Wounded Gladiators

No one feels sorry for another team going through injury problems in the NFL.  The Ravens faced an opponent which began the game with a makeshift offensive line that got worse as the game progressed.  Let’s review:

  • The Titans lost LT Taylor Lewan after 5 games.
  • He was replaced by journeyman Ty Sambrailo who started against the Ravens, but was injured midway through Q4.
  • Sambrailo was replaced at LT by David Quessenberry, who had played 50 previous career snaps (he’s 30).
  • Starting LG Rodger Saffold sat out with an ankle injury.
  • Saffold was replaced by undersized (6’1”, 274 lbs) rookie UDFA Aaron Brewer at LG (10 previous career snaps).
  • C Ben Jones played through a knee injury that kept him out of practice all week.
  • Jones missed 1 play on which replacement Jamil Douglas air mailed the wildcat shotgun snap for a loss of 20.
  • G Nate Davis, who has played every snap for the Titans this season has been much improved in his 2nd season.
  • RT Dennis Kelly has also played an iron-man role for the Titans (99% of snaps) but is a slow-footed pass blocker who did not move to LT despite the injuries noted above.
  • The Titans 1st-round draft pick, Isaiah Wilson, who was arrested for a DUI in September, was active for the first time this week, but did not play.

Both the offense and defense bear a share of the blame for the Ravens loss, but the failure to capitalize on the Titans OL weakness is the larger problem.

When a game like this occurs, I like to group the plays of a certain type and look for common threads…

The Defensive Plays that Lost the Game

With a description that vague, it’s a lengthy list:

  • (Q1, 13:53): On the first Titans snap, Tannehill threw deep left for WR AJ Brown and Humphrey was flagged for a 39-yard pass interference penalty.
  • (Q1, 12:28): On 3rd/11, Chris Board rushed delayed past RG Nate Davis for a QH, Tannehill threw to WR Cameron Batson PR14 (-4 + 18) [4] with no one in coverage.
  • (Q2, 5:12): Tannehill booted RR21 off play action fooling Ferguson on the right edge.
  • (Q2, 4:03): In punt formation, the Titans snapped to back-up QB Logan Woodside.  Levine identified the fake with off coverage at the sticks but Woodside’s PR7 (7 + 0) [5] to WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was perfectly placed for conversion.
  • (Q2, 2:35): McPhee used Bowser’s stunt distraction to generate a QH and WR Brown dropped Tannehill’s pass, but Pernell was flagged for RTP on a mid-thigh hit to convert 3rd/7.
  • (Q3, 8:01): On 3rd/4, blitzing Judon and Elliott pressured Tannehill’s throw to WR Brown PL12 (4 + 8) [1]. Jimmy Smith missed a tackle at 4.
  • (Q3, 7:18): Off play action, with ATS, Tannehill threw to WR Corey Davis PR50 (26 + 24) [5] behind Peters.
  • (Q3, 0:24): On 3rd/10, the Ravens rushed 6 and McPhee bulled C Ben Jones for pressure but Tannehill completed PM12 (10 + 2) [4] to TE Anthony Firkser with Clark in tight trailing coverage.
  • (Q4, 15:00): With ATS off play action, Tannehill threw PL16 (16 + 0) [1] to WR Davis in front of Humphrey.
  • (Q4, 14:30): WR Davis blocked Peters, TE Geoff Swaim blocked Bowser, and Queen was caught in wash on RR24 by RB Derrick Henry.
  • (Q4, 13:01): LT Ty Sambrailo blocked Wolfe, TE Jonnu Smith blocked Clark, TE Swaim blocked Judon, LG Aaron Brewer blocked Queen in L2, on RB Henry RL11.
  • (Q4, 5:17):  Off play action with ATS, Tannehill threw to WR Davis PR22 (13 + 9) [5] who was lost outside by Peters.
  • (Q4, 4:05):  On 2nd/7, Tannehill threw to WR Brown PL25 (3 + 22) [1].  Board took a bad angle and missed the tackle at the LoS and Humphrey missed a tackle at 10.
  • (Q4, 2:26):  On 3rd/10, Tannehill threw to WR Brown PM14 (6 + 8) [4], Clark missed tackle at 6, Peters missed tackle at 7, Humphrey overran the play, and Queen was bulldozed 5 yards into the endzone.
  • (OT, 7:58):  Off play action, Tannehill threw to WR Davis PR14 (13 + 1) [5].  Peters narrowly missed the PD.
  • (OT, 6:44):  On 2nd/6, with ATS, Tannehill threw to WR Davis PR11 (8 + 3) [4] between Queen and Peters.
  • (OT, 5:43):  On 2nd/6, with ATS, Tannehill threw to WR Brown PR11 (11 + 0) [5].  Humphrey was soft on the play that put the Titans in field goal range.
  • (OT, 5:29):  LG Brewer blocked Queen, RG Davis blocked Harrison, C Jones cut Ellis, and TE Smith blocked McPhee to lead RB Henry RL29 for game-winning TD.

