It Could be Worse, It Could be Raining

Losing is never good, but the injury-marred loss to the Patriots has the potential to define the Ravens season. 

If the game itself didn’t have you screaming at the TV set, then you were probably near sleeping children.  In such a case, I think it’s best to look at common threads in the biggest failures.

Run Failures

Last year’s 49ers game is often remembered as archetypal of a failure in run defense, but the Ravens eventually solved their problems that day with personnel shifts and did not allow a run over 5 yards for the final 25 minutes.  The misery on Sunday night continued until the final meaningful Patriots drive.  Let’s review all of the runs of 7+ yards (11):

  • (Q1, 13:13): TE Ryan Izzo blocked Ngakoue, LT Isaiah Wynn blocked Harrison, and FB Jakob Johnson blocked Madubuike to lead RB Damien Harris RL7.
  • (Q1, 12:20): With 10 defenders on the field, LT Wynn blocked Judon, FB Johnson blocked Peters, and LG Joe Thuney blocked Queen to lead RB Harris RL7.
  • (Q2, 14:26): TE Izzo blocked Ellis, RT Mike Onwenu blocked Judon, RG Shaq Mason blocked Harrison in L2, on RB Rex Burkhead RM7.
  • (Q2, 3:35): FB Johnson blocked Harrison, RG Mason blocked Madubuike, Queen was driven back for 8 yards by RB Harris on RM12.
  • (Q2, 1:22): WR N’Keal Harry slowed down McPhee, pulling LT Wynn blocked Humphrey, WR Jakobi Meyers blocked Harrison to lead RB Harris RL13.
  • (Q3, 15:00): C David Andrews blocked Ellis, LG Thuney and LT Wynn double-teamed Washington far into L2, RG Mason blocked Ngakoue, FB Johnson blocked Queen, and Elliott took a bad angle and was beaten to the outside by RB Harris RM16.
  • (Q3, 14:22): LG Thuney blocked Ellis, RG Mason and RT Onwenu double-teamed Washington with Onwenu climbing to pancake Harrison in L2, Queen failed to fill right A gap on Harris RM25.
  • (Q3, 9:40): TE Izzo blocked Judon to win left edge, Elliott was blocked by WR Meyers on Harris’ RL12.
  • (Q4, 11:03): Pulling LG Thuney blocked Judon, RT Onwenu and RG Mason pushed Wolfe 5 yards, and TE Izzo blocked Queen to lead RB Burkhead RM9.
  • (Q4, 3:39): Ngakoue cut pulling LG Mason, LT Wynn and LG Thuney pushed Wolfe 3 yards, and TE Izzo blocked Queen in L2 on RB Burkhead’s RL8.
  • (Q4, 2:48): QB Newton juked past Ferguson on the left in space for RR8.

Notes on the long run plays:

  • The Ravens waited too long to find the right combination of edge setters in this game, in part because it created an atypical coverage situation.  Ferguson and McPhee both well as run defenders, including tackle contributions to 5 defensive wins between them.  For the game the Ravens allowed 3.9 YPC with Ferguson in and 2.9 YPC with McPhee.  By comparison, the Ravens allowed identical 5.9 YPC rates on snaps played by Ngakoue or Judon.
  • Despite a couple of nice undercuts on pulling guards, Ngakoue remains misplaced on run downs.
  • Patrick Queen had a tough day as a run defender, which was not a function of the missed tackles which have been a problem, but he was blocked in L2 effectively, failed to fill, and was lost in the wash.  When he did make tackles, he had some significant yards after contact allowed, most notably on Harris’ 12-yard run that included 8 YACo (Q2, 3:35).
  • The Patriots were able to release from double teams quickly and climb for a level-2 block as we have seen on successful Ravens runs in recent years.
  • Too often, the Raven linemen and linebackers were unable to get off blocks from smaller men.  That was a recurring theme in the accounting for key blocks above.
  • Above all other elements, the early loss of Brandon Williams again crippled the Ravens versus the run.  Ellis played 46 of 51 snaps after he departed and did not hold the point of attack effectively, much less create havoc to blow up some plays.

