Winning Infrequently, Winning Big

Since 1999, the Ravens have been a team which has consistently won the bulk of defensive snaps in terms of yardage allowed relative to the down-and-distance situation.  Doing so has made them an exceptional DVOA team and underlies their dominance in terms of points allowed per drive.  It has also set up a high turnover rate as opposing offenses became progressively more desperate both by down-and-distance and game situation.

On Sunday night, the Ravens defense played well enough to lose, but finished the game with 3 straight stops to pull out the game as Jackson rallied the team for 3 TDs and a close-out first down.

Rather than win most plays, they won a few big plays.

For the remainder of the game, they produced bad results on the most significant splits and descriptors.  For example, the base and standard nickel packages were on the field for a combined 36 plays, 366 yards, 10.2 YPP.  They held the Chiefs to 1 of 6 on 3rd down, which is good, but it would have been a lot better to get the Chiefs to 3rd down more than 6 times.

But I digress.  Looking at the 3 defensive drives that won the game, the Ravens won 7 key plays on defense:

Beginning (Q3, 3:14): RM-5 (tackle by Madubuike), PR3 (Humphrey), INT Young off QH by Oweh

Beginning (Q4, 12:51): RR-2 (stop by Oweh), PL3 (tackle by Averett), Incomplete (PD by Averett)

(Q4, 1:26): Oweh stripped Edwards-Helaire on the Chief’s last offensive play and recovered the fumble

Looking at these 7 plays, I’m struck by 1) the impact of Odafe Oweh, and 2) how efficiently they managed to group their defensive wins.

Ball out Quick

Prior to the 3 consecutive defensive stops, the Ravens surrendered 3 consecutive touchdown drives of 67, 74, and 75 yards.

Looking at the scoresheet, those drives were characterized by Mahomes unloading the ball quickly before pressure could develop.

A little background first.  I split all pass plays into Ample Time and Space (ATS) and other.  Passes that are not ATS may be so because of a pressure event or because the ball is out quickly (BOQ) before pressure can develop, but I judge that would have happened within 3 seconds.

Beginning with a 2nd-and-1 conversion (Q2, 2:42), Mahomes threw 8 consecutive passes before pressure arrived (BOQ) with results of:

  • PL4
  • PL14
  • PM20
  • PL14
  • PR5
  • PL11
  • PM40
  • PL5

That totaled 8/8 for 113 yards (14.1 YPP).  Mahomes scattered his passes in short zones and got terrific YAC from Pringle, Kelce, Bell, Burton, and McKinnon.  It was a simple, brutal, unfair massacre.

Following that sequence of BOQ passes, Mahomes had ATS (incomplete) and then was pressured by Madubuike and Queen on what would become the 46-yard TD (3 + 43 YAC) to Kelce that put the Chiefs up 35-24.

Bullied ILBs

Mahomes dissected the middle of the field where the Ravens had no answer.  I scored the Ravens with a collective 13 targets for the ILBs with 13 completions for 191 yards (14.7 YPP) with 1 TD and a passer rating of 144.4.  You won’t win many games with ILBs having that much difficulty.

Kelce was a mismatch on Harrison, but Queen was targeted 9 times and again had trouble tackling.  Patrick’s tackles came on:

  • RR9
  • PL10
  • RM9
  • PL14
  • RM7
  • PL5 (this was technically a defensive win on 2nd and 9)
  • RR3 (he held Mahomes a yard shy of the marker, but was aided/negated by Humphrey’s DH)
  • PM8

Queen did contribute a pressure on the 46-yard missed-tackle-fest TD to Kelce (Q3, 7:07).

Under Wraps

The Ravens did not sack Mahomes, but the 3 times they knocked him down were all excellent results:

  • (Q1, 0:18): Houston took down Mahomes as he threw desperately incomplete and was flagged for an 18-yard intentional grounding
  • (Q2, 9:11): Elliott knocked down Mahomes as he threw incomplete on 3rd and 10
  • (Q3, 2:09): Oweh twisted down Mahomes as he pitched for Kelce and was intercepted by Tavon Young


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 Chiefs ran 49 such snaps.

Base (5): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB exclusively on 1st and 10 plays.  These included 2 runs for 2 yards and 3 passes for 44, including the 33-yard TD to Robinson.  5 plays, 46 yards, 9.2 YPP.

Standard Nickel (31): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB.  Martindale again used it as a response to 11 and 12 personnel on early downs.  The Chiefs used predominantly 11 personnel, so this was the most frequently used Ravens package.  31 plays, 320 yards, 10.3 YPP, 1 turnover.

Rush Nickel (5): This version of the nickel includes 1 down linemen, 3 OLB, and 2 ILB.  Martindale did not deploy it until the last play of Q3 and this package was on the field for each of the last 3 drive-ending plays.  5 plays, 8 yards, 1.6 YPP, 1 turnover.

3-ILB Nickel (2): The Ravens lined up with this package on consecutive plays (beginning Q3, 8:20) and allowed conversion of a 2nd and 9 (on Humphrey’s tack-on DH flag).  2 plays, 8 yards, 5.0 YPP.

32 Dime (6): This package includes a 3-man-down front (3 OLBs or 1 DL, 2 OLBs) along with 2 ILBs and 6 DBs. The Ravens played some of this package in the opener vs Las Vegas, but I believe the last time the Ravens played this package regularly was 2001, when Jamie Sharper and Ray Lewis stayed on the field for passing situations with a 3-man front that most commonly featured Rob Burnett with Michael McCrary and Peter Boulware.  In Marvin Lewis’ version of that package, Sharper typically roamed the LoS looking for a rush opportunity.  Since this is a significant concession to pass rush flexibility, I don’t believe we’ll see this nearly as regularly from Martindale, but it’s an option for a mobile opponent.  6 plays, 23 yards, 4.8 YPP.

