Pass Rush Gambles Pay Off

Martindale continually adjusted to find a balance of numbers and scheme to pressure Brady.

Brady had ATS on 24 of 48 drop backs (50%). That’s a high total by today’s NFL standards, but the Ravens still made him uncomfortable with 10 QHs and held him to a QBR of just 80.4 with only 2 plays over 18 yards. I doubt there are more than a handful of times in his long career where Tom Brady has been knocked down 10 times without a single flag being thrown on the defense.

The Ravens had a season-high 10 deceptive pass rushes on Sunday night. As I define it, a deceptive pass rush includes at least 2 elements of deception (individual blitzing player, stunt, or 2+ dropping to cover). Since this is a game a lot of folks may want to savor, let’s review the deceptive rushes, reasons, and results:

  • (Q1, 8:04): 2-man drop (Bowser, Judon) with a blitz by Clark, QH Thomas, incomplete
  • (Q1, 1:29): Blitzes from Clark, Onwuasor, 9-yard sack Onwuasor
  • (Q2, 8:07): Blitzes from Bynes, Clark, incomplete with intentional grounding
  • (Q3, 15:00): Blitzes from Fort and Thomas, incomplete
  • (Q3, 14:54): 2-man drop (Pierce, Ward) with blitzes from Thomas and Clark, PL3 to Edelman
  • (Q3, 14:23): Blitz by Humphrey, Stunt by Bowser, PM11 to Sanu
  • (Q4, 14:27): 2-man drop (Bynes, Judon) with a blitz by Onwuasor, PL11 to Edleman
  • (Q4, 13:33): Blitzes by Humphrey, Bynes, PR9 to Sanu
  • (Q4, 13:06): Blitzes by Humphrey, Onwuasor, incomplete
  • (Q4, 2:34): 2-man drop (Bowser, Judon) with a blitz by Clark, PL7 to Dorsett

The Ravens were never burned for a play longer than 11 yards on their deceptive rushes and allowed just 32 net yards on the 10 plays excluding the 10 yards lost on the intentional grounding (effectively a 10-yard sack due to loss of down). It is reasonable to look at this as 2.2 YPP, so Martindale gets the highest marks for the deception risks he took.

In total, the Ravens used 20 individual blitzes, ran 7 stunts, and had 7 drops of 2+ men. That’s a lot of deception, even for 48 drop backs. I was impressed not only with the fact that Martindale was willing to send anyone except the outside CBs, but also that the Ravens were able to easily rotate through blitz packages despite the no huddle.

By number of rushers:

3 or 4: 30 plays, 207 yards (6.9 YPP)

5: 12 plays, 50 yards (4.2 YPP)

6+: 6 plays, 11 yards (1.8 YPP)

It was a great game to have Martindale calling the defense, but if there is a bittersweet component, it appears both he and Roman will be on interview lists for head caching positions in 2020.


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.

Base (0): The Ravens did not play any snaps with 3+ DL, even in goal line situations.

Standard Nickel (19): Martindale did not use either the big nickel (3 safeties, 2 CBs) or jumbo (3-3-5 nickel), so each of these instances was a standard 4-2-5 nickel with 3 CBs. The Ravens allowed 86 yards on these plays (4.5 YPP), including Onwuasor’s sack (Q1, 1:29).

Dime (38): The Ravens big change for their dime was to move Brandon Carr to a deep, cover-2 safety and use Clark in Levine’s typical dime back role on most snaps. From that standpoint, you could call this the standard dime package, just with a shift in positional responsibilities. An advantage in the shift in the usage of Clark was his ability to relay the play call quickly due to his positioning close to the line of scrimmage (LoS). They allowed 181 yards in the dime (4.8 YPP).

Quarter (8): Martindale called the quarter package in traditional situations. They inserted Levine next to Clark in what normally be a spot occupied by an ILB. The shift occurred on the play following Brady’s intentional grounding (Q2, 8:02), for 5 plays on the last drive of the first half, and for the last 2 plays of the game. The Ravens allowed the only 2 plays of more than 18 yards on consecutive quarter snaps (beginning Q2, 1:18) which drove the Patriots from their own 40 to the Ravens 5.

Racecar: The Ravens had at least 1 defensive lineman on the field for every play. They used a modified racecar with 1 DL and 4 OLBs on 6 snaps including 2 drive-ending plays (Q1, 8:04 and Q4, 13:01). I can think of at least 3 reasons why the Ravens abandoned their most successful pass rush package for this game. First, McPhee’s injury eliminated a key OLB/DL tweener capable of contributing from anywhere along the line. Second, they had Ufombo Kamalu inactive for the game and thus had just 4 OLBs active. Last, they did not want to try to switch package, only defenders for any given play in a drive (see below).

