Like a Box of Chocolates

Just 13 days after Ravens had to endure praise from the replay analyst for the officials swallowing the whistle on the Saints only TD (“you can always fix it later”), the Ravens were subjected to 3 costly quick whistles versus the Panthers.  Let’s review:

  • (Q2, 4:13) Bozeman had the snap roll out of his hand awkwardly and between his legs.  There was no movement of the ball prior to the snap, nor did Bozeman flinch in a way consistent with a false start.  I would appreciate if someone with an officiating background could tell me why that was ruled a ”snap infraction” as opposed to simply an aborted snap fumble.  I know of 4 commonly cited reasons for such an infraction, none of which occurred:
    • Picking up the ball
    • Moving it forward
    • Rotating the ball around end-to-end
    • Removing both hands from the ball

As I saw it, Bozeman simply failed to snap the ball cleanly.

  • (Q4, 12:09) Andrews caught a short pass to the right and appeared to run for almost 10 yards but was whistled as out of bounds after 7.  The official again blew the whistle immediately, killing the play.  The Ravens challenged but the New York team or the replay official informed Boger that such a play can only be challenged within 2 yards of the goal line.  Had the Ravens lost a challenge for this play, they would not have had 1 remaining for…
  • (Q4, 8:22): Marcus Peters stripped WR Shi Smith as he was going down and Humphrey recovered in position for a walk-in TD.  However, the official on the spot incorrectly blew the whistle to indicate the receiver as down by contact.  Possession was reversed on the field without resorting to review, but the TD return was lost.  This was especially colon tightening given the similarities to the slow-whistle score by the Saints.

I would be surprised if there are not internal scoring-of-officiating implications for Boger and his crew arising from this game.

Some other random thoughts on an all-too-tense but satisfying win…

  • One of my favorite Chris Collinsworth metaphors is him describing a pressured QB as throwing “fadeaway jumpers”.  That was as true as it’s ever been in the second half as the harried Mayfield threw up a set of floatation devices and the Ravens feasted.
  • While the offense has had 8 consecutive games of 40% plus conversion rate on 3rd down, the Ravens defense allowed just 3 of 12 conversions on 3rd down.  It was the 4th consecutive game the Ravens have held their opponent under 31% on 3rd down.
  • Baker Mayfield threw to WR Terrace Marshall on 6 occasions with 3 completions for 76 yards (12.7 YPT).   On his 31 other drop backs resulting in a pass or sack, Mayfield completed 18 passes for 93 yards (3.0 YPT) including 4 sacks and 3 turnovers.
  • The Ravens have now enjoyed a 10-point lead in all 10 of their games.  They have still yet to trail by more than 1 score at any time.
  • I noticed the Ravens defenders fixing the turf during the game on 2 separate occasions.  Specifically, there seemed to be soft spots or loose sod between the hashes, perhaps due to the ND/Navy game played on 11/12.  Such conditions are far from ideal, particularly with the history of lower body injuries on this team.

More Complementary Defense

For the second consecutive game, the Ravens did not have a single sack or turnover for which credit was not appropriately shared.  Let’s review:

  • (Q1, 8:24):  On 3rd/5, Queen generated initial pressure by beating RB Hubbard and Houston helped clean up for S-9 to force punt
  • (Q4, 8:22):  On 2nd/10, Bowser bulled RT Moton for pressure as Mayfield threw to WR Smith, who was well covered by Peters.  Marcus stripped the ball while tackling and Humphrey collected it with daylight for an apparent TD but the whistle had been blown.
  • (Q4, 6:50):  On 2nd/8, Pierre-Paul bulled RT Moton for initial pressure and Campbell slapped past RG Corbett inside for S-9 follow up
  • (Q4, 5:31):  On 4th/7, Humphrey blitzed off the slot for fast pressure despite a late chip from Moton, who abandoned his block on Pierre-Paul.  JPP then cleaned up for S-8.
  • (Q4, 3:35):  Oweh bulled RT Moton for pressure to flush Mayfield right where his hurried throw was read and intercepted by the breaking Humphrey
  • (Q4, 1:52):  Oweh beat LT Ekwonu inside for pressure shared with Madubuike who spun past LG Christensen to flush Mayfield left.  Roquan Smith chased him out of bounds for S-1.
  • (Q4, 0:49):  On 3rd/6, Washington was double teamed by C Bozeman and RG Corbett but managed to elevate to deflect Mayfield’s pass directly to JPP who secured it for the game-ending interception.