While the reasons were different, watching this game engendered a helplessness I imagine as similar to what opposing fans must have experienced watching the 2019 Ravens run the football.

Clock Management

The Ravens used an intentional neutral zone infraction for the 2nd time in the Martindale era.  Chuck Clark jumped off and made sure he touched LT Isaiah Wynn, then jumped back to give the Patriots a 1st down on 2nd and 2 (Q4, 2:40).  That gave the Ravens a chance to stop the Patriots on 3 plays and regain the football with 1:05 remaining.

The previous usage was last year against Buffalo (Q4, 8:16) when Clark made no pretense to get onside and touched QB Josh Allen to allow a half-the-distance-to-the-goal (1 yard) penalty which allowed the Ravens to substitute jumbo personnel instead of defending with the dime.

Mike Vrabel used a similar ploy for the Titans several weeks ago and evaded multiple questions about the play in a press conference after the game.

Unheralded Debuts

Tramon Williams played 14 snaps in his Ravens debut.  He played a drive (4 snaps) at SCB in Q2 and took over there for good when Terrell Bonds was injured on Newton’s TD run (Q3, 13:22).  WR Jakobi Meyers beat him on flat route for a 4-yard conversion on 3rd and 4, but Williams looked good making a quick tackle.  He was not targeted again among 5 other pass snaps.

Williams was forced to move to RCB after Humphrey was injured (Q4, 2:48), which allowed Geno Stone to make his defensive debut for the Patriots final 2 meaningful offensive snaps.  He lined up as a single-high safety on the first, then lined up opposite James White on 3rd and 7 (Q4, 2:00).  


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 Patriots ran just 56 such snaps.  Examining the use of packages, Martindale used the least variation of the season. 

10 Men (1): On the third Patriots snap of the game (Q1, 12:20), the Ravens lined up with just 10 on the field for the 2nd time on defense this season (4th overall).  Because the Ravens played the base package on 1st down for the rest of the game and the Patriots had 21 personnel, it appears Madubuike came off the field in error and was not replaced. In the words of Pepper Brooks (Dodgeball)…“It’s a bold strategy, Cotton.  Let’s see if it pays off for them.”  1 play, 7 yards.

Jumbo (0): The Ravens never used a jumbo package.

Base (34): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB vs the Patriots most common 21 personnel package.  They allowed 126 yards on 25 run plays (5.0 YPC) and 89 yards on 9 pass plays (9.9 YPP).  Neither result is acceptable, but the run results may be more bothersome given the upcoming game with Tennessee.  Overall, 34 plays, 215 yards, 6.3 YPP.

Jumbo Nickel (2): The Ravens used this package on the 24-yard TD pass from Meyers to Burkhead (Q2, 1:10).  The only other usage came on the final meaningful Patriots drive (Q2, 2:35).  2 plays, 26 yards, 13.0 YPP.

Rush Nickel (0): Martindale did not deploy a single snap with exactly 3 OLBs.  Since the Ravens use the dime and rush nickel packages regularly when creating favorable down and distance situations, that’s not a good thing.

Racecar Nickel (2): The Ravens played 2 snaps with 1 DL, 1 ILB, 4 OLB, each of which ended a drive (3rd and 13, 3rd and 10).  Each snap included Chris Board as a proxy dimeback with the Ravens again short on safeties they were willing to use on defense.  Board replaced Patrick Queen on each of these snaps and Judon was used standing behind the LoS.  2 plays, 7 yards, 3.5 YPP. 

Standard Nickel (17): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB and is the Ravens most common response to 11 personnel on early downs.  Against the Patriots, the Ravens stayed with this package in 2nd and long as well as 3rd and medium situations where they would have deployed a dime or rush nickel versus other opponents. 17 plays, 55 yards, 3.2 YPP.

