Next Men Up
If the Ravens survive the next few weeks and eventually win the AFC North, it will be a story of defensive adaptation starring DeCosta and Martindale.
Simply put, the Ravens have employed numerous plugs to fill their holes from both injuries and ineffectiveness. Thus far, they have all worked. Let’s review:
· Jimmy Smith was lost for the first half of the season and replaced by Anthony Averett, who has struggled. However, the Ravens had Maurice Canady on the practice squad who played very well for a 3-game stretch before his hamstring injury.
· Following Canady’s injury, DeCosta avoided a costly trade for Jalen Ramsey and instead packaged an ILB who didn’t figure in the Ravens 2019 plans and the draft pick acquired for Kaare Vedvik to secure Marcus Peters from the Rams. The relative cost of Peters and Ramsey is worthy of analysis in a separate piece, but I’ll spoil the result by saying the cost of acquiring Peters for 10 games was 4-7% of what the Rams gave for a 26-game rental of Ramsey.
· With the ILBs missing tackles and acting as a gaping chest wound in the center of the Ravens pass defense, DeCosta found street free agents LJ Fort and Josh Bynes who were immediately folded into Martindale’s scheme with tremendous results that maximized their personal strengths.
· Tony Jefferson was injured shortly after he took over the defensive signal calling. Not only has Chuck Clark taken the green dot, but he has provided flexibility to play on the back end, as the big nickel, or as the dime/quarter has allowed the Ravens to substitute freely for both ILBs.
· The Ravens jettisoned underperforming 3rd-year OLB Tim Williams, but saw the 3-point/2-point stance ability of Jihad Ward and signed him. In 2 weeks with the team he’s played 57 snaps and recorded 5 pressures plus another QH.
· Pernell McPhee’s injury was a big test in Seattle. At this writing, I don’t know the prognosis for Pernell, but Jaylon Ferguson’s play has improved each week he’s been active.
The trade deadline remains a week away, but I think it’s likely the Ravens will make at least 1 more move to address the defense and I’m optimistic Martindale will be able to find a way to weave any new acquisition into his scheme.
Desperately Seeking Analogies
The Ravens were outsnapped for the first time this season 68-56. Breaking that down further, the Ravens had only 9 possessions, allowed the Seahawks to convert on 10 of 17 3rd downs, and moved the chains just 14 times themselves. At the heart of the snap-count deficit are 2 drives “lost” to defensive touchdowns.
I can think of 3 games where the Ravens won using more extreme versions of this formula and I’m guessing you could add more (please do in the comments below):
· 12/24/2000: The Ravens beat the Jets 34-20 despite totaling just 142 yards and 5 first downs of their own. The Jets won the snap count 91-55. Vinnie Testaverde tied the NFL record with 69 pass attempts for 481 net yards, but the Ravens forced 6 turnovers and Jermaine Lewis returned 2 punts for TDs.
· 1/7/2001: The Ravens beat the Titans 24-10 in Nashville in the unofficial Super Bowl XXXV. The Titans won snap count 81-43 and rolled up 317 offensive yards to just 134 (6 first downs) for the Ravens. Nonetheless, 4th quarter touchdowns from Anthony Mitchell (blocked FG return) and Ray Lewis (INT stripped from Eddie George) gave the Ravens one of the most improbable and significant wins in team history.
· 1/10/2009: 8 years and 3 days later, the Ravens returned to Nashville for a 13-10 divisional win against the 13-3 Titans. The Titans again dominated snap count 71-52 and first downs 21-9. However, the Ravens had 3 key turnovers to win, capped by Alge Crumpler’s fumble recovered by Fabian Washington at the 1-yard line.
Marcus Peters Debuts
The high-profile acquisition did not disappoint. In fact, the results mirrored some of the boom/bust results of his past and the respect garnered from opposing QBs. Analyzing by target:
· (Q2, 15:00): Peters trailed WR Brown across the field as the Ravens afforded Wilson ample time and space (ATS) with a 4-man rush. Wilson lobbed a ball towards the left at the goal line where Brown dropped a potential TD pass.
