It’s possible to pick out many ways in which the Ravens defense outplayed the Broncos offense on Sunday, but more than anything they were the tougher team.
- Odafe Oweh knocked out Teddy Bridgewater on a clean hit on the last Denver offensive play of the first half
- Chuck Clark delivered a big hit on Diontae Spencer on a short pass rightfrom which he did not return
- The Ravens did not allow the Broncos enormous receivers (Patrick, Sutton, Okwuegbunam, and Fant) to take over the game (combined 26 targets for 143 yards, 5.5 YPP)
- They pressed their biggest advantage versus the Broncos not only by exploiting a weakened OL, but also by beating their veteran tackles
The defensive identity of the team is as important as that of the offense and after 2 weeks of struggles vs QBs who release the ball quickly, the Ravens have looked good against 2 QBs who are not good with pressure.
For the first game this season the pass rush and coverage combined to be very effective. Some things I note frequently that are indications of complementary pass rush and coverage:
- Balls thrown away
- CBs mirroring receivers step for step and using the boundary well
- Plays on which the defender becomes the receiver (interception or not)
- Pressure that throws off screen timing combined with diagnosis that forces grounding of such passes
- Hands in the air to prevent easy short/hot reads and quick tackling when they are completed
- Pressure that forces passes off their normal trajectory combined with punishing hits or PDs on the receiving end
- Sacks and QHs after extended time holding the ball
- Plays where the QB releases without naturally stepping into his throw
- Unforced pocket jitters
We saw instances of every one of these on Sunday as the Broncos threw for just 3.5 net pass yards per play (148 yards on 42 plays).
Tackling and Pursuit Problems
The Ravens continued to miss tackles in Denver, but the 31-yard run by Javonte Williams was a microcosm. On that play:
- Tavon Young missed a tackle at the LoS
- Tyus Bowser missed the tackle 7 yards past the LoS
- Stephens was steamrolled at 8 yards
- Marlon Humphrey wrapped up at 11 yards after attempting to punch the ball free and held on for 20 more until help finally arrived
- Anthony Averett was directly behind Humphrey, failed to get a good angle on Williams, and fell off the play
- Justin Ellis (the slowest Ravens defender) was pancaked at the LoS yet was still there as the tackle was made. He idled on his pursuit speed, but the fact he was there says more about all those who were not.
- Odafe Oweh finally made the tackle
- Patrick Queen ran parallel to the play, lowered his speed (like Ellis) when he thought the play was made, and never attempted to clean up
I expect this will be a point of emphasis for the week, but it’s not a good sign that coaches for a playoff contender will have to spend time discussing hustle.
On the plus side, the Ravens didn’t have another bad hustle play the rest of the day. However, Patrick Queen had more difficulty making tackles, including:
- (Q1, 13:43) Missed tackle on Gordon RR8
- (Q1, 9:08) Outmaneuvered by WR Patrick for PL19 (6 + 13 YAC) in open field
- (Q4, 1:03) Unable to take down RB Gordon on RL12
- (Q4, 0:20) Missed tackle on RB Williams PR9 (4 + 5 YAC)
Queen was replaced by Josh Bynes for 4 plays on the last drive of Q3. Bynes penetrated the backfield but was unable to make a diving ankle tackle on RB Williams RR10 (Q3, 6:48). That’s a play Queen has the speed to convert, but there is a striking difference in both tackling form and decisiveness between he and Bynes.
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 Broncos ran 59 such snaps.
Base (12): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB on 1st and 2nd down with a single exception (3rd and goal from the 3, Q2, 14:22). These included 2 runs for 18 yards and 10 passes for 16 (2 completions for 30, 2 sacks for -14, and 6 incomplete). The Ravens played exclusively nickel for the last 20+ minutes (beginning Q3, 5:53). 12 plays, 34 yards, 2.8 YPP.
Standard Nickel (19): Martindale again used the standard nickel (including 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB) as the most common response to 11 and 12 personnel until the Ravens built a substantial lead. The Broncos had 1 RB on every snaps and a total of 82 snaps played by TEs (1.34 per play, 0 with a FB or OL6). They played exclusively 11, 12, and 13 personnel. Bridgewater and Lock were a combined 6/11 for 59 yards (5.4 YPP, 1 INT) and the backs ran for 49 yards on 8 carries (6.1 YPC) with 31 coming on Javonte Williams RR31 drag of Humphrey with very poor team pursuit. 19 plays, 108 yards, 5.7 YPP.
Jumbo NIckel (5): The Ravens played a lot of jumbo nickel down the stretch in 2019 to help some beleaguered edge defenders shore up the run defense. The version used in 2019 had 3 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 1 ILB. Against the Broncos, the Ravens debuted a new version with just 1 player who most commonly lines up at OLB to go with 3 DL and 2 ILBs. The Broncos used 11 personnel on all 5 of these plays, so it seems like this is a change of pace to the standard nickel. The last such usage came on the Broncos TD (Q2, 14:22). Since both Board and Harrison played as the extra ILB with Queen, it’s not obvious to me that Martindale was simply trying to get a more athletic OLB on the field when the Ravens only dressed 4, but I suppose that’s possible. In any case, I think this is correctly identified as a version of jumbo nickel because 3 DL are paired with 5 DBs. 5 plays, 27 yards, 5.4 YPP.
