays, but that wasn’t the whole story. In each case they used the 3-safety variety of DBs (big nickel). We could call it “Big Jumbo”, I suppose. In any case, the Ravens allowed 29 yards on those 4 plays, including the 22-yard pass to Uzomah (Q2, 14:48). On that play, Zach Sieler chased the play down from behind after Judon missed the tackle.
Dime (24): The Ravens lined up with 6 DBs on 24 occasions (130 net yards, 5.4 YPP). These each included Thomas and Clark. Those two were joined for 14 snaps by Levine and for 10 by Elliott. DeShon played back in the dime while Levine played his traditional dime backer spot with Clark positioned deep or in the box to complement the other safety.
Quarter (8): Martindale called 8 snaps of the quarter defense. That matched the Ravens total for all of 2018. The package included 4 safeties (Thomas, Clark, Elliott, and Levine) with 3 cornerbacks (Humphrey, Carr, Canady). In each case, Clark and Levine played the linebacker spots. They allowed 25 yards on those plays (3.1 YPP). By down and distance, they employed the quarter on 3rd/6, 3rd/12, 3rd/7, 3rd/4, 3rd/4, 1st/10, 2nd/20, 1st/10. Those last 3 occasions were the first 3 plays of the final Bengals drive when they trailed by 13. The Ravens would likely have played quarter for most of the possession had Elliott not been forced to leave after running into Bethel (Q4, 2:46).
Racecar: These are a subset of the dime and quarter packages with were run with either 4 or 5 OLBs. Jihad Ward played primarily on the outside as a sub for the OLBs, so I am counting him in that group. Martindale used 4 OLBs on 9 plays (43 yards, 4.8 YPP, 1 sack). He used 5 OLBs on 6 plays (4 incompletes, S-9, and a pass for 29, 3.3 YPP).
Common themes for packages:
· Flexibility provided by Chuck Clark becoming defensive signal caller is at the heart of most of the package changes above. He played close to the line of scrimmage (LoS) or deep as needed and the fact he had the green dot meant Martindale was able to substitute for both ILB spots. It’s difficult to imagine a team reinventing itself at the ILB spots as successfully as the Ravens have over the last 2 weeks. Given this transformation, I expect Clark to retain the green dot for the remainder of the season.
· None of the 3 ILBs who were active for game 1 played a defensive snap. Onwuasor was inactive. Board and Young were active but limited to special teams.
· Bynes and Fort both made important contributions despite the DB-heavy packages. Bynes played 34 snaps and was involved in run stops for 2, 2, and -1. He also had a deflection/near INT which popped up to be collected by Humphrey. Fort played 24 snaps including a QH negated by OPI (Q1, 3:17), a PD (Q2, 6:19), an assist for no gain (Q2, 3:47), and an open-field tackle of Uzomah for a gain of 4 (Q4, 14:25).
· Elliott’s play on the back end was a welcome surprise. He dislodged the football from Boyd to end a Cincinnati drive (Q3, 7:14). On the play on which he was injured (Q4, 2:46) he arrived with Bethel to break up the pass to Erickson (negated by McPhee’s roughing the passer flag).
· Prior to 2018, the Ravens had never (going back to 1996) used a package with 0 DL and 4+ OLBs. Martindale used racecar packages for 6 snaps last season. In week 1 vs Buffalo, the 3 such snaps included S-3, Int, S-4, all with 5 OLBs. In week 3 vs Denver, Martindale used it again for 3 plays at the end of the half (R0, S0, Incomplete). Amazingly, the racecar was then mothballed.
· The 15 racecar snaps alleviated overwork on the DL. The Ravens used just 1.58 DL per play, the lowest of the season by a wide margin (Arizona 1.72) and significantly lower than last season’s team record low of 1.90. They did not play any DL for a period of 8 consecutive non-penalty snaps over the last 2 drives. Pierce (30 snaps) and Williams (25) led linemen in snaps.
· The use of OLB-heavy packages will allow for expanded roles for both Ferguson and Bowser. Tyus delivered a sack and one other pressure despite being dropped to coverage on at least 4 of his 18 pass snaps. Ferguson increased his snap count to a career-high 29 (4.2 YPP).
· A possible weakness of the Ravens DB-heavy packages is injury risk. The Ravens have gone from 6 quality safeties with experience in dime to 4 with Elliott’s status still unknown. Similarly, Canady may have been playing hurt on Sunday, but his departure for Bethel during the final Bengals drive is an indication the injury may be serious.
Martindale used a mix of numbers and scheme to pressure Dalton.
The Ravens didn’t allow over 6.1 YPP with any number of pass rushers. When rushing 3 or 4 (17 drop backs), they allowed 6.1 YPP. When rushing 5+ they allowed 4.6 YPP.
From a deception standpoint, the Ravens sent 14 individual blitzers and used a season-high 10 stunts in attempts to confuse a group of linemen who had not played together much in the current alignment. The Ravens also dropped 2 or more to coverage on 7 of 41 drop backs. Among the 41 drop backs, the Ravens sent 9 deceptive pass rushes by my definition.
Dalton had ATS on 13 of 41 drop backs, but also unloaded the ball quickly 12 times to frustrate the pass rush.
Racing form shorthand: PR13 (13 + 0)  means a pass right for 13 yards total divided as 13 air yards plus 0 yards after the catch (YAC) and  indicates the segment of the field between the right numbers and sideline where the ball was originally caught.
Marlon Humphrey had another game worthy of list treatment. Let’s review in racing form:
· (Q1, 10:53): He backed up WR Morgan to force Bernard right so Carr could knock OOB on RR2.
· (Q2, 5:36): Marlon leapt (failed to diagnose) on screen pass left to Mixon PL23 (-6 + 29)  .
· (Q2, 3:47): He beat WR Erickson inside to stretch Bernard right on RR0.
· (Q2, 2:28): He collected Bynes’ tip for an INT.
· (Q3, 10:01): He diagnosed a short out route to Boyd PR1 (-1 + 2)  and pushed OOB.
· (Q3, 7:14): He had tight coverage of Boyd 19 yards . As Humphrey contested Boyd’s catch, Elliott arrived to dislodge the football.
· (Q4, 3:46): He deflected Dalton’s pass for Tate 12 yards  from receiver’s hands.
· (Q4, 2:39): He blitzed past LT Jerry outside for a fast QH despite roll right, Dalton threw away.
· Jihad Ward played well in his Ravens debut. He had 3 pressures and both of his tackles (R0, P4) were defensive wins by the Football Outsiders definition.
· Maurice Canady was picked on in coverage, but still delivered a PD (Q1, 3:08) that ended a Bengals drive. He was flagged for DPI once and surrendered 6 medium-long completions to Tate and Erickson.
· The Ravens were caught with 12 men on the field (Q1, 3:55). Canady ran on late as the 6th DB. Given personnel combinations used for the remainder of the day, one of Canady, Elliott, Pierce, Williams, or Wormley should have been on the sideline.
· The Bengals ran 14 times for just 33 yards. Of those, Erickson’s 17-yard jet sweep was over half their rushing total and the longest run by any other Bengal was 3 yards.
Honorable mentions were earned by Bynes, Fort, Williams, Pierce, Ward, and Thomas.