The Answer is Blowing in the Wind
The Ravens took what amounts to a 1.5 game lead in the race for the number 1 seed into the final 3 weeks of the regular season on a windy day in Western New York.
Rather than complain about the weather hampering their MVP candidate on offense, the Ravens took advantage of the conditions on defense.
Martindale effectively used the wind as an extra safety in this game, by frequently using his actual safeties to either rush the passer or assume pass-rush-supporting, man-coverage roles. Allen was unable to exploit the Ravens rush schemes up to and including the 8-man rush on the game-sealing, 4th-and-8 play (Q4, 1:08).
The Ravens allowed Josh Allen ample time and space (ATS) on just 9 of 45 drop backs (20%). With an extreme result like this, the opposing QB and offensive coordinator will often adapt by calling plays where the ball can be delivered quickly. Of the 36 pass plays that were not ATS, 24 were actual pressure events and 12 were cases where the ball was out quickly but the pocket was not destined to hold up for 3 seconds.
Let’s look at pass rush by numbers:
2: 1 play, 8 yards
4: 17 plays, 91 yards (5.4 YPP), 2 sacks
5: 15 plays, 14 yards (0.9 YPP), 2 sacks
6: 7 plays, 13 yards (1.9 YPP)
7: 4 plays, -19 yards (-4.8 YPP), 2 sacks, 1 takeaway
8: 1 play, 0 yards (this was the game-sealing PD by Peters)
On the 27 plays with 5+ rushing, the Bills gained a total of just 8 yards (0.3 YPP) including 4 sacks and 1 takeaway.
The Ravens were rewarded as well as I can ever recall observing for risks taken sending numbers.
Martindale also served the Bills a healthy dose of deception. He called 19 individual blitzes, 5 stunts, and five drops of 2 or more men to coverage. Only 5 drop backs met my definition of deceptive by pairing multiple deceptive elements on a single play. Those 5 deceptive blitzes included 3 incompletes, a 6-yard completion, and Judon’s SF-7 for a total of -1 net yard.
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 Bills ran 68 non-penalty snaps and ran a slow-paced no huddle which challenged the Ravens to make wholesale personnel changes.
Base (0): Under conditions where it seemed the Ravens might play some base defense, they never lined up in their 3-4-4. The Ravens deactivated NT Justin Ellis and rotated just 4 DL in the game (Patrick Ricard did not play on defense). Martindale had an alternative, however…
Jumbo Nickel (9): Instead of their base package, the Ravens leaned on the jumbo nickel as their heavy run set while the game remained close in the first half. Josh Bynes was the lone ILB in each deployment, a role held by Fort against the 49ers. The Bills gained just 12 yards on these 9 plays (1.3 YPP) including 5 passes for 6 yards and 4 runs for 6 yards. The Ravens last played jumbo nickel when Williams stopped Gore for no gain (Q2, 5:03).
Standard Nickel (29): Every instance of the standard nickel included Bynes and Onwuasor at ILB. All but 1 such snap (Carr replaced Clark when he had the shoe problem) included Clark, Humphrey, Peters, Smith, and Thomas in the secondary. The Bills gained 107 yards on these plays (3.7 YPP), including 2 sacks.
Dime (29): Sometimes I’m asked “what’s the strangest statistic you’ve ever seen?” I don’t usually have a good answer prepared, but the performance in the 2 versions of the dime package from this Sunday will make my list if I can retain it. Listing the results by play:
Run: 1, 5, 6, 3, 8, 3, 14, 9, 38. Total 9 plays, 87 yards, 9.7 YPC.
Pass: 0, 0, 0, 0, SF-7, 0, S-7, 3, 4, 6, S-7, 14, 0, 0, 0, 0, 13, S-12, 0, 0. Total 20 plays, 7 yards, 0.4 YPP, 4 sacks, 1 takeaway.
The Jeckyll and Hyde performance of the dime was magnified by conditions that allowed the Ravens to use heir pass rush flexibility at will to harass Allen. Against the run, it was laid bare to Buffalo’s power schemes.
As usual, there were 2 major variants of dime, what I’ll call standard (1 ILB, 6 DBs, 2 OLB, 2 DL) and modified racecar (0 ILBs, 6 DBs, 1 DL, 4 OLBs). In the racecar, the Ravens allowed 1 run for 38 and 16 pass plays for 6 yards (0.4 YPP).
