They Haven’t Played…

Our protagonist opened the power rankings on Tuesday as he did every week, scrolling down the countdown to find his favorite team as he made mental notes on the other positions:

#13: Raiders…they only dropped 1 spot after that implosion against the Jets?!?

#11: Cowboys…down 3 spots after losing at New England.  Sure, they don’t have any quality wins or an ounce of game-management sense collectively, but they played reasonably well on defense.  Not my problem.

#9: Texans…still a spot in front of the Bills.  They’re really running out of reasons for that, but maybe having Fuller back will keep them competitive against the Patriots.

#6: Vikings…amazingly, they don’t seem to be regretting that Cousins contract.

#5 Saints…OK, that’s a big one out of the way, but really, they should have lost that game to the Panthers.

#4 Seahawks…this is falling into place and that OL will have trouble in the playoffs even if Rashaad Penny turns out to be for real.  Should be no surprises in the top 3.

He scrolls more slowly, looking to see just the helmet design…

#3 Patriots…YESSSS!  Put ‘em down an keep them there.  It’d be a better world if we never saw them #1 again.

The runner up determines it now, but he explodes into expletives as he sees the gold of the 49ers helmet at #2.

#2 49ers…10-1 in the NFC West, WTF do we have to do to be number 1?  The answer is there in a pithy blurb: ”Haven’t beaten the Ravens yet.”

For the better part of 2 decades, validation of NFL team quality has come from beating New England.  Not any longer.  After Monday night’s win and until further notice, the Ravens are the new yardstick in terms of front-office quality, coaching, play on both sides of the ball, and quarterback.

Ravens Stymie Rams Ground Game

The Ravens were again without Michael Pierce against a rushing attack that dominated the NFL in 2018, but that didn’t keep the Ravens from bullying the Rams to a 285-22 rushing advantage.  To summarize contributing factors:

  • The Rams offensive line has suffered from injuries, age, and a lack of playing time together.  It’s not a cohesive line like the Ravens.
  • Todd Gurley is no longer the same back.  He’s had only 3 games all season where he’s averaged 4.0 YPC or more.
  • The acquisitions of Peko and Ellis have helped keep opponents from developing positive run expectations versus the Ravens.
  • The Ravens have done a good job of taking away the run from opponents by scoring early and often.  Only a few NFL teams gain expected points from their run plays (and typically much less than on pass plays).
  • Despite the fact the Rams have one of the best run defenses in football, they had not faced (nor does any other team present) a challenge combining power, speed, scheme, and deception, like the Ravens.


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): Not only did the Ravens go without any base defense, they didn’t play a single snap of defense with 3 defensive linemen (no jumbo nickel either).  Base is becoming a package the Ravens use most commonly when the opponent puts in a 6th offensive lineman.

Standard Nickel (17): All of the Ravens nickel snaps were of the standard 4-2-5 variety with 3 CBs.  On those plays, they allowed 76 yards (4.5 YPP), including the sack by Jimmy Smith.  Of interest was Patrick Onwuasor’s return to the package, which included both him and Bynes on each occasion.  Against the Texans, Peanut sat out 7 consecutive nickel snaps where Bynes and Fort were the pairing at ILB.

Dime (26): The Ravens used 6 DBs on 4 occasions during the first half before moving to dime exclusively after halftime.  These each used Clark, Carr (Levine for 1 snap), Thomas, Smith, Peters, and Humphrey.  Among the 5 heavies on these snaps, the Ravens most commonly used 1 defensive lineman and 4 OLBs with no ILB.  In fact, the Ravens used that modified racecar package on the final 16 defensive snaps (plus 2 penalties).  The Ravens allowed 130 yards on 26 dime snaps (5.0 YPP), but also registered both of their interceptions.  Results using the modified racecar were slightly more extreme with 17 non-penalty snaps for 86 yards (5.1 YPP) and both picks.

Quarter (4): Martindale replaced the remaining ILB in the dime with Levine for the quarter package.  The Ravens allowed 16 yards on these plays (4.0 YPP), including Judon’s strip sack. 

Said otherwise, every alignment the Ravens used defensively was effective, but the second half provided Martindale with a laboratory to try some creative pass rush schemes with essentially the same personnel on the field. 

Pass Rush

The Ravens took advantage of an inexperienced offensive line and swarmed Jared Goff with both scheme and numbers.  While the Ravens finished with just 2 sacks, they allowed Goff ATS on just 13 of 41 drop backs (32%).

Let’s start with pass rush by numbers:

2-4: 22 plays, 169 yards (7.7 YPP)

5: 13 plays, 37 yards (2.7 YPP), including 1 sack and both interceptions

6+: 4 plays, -8 yards (-2.0 YPP), including 1 sack

Simply put, risking numbers on the pass rush paid off in spades.

