Lions Attack Ravens Weakness
The Ravens entered the game with just 4 active DL, including COVID elevation Khalil McKenzie, who is listed at guard on the Ravens roster and has just over 100 snaps of NFL experience. In addition to the absence of 2 of the 3 Monstars (Williams and Wolfe), the Ravens played without 2 of their 6 OLBs (Ferguson and Houston).
The Lions responded with heavy schemes intended to wear down the Ravens front 5. Former Raven Will Holden was inserted 7 times as a 6th offensive lineman. The Lions deployed a TE, FB, or 6th offensive lineman for 101 individual snaps (1.60 per play). When OLB Daelin Hayes was lost after playing just 4 snaps, the Ravens situation appeared more dire.
It wasn’t until the 2nd half that the game plan paid dividends. Detroit scored on all 3 of its drives and moved the ball 75, 75, and 62 yards to do so.
The disturbing truth is that it wasn’t the depleted DL or OLBs that failed the Ravens, but their ongoing weakness at ILB where coverage, tackling, and getting off blocks have been a big problem. Goff took the ILBs to the woodshed in the second half with 16 pass attempts that went for 160 net yards (10.0 YPP) including 6 of 6 for 56 yards to RB De’Andre Swift. Let’s see if we can find a common thread in Swift’s 2nd-half receptions:
- (Q3, 10:21): PR11 (-3 + 14 YAC)
- (Q3, 8:49): PL14 (2 + 12 YAC)
- (Q3, 8:09): PR19 (-1 + 20 YAC)
- (Q3, 0:41): PR-3 (-8 + 5 YAC)
- (Q4, 11:10): PL9 (-5 +14 YAC)
- (Q4, 9:47): PL6 (1 + 5 YAC)
Total: 56 yards (-14 + 70 YAC)
Of the Lions 217 gross passing yards, 168 came on YAC.
This brings us to the elephant in the room…
- He was 2nd on the team with 6 tackles, but missed, took a bad angle, or was outmaneuvered on 6 others (Q1, 5:51; Q2, 0:25; Q2, 0:19; Q3, 10:21; Q3, 6:07; Q4, 14:55).
- He consistently failed to use his arms while tackling. Despite spending a fair portion of the Summer embracing a tackling donut, he’s not wrapping up every time, particularly if there is another player in the area.
- He was stuck on blocks, caught in the wash, and tentative in his downhill play.
- He did not make an impact in coverage. I used to be most concerned about his ability to react to throws between level 2 and level 3, but recognition remains a big issue on the plays in front of him. He needs to take the YAC piled up by an opposing running back as a personal affront.
- He was the lone off-ball blitzer on 3 plays and was stonewalled each time (Q1, 4:34; Q2, 14:18, Q2, 8:48) on plays that became ATS opportunities. Amazingly, Goff completed just 1 of these 3 opportunities for 3 total yards.
He was removed for a play during the middle of the Lions 11-play drive in the third quarter. It might have been an equipment issue, but I think it was more likely a coaching moment.
Let’s review a little recent team history.
In 2018, the Ravens had CJ Mosley in his last year with the team and playing the mike role well. At the will spot, the Ravens had a platoon of Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Anthony Levine who combined for outstanding pass rush, coverage, and tackle totals and a far lower cap cost than would normally be paid for a 3-down ILB. The Ravens rode their defense to the AFC North title as an ideal complement to Jackson’s rookie season.
Following Mosley’s departure in free agency, the 2019 Ravens promoted Onwuasor to the full-time mike role and gave him the green dot. A pair of 2nd-year players (Kenny Young and Chris Board) began the season splitting time at the will spot. The Ravens fell to 2-2 after a week-4 loss to Cleveland and had been gashed by the Cardinals, Chiefs, and Browns in the last 3 games.