It seemed to initially amuse Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts that Chuck Clark was in the Buffalo backfield when the ball was about to be snapped after the 38-yard run by Singletary gave the Bills 1st and goal at the 2. However, Clark was clearly under orders from Martindale to take the intentional penalty in order to allow the Ravens to substitute their goal line package for the dime rather than allow a no-huddle snap. This is an addition to Martindale’s list of innovations I have never previously seen.
Twelve Men on the Field: While it would be a stretch to call it a package, there doesn’t seem to be a better place to talk about this. Following Clark’s intentional penalty, the Ravens substituted a heavy package which included 4 down DL, 2 OLBs, 3 DBs (Trawick, Clark, and Humphrey), and 3 ILBs (Bynes, Fort, and Onwuasor). Onwuasor tried to get off the field, but both the side judge and back judge had thrown a flag and Patrick stayed off for the ensuing play.
Now tell me this…How do you fail to get the correct 11 on the field immediately following an intentional penalty designed to allow insertion of a specific sub package?
Goal Line (1): The Ravens lined up with only 3 DBs for 1 non-penalty snap. Ferguson took down Gore for a loss of 2 yards when the Bills had 1st and goal inside the 1 (Q4, 8:01).
Despite the lack of a happy ending, the sequence of 1) 38-yard run against the dime, 2) intentional NZI, 3) 12 on the field, 4) Ferguson’s stuff of Gore is one of the craziest I can recall from a choice-of-package perspective. The only analogous play sequence I can recall is the game-ending, 2-play sequence on MNF at Tennessee on 11/12/2001 when the officials took approximately 6 minutes to unravel a complex goal line encroachment by Peter Boulware. The penalty led to an all-or-nothing QB sneak by McNair which the Ravens stuffed to seal their 16-10 win.
- The Ravens again activated just 4 CBs as Iman Marshall and Anthony Averett were inactive.
- Brynden Trawick (1 snap) was active in his first game back from IR and played a snap of goal-line defense in addition to a special teams tackle.
- Jimmy Smith (67 snaps) was targeted 6 times with 2 completions for 24 yards. He outleapt WR Foster to knock away Allen’s jump ball 45 yards downfield by the right sideline (Q3, 0:10).
- Michael Pierce (41 snaps) contributed to 3 pressures (Q1, 4:20; Q2, 6:38; Q3, 13:29) shared a cleanup sack with Matt Judon (Q2, 0:46), and deflected a pass at the LoS (Q4, 8:50). Of 4 tackles, 2 were defensive wins.
- Brandon Williams (41 snaps) contributed the first drive-ending pressure for the Ravens (Q1, 13:45). He had 7 tackles, 5 of which were defensive wins (runs for 1, 5, 3, 0, and 1). He had one of the most impressive athletic plays you’ll ever see from a big man when he spun off a double team from RG Feliciano and RT Ford to tackle Singletary for a gain of 1 (Q3, 7:52). He inadvertently pushed Thomas into Allen for a costly unnecessary roughness flag following Thomas’ sack (Q3, 13:29).
- Domata Peko (22 snaps) contributed to 2 pressures in just 10 snaps that resulted in a pass or sack. The Ravens allowed -2 net yards on his pass snaps, including 2 sacks.
- Earl Thomas picked up his first career full sack, tripling his career total after his half sack versus the 49ers. He had a fine day in coverage, allowing 1 catch on 4 targets for 4 yards. Despite maintaining the front end of bracket coverage of WR Foster, he was unable to track Allen’s pressured heave, which fell incomplete nearest to him (Q2, 6:38).
Note: Individual plays use a shorthand where the field is divided into sections 1 through 5 from left to right and may include a division of air yards and YAC. For example, a 13-yard pass completed by the right sideline could be denoted as “PR13 (7 + 6) ”.
- (Q1, 4:26): He deflected Allen’s pass intended for WR McKenzie 7 yards .
- (Q1, 4:14): Marcus had tight coverage of WR Brown 20 yards  as Allen’s pass was overthrown.
- (Q2, 8:31): He knocked down the pass intended for WR McKenzie in the right near corner of the endzone.
- (Q4, 9:43): He helped Humphrey stop McKenzie for a 1-yard reception (-2 +3 YAC) .