In terms of elements of deception, the Ravens used a season-high 26 individual blitzes, ran 5 stunts, and had 10 drops of 2 men.  Martindale used a variety of combinations for 11 deceptive blitzes, another season high.  Let’s review:

  • (Q1, 13:50):  The Ravens rushed 6 including Thomas on a blitz with a stunt by Bowser.  QH Bowser, INC.
  • (Q1, 7:23):  6-man rush included corner blitzes by Smith and Peters, S-8 by Smith.  I cannot recall another instance where any Ravens team rushed both outside CBs on the same play.
  • (Q1, 0:40):  4-man rush, the Ravens dropped OLBs Ferguson and Bowser as Thomas and Bynes blitzed, ATS, PR6.
  • (Q2, 11:57):  8-man rush included blitzes by Clark, Onwuasor, and Bynes and a stunt by Judon, pressure Wormley, INC.
  • (Q2, 2:27):  5-man rush, Levine and Bowser dropped to cover, Clark and Thomas blitzed, SF-5 Judon.
  • (Q3, 9:24):  4-man rush, Bowser and Williams dropped, Clark and Carr blitzed, BOQ, PR4.
  • (Q3, 9:01):  4-man rush, Peters and Peko dropped to cover as Fort blitzed, BOQ, INC.
  • (Q4, 13:56):  4-man rush, Ward, Judon, and Bowser dropped to cover as Clark and Carr blitzed, ATS, PL9.
  • (Q4, 12:53):  5-man rush, Bowser and Judon dropped, Thomas and Clark blitzed, pressure Thomas, INT Peters.
  • (Q4, 5:50):  5-man rush, Bowser and Judon dropped, Thomas and Clark blitzed, pressure Ferguson, INC.
  • (Q4, 1:53):  4-man rush, Bowser and Ward dropped, Carr blitzed, ATS, PM38.

Total for deceptive blitzes: 11 plays, 44 yards, 4.0 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 INT

The use of deception vs Goff and the Rams line was an unqualified success.

Other notes on the pass rush:

  • Matthew Judon rushed frequently in the second half from a standing ILB position.  The Texans have occasionally used that with JJ Watt and it’s an opportunity to cross blitz to create responsibility shift along the line.  It stands to reason that would be most effective against a confused line or one that is not played together for long to polish stunt/twist handoffs.
  • Martindale separately dropped Ward, Peko, and Williams to cover, frequently blitzed with his SS and dime back.  The pressure applied frustrated Goff at the expense of creating coverage holes.
  • Looking at just the box score from the Texans (7 sacks) and Rams game (2), one might conclude the pass rush took a step back this week, but that wasn’t the case.  Not only were these 2 performances of similar effectiveness, but they came against very different QBs.  Watson was bothered by containment, brought his eyes into the backfield, and did not willingly relinquish the football.  Goff preferred to get rid of the ball quickly before any pressure developed and misfired regularly when he saw the rush.  It’s a testament to Martindale that he was able to devise an effective pass rush scheme against each QB.    

Other Notes

  • Jihad Ward (28 snaps) was in the game for both sacks and both turnovers.  He rushed primarily from the inside and had a solid night of contributions.  His pressure was negated by Humphrey’s defensive hold (Q2, 11:57).  He beat C Austin Blythe for a drive ending pressure (Q2, 10:33) just as Robert Woods was breaking open for an easy TD.  Judon then pushed Goff down over Ward for a QH.  Jihad later drew a holding flag on RG David Edwards that negated a 12-yard pass to Higbee (Q4, 6:16) and stalled another drive.
  • Chuck Clark played the entire game.  He missed an opportunity to fall on Judon’s strip (Q2, 2:27), which allowed the Rams to retain possession resulting in a field goal.  Chuck was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct earlier in that drive to put the Rams in FG range.  He had a good night of pass coverage with just 2 short completions allowed (4 and 5 yards).  He was used extensively as a pass rusher, particularly from the dime slot to move Goff, including 6 times from off the LoS (blitzes).
  • Tyus Bowser (29 snaps) demonstrated his flexibility in pass defense as he dropped from the LoS to cover on 9 occasions (0 targets) and delivered a pair of QHs.  His playing time has increased and he’s now on pace for almost 350 snaps (36.8%).
  • Domata Peko (19 snaps) replaced some of Pierce’s play and the Rams accumulated just 3.7 YPP when he was in.  His only entry in the Gamebook was for a defensive hold, but he was effective taking up space.
  • Justin Ellis (10 snaps) played his last snap early in Q4.  The Rams did not have a single run play while he was in the game.
  • Patrick Ricard played just 1 snap of DL, which may be a trend we’ll see continue to promote an increased focus on his role on offense.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Jimmy Smith
  2. Matthew Judon
  3. Marcus Peters

Honorable mentions were earned by Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson, and Jihad Ward.