New England’s use of the no huddle significantly limited the Ravens ability to make personnel changes by down. There were only 5 instances the entire game where the Ravens made a change in package during a drive (4 official stoppages plus the long incomplete to Watson prior to Thomas’ interception). The Ravens were able to make some individual substitutions within the packages despite the no huddle, which was done smoothly and may have been a point of coaching emphasis during the week.

Said otherwise, the Patriots chose a package and personnel group for each drive and made few changes. The Ravens chose a package, but still made limited personnel changes.

Other Notes

  • Patrick Onwuasor (28 snaps) returned and led the team in tackles with 8. Only 2 would be categorized as defensive wins by Football Outsiders. He worked off a complementary pass rush from Chuck Clark (picked up by RB Michel) for an unblocked sack of Brady (Q1, 1:29). After Judon missed the tackle on Edelman, Onwuasor met him for no gain and punched the ball free. Marlon Humphrey collected the ball cleanly and ran it 70 yards for the score which extended the Ravens lead to 24-13 (Q3, 12:37). Onwuasor was targeted just once in coverage for an 18-yard completion to Watson (Q3, 11:02).
  • The Ravens other prodigal son on defense, Jimmy Smith (52 snaps), also played well. He was targeted 5 times as I scored it with just 2 receptions allowed for 9 yards. He allowed just 2 YAC and was closest in the area to Brady’s intentional grounding. It was fascinating to see Smith return, but Peters be the Ravens defender most often targeted. Smith left the game for 2 stretches and was replaced by Anthony Averett. Jimmy missed the last 8 snaps of the game, so it’s possible he suffered some sort of injury.
  • Speaking of Marcus Peters (65 snaps), he was targeted 11 times with 6 receptions allowed for 69 yards. That’s not bad, by any stretch, but Brady and Belichick were always careful with Ed Reed an it’s a little surprising the only player in league history with similar propensity for interceptions wasn’t avoided. Marcus had an athletic, drive-ending PD to deny 3rd and 1 (Q2, 12:55) where he was covering Sanu, but reached far back with his left hand to deflect the pass intended by Burkhead (covered by Onwuasor). Deflecting a football in the air is a fine motor skill, so it’s something usually done with one’s dominant hand. However, even if Peters is lefthanded, his body position was such that the PD was remarkable. I’ve watched it 10 times now and still can’t recall another like it.
  • Anthony Averett (13 snaps) played well in relief of Smith. He was targeted 3 times without getting beaten badly (INC, INC, PL7).
  • Josh Bynes (25 snaps) knocked down a pass intended for Sanu by the left sideline (Q4, 13:13) and cleaned up Judon’s tackle of Michel for no gain (Q1, 1:51).
  • Jaylon Ferguson (41 snaps) contributed 2 pressures, but had difficulty holding the edge versus LT Newhouse and RT Cannon. Here are time references for negative notes I made (Q1, 2:29 and Q2, 5:16 and Q3, 10:35 and Q3, 10:18 and Q3, 8:29). The Ravens will rely on Ferguson much more in the absence of McPhee and he’ll need to be better holding the edge or the Ravens will need to find someone who can.
  • Michael Pierce (42 snaps) had the most playing time of any defensive lineman and contributed with both pressure and stout run defense. He drew a hold on RG Shaq Mason (Q2, 5:43) when his penetration bubbled Burkhead to the outside for a 3-yard loss by Clark. The Ravens accepted the penalty and the Patriots were held to a FG after 1st and goal at the 17. He beat Mason for a fast pressure and delivered a QH after ATS (Q1, 8:10) with a slow-developing bull of LG Joe Thuney.

Thomas Stars

Earl Thomas (65 snaps) was used primarily like a strong safety in this game with lots of play close to the LoS as Carr played single high for many of his 46 snaps in the dime and quarter packages. Reviewing my notes on Thomas:

  • (Q1, 8:10): He had tight coverage of Sanu 44 yards downfield, but neither could find the football in the air and it fell incomplete.
  • (Q1, 8:04): Thomas blitzed unblocked through the left B gap for a QH as Brady grounded the ball near Sanu, who was covered by Bowser.
  • (Q2, 12:41): He was blocked by LG Joe Thuney on Michel’s 16-yard screen right (-5 + 21 YAC).
  • (Q2, 3:48): He knocked down Brady’s pass intended for Edelman at the goal line to end a drive.
  • (Q2, 0:43): He was unable to find and high-point the ball in coverage of 5’10” RB James White who hauled in a 30-yard catch by the right sideline.
  • (Q3, 15:00): He rushed delayed and unblocked off the left edge which forced Brady to throw the all away.
  • (Q3, 14:54): Earl tipped Brady’s pas at the LoS. Edelman collected it for a gain of just 3 (1 + 2 YAC).
  • (Q4, 13:01): He collected a centerfielder’s interception as Judon’s QH forced Brady to overthrow Sanu.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Earl Thomas
  2. Michael Pierce
  3. Patrick Onwuasor

Honorable mentions were earned by Marlon Humphrey, Matthew Judon, and Jimmy Smith.