The Last Question

I highly recommend this classic Isaac Asimov short story even for folks who don’t enjoy science fiction.

If you haven’t read it, please do.  It might put you in the right frame of mind to think about this game.

For a few minutes we are going to celebrate a terrific effort by the defense before we return to worrying about the question from this game that towers over all others for Ravens fans.

Drive Enders

I often comment on drive-ending plays in this article or on the defense podcast.  That’s because plays that can potentially end a drive have high leverage and in the simplest terms, a team needs one for each drive on which they do not allow a TD.

The Broncos had 11 drives on Sunday and never reached the end zone against the Ravens, so Baltimore had 11 drive-ending plays.  Let’s review:

  • (Q1, 9:54):  On 3rd/5, Campbell bulled C Glasgow then missed the tackle at -2, but set-up Queen to tackle RB Boone RL-1 to force a FG attempt.
  • (Q1, 6:42):  On 3rd/1, Washington shed LG Risner to force run right, Madubuike worked off block from RG Meinerz to tackle RB Murray RM0 with Queen
  • (Q1, 1:37):  On 3rd/15, Houston beat LT Anderson inside to flush Wilson left.  Bowser and Campbell pursued, Stone missed the tackle at -1, and Humphrey pushed OOB for S0 to force punt.
  • (Q2, 11:40):  On 3rd/3, Wilson completed PL1 (1 + 0) [2] to TE Dulcich who was taken down immediately by Stone to force punt
  • (Q2, 4:32):  On 3rd/5, Bowser diagnosed WR screen right and knocked down the pass behind the LoS before RT Fleming could engage with him
  • (Q2, 0:46):  On 3rd/8 with ATS, Hamilton touched down WR Jeudy PR7 (7 + 0) [4] to bring up 4th/1.  After a failed offsides inducement, the Broncos kicked a FG.
  • (Q3, 8:31):  On 3rd/9 with ATS, Wilson threw to RB Murray PM6 (2 + 4) [3] who was chased down then tripped up by Smith to force punt
  • (Q3, 4:40):  On 3rd/10, Houston bulled LT Anderson into cone as Wilson threw to RB Boone PL8 (3 + 5) [1] who was tackled by Stone in the open field to force a FG attempt
  • (Q4, 9:49):  On 3rd/10, Campbell stunted off a pick from Smith to flush Wilson right where he was taken down by Oweh for S-5
  • (Q4, 5:17):  On 3rd/11, Bowser (underneath on stunt) bulled C Glasgow for pressure as Wilson overthrew WR Washington 40 yards [5] with tight coverage from Clark to force punt
  • (Q4, 0:09):  The Ravens rushed no one but Campbell spied and chased Wilson OOB for RR4 to force game-losing, 63-yard FG attempt

Some thoughts on these plays:

  • The Broncos converted on just 2 of 12 3rd downs and did not run a play on 4th down.  This was the 6th consecutive game the Ravens have held their opponents under 31% on 3rd down.
  • Failures on 3rd down account for 10 of the drive-ending plays.  The last was Wilson’s 4-yard scramble (on 1st down) to set up the 63-yard FG attempt by McManus.
  • The 11 drive-ending plays included direct contributions from 10 different players.  I’m defining that as a contribution to a pressure event, tackle, or coverage of the intended receiver.  Unfortunately, we’re not crediting any coverage contributions that are not of the intended receiver, which understates the contributions of Humphrey, Peters, and probably Hamilton.
  • Of the 10 players who had a direct contribution by tackle, sack, pressure, or coverage of the intended receiver I would place those of Stone, Bowser, and Campbell at the top when I tried to roughly approximate shares without regard to the value of continuing the drive.
  • Macdonald deployed packages highly leveraged by pass rushers and DBs as can be seen in drive-ending plays by package below.  In particular, we are starting to see more 3+ OLB packages, including 7 among the drive-ending plays.


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 52 such snaps.

