Big Questions

Let me take you through some questions I often ask myself when deciding how to frame up a game for these articles…

Did the Ravens win the line of scrimmage?

Nope.  In fact, I’d say they lost it fairly decisively on both sides of the ball which is unusual for any winning team and nearly unheard of in this sort of blowout.  The Browns success running the football early was disturbing, given the Ravens knew it was coming, but also something I feared with the departure of Michael Pierce.  To Martindale’s credit (and in part due to the big lead), the Ravens were able to stop the bleeding after halftime.

Did the Ravens win in a way that is repeatable?

It can be difficult to differentiate between the unforced errors of a disengaged football team, the structural problems with a new system installation, and solid defensive playmaking.  The Browns definitely have talent including a big, rebuilt offensive line with plus starting skill players, but they also have led the league in unforced errors since 1999.  The Ravens got a big assist from the Browns (Beckham, Stefanski, and Mayfield in particular) as part of their offensive self destruction.  In simple terms, the Ravens will need to play a lot better to best Houston and Kansas City.

Is the way the Ravens won consistent with the strengths of the team?

The Ravens defense is built back to front and the secondary deserves much of the credit for a win with mediocre pass rush.  My primary concern is that the reliance on scheme to create pressure was not as effective as it was in 2019, despite an opponent vulnerable to pressure and the scheme dial turned up to 11 (see below).

What surprises are possible given results to date?

The rookie defensive contributions were solid.  Queen, Harrison, and Washington all provide hope.  Beyond that, Tyus Bowser played well to begin a contract year.  Jaylon Ferguson rushed effectively despite a reduced snap count.  Perhaps most importantly, Deshon Elliott’s debut as a starter went well at a position where the Ravens don’t have another option as good. 

On the other side, negative surprises usually come from older players on big contracts.  The veterans were generally solid, but I’m concerned we did not see more from Brandon Williams in this game.  Campbell and Wolfe appear to be as good as hoped and Tavon Young was not exposed badly in his return.  Jimmy Smith gave up a lone 9-yard catch in his new role as a back-end dime safety.

Done worrying.


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 Browns ran 66 non-penalty snaps.

Jumbo (1): The Ravens inserted 5 DL, 1 OLB, 3 ILB, plus Humphrey and Clark as part of their lone snap of goal line defense.  The Ravens have most commonly used 3 safeties in such packages, but went heavier versus the Browns heavy set that included 3 TEs, 1 FB, and Chubb.  It’s easy to blame Board for the wide-open throw to Njoku, but the play was well designed to flood the left side with routes at 2 levels and was doomed without a LB following Bryant across the formation. 1 play, 1 yard.

Base (20): The Browns rans lots of 12 and 21 personnel to which the Ravens most commonly responded with their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB.  The Ravens played effective base after a troubling start and most importantly did not allow Mayfield any significant pass plays (9 passes for 26 yards, 2.9 YPP), but were less successful versus the run (11/67, 6.1 YPC).  The overall result was certainly acceptable, but the apparent weakness against the run is troubling. 20 plays, 93 yards, 4.7 YPP.

Base with 3 ILB/1 OLB (2): The Ravens lined up twice with 3 ILB as part of the front 7 on consecutive first-down plays (beginning Q1, 4:38).  The Ravens have used 2 OLB (or more) for so long, I can’t recall a previous instance of such a formation.  I’ll refer to this as “open base” if we see it again.  In each case, Board was added as the 3rd ILB with Harrison and Queen.  This appeared to be a scheme where the Ravens tried to use Campbell as an edge setter on 1 side.  The Browns beat it for a 16-yard pass to Landry (2-man pattern with Beckham/Landry) followed by Chubb’s 29-yard run.  In each case the Browns had inserted 12 personnel, so there wasn’t anything unusual about the personnel grouping which triggered the Ravens choice of package. 2 plays, 45 yards, 22.5 YPP. 

