Secondary Rebounds with Big Plays

On a day where the NFL found out Miami looks like a legitimate contender with their win over Buffalo, the Ravens rebounded from their loss to the Fish with a win at New England.

The Ravens loss to the Dolphins and victory vs the Patriots were diametrically opposed in terms of high-leverage play of the defense.  Let’s review:

Vs. Dolphins

  • Dime in the first half: 6 plays, 20 yards (3.3 YPP)
  • Dime/Quarter in the second half: 20 plays, 266 yards (13.3 YPP), 4 TD, 0 INT, perfect 158.3 passer rating

Vs. Patriots

  • Dime/Quarter in the first half: 8 plays, 61 yards (7.6 YPP), 1 sack
  • Dime in the second half: 8 plays, 48 yards (6.0 YPP), 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovered

The yardage statistics don’t convey the dominance of the Ravens dime at New England.  Reviewing their second-half dime snaps individually:

  • Madubuike S-5 (forced punt)
  • Jones 8-yard scramble right on 3rd/9 leads to conversion of 4th/1
  • Humphrey INT in end zone
  • Agholor fumble after 28-yard reception forced by Hamilton, recovered by Peters
  • Incomplete forced by Oweh pressure
  • Copeland S-7 follows initial pressure by Campbell
  • Bourne 24-yard reception is pried free by Peters, but Queen is unable to recover
  • Campbell QH induces overthrow for Bourne, intercepted by Peters

The ability they displayed to lean on the Patriots is what I believe is the Ravens best method to close out games with the lead.

Cornerbacks Benched

It is rare that a team benches 2 cornerbacks in the same game and even more unusual that such a team wins.  However, that’s exactly what happened to the Ravens on Sunday.

Jalyn Armour-Davis started at RCB but was beaten for plays of 31 and 40 yards on the first 2 drives by WR Parker that included a missed tackle.  He left after 8 snaps.

Brandon Stephens delivered tight underneath coverage on Marcus Williams’ PD (Q2, 10:07) and had a no-look PD of his own in coverage of Parker in the endzone (Q2, 7:22).  However, on the 75-yard Patriots TD drive to start the second half, he surrendered completions of 36 (plus a defensive holding flag) and 25 yards.   He did not play another snap defensively and was replaced by Pepe Williams in all packages with 5+ DBs.

Pepe was reasonably effective but got beat on a near-perfect crossing route by Agholor who had the ball dislodged by Hamilton and recovered by Peters (Q4, 5:45).

The Ravens are thin at CB but appear to have their best 3-man combination identified.  If Pepe can be effective, that will allow Humphrey to continue on the outside where his skillset is a closer match.  Over the course of the year, by both circumstance and choice, they should get a chance to see if Armour-Davis and Stephens can provide value as they make plans for 2023.

Stretched Thin

The Ravens continue to suffer injuries where they can least afford them.

The loss of Justin Houston after just 5 defensive snaps left the Ravens scrambling for OLBs with Copeland and Oweh their only remaining players with extensive experience at the position.  Copeland provided some pressure.  Oweh drew a hold on RT Isaiah Wynn but was the target of multiple uncalled holding flags as well.  From late in the first quarter (Q, 3:25), Odafe missed just 5 snaps.

The injuries to Mekari and Houston will have an impact both on play and the Ravens dwindling salary cap reserve.


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 Patriots ran 63 such snaps.

Base (18): The Ravens used their 4-DB/3-DL package exclusively with Bynes and Queen at ILB and Harrison inserted as 1 of 2 OLBs.  They began using this package only in the 2nd half, exclusively on 1st and 2nd down with the exception of a 4th/1 snap (Q4, 13:38).  Macdonald deployed this package vs both 11 and 12 personnel.  These included 11 runs for 58 yards and 7 passes for 64 yards and 1 interception.  18 plays, 122 yards, 6.8 YPP.

Standard Nickel (7): The Ravens used only a modicum of standard nickel, primarily because of their dire OLB health situation.  The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, 2 ILB, 3 CB, and 2 S and is the primary response to 11 personnel for most teams.  The Ravens tried it for 3 snaps with Armour-Davis as the 3rd CB and 4 more with Stephens before abandoning the package early in the 3rd quarter.  7 plays, 109 yards, 15.6 YPP.  

