Killing Them Softly
Soft coverage, particularly in Q4 plagued the Ravens as Dallas completed 15 passes of 10+yards. Unlike past weeks, 10 of those passes were completed at least 10 yards from the LoS in the air. Let’s review:
- (Q1, 0:13): ATS was created by play action with zone blocking to the right, which covered a naked boot left. Dalton threw to WR Lamb PL14 (13 + 1) .
- (Q2, 14:25): On 2nd/9, Dalton had ATS despite 7-man pass rush and completed PL13 TD to WR Gallup with Humphrey unable to make a play on the ball and flagged for DPI.
- (Q2, 8:53): Ball out quick (BOQ), Dalton to WR Cooper PL11 (7 + 4)  with Harris soft.
- (Q2, 7:31): Pressured by Campbell, Dalton completed PM13 (10 + 3)  to WR Lamb, Queen was lost by cut as Lamb passed him in zone.
- (Q2, 5:37): On 3rd/7, BOQ, Dalton threw to WR Brown PR12 (10 + 2)  in front of Peters.
- (Q2, 4:25): On 2nd/11, BOQ, Dalton threw to WR Gallup PM13 (3 + 10) , crossing through overloaded zone.
- (Q2, 0:30): BOQ, Dalton threw to TE Schultz PR15 (13 + 2)  with Averett soft in zone.
- (Q3, 2:59): With ATS, Dalton threw to WR Gallup PR13 (5 + 8)  in front of Clark.
- (Q3, 2:27): With ATS, Dalton threw to WR Cooper PL13 (10 + 3)  with Averett soft.
- (Q4, 8:15): BOQ, Dalton passed to WR Gallup PL11 (11 + 0)  with Averett soft.
- (Q4, 7:05): Bowser pressured, Dalton threw to WR Brown PL19 (10 + 9)  with Averett soft.
- (Q4, 6:39): Dalton passed to TE Schultz PL19 (6 + 13)  with Averett soft. Anthony then missed the tackle at 6 and Bowser missed at 10.
- (Q4, 6:07): BOQ, Dalton screened left to RB Elliott PL12 (-2 + 14) , led by LG Williams block on Fort.
- (Q4, 1:37): BOQ, Dalton threw to WR Gallup PL12 (12 + 0) , Averett soft in zone.
- (Q4, 0:38): On 4th/19 with ATS, Dalton threw to WR Gallup PM28 (21 + 7)  with Averett closest in zone and soft.
Notes on the longer pass plays:
- Per Nextgen, Dalton took an average of 2.89 seconds to throw in this game, so the Ravens had time for pressure to develop on numerous plays. That figure compares to 2.21 for Roethlisberger in week 12.
- Dalton had no aversion to either throwing or rolling left in this game and targeted comeback routes to receivers against whom Averett played soft in man or zone.
- The soft coverage, particularly in the second half was by design and was intended to minimize big-play risk.
- The Ravens did a good job preventing the long passes from these extended pocket times and allowed just 1 play over 20 yards (28, Q4, 0:38) in 49 drop backs.
- The fact the Ravens allowed only 5.7 yards per pass play was an aggregate positive result against the Cowboys receiving talent, but it came at a high cost in terms of play count (the Cowboys had 77 offensive plays compared to 54 by the Ravens).
The Ravens held the Cowboys to an unremarkable 6 of 15 on 3rd down, which hid a substantial problem the Ravens had with first downs allowed (29):
- The Ravens have only allowed 29+ first downs in 10 games in their history with a high of 33 vs New England on 9/23/2012.
- Despite the Cowboys 6 for 15 showing on 3rd down, they subsequently converted 3 of 4 on 4th down.
- Effectively, the Cowboys eventually converted 9 of 15 times (60%) they reached 3rd down on offense.
- Beyond those, the Cowboys had another 20 conversions on 1st or 2nd down
- Despite having 28 conversions not generated by penalty, the Cowboys had just 388 net yards, which underscores the lack of big plays allowed.
