The Ravens are back in control of their own destiny after a euphoric week 16, including their decisive win over the Giants and losses by the Colts and Browns.
It’s comforting to know the Ravens are in if they beat the Bengals and are not directly impacted by the complex motivations of Pittsburgh and Buffalo which affect the Colts, Browns, and Dolphins.
That’s not to say the Ravens don’t have problems of their own…
The Ravens secondary became thinner with the injury to Davontae Harris, who was placed on IR. With Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith still inactive with injuries, the Ravens played with just 4 CBs (Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett, Tramon Williams, and PS call-up Pierre Desir) for the second time this season.
In addition, the Ravens activated just 4 safeties (Chuck Clark, Deshon Elliott, Anthony Levine, and Jordan Richards) with Geno Stone still listed as exempt on the Ravens roster page after his bout with COVID.
Humphrey had to leave the game briefly but missed just 5 snaps (replaced on the outside by Desir). To make matters worse, the Ravens finally suffered an injury to one of their 2 safeties who have played virtually every meaningful snap this season. Deshon Elliott also left for 5 plays in the third quarter and was replaced on the back end by Richards, who had played 2 previous snaps in 2 years for the Ravens.
Fortunately, the Ravens were not faced with an opponent (such as the Steelers) who could immediately exploit such weakness by going to an empty formation with 4 WRs and a TE. Given the potential matchups both in W17 and in the playoffs, the Ravens need a better plan B.
What are the options at this point?
- Hope: The Ravens can stand pat with their roster, activate the same 4 CBs again for their week 17 matchup vs Cincinnati and hope that either Peters or Smith will recover enough to be the 5th. Based on the fact Peters was a game-time decision for week 16, that might work based on what they now know.
- Proactivity: Week 17 is not the only concern and a rematch with the Steelers looms as a possibility for Wild Card weekend. Given that and the protracted nature of onboarding in 2020, the Ravens may need to move this week to secure another CB the team can count on to be healthy/ready by January 10. Candidates include Bonds, Harris, PS DB Nate Brooks, a CB outside the organization, or a firm belief that both Peters and Smith will be able to play by then. The key element is the Ravens would need to be working to have 6 players ready, not 5.
The reason I prefer the latter is that the condition of the team entering week 17 does not reasonably project for injury degradation likely to occur next week. In addition, the Ravens really need to address 2 positions, so if Jimmy Smith (say) will line up as a safety in the playoffs, the Ravens need either 2 cornerbacks or a cornerback and a safety.
It’s December during a pandemic. In terms of talent, all outside options are probably at or below the replacement level. So, while this isn’t a case where the Ravens are likely to find a hidden star, they might at least get someone who can learn the system over 2 weeks and be serviceable in the playoffs.
Defensive Line Not Taxed
The defensive line played well with the return of the Monstars and no lineman played over 35 snaps.
Calais Campbell (20 snaps) appeared to be moving better and the Ravens allowed just 3.2 YPP on his snaps. He split duties with Wolfe in the racecar package (see below), which included a contributory pressure on McPhee’s sack (Q4. 12:21).
Justin Ellis (18 snaps) did not generate a pressure or otherwise make my notes.
Justin Madubuike (21 snaps) did not have as many run contributions this week (the Giants ran just 12 times), but he had a 1-on-1 sack win vs LG Shane Lemieux.
Brandon Williams (20 snaps) controlled his gaps on 7 run plays and had a QH that was wiped out by an offensive pass interference call.
Derek Wolfe again led the team in DL snaps (35). He batted down a pass at the LoS (Q4, 10:50). I’ve looked at the defensive hold for which his number was called (Q4, 9:34) and there is simply no way that was him. The official might have intended to flag Madubuike or missed the call entirely.
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 Giants ran 59 such snaps.
Jumbo (0): The Ravens never lined up with just 3 DBs. The Giants never ran a play inside the Ravens 3-yard line and the Ravens played base defense with a 27-6 lead when New York had their 4th-and-1 conversion.
Base (9): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB versus 21, 22, 12, and 13 personnel. Each deployment occurred on 1st or 2nd down with the exception of 4th and 1 (Q4, 13:30). Ward’s sack to open the second half was the highlight of a successful set of snaps. 9 plays, 13 yards, 1.4 YPP, 1 sack.
Jumbo Nickel (2): Martindale used an extra lineman in place of an ILB twice with a nickel secondary. These personnel groupings were deployed on consecutive snaps (beginning Q3, 10:46) and the plays resulted in 2 runs for 12 yards. It is typically an alternative to a standard nickel to provide some extra run-stopping ability at the cost of some pass-rush flexibility. Since the Giants were not in a position to run for most of the game, the package wasn’t a meaningful change-of-pace option for Sunday’s game. 2 plays, 12 yards, 6.0 YPP.