Base (21): The Ravens used their base 3-4 defense for 21 snaps including 14 runs for 28 yards and 7 passes for 101 (14.4 YPP).  21 plays, 129 yards, 6.1 YPP.  

Big Nickel (21): The Ravens used the big nickel nickel for 21 snaps.  Kyle Hamilton acted as the SCB for the vast majority of these snaps and was on the field for all big nickel plays.  These included 11 runs for 40 yards and 10 passes for 58 yards (5.8 YPP). 21 plays, 98 yards, 4.7 YPP.

Rush Nickel (2): This version of the nickel included 1 down linemen, 3 OLB, and 2 ILB.  Both of these were big nickel and included Hamilton and both plays ended drives.  2 plays, 6 yards, 3.0 YPP.

Racecar Nickel (2): These were the first 2 packages of the season Macdonald has schemed with 4 OLBs.  Each included Ar”Darius Washington as the SCB instead of Hamilton and both ended drives.  Given the success (RL-1, S-5), we should see more.  2 plays, -6 yards, -3.0 YPP.

Standard Dime (2): The Ravens used the standard dime for the first 2 snaps of the Broncos final drive.  Each included both Hamilton and Washington plus the 4 starting DBs.  2 plays, 33 yards, 16.5 YPP.

Rush Dime (3): This version of the dime included 1 down linemen, 3 OLB, and 1 ILB.  Each of these 3 packages also ended a drive.  3 plays, 8 yards, 2.7 YPP.

Quarter (1): The Ravens used 7 DBs along with 2 OLBs, 1 DL, and 1 ILB on the Broncos final offensive snap.  1 play, 4 yards.

Pass Rush

Macdonald sent numbers (5+) on 10 of 24 drop backs resulting in a pass or sack, but those plays gained 120 yards (12.0 YPP).  He also used limited deception which was more effective (see below).

For the game, Wilson had ATS on 11 of 24 drop backs (46%).  On those plays, the Broncos gained 122 yards (11.1 YPP).  Wilson also delivered the ball before pressure could develop (BOQ) 7 times (29%, 39 yards, 5.6 YPP).  The Ravens generated a pressure event on 6 plays (25%) which gained 33 net yards (5.5 YPP), including both sacks.

Summarizing by number of pass rushers:

3: 1 play, 1 yard

4: 13 plays, 63 yards, 4.8 YPP, 1 sack

5: 8 plays, 90 yards, 11.3 YPP, 1 sack

6+: 2 plays, 30 yards, 15.0 YPP

Total:  24 plays, 184 yards, 7.7 YPP, 2 sacks

Macdonald dialed up 3 individual blitzes (.13 per pass play) from off the LoS, all singles.  Of the 3, 2 were from Smith and 1 from Clark.  On the 3 plays where they blitzed, the Ravens allowed 20 yards (6.7 YPP).   

The Ravens stunted 4 times (.17 per pass play), all of which were singles.  Those 4 plays went for 5 net yards (1.3 YPP) and included Oweh’s sack. 

The Ravens showed simulated pressure on 5 occasions where 2+ dropped from the LoS.  Those plays went for a total of 10 yards (2.0 YPP).

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 3 deceptive rushes (13%) on which the Broncos gained 3 yards.

Individually, Houston led the team with shares of 3 pressure events (2 full, 1 QH).  Bowser had a pressure and a PD at the LoS.  Campbell had a pressure and a late QH (after ATS).