Rush Nickel (20): The Ravens lined up with 1 DL, 3 OLB, 2 ILB as their primary defense in obvious passing situations. The Ravens have typically moved from dime in obvious passing situations to dime on every play once they established a big lead. That describes the pattern of rush nickel usage versus the Broncos. During the first half, they used it 8 times (3/10, 3/9, 3/12, 3/7, 3/10, and the 3 plays on the last drive of the first half). In the 2nd half, the first 4 instances came on 3rd down, then Martindale deployed it on every play from (Q4, 9:57) until the next-to-last play when the Broncos were inside the 10. The success with the package mirrors the Ravens overall success on 3rd down. 20 plays, 74 yards, 3.7 YPP.
Racecar Nickel (1): The Ravens lined up with 4 OLB (all they had active), 2 ILB, and 5 DB (2nd and 18, Q3, 9:41). Lock threw an 8-yard screen pass to Gordon (Q3, 9:41). 1 play, 8 yards, 8.0 YPP.
Jumbo (2): Martindale responded to a 13 personnel package from the Broncos with 4 DL, 2 OLB, 2 ILB, and 3 DBs on 2 separate 1st and 10 plays (Q1, 8:33; Q1, 1:25). 2 plays, 3 yards, 1.5 YPP.
One possible reaction to the tackling and coverage problems of the past few weeks would have been a reduction in total ILB snaps with reliance on more dime and even quarter packages as the game got more lopsided. Martindale did exactly the opposite as every snap included exactly 2 of Board, Bynes, Harrison, and Queen.
Martindale employed only moderate numbers and deception to achieve outstanding results.
For the game, Bridgewater and Lock had ATS on 8 of 42 drop backs (19%) which is quite low. Bridgewater had just 2 ATS opportunities in 18 plays (11%) resulting in a pass or sack during the first half. Both of Bridgewater’s ATS opportunities were incomplete and the Broncos QBs had an inverted game with just 3.1 YPP with ATS (25 yards on 8 such plays).
Summarizing by number of pass rushers:
4: 26 plays, 81 yards, 3.1 YPP, 3 sacks, 1 TO
5: 11 plays, 21 yards, 1.9 YPP, 2 sack
6+: 4 plays, 46 yards, 10.5 YPP
Total: 42 plays, 148 yards, 3.5 YPP, 5 sacks, 1 TO
The Ravens rushed 5+ on 15 of 42 drop backs (36%) on which the Broncos averaged 4.5 YPP with 2 sacks.
Martindale used 8 individual blitzes (.19 per pass play) from off the LoS, all singles. Bridgewater and Lock completed a combined 7 of 8 for 104 yards (13.0 per play) on those plays and just 74 net yards on 34 other pass plays, including 5 sacks and an INT. Simply put, Martindale did the Broncos QBs a favor when he sent an off-ball blitz.
The Ravens stunted 9 times (5 with 1 stunt and 2 with 2). The 7 plays with a stunt went for 7 total yards, including 1 sack. A game with 34 pass plays without an off-ball blitz leaves a lot of opportunity for players to agree on stunts on field.
The Ravens showed simulated pressure on 10 occasions where 2 or 3 dropped from the LoS, up from 9 vs the Lions. 10 plays, 57 yards, 5.7 YPP, 0 sacks. The 32-yard pass to Sutton was among these plays and was one of only 2 where a stunt did not result in a pressure or QH.
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 4 deceptive rushes, a modest 9.5% rate. 4 plays, 43 yards (10.8 YPP).
Tyus Bowser was the Ravens most effective pass rusher with 2 sacks and shares of 5 other pressure events (1 full, 4 x ½). He also drew a holding flag while rushing. Calais Campbell had 3 QHs. Justin Madubuike had a sack, a QH, 2 Pressures (1 a PD) on 16 pass snaps.
Other Individual Notes
- Calais Campbell had another outstanding game. In addition to 3 QHs, he flushed Bridgewater for a short run on which Madubuike was flagged for unnecessary roughness. He also got his hand up to help force a grounded screen pass (Q2, 1:02) and compressed the pocket on Bowser’s first sack (Q2, 9:30). He pursued and tackled Sutton on the drive-ending PR3 (Q2, 4:29). His play deserves star treatment, but he’s been in every week, so I left him out this time.
- Chris Board led the team with 7 tackles, including 2 that ended drives, and did not have a miss as I scored it. He had a pressure (cut blocked at Bridgewater’s feet) on the TD pass to Fant (Q2, 14:22).
- Malik Harrison helped clean up RB Williams for a 3-yard loss with Campbell (Q2, 5:15). He worked off a block from RT Massie to tackle Fant on a 3-yard screen right (Q3, 5:49). He didn’t surrender any other completions in pass defense.
