Moving on Without Tavon Young

The one-sided win over the Texans answered some of the significant questions on defense from the Ravens win over the Browns in week 1.  To summarize, the Ravens:

  • Won the line of scrimmage
  • Combatted the mobility of Watson
  • Shut down the Texans run game (51 yards on 17 carries, 3.0 YPC)
  • Generated 2 big turnovers
  • Manufactured pass rush by scheme with the lead
  • Shut down Will Fuller without a target
  • Received contributions from a broad set of defenders

Unfortunately, the injury to Tavon Young poses a new dilemma.

What should the Ravens do about SCB?  

The Ravens don’t have a backup SCB without compromising another position (in this case RCB/Humphrey).  I can see at least 5 options:

  1. Continue with Humphrey at SCB: If the Ravens decide to go this way, they probably need to move Jimmy Smith back to starting RCB and eliminate his safety role.  That will likely force the Ravens to replace Tavon with Geno Stone on the active roster.
  2. Elevate 1 of the practice squad SCBs:  Terrell Bonds and Khalil Dorsey were both kept on the practice squad and both have the size one would expect only in a slot corner (5’8” and 5’9” respectively).
  3. Find a player on another practice squad:  The Ravens probably have a guy they liked from their scouting process that went elsewhere and is unprotected.  If they take such a player, he must be added to the 53-man roster, so there is a risk in terms of system knowledge/pickup relative to Bonds or Dorsey.
  4. Sign a street free agent:  There are several veteran CBs who do not have a home, including Prince Amukamara.    Street FAs have no cost in terms of draft capital, but may want more than a vet minimum contract.  In the case of Amukamara, he would address the Ravens depth at CB, but he has always been an outside CB in 9 NFL seasons. 
  5. Trade for a player: There are several teams who either have already given up on 2020 (e.g. Jacksonville) or have suffered injuries/losses which should force them to reevaluate their viability as a playoff contender (e.g. Denver).  Those are the first places to look for a team looking for either draft capital or modest cap relief in exchange for a SCB.

If 2020 plays out like 2019, DeCosta will address the issue quickly and decisively.


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 Texans ran 56 such competitive, non-penalty snaps.

Base (0): The Ravens did not line up in the base defense even once, despite a fair amount of 12 personnel from the Texans. 

Standard Nickel (27): The Ravens returned to their historic norm of neutralizing the opponent’s run game from 11 personnel with the standard (2-4-5) nickel.  The Texans ran 10 times for 37 yards (3.7 YPC, long of 9) vs this package.  They passed 17 times for 79 net yards (4.6 YPP) and turned the ball over twice.

In today’s NFL, standard nickel is the most commonly used package for most teams, since 11 personnel is the most common offensive package.  Being able to stop the run and pass with the alignments afforded by this package is critical to any team’s defensive success.  In the case of the Ravens, the departure of Michael Pierce posed a significant threat to the effectiveness of the package, but the results of this game offer positive portent.

Big Nickel (7): Versus 12 personnel in parts of the first half, the Ravens countered with big nickel (3 safeties, 2 CB).  Those plays including the first snap of the game where Levine lined up opposite TE Fells on the left side and had his first start since 2014.  Anthony was the 3rd safety in each such alignment.

Jumbo Nickel (1): Martindale used the package 10 times in week 1, but just once vs Houston (Q3, 5:14) with Queen as the lone ILB.  Watson overthrew an open David Johnson 30 yards down the left sideline with Patrick in coverage.. 

Dime (20): The Ravens showed a variety of dime looks, primarily on 3rd down, but also end of half/end of game.  Summarizing the results:

Standard–1 ILB, 3 OLB, 1 DL, 6 DBs (10 snaps): 83 yards.  Of the production here, 49 yards came on the Texans FG drive to end the half.

Heavy—3 OLB, 2 DL, 6 DBs (9 snaps): 29 yards.  These plays included 3 conversions on 3rd down and 4 drive-ending plays.

Racecar– 0 ILBs, 4 OLBs, 1 DL, 6 DBs (1 snap): 0 yards.

Quarter (1): The Ravens played the last meaningful snap of the first half (Q2, 0:16) with 7 DBs.  The alignment included Board as the only ILB with Campbell, McPhee, and Judon as the other heavies.  When Judon dropped to cover, only Campbell and McPhee were left to rush the passer.  Watson completed a 9-yard pass to set up the FG.