- Troy Aikman talked primarily about the Cowboys’ future during the second half as opposed to the lone contending team on the field, but one of his comments was that he expected more from the Ravens defense. I did too, particularly in terms of exploitation by scheme of the makeshift Cowboys line.
Monstars Return Engagement
The Ravens had all 3 of their top defensive linemen for the full game for the first time since week 8, a period during which they have lost 3 of 4 games.
Brandon Williams (27 snaps) has play reviewed in “Star Treatment” below.
Derek Wolfe (62 snaps) again bore the heaviest workload. He was stout in run defense (9 tackles, including contributions to a staggering 8 defensive wins) and played an important role as a pass rusher, creating opportunity for Jihad Ward on stunts despite not having a pressure himself.
Calais Campbell (23 snaps) had 1 pressure and made 2 solo tackles, but did not move well in his first game back.
Justin Ellis (25 snaps) resumed a supporting role after weeks of overwork and contributed to 2 tackles (1 a defensive win).
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 Cowboys ran 77 such snaps.
Jumbo (0): The Ravens never lined up with just 3 DBs, even in the process of generating 3 straight stops from inside the 2-yard line (beginning Q4, 5:27). In fact, the Ravens played the standard nickel for every goal-to-go snap the Cowboys ran (all on that drive).
Base (9): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB versus 12 and 13 personnel, primarily on 1st down, but also on short yardage. When the Cowboys put a 3rd receiver on the field, the Ravens went to nickel, even in goal-to-go situations. 9 plays, 47 yards, 5.2 YPP.
Jumbo Nickel (5): The Ravens used this package with 3 DL, 2 OLB, and 1 ILB primarily against 11 personnel on 1st and 2nd downs. 5 plays, 26 yards, 5.2 YPP.
Standard Nickel (26): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB and Martindale again used it primarily as a response to 11 personnel on early downs. The Cowboys used 2.81 WRs per play, which meant 11 personnel was by far their most frequently used package. 26 plays, 116 yards, 4.5 YPP.
Alternate Base (3): This package includes Board as a 3rd ILB with 2 DL, 2 OLB, and 4 DBs. Because Board is used as a proxy safety in dime packages, this package could also be described as similar to big nickel (with Board replacing the safety). The Ravens used this package only on 1st down vs 12 personnel where big nickel would be a common choice. 3 plays, -1 yards, -0.3 YPP.
Rush Nickel (10): Martindale inserted packages with 1 lineman, 3 OLBs, and 2 ILBs (or 2 linemen, 3 OLBs, 1 ILB) on some 3rd downs, 2nd and long, and for the end-of-half drive. 10 plays, 55 yards, 5.5 YPP.
Racecar Nickel (21): This package includes 1 DL, 1 ILB, and 4 OLBs. In the first half, the Ravens used the package only twice (3rd and 7, 3rd and 10). In the second half the Ravens had their first opportunity in weeks to make every-down use of this package with a big lead. Chris Board was included as a proxy dimeback with Bowser, Ngakoue, and Ward along with either Ferguson or McPhee. Patrick Queen was not included on any such snaps. 21 plays, 133 yards, 6.3 YPP.
Use of this package conserved DL snaps and allowed the Ravens to generate some pressure after just 1 QH and 7 pressures through 3 quarters. In large part because of substantial leads they held, the Ravens used 13.2% racecar dime and quarter packages in 2019. That was substantially more than they used the base package (10.6%). Due to a lack of a 3rd good coverage safety, the Ravens have used 4 OLBs primarily with a nickel secondary in 2020.
Dime (3): The Ravens inserted a 3-safety dime for 3 plays total, all at the end of each half. Levine was the safety added and played far off the LoS in each case. 3 plays, 12 yards, 4.0 YPP.
Martindale again dialed back his pass rush versus Dalton and the Ravens were far less successful rushing numbers.
Dalton had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 17 of 49 drop backs (35%), which is about average. He delivered the ball before pressure could develop on 19 other occasions, so the Ravens managed only 13 pressure events (1 sack, 3 other QHs within 3 seconds, and 9 pressures, 27%).
