Shutout Insurance

Recording a defensive shutout in today’s NFL usually requires talent, luck, and offensive contributions.

The Ravens:

  • dominated the LoS on defense
  • pounded Burrow in a manner he won’t soon forget. Including 7 sacks among 15 QHs
  • received a gift when Burrow overthrew Mixon who was left uncovered near midfield (Q3, 1:59)
  • were fortunate to avoid several interceptable balls, any of which might have led to a score
  • ran the ball for 161 yards (6.7 YPC)

Those circumstances resulted in a 27-0 lead as the Bengals took over for what would be their final drive (Q4, 8:21).

I often refer to such a lead as “shutout insurance”, because it requires an even number of TDs to catch up (a single FG would not have helped).  In addition, it is highly unusual for a team to kick a late FG on 4th down while trailing by any significant margin in the closing minutes.

In a remarkably similar game, the Ravens led Pittsburgh by an identical 27-0 margin on 11/26/06 and had already sacked Roethlisberger 9 times.  Rather than attempt a FG on 4th and 17 at the Ravens 30 (Q4, 1:44), Tomlin left the offense on the field and Bart Scott picked off Big Ben to seal a satisfying afternoon.

On Sunday, the Bengals drove 55 yards on 13 plays in a drive that spanned 7:49 including 11 runs and just 2 passes.  The play selection and the decision to kick were both means to protect Joe Burrow from further punishment.


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 Bengals ran 65 such snaps.

Jumbo (0): The Ravens were never in a position where they opted for a jumbo package, despite 3 plays with 6 offensive linemen for the Bengals.  The other common usage is in goal line defense, so it’s a good package to avoid.

Base (7): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense with 2 ILB and 2 OLB primarily vs 12 personnel and when the Bengals inserted a 6th OL.  Interestingly, the Bengals “forced” the base defense just twice in the first half and 4 times in the 4th quarter with the game no longer in doubt.  The overall result was certainly acceptable, but the apparent weakness against the run is troubling. 7 plays, 21 yards, 3.0 YPP.

Baltimore had just 4 DL with Justin Ellis and Broderick Washington inactive.  Justin Madubuike saw his first NFL action.  Playing shorthanded could have caused workload issues had the Ravens suffered an injury or the Bengals decided to play more heavy formations.

Jumbo Nickel (6): Martindale continued to use this heavier version of the nickel (DL substituted for an ILB) in some 11/12 personnel situations.  In each case, Queen was the only ILB.  6 plays, 41 yards, 6.8 YPP.

Standard Nickel (31): The standard nickel includes 2 down linemen, 2 OLB, and 2 ILB and is the Ravens most common response to 11 personnel on early downs.  31 plays, 106 yards, 3 sacks, 3.4 YPP.

The Ravens played a divisional rival with a good QB/good RB and held the Bengals to 15 yards on 43 carries (2.9 YPC) in their most frequently used package.  The Bengals know who the Ravens are and could have schemed to use their large receivers (Higgins, Tate) for some effective runs, but the Ravens set the edge well, penetrated/created bubbles on the interior, filled well, and pursued relentlessly along the LoS.  Despite the opponent quality, the Ravens outstanding nickel play the last 2 weeks bodes well for the remainder of the season.

Dime (21): 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 (13 snaps): 18 yards

Heavy—2 DL, 3 OLB, 6 DBs (8 snaps): 19 yards, 1 INT.

Racecar– 0 ILBs, 4 OLBs, 1 DL, 6 DBs: None

I find it useful to look at success of the dime in (at least) 2 ways:

Success on 3rd/4th down: The Ravens stopped the Bengals 12 times and allowed just 2 conversions.

Defensive wins on other downs: The Ravens won all 7 uses of the dime on 1st/2nd down by the Football Outsiders formula.

The Ravens were successful in their dime packages and may have found their new personnel group with Gilchrist at safety and Jimmy Smith back at CB.

Pass Rush

After a week of allowing Dwayne Haskins to make his own mistakes, Martindale returned to a scheme-heavy pass rush.  It’s clear the Ravens game plan was to make the pocket uncomfortable for Burrow to avoid the remarkable success he had enjoyed on routes between 10 and 20 yards.

Burrow had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on just 7 of 37 drop backs (19%) resulting in a pass or sack, the Ravens best pressure performance of the season.  He threw 8 passes before the rush had a chance to develop (ball out quick or BOQ) which means the Ravens generated 22 pressure events (59%).

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3: 1 play, 0 yards, 1 TO

4: 19 plays, 103 yards, 5.4 YPP, 3 sacks, 1 TO

5: 12 plays, 29 yards, 2.4 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO

6: 4 plays, -3 yards, -0.8 YPP, 2 sacks

7: 1 play, 6 yards

Total: 37 plays, 135 yards, 3.6 YPP, 7 sacks, 3 TO

The Ravens sent 5+ on 17 of 37 drop backs (46%), which is in line with their season average (45%).