Notes on these plays:

  • The Ravens were eaten alive by play action.  Not only did linebackers bite, but Tannehill regularly fooled the edge defenders who were focused on Henry to generate additional time in the pocket.  The success manipulating defenders emboldened the Titans to include a play fake on virtually every first or second-down play run with Henry behind Tannehill.
  • Among the 3 young ILBs, there were precious few pass defense contributions (Queen had a QH on Bowser’s INT, Harrison had a nice diagnosis on a screen pass for a loss of 1).  None impacted a play on a ball thrown to level 2 or deeper. 
  • The Titans run game geared up as the game went on.  Through 3 quarters, the Ravens only run allowed over 5 yards in base defense came on Tannehill’s 21-yard boot.  However, the Ravens heaviest regular unit was pounded for 9.4 YPC in the 4th quarter and overtime.
  • As the game progressed, the Titans were able to get their interior linemen into level 2 to make some effective blocks.  That’s a function of either 1) winning the point-of-attack double team quicker or 2) moving to level 2 because a double team is not required. 
  • Defensive penalties again played a significant role with Humphrey’s DPI and McPhee’s RTP each contributing to scoring drives.  McPhee hit Tannehill just below the waist, did not wrap up, and allowed him to fall backwards without further duress.  I can see no reason for the flag and a tightly called game does not favor an effective pass rush.
  • The loss of Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell was felt throughout the game.  Either would have wreaked havoc against the makeshift Titans line.  NT Justin Ellis played 55 of 66 snaps.  DTs Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington combined for 58 snaps and both were shut out on the defensive scoresheet.  Without their stars, there is no schematic adjustment which can overcome the lack of depth and talent on the Ravens DL.
  • The tired defense reminded me of the 2016 Christmas loss to Pittsburgh.  The Ravens led that game 20-10 early in the 4th quarter and surrendered a 75-yard TD drive on 5 plays, a 90-yard drive on 6 plays, and a 75-yard drive on 10 plays to lose 31-27. 


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 Titans ran 66 such snaps.  Examining the use of packages, it’s apparent how constrained Martindale was in terms of scheme. 

Jumbo (1): The Ravens lined up with jumbo personnel for the first Titans TD.  Elliott and Peters each sat out while Board played a proxy safety role on the end of the LoS.  Evoking memories of Njoku’s TD in week 1, Board was out of position as TE Jonnu Smith crossed the formation for a 1-yard TD.  In fairness, Board almost got back to defend the throw.

Base (37): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB vs most of the Titans early-down snaps with 21, 12, or 13 personnel.  They allowed 136 yards on 23 run plays (5.9 YPC) and 143 yards on 14 pass plays (10.2 YPP).  Overall, 37 plays, 279 yards, 7.5 YPP, 1 sack.

The Ravens were regularly fooled by the Titans play action game and sold out against the run in ways that made it easier still for the pass.  Given that tradeoff, the result against the pass should not have come as a surprise, but the Ravens defense failed to translate the blitzing and extra ILB attention into a positive result vs the run.  The Ravens allowed a respectable 51 yards on 14 carries (3.6 YPC) through 3 quarters before surrendering 85 yards on 9 carries (9.4 YPC) in the 4th quarter and overtime.