- Tavon Young drew an illegal block from Tim Patrick on a drive-ending play (Q2, 4:29). He delivered a fast QH rushing unblocked off the slot (Q2, 0:58) and another unblocked pressure (Q4, 10:27). He didn’t give up any receptions of 5+ yards in coverage.
- Jimmy Smith played safety in most obvious passing situations. He had a drive ending PD covering Fant (Q1, 7:51), drew a facemask flag from Gordon on another drive-ending play (Q1, 2:56), and had coverage of Sutton deep middle on a 3rd drive-ending play (Q4, 8:41). The only significant completion he allowed was a 3rd-and-10 conversion to Fant on a shallow cross (Q3, 11:54).
- Marlon Humphrey was targeted just 4 times with 1 catch for 9 yards. He had a PD in coverage of WR Patrick by the right sideline and a drive-ending coverage of Fant (Q3, 8:52). He was dragged for 20 yards by RB Williams on his RM31 (Q1, 1:02) which was not ideal, but the pursuit on the play was awful and he held on the whole way.
- (Q1, 13:43): He was blocked by TE Eric Saubert to lead RB Gordon RR8
- (Q1, 12:56): He bulled RT Bobby Massie for pressure on long incomplete right
- (Q1, 1:02): He was blocked by LT Garett Bolles then missed the tackle at 7 on RB Williams RL31
- (Q2, 9:30): He bulled LT Bolles for fast pressure then shed him for S-6 as Campbell compressed
- (Q2, 1:02): He pushed by RT Massie for fast pressure on a screen grounded middle
- (Q3, 10:28): He beat WR Tim Patrick off ORS for S-8
- (Q3, 9:41): He beat RT Massie outside for pressure on screen right to RB Gordon PR8
- (Q3, 8:52): He provided late pressure on QB Lock INC to TE Fant juggled OOB
- (Q4, 9:14): On 3rd/13, he beat LT Bolles outside and drew a holding flag to negate PR22
- (Q4, 0:13): On 2nd/1, he bulled RT Massie for pressure with Oweh as Lock threw incomplete at goal line
- (Q4, 0:10): On 3rd/1, he beat RT Massie outside for pressure with Oweh as Averett intercepted Lock
Tyus had his best game of the season. He was on the field for 33 pass plays but rushed the QB on only 19 to accumulate this array of highlights.
- (Q1, 15:00): He was dragged on the tackle of WR Patrick PR11 (7 + 4) 
- (Q1, 13:02): He had tight coverage of TE Fant as QB Bridgewater threw incomplete 20 yards 
- (Q1, 3:02): He had tight coverage of WR Patrick and used the boundary well on ball thrown OOB 30 yards 
- (Q2, 7:04): He was beaten on a slant to WR Courtland Sutton PR12 (7 + 5) 
- (Q3, 5:53): He was behind WR Patrick and nearly intercepted the overthow by left sideline
- (Q4, 12:50): On 3rd/14, he had tight coverage on WR Sutton who failed to find the ball 25 yards by left sideline
- (Q4, 0:28): He was pushed and surrendered a back shoulder PL32 (27 + 5) to WR Sutton by left sideline but recovered to make the TD-saving tackle
- (Q4, 0:10): On 3rd/1, he intercepted a pass intended for WR Sutton in left side of end zone
The aggregate QB rating throwing to Anthony’s targets was 22.4.
- (Q1, 13:43): He was blocked by RG Netane Muti to lead RB Gordon RR8
- (Q1, 13:02): He shed LT Bolles outside for a hard QH as Bridewater threw incomplete deep left
- (Q1, 1:25): He fell on Bridewater as he dove head first and was flagged for a ticky-tack unnecessary roughness
- (Q2, 10:15): He bulled LG Quinn Meinerz for pressure and knocked down Bridewater’s pass at the LoS
- (Q2, 7:04): He bulled RG Muti for a fast pressure
- (Q3, 12:42): He bulled then shed RG Muti, grabbed Lock’s shoulder pad, and dragged him down for S-6
Justin made the most of a limited set of pass rush opportunities. As is typical for interior pass rushers, each of his 4 pressures was a 1-on-1 win (no free runs).
- Tyus Bowser
- Anthony Averett
- Justin Madubuike
Honorable mention to Calais Campbell, Justin Houston, Marlon Humphrey, Odafe Oweh, Jimmy Smith, and Tavon Young.
I watched Marlon Humphrey closely on the DRAG20 play. He hit Williams high (pointless) then, with admirable determination while being dragged, worked his way down – sliding to Williams’ waist then knees then ankles before the RB finally went down. I’m thinking Marlon would have made the tackle by that point even without help. Or am I missing something?
In any case, HELL of a player!
Yes, it looked as if Marlon was about to take him down when Oweh finally caught up. This play is one of the disturbing plays from early 2021 that we’ll remember. Hopefully we have good memories to juxtapose as we did for Chubb’s 88-yard run in week 4, 2019 which precipitated the defensive changes/turnaround.
Another great article! Thanks again for all your hard work!
Thanks for reading/commenting, Tom!