Playoff Experience

I heard Deion Sanders opine on the standing of the Ravens among the AFC’s best teams on Sunday night.

Paraphrasing, Sanders said that while the Ravens appear to be the best team, playoff experience will matter in January and he wouldn’t bet against Tom Brady.

Whether Sanders is referring to the team, the coaches, or Lamar Jackson, I have difficulty accepting the assertion.  To summarize:

  • Harbaugh’s playoff experience includes a 10-6 record and a Super Bowl.
  • The Ravens have never had a pair of coordinators able to both game plan and adjust any better than Martindale and Roman.
  • The only team with more coaching experience, New England, has sputtered to a 2-2 playoff record against Harbaugh’s Ravens in Foxboro.  Those 4 games break down as 2 blowout Ravens wins (following 2009, 2012) and 2 close losses (2011, 2014). Under Belichick, the Patriots are 19-1 against all other playoff opponents at home.  Assuming Belichick has a magic wand to create a game plan to win against any opponent, he should have waved it at least twice more.
  • Jackson and the defense just manhandled the Patriots 2 weeks ago with a defensive game plan that had portable features to combat the no huddle.
  • With their first-place schedule, the 2019 Ravens will have been weighed and measured against both the conference’s best teams and NFC’s best division.

Ravens fans should hope for an AFC Championship Game in Baltimore, but they shouldn’t fear one in New England.

Ravens Survive Pierce’s Absence

Eric DeCosta’s defensive fix of the week was the addition of DTs Domata Peko and Justin Ellis to a run defense imperiled by the loss of Michael Pierce.

Ellis and Peko were both active and Martindale squeezed 21 snaps from each.  That alone could fairly be called a triumph of durability for 2 street free agents who had not played a 2019 snap.  They combined to contribute to 5 tackles, although neither had a pressure event.

The Ravens had some sloppy tackling and edge setting that were part of the reason for Houston’s rushing success (See “Dime” below), but it wasn’t a lack of big bodies that left the Ravens vulnerable in this game.


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 (1): The Ravens used the base package for 1 snap and Hyde lost a yard on 3rd and 1 (Q1, 6:39).

Standard Nickel (21): All but 1 of the Ravens nickel snaps were of the standard 4-2-5 variety with 3 CBs.  On those plays, they allowed 78 yards (3.7 YPP), including 2 sacks and both turnovers.

3-3-5 Nickel (1): Martindale had the Ravens line up in this package for 2 consecutive plays on the Texans 3rd drive (beginning Q1, 2:01).  The first was Brandon Williams’ sack despite the hold of LG Max Sharping.  The second was correctly assessed as roughing the passer (RTP) to Williams as he struck Watson’s head with his elbow/forearm.  Because the penalty was accepted and the result was “no play”, it’s not included in snap totals or stats.

Dime (27): These snaps all included Clark, Thomas (or Jackson), Carr, and 3 CBs.  The Ravens showed some different looks with this package, but most commonly, Clark lined up as the dime back.  They allowed 146 yards in the dime (5.4 YPP), including 3 sacks.  A preponderance of the yards allowed in this package were on the consecutive run plays for 17 and 41 yards by Johnson and Hyde respectively (beginning Q4, 7:58).  Since these circumstances will not repeat at a meaningful game juncture (the Ravens led 34-0 at the time) without Martindale’s consent, color me unconcerned about the Texans gaudy 6.1 YPC for the game.

Quarter (7): Martindale replaced the remaining ILB in the dime with Levine for the quarter package.  The Ravens allowed 15 yards on these plays (2.1 YPP), including Ferguson’s sack. 

Racecar: The Ravens lined up in their modified racecar package with all 4 active 4 OLBs (Bowser, Ferguson, Judon, Ward), 1 DL, and no ILBs on 11 of their 27 dime snaps (plus 1 other negated by Bowser’s RTP).  The Texans gained 33 yards on those 11 plays (3.0 YPP), including all 3 of the dime sacks. 

Pass Rush Allows Frequent ATS Despite Sack Total

The Ravens used significant amounts of both numbers and scheme to keep Watson uncomfortable in this game, but Houston’s OL gave their QBs ample time and space (ATS) on 17 of 37 drop backs (46%), which is above average for 2019.  Those ATS opportunities included 3 sacks (a 4th was close—Q1, 2:01) and 1 other QH.

Let’s start with pass rush by numbers:

3 or 4: 19 plays, 69 yards (3.6 YPP), including 2 sacks

5: 12 plays, 32 yards (2.7 YPP), including 5 sacks and the sack/fumble

6: 6 plays, 9 yards (1.5 YPP), including Bynes’ INT

7+: None

Nope, I can’t see anything wrong with the results either.

In terms of elements of deception, the Ravens used 14 individual blitzes, ran 10 stunts, and had 8 drops of 2 men.  That deception is a significantly higher per-drop-back rate to the previous 2 weeks versus the Patriots and Bengals.  However, Martindale called fewer combinations of deceptive elements and had only 4 deceptive pass rushes as I define them (2+ elements). 

If I were to express a concern about this game defensively, it’s that the Ravens used so much deception to a below-average impact in terms of limiting ATS opportunities.  That said, the fact Watson had an above-average opportunity set yet managed just under 3.0 net yards per pass play says even more about the performance of the secondary.