This treatment does not delve into all of the complexities between pass rush and coverage, which would add many more layers.

When you hear players from any great defense speak, one of the most frequently uttered words is “trust”.  Those players understand the importance of maintaining individual assignments to create opportunities for others and the need to hustle to the whistle to finish plays.

In terms of this trust factor, the Ravens defense appears to have something special going now with only 1 fluke TD allowed in the last 2 games.

Rested Front-5 Depth Flexed

The play of the DL and OLB group has risen sharply over the last several games.  To summarize in glass-is-half-full terms:

  • Justin Houston has returned and registered 7 sacks in just 73 pass plays resulting in a pass or sack (9.6%).  To put that number in context, the 2006 Ravens, who had a franchise-record 60 sacks, had a TEAM sack percentage of 10.6%.
  • Odafe Oweh has returned primarily to Rush LB (opposite the naked tackle) and improved his pressure rate.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul has set the edge effectively, provided some pressure, and been opportunistic in terms of both sacks and the interception Sunday.
  • Tyus Bowser has displayed his athleticism and returned to play the Sam LB role including contributions vs the run, in coverage, and as a pass rusher.
  • David Ojabo has been added to the 53-man roster and awaits his first activation.
  • The DL is short a true NT, but are otherwise healthy and all playing well in rotational roles
  • Madubuike and Campbell have each provided interior pressure that is near the top of all IDL in the league.
  • Broderick Washington has provided value both as a run defender and pass rusher.
  • Brent Urban has provided good relief for Campbell and quality run assignment play in addition to the tipped INT vs the Bucs.
  • Travis Jones is the closest to a NT and has filled in well for Pierce, providing some penetration.  He drew the chop block vs. the Panthers which stalled one of their drives.

There are 2 closely-related themes to this group’s recent play:

  • Depth has allowed each of these players to be used in a way that optimizes their play instead of use out of necessity we observed prior to the returns of Houston, Bowser, and Ojabo.  Neither of these units will have a practice squad callup if they remain healthy.
  • Decisive snap-count wins have allowed the team to remain well rested into the 4th quarter, which was the central issue in the team’s 3 losses.  On Sunday, the last 4 drives for the Panthers can be tersely summarized as:
    • 2 plays ending in fumble
    • 2 sacks on 4-and-out turnover on downs
    • 5 plays ending in Humphrey INT
    • 6 plays ending in PD/INT

I saw a graphic on twitter showing the Ravens as the most average defense in the league in terms of EPA/play vs both run and pass.  Given the combination of opponents, health, and depth, I can easily see them being the best defense in the league the rest of the way.


Since the acquisition of Roquan Smith, the Ravens have become a committed nickel team.

What does that mean?  In the vast majority of passing situations, they keep 2 ILBs on the field with 5 DBs instead of substituting for 1 ILB with a dimeback.

That’s a big change from recent the Martindale Ravens, but similar to the Dean Pees defenses of 2012-2016 which employed only 3% dime and quarter packages over his first 5 seasons.

Any DC will tell you he will build his defense based on his personnel, but there is another level to that in terms of roster construction and cap management that is often ignored when a team is fortunate enough to obtain 2 ILBs worthy of playing 3 downs. 

I have long been a proponent of platooning at WLB (at least) with specialists who can either play the run or pass well.  In particular, pairing a 2-down run stuffer with a safety (dimeback) who can substitute for passing subpackages has helped the Ravens answer the most critical question for a modern GM…”Where can I avoid spending cap?”    

The case of the Ravens is a little stranger, since they were a committed big nickel team until Hamilton’s injury and are now committed to the standard nickel again with Stephens the incumbent at RCB entering week 12.

I don’t anticipate the Ravens will return to dime play before either (or both) of Hamilton and Marcus Williams are able to play again.  They did not play a single snap with 6+ DBs on the field vs the Panthers.


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 Panthers ran 54 such snaps.

Jumbo (1):  Macdonald deployed a jumbo package with 4 DL for just 1 play (3rd/1, Q1, 10:31) on which the Panthers converted.  1 play, 2 yards.

Base (9): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense for 9 snaps including 4 runs for 2 yards and 5 passes for 24 (4.8 YPP).  9 plays, 26 yards, 2.9 YPP.  