Jumbo Nickel (22): This version of the nickel included 3 down linemen, 1 OLB, and 2 ILB, 3 CB, and 2 S.  Despite the Patriots use of multiple TEs, the Ravens abandoned their big nickel in this game, effectively benching Hamilton for all but dime and quarter snaps.  Normally, this package would include 2 OLB and only 1 lineman, but the shortage of healthy OLB forced the Ravens to deploy with a second ILB. These included 14 runs for 69 yards and 8 passes for 36 yards.  22 plays, 105 yards, 4.8 YPP.  

Standard Dime (13): The version of the dime includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 1 ILB.  In each case, the Ravens used 3 S and 3 CB with Hamilton added.  Overall yardage results were modest, but the Ravens won the game with this package (see above) with 3 sacks (2 ended drives) and 3 drive-ending turnovers.  13 plays, 77 yards, 5.9 YPP.

Quarter (3): The Ravens lined up with Campbell, Oweh, Copeland, Queen, 4 S, and 3 CB on the last 3 plays of the half.  With the help of home timekeeping, the Patriots moved the ball 32 yards to set up Nick Folk’s FG (Q2, 0:01).  3 plays, 32 yards, 10.7 YPP.

Pass Rush

Macdonald employed only moderate numbers and deception against the Patriots.

For the game, Jones had ATS on 17 of 35 drop backs (49%) a high total.  On those 17 plays, he went 13 of 17 for 221 yards (13.0 YPP).  The interception by Bynes was the only blemish.  He also delivered the ball before pressure could develop (BOQ) 8 times (23%, 7.1 YPP).  The Ravens generated a pressure event on 11 plays (31%), including 3 sacks and 2 interceptions.

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer: 1 play, 10 yards.  This was the last play of the first half when the Ravens rushed no one.

4: 24 plays, 214 yards, 8.9 YPP, 1 sack, 3 TOs

5: 10 plays, 76 yards, 7.6 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO

6+: None

Total:  35 plays, 300 yards, 8.6 YPP, 3 sacks, 4 TO

Macdonald dialed up 10 individual blitzes (.29 per pass play) from off the LoS including 2 pairs.  Of the 10 blitzes, 9 came from ILB, with a single blitz from SCB Pepe Williams (shared pressure) the exception.

The Ravens stunted 5 times, all singles, which included Queen’s sack.  That was set up by confusion of responsibility between LG and RB as both went for Hamilton trying to slide through the left A gap on a play where Clark and Houston both lined up at the LoS but dropped to cover. 

The Ravens showed simulated pressure on 4 occasions where 2 dropped from the LoS.  Those included both Queen’s sack and Humphrey’s interception.

I define a deceptive pass rush as incorporating 2 or more of the above elements (off ball blitzes, stunts, and simulated pressures).  The Ravens ran 6 deceptive rushes (17%).  6 plays, 18 yards, 3.0 YPP, 1 INT, 1 sack.

Calais Campbell had 2 pressures and the game-ending QH.  Odafe Oweh had 3 solo pressures.  Brandon Copeland had 1.5 pressures and cleaned up on initial pressure from Campbell for his 8th career sack.

Other Individual Notes

  • Marcus Williams had another fine game with a big pass breakup vs Parker and no missed tackles as I scored it.
  • Patrick Queen failed to convert a pair of turnover opportunities.  His dropped pick-6 (Q3, 12:22) would have been THE play had the Ravens gone on to lose.  I’d handicap it conservatively as a 65-75% success chance with perhaps a 10-point difference in expected scoring margin.  Unfortunately, Queen tried to trap the ball against his body rather than use his hands to make the play and reduced the chance for a self-tip drill.  Queen also appeared in prime position to collect Bourne’s fumble (Q4, 2:23), but the ball found its way back into the TE’s hands.  After playing every snap of the first 2 games, Queen was removed for 7 snaps against the Patriots, all of which came on 1st or 2nd down.  Macdonald seems committed to keeping him on the field for the highest-leverage downs, even when he deploys a 7-DB package as he did at the end of the first half.
  • Josh Bynes looks slower than last season, but he made contributions to 4 tackles that were defensive wins by the Football Outsiders definition and had the big interception reading Jones and understanding the route behind him.
  • Kyle Hamilton recovered from some missed assignments vs the Dolphins to provide a drive-ending forced fumble.  His role was reduced to 6 and 7-DB packages only, but the Patriots do not play much 12 personnel (1.18 TEs per snap) which would maximize the value of big nickel (3 safeties, 2 CBs).  If he continues to make plays, he’ll find his way back onto the field.