Summarizing by number of pass rushers:
3 (or fewer): 4 plays, 6 yards, 1.5 YPP
4: 29 plays, 122 yards, 4.2 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO
5: 13 plays, 125 yards, 9.6 YPP
6: 2 plays, 11 yards, 5.5 YPP
7+: 1 play, 13 yards
Total: 49 plays, 277 yards, 5.7 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO
The Ravens rushed 5+ men on 16 of 49 drop backs (33%), which was below their previous season average of 42%. On those plays the Ravens defense allowed 9.4 YPP without a sack or turnover. Rushing 4 or fewer, the Ravens allowed just 3.9 YPP.
Martindale opted for a significant amount of zone coverage while protecting the Ravens lead in the second half. That created some soft coverages, but generally was effective at minimizing the number of big plays.
Martindale used 11 individual blitzes from off the LoS. Only 3 of those were by a DB (twice Marlon Humphrey, once Peters). Only 1 of the off-LoS blitzes resulted in a pressure event (Board).
The Ravens stunted 10 times, 3 of which resulted in pressure events (1 sack, 1 QH, 1 pressure). Both the sack and QH were delivered by Ward with an assist from Wolfe on each play.
On 12 occasions they dropped 2+ from the LoS to cover. Those also resulted in 1 sack, 1 QH, and 1 pressure.
Of 49 drop backs, 5 rushes were deceptive as I define it by incorporating 2 or more of the above elements. Among those plays were 1 QH and the team’s only sack.
Jihad Ward was by far the Ravens most effective pass rusher with 1 sack, 3 other QHs, and 1 pressure.
- (Q1, 0:13): He was initially fooled by zone block right, naked boot left allowing Dalton ATS on PL14 to WR Lamb.
- (Q3, 9:16): On 3rd/8, he bulled LG Williams for pressure as Dalton threw incomplete for WR Gallup 33 yards .
- (Q4, 15:00): On 3rd/7, he was under on stunt between C Looney and LG Williams then released by Williams for S-8 as Wolfe looped through left B-gap.
- (Q4, 7:52): Wolfe’s under created a fast loop opportunity for Ward’s QH through left A-gap as Dalton threw incomplete.
- (Q4, 7:48): He beat RG McGovern with spin move outside for QH as Dalton threw PL6.
- (Q4, 7:34): On 3rd/4, he delivered a clean-up QH off initial pressure from Bowser as Dalton converted PM4 to RB Elliott.
- (Q1, 12:09): He bulled LG Williams who threw him down and was flagged for holding to negate the 11-yard screen to Elliott and stall the drive.
- (Q1, 6:17): He was blocked by LG Williams to help lead Elliott RM13.
- (Q2, 8:20): He bulled C Looney then batted Dalton’s pass which was intercepted by Queen.
- (Q3, 1:48): He beat C Looney right for fast pressure as Dalton grounded the ball OOB left (no flag).
- (Q4, 5:05): He penetrated past LT Knight to blow up Elliott RM-1.
- (Q4, 4:35): On 3rd/2, he penetrated right past C Looney to tackle Elliott RM0.
- (Q1, 11:40): He tackled Elliott PR-4 (-4 + 0)  on a swing pass right.
- (Q3, 0:25): After Peters bit on play action fake, Fort recovered for a PD 13 yards  on a wheel route intended for RB Elliott.
- (Q4, 6:07): He was blocked by LG Williams on a screen left to RB Elliott PL12 (-2 + 14) .
- (Q4, 5:38): Dalton’s pass for Cooper 12 yards  was tipped by Averett in the back of end zone. Fort made an acrobatic diving interception that was ruled OOB and not challenged.
- (Q4, 5:27): On 1st/1, in the nickel he penetrated to tackle Elliott RM0 with assist from Wolfe.
- (Q4, 5:05): He tackled Elliott RM-1, again with Wolfe, after DT Williams penetrated to blow-up play.
- Jihad Ward
- Brandon Williams
- LJ Fort and Derek Wolfe