Standard Nickel (32): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB. Martindale again used it primarily as a response to 11 personnel on early downs. The Giants used 2.72 WRs per play (11 personnel was used most of the time). 32 plays, 175 yards, 5.5 YPP.
Rush Nickel (11): Martindale inserted packages with 1 lineman, 3 OLBs, and 2 ILBs on a pair of 3rd-down plays (3rd and 4, 3rd and 22) prior to the final 2 drives. Beginning with the 3rd-and-10 play (Q4, 5:35), they played a rush nickel package for the last 9 non-penalty snaps. 11 plays, 40 yards, 3.6 YPP.
Racecar Nickel (4): This package included 1 DL, 1 ILB, and 4 OLBs vs the Giants. Martindale deployed it 3 times on 3rd down and 10+ and on 2nd and 14, all in the 4th quarter. Chris Board was again used as the only ILB in this package (proxy dimeback) with Bowser, Judon, McPhee, Ngakoue and either Campbell or Wolfe. The results included consecutive sacks immediately preceding the running into the kicker penalty by Hill. 4 plays, 16 yards, 4.0 YPP, 2 sacks.
Dime (0): The Ravens never inserted a 6th defensive back. As discussed above, they did not have a preferred dimeback option, so they stayed with Board on all passing downs and he delivered a big game, primarily as an extra pass rusher.
12 Men (1): Matthew Judon was unable to get off the field in time and drew a flag for 12 men on defense (Q4, 10:25). Since the play went for a gain of 13, the Giants declined the penalty. I’m not sure what the rules are regarding calling this flag pre snap, as is often done, or allowing the play to continue, which provides the offense with a valuable option (free play). Without Judon on the field, this would have been a standard nickel package. 1 play, 13 yards.
The Ravens pass was in stark contrast before and after halftime. To summarize:
First half: 13 pass plays, 11 ATS, 2 ball out quick (BOQ), 0 pressures
Second half: 34 pass plays, 10 ATS, 6 BOQ, 18 pressure events, including 6 sacks, 5 other QHs, 1 ball batted down at the LoS, and 6 other pressures.
For the game 21/45 (45%) ATS opportunities is far too juicy an opportunity set to allow a good QB with a bad offensive line. Fortunately, the Ravens dominated the first 30 minutes with their offense and the 3 Giants drives stalled with penalties, a route-running mistake, a big drop, and Humphrey’s PD in the end zone despite 85% ATS.
Summarizing by number of pass rushers:
3 (or fewer): None
4: 20 plays, 122 yards, 6.1 YPP, 1 sack
5: 15 plays, 106 yards, 7.1 YPP, 1 sack
6: 8 plays, -5 yards, -0.6 YPP, 3 sacks
7+: 4 plays, -8 yards, -2.0 YPP, 1 sack
Total: 47 plays, 215 yards, 4.6 YPP, 5 sacks, 1 TO
The Ravens rushed 5+ men on 27 of 47 drop backs (57%), which is well above their season average and approximately twice the rate of the NFL as a whole. On those plays the Ravens defense allowed 3.4 YPP and collected 5 sacks. Rushing 6+, the Ravens held the Giants to -13 yards on 12 plays (-1.1 YPP) with 11 of those snaps coming in the second half.
Martindale used 34 individual blitzes from off the LoS (spread over 23 pass plays), the most I can ever recall scoring (.72 blitzers per play). Queen again led the team with 10 (Fort 8, Tramon Williams 7, Board 5). The 13 plays included 2 sacks, 2 QHs, 3 pressures, 4 BOQ, and 2 ATS. To add some color to the light-switch nature of the pass rush, here are the results by play with a blitzer in the order they occurred (P99 = pressure by Judon, QH48 = QH by Queen, and so forth):
ATS, ATS, ATS, ATS, ATS, BOQ, ATS, P99, P91/48, QH 48, P36, P91/49, BOQ, QH54, S99/P53, S90/P93, S49, BOQ, ATS, QH48, BOQ, BOQ, P49
The Ravens stunted only 6 times spread over 5 snaps, a total depressed by the number of off-LoS blitzes. Those 5 plays resulted in 2 ATS, 1 sack, and 2 other QHs. A textbook example of a 2-way win for under (pick) players occurred when Campbell and McPhee nearly collided on the sack of Jones (Q4, 12:21) after deriving significant positional advantages when their 2nd blocks had to peel off.
On 4 occasions they dropped 2+ from the LoS to cover. That’s a remarkably low rate (8.5%) for the Ravens who love simulated pressure to keep opposing lines guessing. In this game, Martindale wasn’t simulating pressure, he was sending it.
Of 47 drop backs, 13 were deceptive rushes as I define it by incorporating 2 or more of the above elements. Despite 3 sacks and just 1 ATS opportunity, Jones managed 5.8 YPP on those plays.
Chris Board’s big day is detailed in Star Treatment below. The other successful pass rushers included Jihad Ward (1 sack, 1 QH, 1 pressure contributing to a sack in 13 pass plays), Pernell McPhee (1 sack, 1 pressure in 17 pass plays), and Patrick Queen (2 QHs, 1 shared pressure).