Eric DeCosta and the coaching staff acted quickly and decisively:
- The coaching staff moved the green dot (to Jefferson in week 4 then Clark in week 5)
- DeCosta acquired 2 new ILBs (LJ Fort and Josh Bynes) who made significant contributions to an outstanding defense over the final 12 games
- Onwuasor was returned to a platoon will role
- Young was traded several weeks later as part of a package for Marcus Peters
- Board was relegated to special teams and played only 2 more defensive snaps from week 5 on
- Chuck Clark not only excelled as the signal caller, but also turned in a great year as the dime back which gave Martindale flexibility in terms of how many and which ILBs would be used by game situation and offensive personnel
- DeCosta used a large slug of the Ravens draft capital to select 2 ILBs in the 2020 draft
Injuries have hit the 2021 Ravens hard, including the loss of the team’s best coverage linebacker, LJ Fort, for the full season. While the team remains a playoff contender, the Ravens ILB play has provided the league a blueprint for beating them that could cause the team to unravel long before a critical late-season stretch against the Browns and Steelers.
So where do the Ravens go from here?
As I see it, they have at least the following options:
- Continue with Queen as the mike and hope his play improves—I’m reminded of an old line from the Simpsons where the town comes to rebuild Ned Flanders’ house and Apu says they have “a wheelbarrow full of love and a cement mixer full of hope…and some cement.” My point is that hope alone is not a strategy, the Ravens will need a plan and observable progress.
- Carve out a limited role where he can focus on a smaller set of improvements to contribute and graduate to a 3-down role in the future
- Bench him and hope positional coaching and a rigorous offseason (which will require his personal commitment) can get him turned around
- Trade him
Making the situation more complicated, the Ravens do not have a backup playing so well he’s threatening to take Queen’s spot. Malik Harrison is a 2-down thumper who makes more sense at mike, but he’s had his own coverage difficulties. Chris Board is probably too small for the mike, has never played the run well, and had problems both as a tackler and in coverage in 2020. Josh Bynes is a good tackler who brings veteran understanding of the game, but at age 32 he has less-than-ideal speed and athleticism.
None of the obvious options look good, so the Ravens may need Eric DeCosta to again pull a rabbit from his hat. That will be even more challenging in a year without cap space.
The Ravens faced a 3rd significant TE threat in TJ Hockenson, but held him to just 2 catches on 2 targets for 10 yards.
In the previous 2 games:
- Waller was targeted 19 times for 105 yards (5.5 YPT)
- Kelce was targeted 8 times for 109 yards (13.6 YPT)
Chuck Clark had much of the responsibility for Hockenson, including tackles on both of his 5-yard catches (2 total YAC). The Denver TEs, Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam, have combined for 20 catches on 25 targets, but for just 6.2 YPT.
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 Lions ran 60 such snaps.
Base (19): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB primarily (17 times) on 1st and 2nd down and 2 other times on 3rd down. These included 8 runs for 20 yards and 11 passes for 60, including 2 of the big plays on the go-ahead FG drive (PL24 to Fells and PL19 to Raymond). 19 plays, 80 yards, 4.2 YPP.
Standard Nickel (25): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB. Martindale again used it as a response to 11 and 12 personnel on early downs. Despite an obvious effort to lean on the Ravens with heavy packages, the Lions still used 11 personnel more often than any other eligible receiver combination. The Rams were able to expose the Ravens ILBs versus the run and pass and their offense was much more effective when they lined up against the nickel. Goff was 9/10 for 85 yards (8.5 YPP) and the backs ran for 67 yards on 15 carries (4.5 YPC as opposed to 26 yards on 12 carries—2.2 YPC–vs all other packages). 25 plays, 152 yards, 6.1 YPP.
Rush Dime (13): The version of the dime employed against the Lions included 1 down linemen, 3 OLB, and 1 ILB. The first 6 times Martindale deployed it resulted in drive-ending 3rd-down stops (with the help of 2 subsequent false starts). Of the last 7 insertions, only 2 were on 3rd down and the Lions converted both. The use of dime helped limit the number of DL snaps. However, after Hayes’ injury, the Ravens had only 3 OLBs remaining so the front-5 deficit was not positively addressed. 13 plays, 51 yards, 3.9 YPP, 2 sacks (Goff left the pocket on a 4-yard run on 3rd and 8, which was essentially another drive-ending S+4).
Goal Line (2): The Ravens lined up with 4 DL (all they had active), 3 ILB (Board on the right edge), 2 OLB, 1 CB, 1 S. Despite a solid effort, the Ravens were unable to stop the Lions who scored in 2 attempts from the 1 (beginning Q4, 8:59). 2 plays, 1 yard, 0.5 YPP.