The decision to carry just 4 DL for the game appears to have been a factor.  DT Aaron Crawford was available as a PS callup, but the Ravens decided on 3 other PS callups for the offense (Dez Bryant, Will Holden, and Luke Willson), each of whom played some snaps.

Alternate Base (4):  The Ravens used another package with 4 DBs, 2 DL, 3 ILBs, and 2 OLBs.  Martindale deployed it on both 1st and 10 or 2nd and medium vs 12 personnel and always with Board, Fort, and Queen as the 3 ILBs.  4 plays, 1 yard, 0.3 YPP. 

Jumbo Nickel (4): The Ravens used this package with 3 DL, 2 OLB, and 1 ILB against both 12 and 11 personnel.  Since Martindale has deployed it as a change of pace in previous weeks, that’s probably a reasonable explanation of the choice.  Most notably, the snaps included Bowser’s interception (3rd and 4, Q2, 14:18).  4 plays, 19 yards, 4.8 YPP, 1 TO.

Rush Nickel (3): Martindale inserted a package with 1 lineman, 3 OLBs, and 2 ILBs for 3 long-yardage, 3rd-down snaps (distances of 18, 27, and 10 yards).  Unfortunately, the last of these was the 14-yard TD pass to WR AJ Brown.  3 plays, 19 yards, 6.3 YPP.

Racecar Nickel (6): The Ravens played 6 snaps with 1 DL, 1 ILB, 4 OLB, each of which included Chris Board as a proxy dimeback with the Ravens again short on safeties.  Each of these snaps came on 3rd down with distances of 4 to 11 yards, and Board replaced Patrick Queen.  Of the plays, 3 were converted.  6 plays, 40 yards, 6.7 YPP. 

Standard Nickel (11): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB and Martindale again used it primarily as a response to 11 personnel on early downs.  Among these plays, the Ravens managed a sack on a dropped shotgun snap, but had 8 defensive losses by the Football Outsiders definition.  11 plays, 58 yards, 5.3 YPP, 1 sack.

Dime (0): The Ravens never inserted a dime package.  The lack of a closer’s success rate in the rush nickel and racecar nickel packages may be an indication it would be good to identify another safety who can bring more specialized coverage skills to 3rd and medium-long situations.   

Pass Rush

Martindale was aggressive by both numbers and off-ball blitzes.

Tannehill had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 14 of 33 drop backs (42%), which is a high rate by today’s standards.  He delivered the ball before pressure could develop on 6 other occasions, so the Ravens managed 13 pressure events (2 sacks, 5 other QHs, 6 pressures).  The Ravens also had a late QH on an ATS play (Judon, Q3, 14:24).

Summarizing by number of pass rushers (excludes the punt fake):

3: 2 plays, 5 yards, 2.5 YPP

4: 13 plays, 77 yards, 5.9 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO

5: 11 plays, 103 yards, 9.4 YPP

6: 7 plays, 58 yards, 8.3 YPP, 1 sack

7+: None

Total: 33 plays, 243 yards, 7.4 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO

The Ravens rushed 5+ men on 18 of 33 drop backs (55%), which was well above their season average of 44%, in part because of some run blitzes.

Martindale used 13 individual blitzes from off the LoS.  Chris Board led the team with 6.  Patrick Queen also blitzed 3 times, including the QH which resulted in Bowser’s interception.

The Ravens stunted only twice.  This may have been an artifact of trying to defend the screen pass or maintain gap integrity against the run.

On 5 occasions they dropped 2 from the LoS to cover.  Those resulted in 3 QHs and 1 other pressure.  Among those plays was Bowser’s interception, a pair of 3rd down conversions, and 2 other drive-ending plays.

Of 33 drop backs, 6 rushes were deceptive as I define it by incorporating 2 or more of the above elements.  Among those 6 plays, 4 were converted and 2 ended drives.  Tannehill stood up well against deception. 

Yannick Ngakoue (2 pressures, 1 sack), Pernell McPhee (2 QHs, 2 pressures), and Matthew Judon (1 pressure, 2 QHs, 1 sack) each generated good pressure, but the Ravens generated just 1 pressure (Ellis) from their interior linemen in 74 pass snaps.

I’m going to forgo individual notes this week.