Base with 3 ILB/2 OLB, 2 DL (4): Martindale inserted this package on 4 consecutive defensive snaps (beginning Q3, 0:42) over 2 drives.  Board was part of all 4 alignments as the 3rd ILB, each time vs 12 personnel.  I think “light base” describes the personnel appropriately.  Martindale might have been tinkering up 25+ points at the time.  These snaps included Queen’s strip of Chubb, but were otherwise unsuccessful.  4 plays, 33 yards, 8.5 YPP, 1 turnover.

Jumbo Nickel (10): Martindale began the use of jumbo nickel (3-3-5 with an extra DL instead of a 2nd ILB) against the Browns in week 4 of 2019.  Usage of the formation peaked at 14 snaps in the week 16 rematch.  I suspected the package would be jettisoned in 2020 with the ILB additions of Queen and Harrison, but it remains part of the playbook.  Surprisingly, the jumbo was inserted vs a variety of Browns personnel groups, including 12, 21, and 11 personnel.  The Browns weren’t effective either running (5/10, 2.0) or passing (5/25, 5.0) vs the alignment.  10 plays, 35 yards, 3.5 YPP.

Standard Nickel (14): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB and has been part of the Ravens playbook for as long as they have played the 3-4.  Martindale inserted it some versus both 11 and 12 personnel.  Success stopping the run with this alignment has been a franchise hallmark that is at the core of the 21 consecutive seasons of less than 4 yards per carry (1996-2016).  On Sunday, the Ravens allowed just 6 yards on 5 runs with this alignment and were also effective versus the pass.  14 plays, 26 yards, 1 sack.

Dime (15): The Ravens showed a variety of dime looks, primarily on 3rd down.  Summarizing the results:

Standard–1 ILB, 2 OLB, 2 DL (or 3 OLB, 1 DL), 6 DBs (3 snaps): 20 yards

Heavy—2 DL, 3 OLB, 6 DBs (10 snaps): 70 yards, 1 INT.  These plays included 4, 3rd-down conversions.

Racecar– 0 ILBs, 4 OLBs, 1 DL, 6 DBs (2 snaps): -14 yards, 1 sack.  Derek Wolfe was the lone DL (0-tech) in the racecar.

The Ravens allowed conversions on 3/10, 2/10, 3/7, 3/13, and 3/3 in dime, which is mildly troubling in terms of length/frequency, but it’s a small sample size.  That said, it’s good to see that Martindale has not abandoned the dime with an improved ILB corps.

Pass Rush

The lack of pressure was disturbing, particularly considering the numbers and scheme the Ravens employed.  Paradoxically, the Browns didn’t have consistent success passing the football versus any rush by number.  A common thread was the use of eligible receivers as pass blockers (31 on 41 drop backs).  Stefanski has seen the tape of Mayfield the last 2 years versus the Ravens and clearly anticipated a heavy rush. 

Mayfield had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 18 of 41 (44%) which is a little high for recent years and significantly higher than the Ravens should find acceptable when they regularly send numbers and use deceptive elements.  Mayfield also threw 9 passes before the rush had a chance to develop (ball out quick or BOQ) which left just 14 pressure events among 41 drop backs.

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3: 1 play, 0 yards

4: 18 plays, 69 yards, 3.8 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO

5: 19 plays, 89 yards, 4.7 YPP, 1 sack

6: 2 plays, 10 yards, 5.0 YPP

7: 1 play, 0 yards

Total: 41 plays, 168 yards, 4.1 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO

Martindale sent 20 individual blitzes from off the LoS, including 13 by DBs.  The Ravens used just 4 stunts (blitzing is often incompatible with stunting) and on 9 occasions they dropped 2+ from the LoS to cover.  Of 41 drop backs, 8 rushes were deceptive as I define it by incorporating 2 or more deceptive elements.  Of those deceptive rushes, 5 of 8 resulted in ATS.

It’s fair to say the pass defense was successful by any yardage metric, but the pass rush formula was unusual at best and is not likely to be repeated vs a more accurate QB.

Individual Notes by Positional Grouping

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. 

Defensive Line

The Ravens deactivated Justin Madubuike, but did not place him on 3-week IR. 