Jumbo (1): Martindale responded to a heavy set by the Lions (Holden was tackle eligible) with 4 DL, 2 OLB, 2 ILB, and 3 DBs on 2nd and 10 (Q4, 1:57). 1 play, 1 yard, 1.0 YPP.
This was an interesting call by the Lions, because it basically announced their lack of faith in Jared Goff. Consider the circumstances. Dan Campbell had 1) a rookie kicker who had never attempted an NFL FG and was shanking balls left in warmups, 2) a tired Ravens defense which had been unable to stop short passes to the RBs, 3) an opposing QB known for his ability in 2-minute situations, and 4) the greatest kicker in NFL history on the other sideline. Yet given those inputs, Campbell decided he’d rather try (FG risk) to leave the Ravens down 1 point with 1 minute and no timeouts than try for a game-winning first down with his QB.
Goal Line (2): The Ravens lined up with this package on consecutive plays (beginning Q3, 8:20) and allowed conversion of a 2nd and 9 (on Humphrey’s tack-on DH flag). 2 plays, 8 yards, 5.0 YPP.
Martindale began using a scheme-driven pass rush but tamed it as the game progressed despite the fact it was clearly bothering Goff.
For the game, Goff (and Swift) had ATS on 12 of 33 drop backs (36%) which is higher than normal for a Ravens opponent. Goff also delivered the ball before pressure could develop on 9 plays and the Ravens generated a pressure event on 12 plays, including 2 sacks.
Summarizing by number of pass rushers:
3: 1 play, 1 yard, 1.0 YPP
4: 18 plays, 124 yards, 6.9 YPP, 1 sack
5: 10 plays, 64 yards, 6.4 YPP, 1 sack
6: 4 plays, 3 yards, 0.8 YPP
Total: 33 plays, 192 yards, 5.8 YPP, 2 sacks
The Ravens rushed 5+ on only 14 of 33 drop backs (42%) on which the Lions averaged 4.8 YPP (6.6 YPP with 4 or fewer rushing).
Martindale used 12 individual blitzes (.36 per pass play) from off the LoS, including 2 blitzers on each of 2 plays (PR11, Inc). These 10 plays resulted in 6 pressure events (3 pressures on gains totaling 36 yards, 1 QH that went Inc, and 2 sacks for -25), 1 BOQ, and 3 ATS opportunities (incredibly, PR3, Inc, Inc). So, the 10 plays with a blitzer went for just 14 yards (1.4 YPP).
The Ravens stunted 6 times, a stark contrast from their controlled rush lanes against Mahomes (0 stunts for the first time in the Martindale era). The 6 plays with a stunt included Clark’s sack and 2 other pressures and went for 23 yards (3.8 YPP).
The Ravens showed simulated pressure on 9 occasions where 2 or 3 dropped from the LoS the week after not having a single such play. 9 plays, 36 yards, 4.0 YPP, 2 sacks.
I define a deceptive pass rush as incorporating 2 or more of the above elements (off ball blitzes, stunts, and simulated pressures). The Ravens ran 7 deceptive rushes (0 last week vs the Chiefs), a 21% rate. The Lions netted 12 yards on those plays (1.7 YPP).
Calais Campbell led the Ravens with contributions to 3 pressure events (1 QH and 2 pressures), which does not include his set up of Clark’s sack (see below).
Other Individual Notes
- Khalil McKenzie was effective in 13 non-penalty snaps. He also drew a holding flag on LG Jonah Jackson (Q2, 14:12).
- Broderick Washington played 35 snaps with the Ravens shorthanded and played well, including 2 impressive run stuffs (Q1, 13:50; Q4, 1:52).
- Tavon Young continues to make a big play or be in position to do so every game. This time it was a drive-ending sack (Q2, 8:03).
- Brandon Stephens relieved Elliott at free safety and was only targeted once.
- Jimmy Smith returned to play on the back end in the dime and deserves a solid share of the credit for its effectiveness in the first half. He was close in coverage of TE Fells (Q1, 13:10) and delivered a PD on WR Raymond (Q2, 0:11).