Big Nickel (14): This version of the nickel included 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB, 2 CB, and 3 S.  Kyle Hamilton was the SCB for each of these plays (and every nickel snap prior to his injury).  Macdonald deployed it versus a mix of 11, 12, and 02 personnel.  These included 6 runs for 15 yards and 8 passes for 9 net yards, including 1 sack.  14 plays, 24 yards, 1.7 YPP.  

Standard Nickel (18): The Ravens used the standard nickel for 18 snaps after Hamilton was injured.  Brandon Stephens was inserted at RCB and Humphrey moved to SCB.  These included 5 runs for 15 yards and 13 passes for 46 yards (4.0 YPP) with 2 sacks and 3 turnovers. 18 plays, 61 yards, 3.4 YPP.

Rush Nickel (12): This version of the nickel included 1 down linemen, 3 OLB, and 2 ILB.  These included 6 instances of big nickel (Hamilton) and 6 standard nickel (Stephens) along with 5 drive-ending plays.  12 plays, 92 yards, 7.7 YPP.

Pass Rush

Macdonald sent numbers with limited deception to present a challenging pass rush to Mayfield, particularly in the second half.

For the game, Mayfield had ATS on 9 of 37 drop backs (24%).  On those plays, the Panthers gained only 34 yards (3.8 YPP).  Mayfield also delivered the ball before pressure could develop (BOQ) 10 times (27%, 69 yards, 6.9 YPP).  The Ravens generated a pressure event on 18 plays (49%) which gained 66 net yards (3.7 YPP), including all 4 sacks and all 3 turnovers.

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer: None

4: 23 plays, 117 yards, 5.1 YPP, 2 sacks, 3 TOs

5: 13 plays, 52 yards, 4.0 YPP, 2 sacks

6+: 1 play, 0 yards

Total:  37 plays, 169 yards, 4.6 YPP, 4 sacks, 3 TO

Macdonald dialed up 7 individual blitzes (.19 per pass play) from off the LoS including 1 pair.  Of the 7, 3 were from Smith, 2 from Queen, and 1 each from Hamilton and Humphrey.  On the 6 plays where they blitzed, the Ravens allowed 15 yards (2.5 YPP; S-9, P24/QH, INC, INC, S-8, P8).   

The Ravens stunted only 3 times (.08 per pass play), all of which were singles and resulted in drive-ending plays.  Those 3 plays went for 1 net yard (0.3 YPP) and included 1 sack and 1 turnover. 

The Ravens showed simulated pressure on 1 occasion where 3 dropped from the LoS.  That was a 24-yard pass despite a QH from the blitzing Hamilton.

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 3 deceptive rushes (8%) on which the Panthers gained 7 net yards, including 2 sacks.

Individually, Oweh led the team with shares of 5 pressure events (3 full, 1 half, 1 QH), Houston also had shares of 5 pressure events (half sack, 3 full pressures, half pressure).  For the second consecutive game, 11 different players had a pressure event of some sort.

Star Treatment

Marlon Humphrey

  • (Q1, 11:55):  He assisted Hamilton on tackle of WR Shenault for PL-1 (-5 + 4) [1]
  • (Q1, 5:18):  He had trailing coverage of WR Marshall as Mayfield’s pass was dropped 10 yards [2]
  • (Q2, 5:08):  On 2nd/10, he stripped TE Tremble at catch point, but PD was negated by chop block acceptance
  • (Q4, 8:22):  He recovered the fumble pried loose from WR Smith by Peters, but was denied a TD return by a missed call/quick whistle
  • (Q4, 5:31):  On 4th/7, he blitzed off the slot on the ORS for a fast pressure which Pierre-Paul cleaned up for S-8
  • (Q4, 3:35):  He broke to the outside to intercept Mayfield’s pressured pass for WR Smith 12 yards [5]

Mayfield went primarily with shorter passes and avoided Humphrey for the most part.  He did not surrender a completion as I scored it.