Calais Campbell (39 snaps) was outstanding.  See “Star Treatment” below.

Justin Ellis (17 snaps) had some play as backup to Williams and appeared fresh.  They were on the field together for 3 plays with Ellis staying at NT.

Patrick Ricard did not see action on defense.

Broderick Washington (28 snaps) played extensively in his first NFL game.  He shares a portion of the responsibility for the poor play against the run in the first half, but he contributed a pressure (Q4, 11:34) on which Mayfield short-armed a pass to Hunt.

Brandon Williams (35 snaps) had 1 pressure as I scored it.  This was a game where I hoped he would be effective playing against JC Tretter, who has been on the injury list this week.  Instead, the Browns averaged 6.4 YPC on 18 run snaps when he was in and one could have legitimate questions about the Ravens interior DL bulk after the departure of Pierce. 

Derek Wolfe (47 snaps) led the DL in playing time.  He had 2 QHs, but he overpursued Mayfield (Q1, 7:41), which denied him his first sack of the season.


The Ravens activated 10 linebackers.

Chris Board (9 snaps) was in for some of the poor run results (4 runs for 58, 14.5 YPC) and was out of position on the Browns’ lone TD.

Tyus Bowser (32 snaps) was particularly effective in 25 snaps as a pass defender both in coverage and rushing the passer.  His dogged pass rush was often late/cleanup, but that’s more important when one’s opponent is using eligible receivers as set blockers frequently.

Jaylon Ferguson (21 snaps) had just 9 snaps as a pass rusher but contributed to a pressure, had a QH, and had a sack that was washed out by the fact Tretter’s holding flag on Campbell was accepted.  He played just 3 snaps in the first half, so it was good to see him step up effectively in the second.

LJ Fort had a terrific game, including the big forced fumble on the fake punt.  He also recovered Chubb’s fumble pried free by Queen.  Of 5 tackles on defense, 4 were defensive wins by the Football Outsiders definition.

Malik Harrison (22 snaps) had a solid debut.  He was part of the loss of the right edge on Chubb’s 29-yard run (Q1, 4:01) when he overran the play, but his PD should have been hauled in by Clark for an INT (Q2, 10:05).  The Ravens got fine overall rotational play from ILB in this game, including both rookies, Fort, and Clark’s dimeback snaps.

Matthew Judon (39 snaps) had a difficult game and he was asked to do some things that don’t showcase his strengths.  By my count, he dropped from the LoS to coverage on 16 instances, which is more than he rushed the passer.  He did not make an impact as a coverage player.  His lone pressure event was a late QH on which he was flagged for roughing the passer.  Matthew went all of 2019 without an RTP flag despite finishing 4th in the NFL in QHs (33).

Pernell McPhee (24 snaps) did not have a pressure event as I scored it, but the run defense was effective when he was in (7 carries for 26 yards).  Since the Ravens have fewer good OLB run options on early downs, it’s not difficult to see McPhee’s responsibilities shift to more edge setting.

Patrick Queen (49 snaps) had a mixed debut.  He picked up his first NFL sack on a blitz where he worked off Wolfe’s butt and eluded the late block of Tretter (Q2, 9:59).  That’s not a stunt per se, but Wolfe knew how to set up his teammate and pumped his fist after Mayfield went down.  Queen also stripped the ball free from Chubb for the Browns last turnover (Q3, 0:05).  That was relentless second-man-to-the-ball skill.  Queen did not have as good a game defending the run where he had difficulty shedding blocks and did not make a tackle closer than 3 yards from the LoS.

Jihad Ward (28 snaps) was used primarily as a standing OLB, but also had some pass rush snaps from the inside.  He beat RT Conklin outside for a contribution to the pressure on the pass where Beckham failed to stay in bounds (Q3, 11:40).


I’m going to avoid any substantive individual notes prior to posting of the coaches film, but the secondary deserves most of the credit for the outstanding pass defense numbers in the face of a mediocre pass rush.