Sensational Secondary

The Ravens did not chase De’Andre Hopkins with Marlon Humphrey in this game.  That may have given us a clearer picture of just how effective he can be.  Humphrey was targeted only twice as I scored it with a 37-yard incompletion to Hopkins down the right sideline and an 8-yard completion to Coutee (Q4, 8:21).  In a game where Watson was frequently unable to find targets despite ATS, Humphrey’s lack of times targeted stands out.

Earl Thomas did his job by bracketing 2 of the few deep shots Watson took (Q2, 1:32; Q4, 14:50) and discouraging throws in the deep middle.  Watson had just 4 completions of 10+ air yards (Clark 14+6, 15+0; Peters 17+0, Levine 11+0) and no completion for more than 20 yards.  I scored Thomas as responsible for 1 reception of 10 yards.

Marcus Peters knocked away a 40-yard pass intended for Hopkins near the right sideline (Q2, 1:28).  He had a drive-ending coverage negated by Bowser’s RTP (Q4, 8:27).  He was targeted 5 times in total with 3 completions for 20 yards.

Jimmy Smith was targeted 5 times with just 2 completions for 15 yards.  He forced the airborne Hopkins out of bounds for his PD (Q2, 0:17) which denied the Texans on 3rd and 2.  On 2 other occasions, he had tight coverage on deep balls that fell incomplete (20 yards for Hopkins, 27 for Stills).

Brandon Carr was targeted 3 times with 1 reception for 6 yards among 33 pass snaps.

Only against Chuck Clark, who allowed 53 yards on 3 catches/5 targets, did the Texans have any repeated success.  Of his 2 PDs, one was at the LoS and ended a drive (Q1, 0:14).

Other Notes

  • Patrick Onwuasor (9 snaps) had an eventful start to the second quarter.  On the first Houston play (Q2, 9:17) he was dragged by Fells for much of his 18-yard reception (0 + 18 YAC) before falling off.  Just 2 plays later (Q2, 8:13), he appeared to hesitate before rushing unblocked through the left C gap for a 9-yard sack.  Perhaps he had coverage responsibility for TE Fells, who was blocking Ferguson on that side.  Whatever the reason, Patrick was removed from the game after the sack and did not return until the final series.
  • Jaylon Ferguson collected his first fumble recovery on Judon’s strip sack and later his first sack when he beat RT Tytus Howard to drop Watson for a loss of 7 (Q2, 0:44).  Jaylon also chased down RB Duke Johnson for a 4-yard loss on a pass left (Q3, 0:05).  I recorded 2 negative edge setting notes (Q3, 5;31; Q3, 1:30).
  • Tyus Bowser collected a sack when he came up from coverage, forcing Watson to slide for a sack at the LoS (Q2, 7:27).  He had a fast 10-yard sack of AJ McCarron on the final defensive snap (Q4, 2:36).  In between, he had a drive-ending pressure (Q4, 14:45) but also was flagged for a ticky-tack RTP (Q4, 8:27).  Bowser appeared fortunate to avoid a call for unnecessary roughness on an earlier sideline flip.
  • The roughing the passer flags on Bowser and Williams bring the Ravens season total to 10 in 10 games.  That is a rate 4.27 times as high as the previous 4 years combined (15 in 64 regular season games).  Worse, excepting the head blows and leading with the helmet, I can’t discern a consistently applied standard in terms of strike area or timing.

Star Treatment

Matthew Judon (44 snaps) had one of his best career games at an opportune time.  Reviewing my notes on him:

  • (Q1, 12:36):  Following an extended chase around the pocket, he disengaged from LG Max Scharping to sack/strip Watson, which Ferguson recovered.
  • (Q1, 9:37):  He flushed Watson right off read option and tackled from behind for a gain of 1.  Essentially, this was a S+1.
  • (Q1, 6:39):  On 3rd/1, he penetrated unblocked through the left C-gap (ignored by LTE Roderick Johnson) to tackle Hyde RM-1.
  • (Q1, 5:56):  On 4th/2, Watson had ATS but Judon eventually took him down for a slow-developing QH as he threw incomplete for Hopkins in end zone.
  • (Q2, 0:17):  On 3rd/2, Matthew beat LT Laremy Tunsil then bulled RB Duke Johnson for pressure as Smith forced out Hopkins for PD that denied conversion.
  • (Q3, 10:35):  He beat RT Tytus Howard outside for a fast QH, as Watson grounded his pass for TE Darren Fells 8 yards [4].
  • (Q3, 10:31):  On 3rd/10, LG Scharping failed to block Judon in left A-gap.  Matthew chased down Watson for S-13.
  • (Q4, 9:13):  Judon chased down WR Keke Coutee for a loss of 6 on a short pass right.
  • (Q4, 7:58):  He missed the tackle 2 yards past the LoS on RB Johnson’s RM17.
  • (Q4, 2:40):  On 3rd/5, he beat LT Tunsil inside for pressure as QB A.J. McCarron’s pass for Fells was knocked down by Carr, 5 yards [2].

I expect Judon will receive consideration for AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Matthew Judon
  2. Earl Thomas
  3. Marlon Humphrey

Honorable mentions were earned by Tyus Bowser, Brandon Carr, Jaylon Ferguson, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, and Brandon Williams.