Simplification of Scheme
After a pair of one-sided losses to the Bengals last season, the Ravens exacted a measure of prime-time revenge to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
In 2 games vs the Bengals last season, the defense allowed 907 net passing yards on 88 drop backs (10.3 YPP). The Ravens needed an answer to the numerous big plays and found it in scheme simplicity.
Macdonald sent a 3 or 4-man pass rush on 35 of 38 plays, reduced elements of pass rush deception, called a lot of zone, and relied on a simplified set of packages that relied on unforced errors from Joe Burrow. The scheme combination resulted in just 5.0 yards per pass play and 1 offensive play of 20+ yards for the Bengals.
The Bengals run game had struggled mightily entering week 5, with Joe Mixon near the bottom of all NFL backs in several measures, including Football Outsiders’ Yards above Replacement (DYAR), where he ranked next-to-last in the entire NFL entering Sunday’s game.
The Bengals rely on their screen game, swing passes, and check downs to the outside to slow down opposing pass rushes and as an extension of their run game. That was in full force Sunday with 12 of Burrow’s 35 passes to the outside and behind the LoS. Let’s review:
- (Q1, 15:00): PL11 (-2 + 13)  to WR Chase, WR Boyd blocked Stephens, LT Williams blocked Bynes and C Karras blocked M. Williams
- (Q1, 14:21): PR0 (-2 + 2)  to Chase, Peters quick tackle
- (Q1, 13:44): PR6 (0 + 6)  to RB Mixon, Queen pushed OOB
- (Q2, 1:47): PL15 (-4 + 19)  to RB Perine, LG Volson blocked Queen, C Karras then blocked Queen again
- (Q2, 1:22): PL8 (-2 + 10)  to RB Perine, Oweh bulled LT Williams for pressure and just missed PD
- (Q2, 0:51): PL9 (-4 + 13)  to RB Perine on check down, Pepe Williams missed tackle at 4, LT Adeniji held Oweh but not flagged
- (Q3, 8:55): PR6 (-3 + 9)  to WR Boyd, Peters missed tackle at 1, Pepe Williams worked off block from Chase to tackle
- (Q3, 8:08): PR4 (-6 + 10)  to Mixon, Harrison tackles
- (Q3, 5:45): PL-1 (-3 + 2)  to Chase, Madubuike ran past LT Williams and was blocked in the back no flag but still undercut for tackle
- (Q4, 7:31): PL9 (-2 + 11)  screen to Chase, WR Boyd blocked Pepe Williams, WR Thomas blocked Humphrey, LT Williams blocked Bynes and Stone tackled
- (Q4, 5:22): PL8 (-2 + 10)  to WR Boyd, Queen missed tackle at 3, Bynes tackled
- (Q4, 4:01): PM0 (-1 + 1)  to Mixon, Harrison quick tackle
Total: 12 plays, 75 yards (6.3 YPP)
On all other drop backs, Burrow had 115 yards on 26 plays (4.4 YPP). Per Next Gen Stats, Burrow’s 4.0 air yards per attempt was a career low.
Mixed Run Results
With the continued absence of Justin Houston, the Ravens failed to hold the edge exceptionally well and surrendered 4.8 yards per rush. On the plus side, they did not give up a run play of over 12 yards.
Efficient Drive Management
The Bengals had only 9 total drives on Sunday night, including 5 that lasted 4 plays or less and totaled 22 yards. However, they had both the first and last meaningful drives of the first half (barring a kneel—Q2, 0:04) to enter the locker room tied at 10.
The Ravens returned the favor in the second half with 4 of the 7 drives and closed out the game with 3 straight field goals.
On 10/19/08 the Dolphins held the Ravens to 3 drives in the first half and that was the fewest in the NFL season to that point. That half included a Suggs pick-6 that denied the Ravens offense a drive. Suffice it to say a 3-drive half is a rare occurrence and more so without a defensive/special-teams score or special-teams turnover.
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 59 such snaps.
The Ravens never lined up in their Base package
Standard Nickel (40): The Ravens used the standard nickel as their primary defense for the Bengals 11 personnel. Stephens played SCB on the first, third, and fifth drives as well as the interception on the first Bengals play of the third quarter. However, Pepe Williams outsnapped Stephens 44-15 for the game. 40 plays, 203 yards, 5.1 YPP. This is divided as 17 runs for 84 yards, 4.9 YPP and 23 passes for 119 yards, 5.1 YPP.