Marcus Peters was the most targeted player on the Ravens (9).  He allowed just 7 YAC on the 5 receptions he allowed.  He came close to an interception covering Beckham (Q3, 11:25) and drew the facemask flag on Beckham (Q2, 10:30) which was one of 3 flags that stalled the drive that ended on 3rd and 41.

Marlon Humphrey played well on the other side, allowing just 1 catch for 6 yards (0 YAC) on 4 targets, but he was also penalized for holding and pass interference on consecutive plays.  He did not receive credit for an apparent PD vs Beckham on a low throw that I hope to see from the end zone.  His shoestring INT on Campbell’s PD could be taken as an indication of improved ball skills.

Peters and Humphrey were the central figures in holding Beckham and Landry to a combined 83 yards on 16 targets (5.2 YPT).

Deshon Elliott allowed a 13-yard catch to Landry, but otherwise brought a physical style to the back end which can’t help but result in some playmaking (or injury).  His hits were among the loudest in a quiet stadium.  The Browns did not do much to test the middle of the field behind the ILBs and between the hashes.    

Star Treatment

Calais Campbell (42 snaps) played his first game as a Raven and delivered from the opening drive:

  • (Q1, 13:10):  He bulled LG Bitonio to turn Chubb inside for RM0, cleaned up by Wolfe and McPhee.
  • (Q1, 12:31):  He was blocked effectively by LG Bitonio but got his hands up to knock down Mayfield’s pass.
  • (Q1, 12:27):  On 3rd/10, he dropped from the LoS to a short zone, and deflected Mayfield’s pass intended for Hodge, which was intercepted by Humphrey.
  • (Q1, 4:01):  He was late getting set on the offensive right side (ORS) and blocked by RT Conklin on Chubb’s 29-yard run right.
  • (Q3, 12:30):  He pursued down the LoS to tackle Chubb RR1.
  • (Q4, 10:16):  On 3rd/1, he bulled RG Teller then leapt for a PD, INC.
  • (Q4, 4:25):  He drew a hold from C Tretter on 3rd/2.

Tyus Bowser (32 snaps) was a big part of the Ravens pass defense:

  • (Q2, 11:54):  Despite ATS on boot left, Tyus chased down Mayfield with Ellis and forced a throw away on 3rd/41.
  • (Q3, 11:51):  Mayfield again had ATS, but Bowser was able to stay in coverage of RB Hunt and knock down the pass.
  • (Q3, 6:39):  He beat LT Wills inside and drew holding.
  • (Q3, 3:08):  After jumping offsides on the previous play, he disengaged from Wills inside to chase down Mayfield for S-14.

Chuck Clark (66 snaps) was the only Raven in for every play:

  • (Q1, 2:24):  He forced a fumble on Hunt near the goal line which the Browns RB recovered.
  • (Q3, 11:25):  On 3rd/10, he stunted through the right C-gap for pressure forcing Mayfield to throw a PD/near INT to Peters.
  • (Q3, 7:00):  On 3rd/7 with ATS, Mayfield threw just over Clark in zone coverage of Landry for PR20.
  • (Q3, 3:08):  He provided the initial pressure by blitz through the right B-gap to flush Mayfield on Bowser’s sack.
  • (Q4, 11:34):  He undercut Hunt violently on PR0 for 0 YAC.
  • (Q4, 10:11):  On 4th/6, he beat RB Hunt off the left edge for pressure as Mayfield overthrew an open Beckham deep down the right sideline.
  • (Q4, 4:19):  Chuck blitzed threw the right C-gap unblocked for pressure as Mayfield unloaded well short of Beckham.

Chuck is in no danger of losing the green dot to Queen or anyone else.  In fact, the Ravens used such extensive/varied substitution at ILB (playing from 0 to 3 ILBs by package), it’s clear Martindale appreciates the flexibility afforded by having Clark as his signal caller.

Defensive MVPs

For the opener:

  1. Calais Campbell
  2. Tyus Bowser
  3. Chuck Clark

In a solid defensive effort, Derek Wolfe, Patrick Queen, Jaylon Ferguson, and LJ Fort all earn honorable mention.