Pass Rush

The Ravens had their hands full dealing with Watson’s mobility in the first half.  However, as the Texans were forced to commit themselves to the pass in the second half, Martindale was able to dial up his scheme to produce more pressure.  

Watson had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 9 of 39 drop backs (23%) which is low, but that included just 3 of 19 (16%) after halftime.  On 11 occasions, Watson threw a pass before the rush had a chance to develop (ball out quick or BOQ), so the Ravens had 19 pressure events among 39 drop backs.

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer: 1 play, 9 yards.  This was a 2-man rush (Q2, 0:16).

4: 21 plays, 139 yards, 6.6 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO

5: 15 plays, 109 yards, 7.3 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO

6: 2 plays, -3 yards, -1.5 YPP, sack

7+: None

Total: 39 plays, 254 yards, 6.5 YPP, 4 sacks, 2 TO

Martindale sent 13 individual blitzes from off the LoS, including 4 by Humphrey from SCB.  With fewer blitzes, the Ravens stunted on 6 plays which resulted in a sack and 4 other QHs.  I’ve been intrigued by the Ravens ability to stunt with their offseason acquisitions, but now the Ravens have provided some concrete results. 

The Ravens also dropped 2+ defenders from the LoS to cover on 10 occasions.  Of those, 6 were deceptive because they added another element (stunt or blitz).  On those deceptive rushes, the Texans gained just 21 yards.

The yards per pass may seem unspectacular by Ravens standards, but considering the quiet environment and Watson’s 100.2 career passer rating, they were well above my expectation.

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

See “Star Treatment” below for details and play notes for Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams.

With fewer 3-DL alignments, both Justin Ellis (10 snaps) and Broderick Washington (3 snaps) had reduced workload.

Derek Wolfe (29 snaps) was 2nd to Campbell in DL playing time.  He barely scratched the stat sheet, but the Texans averaged just 4.4 YPP on his snaps, best among the Ravens DL.


The Ravens activated 10 linebackers for the second straight week.  I’m going to hit on just a few.

Tyus Bowser (32 snaps) remains primarily a pass defender, but he was again effective both in coverage and rushing the passer.  He had a QH and a sack, but also dropped to coverage from the LoS 9 times (he may have had more total coverage snaps) without being targeted.  He delivered the drive-ending QH/incomplete on a play where he dropped to cover then rushed when Watson broke the pocket (Q4, 14:55)

LJ Fort (26 snaps) made another big play with his scoop and score on Humphrey’s forced fumble (Q2, 5:26).  He also delivered a vicious QH to Watson (Q2, 9:56).  Fort has labored as a journeyman special teamer for 9 seasons for 8 organizations, but has found his place in Baltimore with fine play that exactly coincides with the Ravens 14-game regular-season winning streak.  He still has less than a 1 full season of defensive snaps in his career, but was 2nd in ILB playing time on Sunday.  It’s a credit to Fort’s perseverance, the Ravens front office, and Martindale’s scheme that he’s been so effective.   

Malik Harrison (11 snaps) had a reduced workload despite the prevalence of standard nickel.  Despite a short day’s work, he was targeted 3 times for 29 yards by Watson.

Matthew Judon (34 snaps) was more effective as a pass rusher, including 4 stunts, all of which contributed a QH or sack.  I scored him for 1 QH and 3 pressures personally.  He dropped to cover just 3 times from the LoS this week, a dramatic reduction from the Browns game. 

Pernell McPhee (32 snaps) continues to see lots of action on run downs and the Texans were ineffective running when he was in (7 carries, 14 yards).  He bulled Tunsil to flush Watson for a drive-ending, 1-yard run (Q1, 9:02).  He penetrated to blow up Johnson’s run 5 yards in the backfield (Q3, 4:10), but missed the tackle.  However, Johnson was unable to accelerate and was taken down by Wolfe and Campbell for a loss of 2.

Patrick Queen (41 snaps) again led the team in tackles but was targeted frequently (8 times for 39 yards).  He lost his 2nd sack of the season to an illegal contact penalty on Averett (Q2, 0:34).  On the very next play, he delivered a QH in pursuit of Watson who completed a 15-yard strike to Cooks.  He had 5 tackles within 4 yards of the LoS, 4 of which were defensive wins and 1 which ended a drive.