Martindale sent 19 individual blitzes from off the LoS, including 10 by DBs.  The Ravens used just 4 individual stunts (blitzing is often incompatible with stunting) on which they had 2 QHs and 1 PD at the LoS.  On 8 occasions they dropped 2+ from the LoS to cover. 

Of 37 drop backs, 9 rushes were deceptive as I define it by incorporating 2 or more of the above elements.  For the deceptive rushes, here are the results by play:

  • Pass middle -2 (PM-2)
  • Sack fumble -6 (SF-6)
  • Incomplete
  • S-9
  • S-10
  • PM11
  • PR3
  • S-7
  • S-8

That set of results (9 plays, -28 yards, 5 sacks, 1 TO) is a defensive coordinator’s dream.

The Ravens 15 QHs do not include any artificial inflation from shared sacks, so each was a hit taken by Burrow.  They had an additional QH/INT washed out by offsides.  The total is among the highest in team history (there have been a handful in the 15-18 range), but still well short of the 19 knockdowns of Charlie Frye on 9/24/06 at Cleveland.

Among the 7 sacks were 5 by DBs.  Per Pro Football Reference, that was the first time 5 different DBs have had a sack for 1 team.  The previous record was 4 by the Packers in the divisional playoff game they managed to lose 20-17 in OT.  Since there was no mention of other occurrences, I assume this moved the record from 3 to 5. Wow!

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 activated Justin Madubuike (30 snaps) for his first NFL game.  He was in for 29 snaps on 1st/2nd down and just once on 3rd down.  His logged his first QH on his 6th play, but he did not generate any other pressure events as I scored it. 

Calais Campbell (33 snaps) was again at the heart of the Ravens defensive success despite a modest 2 tackles and 1 QH.  He had 4 other pressures which resulted in 2 incompletes, a pass for 11, and Clark’s S-7.  He continues to penetrate and create havoc versus the run and had tackles for no gain (3rd and 1) and 2 yards (1st and 10) among just 8 run snaps.

Brandon Williams (36 snaps) had 2 pressures, the first of which resulted in McPhee’s cleanup sack.

Derek Wolfe (32 snaps) returned from his elbow injury and was effective.  He had 3 tackles (all defensive wins, 2 for loss) on just 19 run snaps.  He did not generate a pressure in 13 pass snaps.


Chris Board (6 snaps) and Malik Harrison (13 snaps) each had some time at ILB with 10 of their combined snaps on the last drive.

Tyus Bowser (29 snaps) had one of his most effective days as an edge setter including 3 noteworthy plays (Q2, 13:33; Q2, 2:48; Q4, 11:23),  He dropped 10 times from the LoS to cover, but still managed a fast QH (Q2, 6:54) when he bulled and shed LT Jonah Williams.  He had another QH wiped out by offsides.  In a normal week, his performance might be among the defensive MVPs, but the list is far too crowded from this defensive laugher.

Jaylon Ferguson (24 snaps) did not have a pressure but contributed to 6 tackles, of which 5 were defensive wins.  That’s a remarkable total for an OLB and this was one of his best performances as a Raven.

Matthew Judon (35 snaps) was on the field for all 3 turnovers and 5 of the sacks.  He recorded just 1 pressure though he dropped from the LoS to cover on just 5 of 25 pass snaps.  He was twice flagged for offsides (in the second case, Clark also jumped), which negated a QH by Bowser, INT by Clark, and a pair of 3rd-down stops.  

Pernell McPhee (33 snaps) had his best game since returning to the Ravens (see “Star Treatment” below).

Patrick Queen (51 snaps) continues to flash (see “Star Treatment”).


The secondary provided coverage and playmaking to mesh with an outstanding pass rush.

Chuck Clark (65 snaps) again played well.  Let’s review:

  • He delivered a QH on the interception by Peters (Q1, 0:29)
  • He had an interception wiped out by offsides (Q2, 9:51)
  • He undercut the pulling C Trey Hopkins and wade an arm tackle to trip up Mixon (Q3, 1:18)
  • He cleaned up Campbell’s pressure for a S-7 (Q4, 15:00)
  • He contributed to 9 tackles, tied for tops on the team
  • He relayed the signals for a complex pass rush scheme which generated 7 sacks and 15 QHs

Yet somehow, he didn’t make my top 3 defensive performers for the game.

Marcus Gilchrist (18 snaps) was not a typical practice squad elevation.  This is his 7th organization in a 10-year career (127 games, 98 starts) and he will turn 32 in December.  He played exclusively in dime packages (often on the back end) and was not targeted.  He meets the Ravens need for an experienced player who can play a deep half or even single high.