- (Q4, 8:47): He was blocked by McKenzie 18 yards downfield to help lead RB Singletary RR38.
- (Q4, 7:04): He was obstructed by McKenzie’s pick on Humphrey as Allen threw PL3 TD  to WR Beasley.
- (Q4, 3:32): He trailed Singletary on his 13-yard reception (7 + 6 YAC) .
- (Q4, 1:15): On 3rd/8, he reacted quickest to Allen’s incomplete at the goal line as he was hit by Ferguson.
- (Q4, 1:08): On 4th/8, the Ravens rushed 8 men, but Allen delivered quickly and accurately for John Brown. Peters maintained coverage of WR Brown and delivered the game-winning PD 14 yards .
Peters was targeted 11 times with 5 completions for 31 yards (2.8 YPT). He had 3 drive-ending coverages, including the game-winning PD.
- (Q1, 4:14): Allen threw incomplete as Chuck maintained front-side pressure with Ward.
- (Q2, 12:33): His cut tackle attempt was hurdled by Singletary at 2 yards on RM8.
- (Q2, 10:47): Chuck was blocked by C Morse in level 2 to help lead Singletary RL9.
- (Q2, 6:31): He was blocked by RG Feliciano to help lead Singletary RL6.
- (Q2, 5:03): He filled the right edge to force RB Gore inside for RM0.
- (Q2, 1:58): He took down Singletary for PR3 (3 + 0 YAC) .
- (Q3, 6:44): He held the right edge vs. TE Kroft as Onwuasor shot the gap to tackle Singletary RR-2.
- (Q3, 2:10): On 3rd/5, Clark’s blitz was picked up directly in front of Allen by Singletary to flush the QB left. Allen threw on the run INC through WR Beasley’s arms 22 yards .
- (Q3, 0:10): He delivered a punishing QH to Allen as he threw 45 yards  for WR Foster on Smith’s PD.
- (Q4, 9:10): TE Knox caught a 37-yard pass (21 + 16 YAC)  in his right elbow despite Clark’s tight coverage and hand checks.
- (Q4, 8:16): He took an intentional NZI to allow for heavy substitution at goal line (see dime package above).
- (Q4, 7:08): On 2nd/goal, he knocked free Allen’s pass for TE Knox in end zone after Bynes narrowly missed the PD.
- (Q4, 4:31): He beat C Morse left to tackle Singletary RL-3, but Ferguson was flagged for unnecessary roughness on TE Knox after play.
- (Q4, 1:21): He delivered pressure off the OLS to force Allen’s throw away OOB.
- (Q4, 1:15): On 3rd/8, he rushed unblocked through the left A-gap for fast pressure, but did not bring down Allen. He held onto his jersey as Ferguson delivered a hard QH causing Allen to throw wildly incomplete.
Of Clark’s 6 tackles, 5 were defensive wins, including run stops for 2, -3, and 2 yards. The intentional neutral zone infraction was handled well and reminded me of an intentional delay of game ordered by Levine when the Ravens had only 10 men on the field for a punt last season. In addition to his QH, he contributed to 4 other pressures as a pass rusher.
- (Q1, 1:03): On 3rd/8, he beat TE Knox outside for fast SF-7, recovered by Ward.
- (Q2, 10:47): He was blocked by LT Dawkins to help lead Singletary RL9.
- (Q2, 9:41): Matthew diagnosed Allen’s swing pass to Singletary and tackled him PL-4 (-4 + 0) .
- (Q2, 6:31): He was oddly positioned off the LoS on the left side on Singletary RL6.
- (Q2, 4:23): On 3rd/10, he blitzed from ILB to beat LT Dawkins outside. He just missed being first to touch down Allen who fell to the ground when his foot was stepped on by C Morse. Ferguson was credited with the S-7.
- (Q2, 0:46): Despite ATS, he and Pierce shared a clean-up sack after Bowser delivered late initial pressure.
- (Q3, 2:10): He blitzed through the right B-gap to pursue Allen as he threw incomplete 22 yards by left sideline to WR Beasley.
- (Q4, 8:47): He was blocked by RG Feliciano as the back end of his combination block on Singletary RR38.
- (Q4, 5:00): He beat LT Dawkins inside to flush Allen RM7.
- Marcus Peters
- Matthew Judon
- Chuck Clark