Jumbo Nickel (6): This version of the nickel included 3 down linemen, 1 OLB, and 2 ILB, 3 CB, and 2 S. The Ravens removed Patrick Queen for each of these plays and used Bynes at ILB with Harrison either as an OLB or off ball. 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 3 runs for 8 yards and 3 passes (S-7, S-12, INC). 6 plays, -11 yards, -1.8 YPP.
Standard Dime (12): 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. Macdonald declined to use the dime on any of the 3 drive-ending plays in the first quarter. Most of the dime snaps came of the half-ending FG drive. 12 plays, 99 yards, 8.3 YPP.
Quarter (1): The Ravens lined up with Campbell, Oweh, Pierre-Paul, Queen, 4 S, and 3 CB on the last play of the half. Queen’s good coverage of RB Perine forced a throw away and the subsequent FG attempt. 1 play, 0 yards.
Macdonald employed the most constrained pass rush in his 5-game tenure as DC.
For the game, Burrow and Boyd had ATS on 13 of 38 drop backs (34%). On those plays, Bengals gained 69 yards (5.3 YPP) with 1 interception. Burrow also delivered the ball before pressure could develop (BOQ) 15 times (39%, 122 yards, 8.1 YPP). The Ravens generated a pressure event on 10 plays (26%) which gained 1 net yard, including 3 sacks (-0.1 YPP).
Summarizing by number of pass rushers:
3 or fewer: 2 plays, 6 yards.
4: 33 plays, 152 yards, 4.6 YPP, 3 sacks, 1 TOs
5: 2 plays, -1 yards, -0.5 YPP
6+: 1 play, 33 yards
Total: 38 plays, 190 yards, 5.0 YPP, 3 sacks, 1 TO
Macdonald dialed up 6 individual blitzes (.16 per pass play) from off the LoS including 1 pair. All 6 blitzes came from ILB and these included the sack by Bynes.
The Ravens stunted 11 times (.29 per pass play), 5 singles and 3 pairs.
The Ravens showed simulated pressure on 5 occasions where 2 or more dropped from the LoS. Those included sacks by both Bynes and Peters and the plays totaled 0 total net yards.
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 5 deceptive rushes (13%). 5 plays, 18 yards, 3.6 YPP, including Bynes’ sack.
Calais Campbell had 1 pressure and 2 QHs. Pierre-Paul had 2 pressures/PDs and 1 sack.
Other Individual Notes
- The loss of Marcus Williams is devastating despite the team’s depth at safety. Harbaugh announced in the Monday interviews that Williams will go on IR but it would not end his season. I expect Geno Stone will take over at FS and play virtually every snap. Interestingly, despite being down a safety, the Ravens may not see fit to insert Kyle Hamilton for every-down play due to his struggles to date.
- Speaking of Hamilton, he played 13 snaps, exclusively in the dime package, and committed a DPI foul on Hurst (Q3, 4:25) that set up the Bengals with 1st/goal from the 2. It is perhaps more telling that Macdonald did not use the dime package on any of the drive-ending plays in the first quarter.
- Brent Urban had pressure to help foil the Philly Special (Q3, 4:18) and also had a PD at the LoS (Q4, 8:16).