Kyle Hamilton

  • (Q1, 11:55):  He tackled WR Shenault with 1 arm as he bulled WR Moore for PL-1 (-5 + 4) [1]
  • (Q1, 4:31):  On 3rd/10, he contained then tackled WR Shenault for PM5 (3 + 2) [3] to force punt
  • (Q2, 13:33):  On 3rd/9, he took down WR Moore for PR5 (5 + 0) [5] in open field to force punt
  • (Q2, 7:59):  He again took down Shenault PR1 (-5 + 6) [5] by reading his jukes in the open field
  • (Q2, 5:51):  He blitzed off OLS slot to tackle RB Foreman RM0
  • (Q3, 10:37):  On 3rd/9, he blitzed off slot left unblocked for a hard QH but Mayfield threw PR24 (17 + 7) [5] to WR Marshall

Kyle has clearly demonstrated his value as a 1st-round talent over the last 8 games.  All 4 of his tackles were defensive wins including 2-drive-ending stops.  Prior to his injury (Q3, 10:08) the Ravens had used Kyle exclusively as the SCB including lots of 11 personnel deployments by the Panthers.  Stephens played every nickel snap after Hamilton departed.

Patrick Queen

  • (Q1, 12:30):  Mayfield completed PR12 (12 + 0) [5] to WR Moore behind Queen and Smith
  • (Q1, 11:10):  He was blocked by LT Ekwonu in L2 as part of RB Foreman RM10
  • (Q1, 8:24):  On 3rd/5, he beat RB Hubbard outside and made first contact with Mayfield on S-9 shared with Houston
  • (Q1, 5:15):  He avoided the pulling RG Corbett to stand up RB Hubbard RL0
  • (Q2, 7:17):  He worked off penetration from Washingston and Smith to stand up Foreman RR2
  • (Q3, 8:52):  On 3rd/13, he mirrored the scrambling Mayfield to push him OOB RM4 and force field goal attempt
  • (Q3, 2:17):  He worked off block from RG Corbett to tackle Hubbard RR1
  • (Q4, 6:09):  On 3rd/17, he made a clean, open-field tackle of Hubbard on PL10 (6 + 4) [1]
  • (Q4, 4:31):  He had excellent coverage as RB Blackshear dropped Mayfield’s pass -3 yards [1]
  • (Q4, 1:16):  He made another nice open-field tackle of WR Smith PL4 (3 + 1) [2]

Most impressive about Patrick’s dramatic recent improvement are his aggressive plugging of holes in the run game and form tackling.  Of his 12 tackle contributions (9 solo, 3 assists), 10 were defensive wins by the Football Outsiders definition.  I did not note a missed tackle.  He was playing well before Roquan Smith arrived, but he’s at another level over the last 2 weeks.

Odafe Oweh

  • (Q2, 13:33):  On 3rd/9, he bulled RT Moton for pressure as Mayfield completed PR5 which ended the drive
  • (Q3, 3:53):  He bulled RT Moton for pressure as Mayfield completed PM7 (5 + 2) [4] to WR Moore
  • (Q4, 3:35):  He bulled RT Moton for pressure to flush Mayfield right for an off-balance throw that was intercepted by Humphrey
  • (Q4, 1:52):  He beat LT Ekwonu inside for a pressure shared with Madubuike.  Mayfield was flushed left and pushed OOB for S-1 by Smith
  • (Q4, 1:38):  He bulled then beat LT Ekwonu outside for QH but Mayfield threw PL34 (32 + 2) [2] into bracket coverage

Odafe seems to be benefitting from the lighter workload (22 snaps) that included shares of 5 pressure events among just 14 snaps resulting in a pass or sack.

Jason Pierre-Paul

  • (Q1, 12:30):  He was fooled by play action naked boot right allowing Mayfield ATS on PR12 (12 + 0) [5] to WR Moore
  • (Q3, 11:22):  He stood up TE Thomas to hold the left edge as Houston and Washington cleaned up RB Foreman RM1
  • (Q3, 9:34):  He held off then shed LT Ekwonu to tackle RB Hubbard RL-3 on stretch left
  • (Q4, 6:50):  On 2nd/8, he bulled RT Moton for initial pressure which was followed up by a hard S-9 from Campbell
  • (Q4, 5:31):  On 4th/7, he cleaned up for S-8 on initial pressure from Humphrey
  • (Q4, 4:25):  He lined up offsides to negate an incomplete off pressure from Houston
  • (Q4, 0:49):  On 3rd/6, he collected Washington’s PD off a double team from C Bozeman and RG Corbett for an interception on the Panthers last offensive play

JPP has been a fine edge setter since he arrived and earned early-down snaps, including the start.  He did a little bit of everything in this game.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Marlon Humphrey
  2. Patrick Queen
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul

Honorable mention to Tyus Bowser, Calais Campbell, Kyle Hamilton, Justin Houston, Odafe Oweh, Marcus Peters, Broderick Washington