- (Q1, 13:10): He beat LT Penei Sewell inside for a fast pressure which was followed up by Bowser’s QH as Goff’s pass was incomplete
- (Q1, 10:47): He was bulled by C Frank Ragnow for 5+ yards to lead RB Jamal Williams RL4
- (Q1, 5:51): He was pushed four yards off the LoS by LT Sewell then spun off to miss the tackle on RB Williams RL14
- (Q2, 12:59): On 3rd/8, he bulled C Ragnow to flush Goff for RM4 to force punt
- (Q2, 2:41): On 2nd/2, he beat LG Jonah Jackson inside to tackle RB Swift RM0
- (Q3, 12:16): He beat RT Matt Nelson inside for a fast pressure on PR5
- (Q3, 11:00): He bulled then shed LG Jackson to tackle RB Williams RL-2
- (Q4, 14:17): He crossed the face of RG Vaitai and knocked down C Ragnow to provide a stunting path for Justin Ellis’ pressure
- (Q4, 8:59): On 1st/Goal at the 1 yard line, he penetrated into the backfield as Board and Oweh contained the left edge to stuff RB Swift RL0
- (Q4, 3:55): He bulled RG Vaitai for a fast pressure as Goff threw PL19
- (Q4, 3:17): He shed RG Vaitai to tackle RB Swift RM-1
- (Q4, 1:57): He beat the pulling C Ragnow and submarined FB Jason Cabinda to blow up RB Williams RR1
In a game where the Ravens were severely shorthanded on the DL, Campbell stepped up with 47 non-penalty snaps (78%) and wreaked havoc. He’s having a top-shelf season through 3 games. I loved seeing the shot on the sideline where he clearly told Martindale “good call” after Tavon Young’s drive-ending sack (Q2, 8:03).
- (Q1, 14:33): He was blocked by TE Darren Fells on RB Swift RR11
- (Q1, 10:05): He contained the pitch right and hit arm of RB Swift who threw INC, near INT Bowser
- (Q1, 10:01): On 3rd/6, he stunted through the left B-gap for S-12 set-up by Oweh
- (Q1, 3:56): On 3rd/5, he tackled RB Swift PL4 and the subsequent FS, DoG penalties forced a punt
- (Q2, 14:18): He had tight coverage of TE Hockenson by the right sideline as Goff threw the ball away
- (Q2, 12:59): On 3rd/8, he took down Goff RM4 to force a punt
- (Q2, 10:05): He tackled TE Hockenson PL5 (5 + 0)  with an assist from Bynes
- (Q3, 12:16): He took down TE Hockenson PR5 (3+ 2) 
- (Q3, 9:31): On 3rd/1, he penetrated through the left A-gap behind Harrison to tackle RB Swift RM2
- (Q4, 4:35): He tackled RB Swift RR1 with assist from Queen
- (Q4, 1:57): He cleaned up RB Williams RR1 with Bowser
In addition to playmaking as a pass rusher and run defender, he was sporadically assigned to cover Hockenson and deserves a share of credit for holding the Lions star to 2 catches for 10 yards.
- (Q1, 10:01): On 3rd/6, he crossed the face of LG Jackson and RB Williams to open the left B-gap for Clark’s S-12
- (Q2, 13:41): He stretched RB Swift well to the right but Elliott’s missed tackle at 1 led to RR6
- (Q2, 12:59): He drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on LG Jackson on 3rd/8
- (Q3, 12:16): He beat LT Sewell outside for pressure as Campbell beat Nelson inside
- (Q3, 11:00): He shed LT Sewell to assist Campbell on tackle of RB Williams RL-2
- (Q3, 6:07): On 1st/4, he penetrated unblocked to stretch WR Amon-Ra St. Brown right to -7 yards, but Queen’s missed tackle at -2 required Oweh to make the tackle personally for PM2
- (Q3, 5:26): On 2nd/2, he was unable to take down RB Swift before he scored RM2 TD
- (Q4, 11:57): He contained the right edge unblocked on RB Williams RM0
- (Q4, 8:59): He and Board contained the left edge to tackle RB Swift RL0
- (Q4, 5:25): He had a late QH as Goff threw PL24 (9 + 15)  to TE Fells
- (Q4, 2:34): He beat LT Sewell inside for pressure on WR screen right to Kalif Raymond PR22
- (Q4, 2:00): He rushed unblocked off the ORS to tackle RB Swift RL0
It was easy to miss some of his contributions in this game because they were less direct, but nonetheless valuable.
- Calais Campbell
- Chuck Clark
- Odafe Oweh
Honorable mention to Tavon Young and Broderick Washington.