· (Q2, 7:59): Peters had tight man coverage on WR Tyler Lockett in the back of the end zone. Wormley delivered a QH and Wilson’s pass was collected by the Seahawks receiver well out of bounds.
· (Q2, 5:12): At the snap, Peters baited Wilson by backing 8-10 yards off WR Jaron Brown by the right sideline with his eyes in the backfield. With ATS, Wilson threw a floater for Brown, Peters broke on the football, easily undercut the route for an interception, and returned it 67 yards for the TD that put the Ravens ahead. They would never trail again.
The Ravens played more man coverage against the Seahawks than I charted from the Rams games I reviewed closely (Cleveland and Tampa Bay).
Had Brown hauled in the ball, pessimistic fans would have highlighted Peters’ inability to maintain man coverage and the way the results underscored his extreme strengths and weaknesses. Brown’s drop should not materially impact that opinion, but after the interception, Peters was not targeted in the final 35 minutes of the game. He finished with 3 targets, 2 incompletes and a pick-6.
Regardless of one’s opinion of Peters’ weaknesses, it’s fair to say he continues to command respect from opposing QBs with his big play ability.
The Ravens were penalized 8 times for 75 yards while the Seahawks were flagged just twice for 18. Were this a case where the Ravens unraveled offensively when facing a hostile crowd, I could understand the root cause. However, the Ravens had just 1 delay of game flag attributable to crowd noise. The remaining infractions included 2 roughing the passer penalties which were frustrating. I can understand why Bynes’ low hit on Wilson was flagged since Ward pushed him from behind. However, Fort’s QH (Q2, 11:06) wasn’t high, wasn’t low, and wasn’t late.
The flag on Fort was particularly irksome in concert with the failure of the officials to call Wilson down in the grasp (Q4, 15:00) when he was being twisted down by multiple defenders before pitching to TE Luke Willson for a 6-yard run. That forced the Ravens to accept the holding penalty on Willson penalty rather than the sack. Tom Brady has always received a different level of protection and Russell Wilson appears to be getting it now, but with that needs to come some quick whistles to offset that favoritism in the name of safety.
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 16 yards and an incomplete pass.
Standard Nickel (42): Martindale did not use either the big nickel or jumbo (3-3-5 nickel), so each of these instances was a standard 4-2-5 nickel with 3 CBs. The Ravens allowed 205 yards on these plays (4.9 YPP), including their only sack and Humphrey’s fumble return TD.
Dime (17): The Ravens employed both their 3-safety dime with Levine (15 snaps) and a 4-CB dime with Averett added to the standard nickel (2). Included in these plays was an oddball 3rd/1 dime package (Q1, 4:33) where the Ravens did not field a defensive lineman against 11 personnel and Carson converted with a 9-yard run. That is normally a place where the Ravens would try to win the LoS decisively with a jumbo nickel or at least have Pierce and Williams inserted as part of a standard nickel in an attempt to blow up the play. They allowed 84 yards in the dime (4.9 YPP).
Quarter (4): Martindale called more snaps of the quarter defense, but all on the first 2 drives prior to McPhee’s injury. The quarter defense used against the Seahawks included a 4th CB (Averett) in lieu of a 4th safety. The Ravens allowed 42 yards on those 4 plays (10.5 YPP), including the 37-yard completion to Metcalf, who was covered by Averett. By down and distance, they employed the quarter on 3rd/9, 3rd/11, 3rd/10, and 2nd/1. None of the occurrences were consecutive, so Martindale ordered the quarter package on the field for that 2nd and 1 play (Q1, 1:16) in response to 10 personnel (1 RB, no TE, 4 WR) from the Seattle offense then was able to substitute after Carson converted with a 5-yard run.
Half Dollar (1): This is the story for Bennett Jackson’s grandkids. He played his first NFL snap a mere 1,989 days after he was drafted on 5/10/14. Jackson played the back end with Thomas on the final play of the half as the Ravens rushed 3. Wilson had ATS, but Matthew Judon delivered a late QH and Russell threw the ball away to preserve the game-tying FG attempt. I cannot recall a single instance in team history where the Ravens previously used 8 DBs, but I’ll research when done writing for this week.