Marcus Peters was targeted just twice as I scored it with 1 completion allowed for 15 yards.  His interception is a microcosm of why he is the greatest ballhawk of all time when adjusted to era.  As he frequently does, he had his eyes on Watson, recognized where the ball was going, and peeled off his assignment to make a leaping, acrobatic pick.  Like the PD by Campbell versus the Browns which led to Humphrey’s pick, Peters closed the passing window from the front side of the play.  That is both effective and difficult for the QB to anticipate when his primary concern is getting the ball past the trailing defender.  He continues to play his reads like no other CB in the league today.

Marlon Humphrey was targeted frequently, but deserves some of the credit (with Peters) for shutting down Will Fuller (37 snaps) without a target.  His punchout and the TD return by Fort was the biggest play of the game on either side of the ball.  Once again, it appears Marlon will have to play out of position at SCB for at least some of 2020.  When Averett entered for Tavon Young, he played exclusively on the boundary.

Chuck Clark continues to roam the field, rotating between FS, SS, and dimeback.  He allowed 2 short completions to Akins (13 yards total) on the only times he was targeted.  He had half a sack among 6 tackles.

Star Treatment

Calais Campbell (34 snaps) was again the standout Ravens defender:

  • (Q1, 15:00):  Calais shed RG Fulton to tackle Johnson for RR-1. 
  • (Q2, 3:31):  He crossed RT Howard to flush Watson left where he was pushed OOB by Harrison for RL5. 
  • (Q2, 0:16):  He bulled C Martin for a pressure forcing Watson’s PM9 to Cobb after which the officials “administratively” restored the clock to 4 seconds.
  • (Q3, 5:15):  He was underneath on Williams’ stunt QH on which Watson overthrew an open RB Johnson 30 yards down the left sideline.
  • (Q3, 4:32):  On 3rd/4, he bulled RG Fulton for a QH but Watson completed PM6 to Cobb in a tight window.
  • (Q3, 4:10):  He and Wolfe cleaned up Johnson RM-2 on a play blown up by McPhee. 
  • (Q3, 1:29):  He drew the attention of LT Tunsil to allow Judon to stunt around the OLS for a QH.
  • (Q3, 0:27):  He bulled LG Scharping for pressure as Watson threw incomplete.
  • (Q4, 9:46):  He and Humphrey shared a sack S-1, when Watson ran left from a clean pocket.
  • (Q4, 9:03):  On 3rd/11, he contained the front side as Elliott rushed unblocked for S-4. 
  • (Q4, 3:19):  He and Clark were the first of a swarm to engulf Watson for S-8.

Campbell positively impacted a play versus all 5 OL for the Texans.  After playing between 77% and 80% of snaps for the last 5 seasons, he’s played 73 of 122 (60%) this season, which seems to be having a positive impact on his play.  He’s still collecting counting events, but he’s also contributed to pressure events as an underneath player on stunts and by maintaining containment in rush and pass defense.  In short, he’s been 125% of what was advertised and yes, I will be including him here all season if he continues to dominate play as he has.

Brandon Williams (25 snaps) had contributions to both run and pass defense:

  • (Q1, 0:13):  On 3rd/1, he was one of the posse (with Queen, Ward and Ferguson) who converged to force a throw away after Watson evaded Ward then Washington in the backfield.
  • (Q3, 5:15):  He stunted past RG Fulton for a QH.
  • (Q3, 2:55):  He beat LG Scharping for the initial flush but missed the sack, cleaned up by Bowser S-9.

Against the run, he contributed to tackles for gains of 1, 2, and 2 yards, but also held his ground effectively vs doubles so the Texans were not able to generate effective level-2 blocks as the Browns were in the opener.  He was one of the big reasons the Ravens were able to disrupt zone schemes and hold the Texans to 3.0 YPC for the game without a single snap of base defense.

DeShon Elliott (56 snaps) was in for every play:

  • (Q1, 0:02):  On 4th/1, he blitzed unblocked off the ORS to force incomplete for TE Fells.
  • (Q2, 10:25):  He was closest to WR Cooks as Watson completed his longest pass of the day PR38 (31+7) down the right side line.
  • (Q2, 0:41):  He was met by RB Johnson but pressured Watson who threw PL13 to Stills by the left side line.
  • (Q4, 9:03):  On 3rd/11, he again rushed unblocked off ORS for sack S-4.

Elliott seems natural on the back end, but the Ravens are rotating he, Clark, and Smith rather than trying to develop specific roles for each.

Defensive MVPs

Amid many candidates:

  1. Calais Campbell
  2. Marcus Peters
  3. LJ Fort

In a solid defensive effort, Tyus Bowser, Deshon Elliott, Brandon Williams, and Marlon Humphrey all earn honorable mention.