Star Treatment

Marcus Peters

  • (Q2, 7:15):  He was blocked by WR Agholor in L2 as part of RB Stevenson RR16
  • (Q2, 0:21):  With a 4/0 pass rush and ATS, he pinched WR Agholor to the right boundary 42 yards [5] as QB Jones’ pass landed just OOB
  • (Q3, 1:14):  With a 4/0 pass rush and ATS, he lined up in press coverage vs. WR Parker and appeared to release him to deep right coverage but Clark was late arriving on PR24 (23 + 1) [5]
  • (Q4, 12:39):  On the 2-point try, he tripped up RB Stevenson at the 5-yard line to foil his lateral success to Jones which was (reversed on review)
  • (Q4, 6:36):  The Ravens rushed 4 and allowed ATS but Peters maintained tight coverage of WR Parker 18 yards [5] and the pass was underthrown, incomplete
  • (Q4, 5:45):  Jones hit WR Agholor crossing for PM28 (15 + 13) [3] just past the trailing Pepe Williams.  Hamilton chased the receiver down and clubbed the ball free.  Peters got off a block from Parker and recovered the ball inbounds to end the drive.
  • (Q4, 2:23):  On 3rd/17, Jones completed PM24 [3] to TE Bourne over Clark and in front of Peters in zone.  Marcus stripped him of the ball but Queen lost the recovery battle to Bourne.
  • (Q4, 2:01):  On 1st/10, Jones, under pressure from Campbell, overthrew TE Bourne 21 yards [4] which was intercepted by Peters to seal the game

It was probably Marcus’ best game as a Raven with contributions to 2 turnovers generated plus another forced fumble.

Marlon Humphrey

  • (Q1, 11:54):  On 2nd/12 with ATS, he made a fast downhill tackle of TE Smith on PL4 (4 + 0) [1]
  • (Q1, 1:15):  On 2nd/16, he contained Jones scramble left to RL4 sliding in front of him
  • (Q2, 11:21):  On 3rd/4 with ATS, Jones completed PL13 (12 + 1) [1] to WR Agholor with Marlon trailing and tackling
  • (Q2, 9:25):  On 4th/3, he pressed WR Parker off the LoS, read QB Jones, then slipped off his coverage to tackle TE Bourne PL0 to end the drive
  • (Q2, 7:15):  He was one of several lost in wash on RB Stevenson RR16
  • (Q4, 9:12):  On 3rd/Goal from the 10, he lined up in press coverage of WR Parker on the LoS and intercepted Jones’ lofted overthrow for him in the end zone

Marlon remains a physical presence for the Ravens and played all but 1 snap.

Calais Campbell

  • (Q1, 1:15):  He looped over Madubuike to flush Jones left where the QB slid for RL4 in front of Humphrey to bring up 3rd/12
  • (Q2, 10:48):  He rag dolled TE Smith to tackle RB Harris RM1
  • (Q2, 0:30):  He beat LG Strange inside for pressure, but Jones threw to Stevenson PL11 (5 + 6) [2]
  • (Q3, 13:28):  He shed TE Smith to tackle RB Harris RM0
  • (Q3, 1:57):  On 2nd/3, he appeared held by TE Smith on Stevenson RM18 but no flag was thrown
  • (Q3, 0:28):  He backed up LT Brown to hold the left edge to help Madubuike tackle RB Stevenson RM-3
  • (Q4, 12:39):  On the 2-point try, he missed the tackle of Stevenson at the 5 before Peters cleaned up to deny the attempt
  • (Q4, 2:56):  He beat LG Strange outside for pressure but slipped off the sack but Copeland cleaned up for S-7
  • (Q4, 2:01):  On 1st/10, he beat C Andrews left for a QH as Jones overthrew Bourne and was intercepted by Peters to seal the game

Calais toiled for 56 of the 63 defensive snaps as he was pressed into additional duty as an edge with the injury to Houston.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Marcus Peters
  2. Marlon Humphrey
  3. Calais Campbell

Honorable mention to Marcus Williams, Josh Bynes, and Justin Madubuike.