- (Q1, 14:21): He made a quick tackle of WR Chase for PR0 (-2 + 2) 
- (Q1, 13:08): He had tight coverage of Chase 3 yards  as Burrow threw incomplete under pressure on 3rd/4
- (Q1, 7:20): He was credited with push OOB on Chase RR0 with contributions from Pierre-Paul, B. Washington and Pepe Williams
- (Q1, 2:08): On 3rd/8, he made a fast downhill tackle of TE Hurst for PR5 (1 + 4)  to force a punt
- (Q2, 7:00): He missed the tackle at 10 yards on WR Thomas PR33 (10 + 23) 
- (Q2, 0:23): He forced out the leaping WR Thomas in the end zone as he caught the ball
- (Q3, 10:15): Burrow completed a back shoulder PR8  to Hurst despite tight coverage from Peters
- (Q3, 8:55): He missed a tackle at 1 yard on PR6 (-3 + 9)  to WR Boyd
- (Q3, 8:14): He was flagged for DPI on Chase 18 yards  on a ball that was far overthrown
- (Q3, 6:50): He had tight coverage of Chase 15 yards  as Burrow threw incomplete for back shoulder
- (Q3, 6:08): He was flagged for illegal hands away from the pass which was declined after PR7 to RB Perine converted 3rd/6
- (Q3, 4:18): He rushed after the pocket broke to knock down Boyd for S-12 to foil the Philly Special
- (Q3, 2:48): On 4th/Goal at the 2, he and Campbell diagnosed the shovel pass to WR Morgan and each delivered jarring blows as the ball floated by incomplete and the Ravens took over on downs
- (Q4, 9:42): He missed the tackle at 3 yards on Mixon RR7
Marcus had an up-and-down game with big plays punctuated by penalties and missed tackles. That said, Chase was held to just 50 receiving yards on 12 targets (4.2 YPT) and Burrow completed only 1 of 3 passes on which Peters had coverage for 0 yards.
- (Q1, 13:44): He pushed RB Mixon OOB after PR6 (0 + 6) 
- (Q2, 0:29): Burrow completed PM18 (15 + 3)  to WR Boyd behind Queen and Pepe Williams and in front of Marcus Williams
- (Q2, 0:13): On 3rd/7, he had good coverage of RB Perine 4 yards  forcing a throw away and subsequent field goal attempt
- (Q3, 12:31): He dropped underneath Chase for INT and returned it 11 yards
- (Q3, 6:08): On 3rd/6, Burrow completed PR7 (2 + 5)  to RB Perine, Queen missed the tackle at 3 yards despite Perine elevating for the catch
- (Q4, 5:22): On 3rd/1, Burrow completed PL8 (-2 + 10)  to WR Boyd, Queen missed the tackle at 3 yards
It was good to see Queen extend his arms for his first career interception on which he looked like a different defender than we have seen since 2020. While Queen added to his missed tackle total, he also had 2 drive-ending plays including his interception. He continued to have trouble shedding blocks and getting lost in the wash (examples: Q2, 8:00; Q2, 6:18; Q2, 1:47; Q3, 7:30; Q4, 9:42).
- (Q1, 13:08): On 3rd/4, he swam past then pancaked C Karras for QH as Burrow threw incomplete to end the drive
- (Q1, 6:42): On 3rd/12, he contained the right edge then rolled over Burrow as he was sacked by Pierre-Paul
- (Q2, 6:18): He was blocked by the pulling RT Collins as part of Mixon RM9
- (Q2, 1:09): He ran himself out of a play vs. RG Cappa on Perine RM9
- (Q3, 5:06): He dropped to cover then rushed to deliver a QH after Madubuike’s pressure flushed Burrow left
- (Q3, 3:32): He bulled C Karras for pressure on PM12
- (Q3, 2:48): He and Peters diagnosed and foiled the shovel pass to WR Morgan with a big hit
Calais played 37 snaps which is a reduction in workload as the Ravens used more rotation at multiple positions vs the Bengals (SCB, LT, ILB, OLB). He was involved in 3 drive-ending plays, which tied for the team lead with Marcus Peters.
- (Q1, 7:57): He contained the backside and assisted on Oweh’s tackle of RB Mixon RL-2
- (Q1, 7:20): He beat WR Boyd inside to redirect Chase but missed the tackle at -5 on RR0
- (Q1, 6:42): He shed RT Collins inside for S-8 despite unflagged hold by RG Cappa
- (Q2, 8:00): He lost the left edge to LT Williams on Mixon RL12
- (Q2, 1:54): He bulled RT Collins for pressure, and got his hand up for the PD
- (Q2, 1:50): He shed RT Collins inside but was picked up by RG Cappa and got his hand up for a 2nd consecutive PD
- (Q4, 9:42): He was blocked by TE Hurst on Mixon RR7
Jason was effective against former Cowboys star La’el Collins, one of the few matchups won regularly by the Ravens pass rushers.
- Calais Campbell
- Jason Pierre-Paul
- Marcus Peters
Honorable mention to Patrick Queen.