Dime (0): The Ravens never inserted a dime package. 

Pass Rush

The Patriots did not pass often, but when they did, Martindale was aggressive.

Newton (and Meyers) had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 6 of 19 drop backs (32%).  Newton delivered the ball before pressure could develop on 5 other occasions, so the Ravens managed 8 pressure events (1 sack, 2 other QHs, 5 pressures).

Summarizing by number of pass rushers (excludes 2 spikes):

3: None

4: 5 plays, 35 yards, 7.0 YPP

5: 9 plays, 46 yards, 5.1 YPP, 1 sack

6: 4 plays, 28 yards, 7.0 YPP

7: 1 play, 26 yards

Total: 19 plays, 135 yards, 7.1 YPP, 1 sack

The Ravens rushed 5+ men on 14 of 19 drop backs (74%), their highest rate of the season.

Martindale used 10 individual blitzes from off the LoS, a very high rate for 19 drop backs.  Malik Harrison led the team with 4 individual blitzes.  Surprisingly, Patrick Queen was never used to blitz, but dropped to cover on each of his 17 pass snaps.

The Ravens did not use a single stunt all night.  This may have been a function of trying to defend Newton as a runner.

Twice they dropped 2 from the LoS to cover, which is the lowest total of the season, but not the lowest rate (Washington, 3/48, 6.3%)

Of 19 drop backs, 3 rushes were deceptive as I define it by incorporating 2 or more of the above elements.  All 3 of those passes were completed for a total of 16 yards. 

The lack of big plays delivered by the pass rush says more about the inability to stop the run than anything else.  It wasn’t until Martindale unloaded some run blitzes from the edge that the Ravens were able to generate some of the favorable down and distance situations to support the pass rush.

Individual Notes by Positional Grouping

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. 

Defensive Line

The Ravens activated 5 DL with Campbell injured and that was not sufficient to meet their needs after Brandon Williams was injured on the 5th Patriots play.  The Ravens would go on to play 2.61 DL snap per play, the highest rate in the Martindale era (I did not check back further, but I suspect it may have been much longer). 

Justin Ellis (46 snaps) was forced into every-down duty after Williams’ injury.  He did not provide meaningful penetration, and was moved too easily when doubled.

Derek Wolfe (49 snaps) was the most effective of the Ravens defensive linemen.  He made 7 tackles and had a QH on Meyers’ TD pass (Q2, 1:10).


Malik Harrison (47 snaps) had a new career high in playing time.  He assisted on 2 defensive wins (gains of 0, 1), but that isn’t much for an ILB that plays 33 run snaps.   He bit on Newton’s play-action fake and was late getting back for the 20-yard completion to Izzo (Q2, 12:33).

Matthew Judon (36 snaps) beat RT Mike Onwenu for a sack to end the first Patriots drive (Q1, 8:30).  He snaked past pulling LG Thuney for pressure on Newton’s 20-yard completion to TE Izzo (Q2, 12:33).

Penell McPhee (26 snaps) held the edge better than anu other Ravens defender and had 2 pressures.  His 3 run tackles came on gains of 3, 1, and 1 and were all defensive wins.

Yannick Ngakoue (25 snaps) drove LT Wynn into the feet of Newton on Judon’s drive-ending sack (Q1, 8:30).  With the Ravens trailing 23-17 (Q4, 8:06), he had consecutive rushes (pressure, QH) which ended the drive.  He struggled against the run and the Ravens have better options to set the edge (see Run Failures above).


The paper-thin Ravens secondary was exposed in part by their adjustments due to injury.  Bonds injury brought on Tramon Williams.  Humphrey’s subsequent injury necessitated the use of Geno Stone as a makeshift S/CB in the nickel.  Given the Patriots did not force the Ravens into a 4-CB package like the Steelers, the Ravens may be looking for street talent again before the season is done.  The rematch with the Steelers comes in just 10 days.

There will be no MVP selections this week, because of the loss.