Star Treatment

Roquan Smith

  • (Q1, 13:33):  He tackled RB Murray RM2 off initial pressure from Campbell
  • (Q1, 10:36):  He was given primary credit on tackle of RB Murray RL2 with Urban
  • (Q1, 7:21):  He beat screen blocks from LT Anderson and RG Meinerz to tackle TE Dulcich PL5 (-1 + 6) [2]
  • (Q2, 14:01):  He was blocked by the pulling RG Meinerz on Murray RL7
  • (Q2, 12:52):  He and Clark combined to tackle Murray RM1 off initial penetration from Jones
  • (Q2, 5:51):  He delivered a downhill tackle on RB Mack PM6 (4 + 2) [4] in space
  • (Q2, 5:14):  He penetrated through the left C-gap to tackle RB Mack RL-1 with B. Washington
  • (Q3, 8:31):  On 3rd/9, he chased down and tripped up RB Murray PM6 (2 + 4) [3] to force a punt
  • (Q4, 11:02):  He assisted Stone to tackle Murray RM0 off initial penetration from Hamilton
  • (Q4, 9:49):  He delivered a bone-jarring pick which allowed Campbell to stunt and flush Wilson right into S-5 by Oweh
  • (Q4, 6:07):  After stretch from Bowser and Hamilton, he took down WR M. Washington RL-1

Roquan had contributions vs run and pass, but also played some great complementary defense both as the cleanup player and enabler.  This was his best game to date in a Ravens uniform.

Kyle Hamilton

  • (Q2, 14:01):  He was blocked by WR Hinton on Murray RL7
  • (Q2, 0:46):  On 3rd/8, he touched down WR Jeudy PR7 (7 + 0) [4] to force FG attempt
  • (Q4, 11:02):  He rolled over a cut block from WR Hinton to retrack Murray on RM0, cleaned up by Stone and Smith.  He was injured on the play and did not return until the next series.
  • (Q4, 6:07):  He beat the zone block of LT Anderson to stretch WR M. Washington into tackle by Smith RL-1
  • (Q4, 0:16):  He took down Wilson with assist from Clark for RM17 that forced Denver’s last timeout

I’ll be interested to see how other services like PFF and PFR score his missed tackles from this game, but each of his potential MTs listed above (Q4, 11:02; Q4, 6:07) helped create a tackle opportunity for others.

Calais Campbell

  • (Q1, 13:33):  He penetrated vs LT Anderson to slow RB Murray who was tackled by Smith RM2
  • (Q1, 9:54):  On 3rd/5, he bulled C Glasgow then missed the tackle on Boone at -2, but Queen took down RL-1
  • (Q1, 1:37):  On 3rd/5, he pursued Wilson left with Bowser off initial flush from Houston on what became Humphrey S0, which forced a punt
  • (Q2, 0:56):  After ATS, he chased Wilson right with Oweh to force OOB throw away
  • (Q4, 9:49):  On 3rd/10, he stunted off Smith’s pick to flush Wilson right for Oweh S-5
  • (Q4, 0:23):  He shed RT Fleming for a late QH on Wilson PR16 to Jeudy
  • (Q4, 0:09):  He spied Wilson on 0-man rush then chased him OOB RR4 to force game-losing FG attempt

Even in a game with few total snaps and little total pressure for the Ravens, Campbell had almost as many notes as anyone and was involved in several drive-ending plays (see above).

Broderick Washington

  • (Q1, 12:55):  On 3rd/1, he backed up C Glasgow but no other defender exploited on Murray RM2 conversion
  • (Q1, 6:42):  On 3rd/1, he shed LG Risner to force run right where Madubuike worked off RG Meinerz to tackle Murray RM0 with Queen
  • (Q2, 5:14):  He swam past RG Meinerz to shut down run right and when Smith penetrated through left C-gap he assisted on tackle of Mack RL-1
  • (Q2, 2:26):  He bulled then shed LG Risner to tackle Murray RM2
  • (Q3, 9:11):  He bulled RG Meinerz to blow up Murray RM0 cleaned up by Clark

Broderick was a man among boys in terms of his ability to push around the Denver IOL and he spread his physicality fairly evenly.

Defensive MVPs

  1. Roquan Smith
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Broderick Washington

Honorable mention to Tyus Bowser, Kyle Hamilton, Marlon Humphrey, and Jason Pierre-Paul