Justin Madubuike also had a fast sack for a loss of 7 on a vanilla 4-man rush when he beat LG Shane Lemieux (Q3, 5:28). Pass rush generated by scheme is great, but 1-on-1 wins are better.
A 3-Sack Series
The Ravens last produced a 3-sack series against the Steelers in Pittsburgh on 11/2/2014 (beginning Q2, 13:48). Beginning 1st and 20 after a penalty, the Ravens registered:
- S-6 shared by Chris Canty and Matt Elam
- S-7 by Haloti Ngata
- S-6 by Elvis Dumervil
Incredibly, nickel CB Chykie Brown was late getting on the field for the final 3rd-and-33 snap, so the Ravens generated that sack with just 10 men. I don’t know how you fail to be on the field as a nickel for a 3rd-and-forever snap like that and apparently the Ravens could not figure out why either. Brown was cut prior to the next game.
Fortunately, the positive playoff news from yesterday soothed the painful irony that Sunday’s 3-sack series was wasted by Hill’s roughing the kicker penalty while the Ravens continue to have problems fielding the correct number of players (see packages, 12 men above) on both sides of the ball.
- (Q1, 0:02): He maintained contact on TE Evan Engram for approximately 7 yards and a ticky-tack illegal contact flag.
- (Q2, 1:19): He had trailing coverage of WR Austin Mack approximately 20 yards  overthrown.
- (Q3, 13:37): He had step-for-step coverage of TE Engram on the drive-ending incomplete 21 yards .
- (Q3, 7:48): He drew offensive pass interference on TE Kaden Smith.
- (Q4, 14:45): He took down TE Engram PR0 (0 + 0) .
- (Q4, 14:05): On 3rd/10, he tackled TE Engram for PL9 (5 + 4)  just short of the marker.
- (Q4, 10:49): On 3rd/15, he and Judon simultaneously missed the tackle on WR Sterling Shepard to allow PM16 (6 + 10)  conversion.
- (Q4, 4:51): On 4th/19, he undercut TE Engram’s route for a drive-ending PD/near INT.
- (Q4, 1:55): He was flagged for DPI on TE Engram 10 yards .
- (Q4, 1:09): He rushed unblocked off ORS for a fast QH as QB Jones threw OOB.
- (Q4, 1:05): He flushed Jones which allowed Board to tackle the QB for RM3 on 3rd/10.
Chuck had the difficult assignment to cover Giants TE Evan Engram and held him to 6.3 yards per target, delivered 2 drive-ending plays, contributed to 2 plays which brought up 4th down, and made plays as a pass rusher.
- (Q2, 15:00): He streaked up to tackle TE Engram RL5 on reverse that appeared headed for a big gain.
- (Q2, 13:55): He had island coverage of WR Shepard when the receiver cut off his post route (incomplete) with no safety back.
- (Q2, 13:11): He was closest in zone when WR Mack dropped a 3rd/4 conversion, 6 yards .
- (Q2, 1:25): He made a fast, in-bounds tackle of WR Shepard PR4 (4 + 0) .
- (Q2, 1:15): On 3rd/6 with ATS, he reached around WR Mack for a drive-ending PD in the endzone.
- (Q3, 7:42): He switched coverage from outside to WR Dante Pettis on PM20 (19 + 1)  conversion of 2nd/17 and was injured on the play.
- (Q4, 14:50): He had coverage of WR Darius Slayton 40 yards , never found the ball in the air, but delivered the PD by mirroring the receiver’s hand placement.
- (Q4, 1:44): He was closest in zone on Engram’s reception PM15 (14 + 1) .
- (Q4, 1:12): He undercut WR Slayton’s slant for PD, near INT 5 yards .
Marlon’s 3 PDs were a season high, but for the second consecutive game he was the most targeted CB. His game is primarily about dislodging the football before or after the catch, but he’d be less frequently targeted if he presented more as an interception threat. For each of the last 2 weeks he has not appeared to be moving normally.
- (Q3, 4:45): He and Ngakoue were unblocked by RT Fleming for pressure on PR7.
- (Q4, 11:35): On 3rd/21, he rushed unblocked off the ORS for a fast S-1 Ravens 3rd consecutive sack.
- (Q4, 5:35): On 3rd/10, he beat RB Dion Lewis for a fast S-9.
- (Q4, 1:05): He took down QB Jones RM3 (effectively S+3), off pressure by Clark.
Chris was a primary beneficiary of the assignment/cohesion problems on the Giants OL, but he delivered with fast pressures that ended plays as opposed to hits just after the throw.
- Chuck Clark
- Marlon Humphrey
- Chris Board
Honorable mentions include Anthony Averett, Matthew Judon, Patrick Queen, Jihad Ward, and Derek Wolfe.