Racecar: The Ravens used an all-OLB pass rush for 4 plays, all prior to McPhee’s injury. Those included 4 OLBs 3 times with the quarter and 5 OLBs once with the dime. When the Ravens used 5 OLBs on 3rd and 1 (Q1, 4:33), Ferguson, McPhee, and Ward each lined up in a 3-point stance on the inside. The results for the racecar weren’t good in this one as the Ravens surrendered runs of 9 and 5 yards to convert 2nd/1 and 3rd/1 respectively (see above), gave up a 37-yard pass to Metcalf (Q1, 2:21, see above), and generated an incomplete pass to end the first series.
Martindale continually adjusted to find a balance of numbers and scheme to pressure Wilson.
The Ravens allowed Wilson ATS on 22 of 42 drop backs, 52.4%. That’s a high total by today’s NFL standards and frankly unacceptable given the state of the Seahawks depleted line. However, the Ravens held the Seahawks to 5.7 yards per pass play, delivered 8 QHs (10 including the roughing the passer flags) and Wilson had his worst game of the season (65.2 QBR), so it’s difficult to argue with the results.
Breaking down the pressure applied on those pass plays into 3 segments tells a different story.
Pass plays 1-10: Wilson had ATS on 8 of his first 10 drop backs as the Ravens used vanilla looks. Among those plays were 2 rushes with 6, but just 1 blitz (Fort) and no other elements of deception. Wilson was 6/9 for 86 yards (8.6 YPP) despite a coverage sack (no loss) and a QH by McPhee on the 8-yard TD pass.
Pass plays 11-34: Wilson had ATS on just 8 of his next 24 passes as Martindale did more to dial pressure with numbers (6 X 5 men, 2 X 6, 1 X 7) to go with 6 individual blitzers and 1 stunt. On these plays Wilson was knocked down 6 times, threw for just 92 yards plays (3.8 YPP) and threw the interception TD to Peters as the Ravens built their lead to 23-13.
Pass plays 35-42: Beginning with the pass/fumble that removed all doubt (Q4, 3:47), Wilson had ATS on 6 of his final 8 attempts and threw for 62 yards (7.8 YPP) during garbage time.
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.
Only 3 of the Ravens 42 blitzes were categorized as deceptive by the definition I use (at least 2 elements of deception).
· Jihad Ward continued to play well. He had 2 pressures plus another QH by stunt on the final defensive snap (Q4, 1:58).
· Chuck Clark played all 68 snaps as the signal caller and registered 7 tackles. He had a PD in solo coverage of Lockett 24 yards downfield (Q2, 5:18) that was eerily similar to another solo coverage (also 24 yards downfield and by the left sideline) of TE Jacob Hollister (Q3, 12:12). His 4 targets were the 2 incomplete passes above plus passes for 5 and 6 yards, each with 0 YAC.
· LJ Fort (54 snaps) has increased from 0 to 24 to 54 snaps in his 3 weeks with the Ravens. He had 6 tackles, including 2 for loss. He took down Carson for a 6-yard loss (Q1, 9:37) where he read the play from the initial movements. He also registered the Ravens only sack by tackling Wilson in the open field for no gain
· Josh Bynes (50 snaps) did not participate in a turnover this week, but his snaps increased with the loss of DeShon Elliott as the Ravens did not have the desired personnel for a 4-safety quarter package). Josh led the team with 8 tackles and has been a welcome recharge for the run defense, including primary credit for a 3-yard takedown of Carson (Q3, 0:01)
· Brandon Williams was the star on the defensive line with a pair of crushing QHs on consecutive plays (beginning Q3, 13:14). The vaunted Seahawks rushing attack averaged just 3.9 yards rushing per play (71 yards on 18 plays) when he was in. Workhorse RB Chris Carson had 21 of Seattle’s 22 RB carries with a long of 9.
Honorable mentions were earned by Bynes, Fort, Judon, Ward, and Thomas.