Marlon Humphrey (65 snaps) was again outstanding.  He was the last of the Ravens starting DBs to record a sack (Q4, 14:22).  He made 2 failed attempts to punch the ball free after a reception (Q2, 12:10; Q4, 10:43) before finally striking paydirt (Q4, 8:35) on the ball Queen returned for a TD.  He should be in consideration for DPOY.

Deshon Elliott (65 snaps) was terrific, including pressures on 3 consecutive drive-ending plays (Q2, 2:10; Q2, 1:07; Q3, 11:36).  He flashed his speed coming from deep middle to push Mixon out of bounds for a 2-yard loss (Q2, 12:49).   

Just like Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith (52 snaps) picked up a sack in his only pass rush Sunday (Q1, 13:43).  He had step-for-step coverage of Tee Higgins (Q1, 0:40) on one of Burrow’s few long attempts, but was not tested on any other throws over 10 yards.  Martindale used him as both a boundary CB and safety, which reduced Averett’s role to 9 snaps.  Given how much the Ravens now need him at CB and the solid play of Gilchrist, it’s not hard to imagine a reduction in his role as a back-end safety.

There was talk this offseason of the Ravens making a play for AJ Green.  He missed all of the 2019 season, but has returned in 2020 to average 3.5 yards per target (34 targets for 119 yards) and I think it’s likely this will be his final full season.  Please feel free to use these numbers when setting your expectations for Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, and Steve Largent, all of whom are (or will be by week 9) free agents.

Star Treatment

Pernell McPhee (33 snaps) delivered his first big game of the season:

  • (Q1, 15:00):  He stunted inside through the right A-gap for a fast QH.
  • (Q1, 13:43):  On 3rd/6, he beat LT Jonah Williams outside to flush Burrow right where he was sacked by Jimmy Smith.
  • (Q1, 8:47):  On 3rd/9, he chased down Burrow after a 6-yard scramble to force 4th/3. 
  • (Q2, 7:52):  He rushed for a QH on a screen pass.
  • (Q2, 7:35): He was blocked past the pocket by RT Bobby Hart, but kept his feet moving and dropped Burrow for a cleanup S-7 off initial pressure from Brandon Williams.
  • (Q2, 1:13):  He beat LG Michael Jordan inside for a fast QH.
  • (Q2, 1:10):  He absorbed a double team from RG Alex Redmond and RT Bobby Hart, got push, then flicked his hand up to bat down Burrow’s pass.
  • (Q3, 12:10):  After Wolfe flushed Burrow, McPhee tackled him RM2 (effectively S+2).
  • (Q4, 1:18):  On 3rd/7, he bulled then shed LT Williams, then grabbed legs of RB Mixon but got no tackle credit on RL-1.

McPhee drove the 2014 Ravens pass rush with just such pressure provided from all over the line and against double teams.  All of the violence of hands remains.

Patrick Queen (51 snaps) again flashed all over the field without a big slug of coverage/responsibility notes:

  • (Q2, 12:49):  Judon flushed Burrow right where he threw to RB Mixon PR-2 (-6 + 4) [4], Queen helped chase him to the sideline where Elliott pushed him out of bounds.
  • (Q2, 11:24):  Fort signaled Queen as TE Drew Sample was uncovered wide left.  Queen did not move to cover, but Burrow threw to Boyd PR6 (0 +6) [5].
  • (Q2, 9:40):  On 3rd/7, Burrow drifted left from ATS and Queen chased him down for a trifecta S-6/FF/FR.
  • (Q2, 1:07):  On 3rd/10, he converged quickly to tackle Bernard PL4 (1 +3) [1] and deny conversion.
  • (Q3, 1:59):  Burrow was flushed right and overthrew RB Mixon 7 yards [4], Queen was not close and may have blown coverage.  Clark rushed the QB when Burrow was flushed right and obviously expected help.
  • (Q4, 8:35):  Burrow completed PL9 (9 +0) [1] to WR Mike Thomas, Humphrey bludgeoned the ball free and Patrick returned it 53 yards for a TD.

He and Elliott each add playmaking speed to a defense that relies heavily on scheme.

Marcus Peters (65 snaps) was one of 4 Ravens DBs who okayed every snap:

  • (Q1, 10:05):  Burrow threw to WR Tee Higgins PR26 (17 + 9) [5] with Peters soft.
  • (Q1, 0:29):  On 3rd/10, Clark’s fast QH induced Burrow to throw away 17 yards [4] where it was intercepted by Marcus.
  • (Q3, 7:45):  Peters beat TE Sample for the initial pressure but was pushed south of the pocket, Ferguson bulled LT Williams to phonebooth Burrow, and Peters recovered for a strip S-10 that rolled out of bounds after at least 5 Ravens had a chance for recovery.  This was his first career sack.

Defensive MVPs

My crowded list:

  1. Pernell McPhee
  2. Patrick Queen
  3. Marcus Peters

In a defensive rout, Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson, Deshon Elliott, Marlon Humphrey, and Chuck Clark all earned honorable mention.