After using the racecar dime 13 times vs the Raiders, Martindale mothballed his 4-OLB package vs the Chiefs which was consistent with the pass rush scheme.

Pass Rush

Martindale used the plainest pass rush scheme of his tenure as defensive coordinator in an attempt to contain Mahomes.

For the game, Mahomes had ATS on 8/31 drop backs (26%) which is about average for the Ravens.  However, Mahomes delivered the ball before pressure could develop on 12 plays and the Ravens generated a pressure event on 11 plays with 0 sacks.

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3: 6 play, 29 yards, 4.8 YPP

4: 19 plays, 230 yards, 12.1 YPP, 1 turnover

5: 5 plays, 73 yards, 14.6 YPP

6: 1 plays, 11 yards, 11.0 YPP

Total: 31 plays, 343 yards, 11.1 YPP, 1 turnover

The Ravens rushed 5+ on only 6 of 31 drop backs (19%) on which the Chiefs averaged 14.0 YPP.

Martindale used just 8 individual blitzes (.26 per pass play) from off the LoS (exactly 1 on each of 8 plays).  These plays resulted in 3 pressures and 5 BOQ on which Mahomes completed 7 of 8 passes for 130 yards (16.3 YPP).

I did not record a single stunt.  Since linemen may agree on field to run such plays when there is not a blitz (23 nonblitzes), I think it’s likely Martindale mandated these extremely controlled rush lanes.

Similarly, the Ravens did not have a single instance of simulated pressure where they dropped 2 or more from the LoS (and inside the slot receiver) to coverage.  Martindale has never before set aside this staple of his pass rush scheme, but this further underscores the extreme game plan used against the Chiefs.

I define a deceptive pass rush as incorporating 2 or more of the above elements (off ball blitzes, stunts, and simulated pressures).  For the first time in the Martindale era, the Ravens ran no such plays.

Odafe Oweh had 3 pressures and a QH to lead the Ravens.  Justin Houston had a QH and 2 pressures.  Brandon Williams also had 2 pressures.  Context is important when considering pressure rates and these rushers were asked to win individually rather than by scheme.

Star Treatment

Odafe Oweh

  • (Q1, 1:13):  He chased QB Mahomes on roll right who threw to WR Mecole Hardman PR17
  • (Q2, 15:00):  On 3rd/39, he beat LT Orlando Brown inside for fast pressure as Mahomes threw PL11
  • (Q2, 10:45):  He lost the left edge on RB Edwards-Helaire RL3
  • (Q3, 9:30):  He lost the right edge on WR Tyreek Hill RR15
  • (Q3, 9:03):  He cleaned up Campbell’s blow-up of RB Edwards-Helaire’s RR1
  • (Q3, 2:35):  He bulled RT Lucas Niang for pressure as Mahomes threw PR3 to Hill
  • (Q3, 2:09):  On 3rd/12, he twisted down Mahomes for a late QH on which his heave was intercepted by Young
  • (Q4, 12:51):  He bulled then shed RT Niang to tackle Edwards-Helaire RR-2
  • (Q4, 1:26):  On 2nd/3, he beat LG Thuney outside for FF/FR on Edwards-Helaire RFM-2

I’ve watched the last play 10-15 times now and am still amazed Oweh was able to dislodge the football given his distance behind Edwards-Helaire.  Near the end of the game, Martindale assigned Odafe to disrupt Kelce off the LoS.  The Ravens depended heavily on his ability to generate pressure, but with the ILBs consistently losing Kelce, it would have been interesting to see if his speed, size, and length could have helped against the Chiefs star.

Justin Houston

  • (Q1, 0:19):  On a bad snap, he chased down Mahomes for a QH and 18-yard intentional grounding (essentially an 18-yard sack)
  • (Q1, 0:12):  He cleaned up on Clark’s initial penetration to tackle Edwards-Helaire RM-1
  • (Q2, 12:05):  He met and bulled the pulling LG Thuney to blow up RB Darrel Williams RM1 who was cleaned up by Campbell
  • (Q2, 9:16): He bulled then shed LT Brown for pressure as Mahomes overthrew WR Hardman 25 yards [4]
  • (Q4, 11:28):  On 3rd/9, he beat RT Niang outside for pressure as Mahomes’ throw for WR Hill 10 yards [5] was knocked down by Averett

Houston has played 62% of the team’s non-penalty snaps the first 2 games and produced as well as could reasonably be expected.  Combined with his mentoring of young pass rushers, he’s already been a fine signing.

Justin Madubuike

  • (Q1, 8:17):  Despite an uncalled hold, he bulled RG Trey Smith three yards to blow up RB Edwards-Helaire RR1
  • (Q2, 3:16):  He was blocked by RT Niang on Edwards-Helaire RM9
  • (Q3, 14:55): He worked off RG Smith and RT Niang double to tackle Edwards-Helaire RM0 but was flagged for DH
  • (Q3, 7:07):  He bulled RT Niang for pressure as Mahomes threw PR46 TD to TE Kelce
  • (Q3, 3:14):  He beat the reach block of C Creed Humphrey to tackle RB Williams RM-5

I’m more excited about Justin’s explosiveness and run penetration than I have been about his pass rush to date, but all indicators are positive for a big season.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Odafe Oweh
  2. Tavon Young
  3. Justin Houstin

Honorable mention to Justin Madubuike and Anthony Averett.