Repeat after me…There is nothing wrong with the Ravens’ defense.
In 2008, the Ravens became the first team of the 16-game era to hold every home opponent to 13 or less points. That streak ended Sunday, primarily as a function of the blocked punt and long INT return. The Ravens otherwise had great success with a completely vanilla defensive scheme.
I know most of the folks reading this have a broad understanding of defensive alignments, but there are new faces this season, so let’s talk about some basic defensive alignments along with the most common personnel combinations/sub-packages:
Starting/Standard – 17 times Sunday, 61 yards (3.6 YPPA)
Defensive Linemen: Gregg, Ngata, Pryce, Suggs (Bannan, Edwards, Gregg, Suggs was a common rotation)
Linebackers: Johnson, Lewis, Gooden
Defensive Backs: Foxworth, Washington, Landry, Reed
This defense is most commonly used on 1st and 10 and 2nd and 7 or less. You can call Suggs a linebacker or a defensive end. He lines up with a hand down often and rushes more frequently than not. Johnson has responsibilities that differ much more by down.
Nickel (5 Defensive Backs) – 24 plays, 105 yards (4.3 YPPA)
Defensive Linemen: Ngata, Pryce, Suggs
Linebackers: Ayanbadejo, Johnson, Lewis
Defensive Backs: Carr, Foxworth, Washington, Landry, Reed
Used in all 3rd and 3+ situations, most 2nd and long situations, and most other obvious passing situations (end of half, late with a significant deficit, and most 3 WR sets). Because of the uses above, this is usually the most common defense fielded by the Ravens if they lead for most of the game. If the opponent starts to play no huddle, the nickel is a versatile defense in terms of pass defense vs. blitz capabilities. How can you easily identify the nickel? First, count the number of linebackers and linemen. If you can only count 6, the Ravens are in the nickel.
Dime (6 Defensive Backs) – 1 play, 0 yards
Linebackers: Ayanbadejo, Lewis
Defensive Backs: Carr, Foxworth, Washington, Landry, Nakamura, Reed
Under Ryan this was typically used on 3rd down with 3 or more yards to go. Mattison used it just once on Sunday on a 3rd and 11 situation in Q4. I think we’d have to say we don’t know how this will be used in 2009.
Quarter (7 Defensive Backs) – 1 play, 20 yards
Defensive Linemen: Johnson, Pryce, Suggs
Defensive Backs: Carr, Foxworth, Walker, Washington, Landry, Nakamura, Reed
The 2000 Ravens used this frequently (55 times) on 3rd down. It was in mothballs for all of 2006 and 2007 (I did not record a single use), but Ryan used it 38 times in 2008, including 5 that resulted in turnovers. It was used just once on Sunday, on the last play of the 1st half, as the Ravens dropped 4 men 30+ yards off the line of scrimmage. Some might call this purely a “prevent” defense, but both Ryan and Lewis used it effectively to mix up blitzes. We’ll see if Mattison brings this out more frequently as the season progresses.
By number of pass rushers:
3: 1 play, 20 yards
4: 24 plays, 127 yards, 5.3 YPP
5: 1 play, 10 yards, TD
7: 1 play, 2 yards, TD
Some general observations:
· The story of this game defensively was the fact that the Ravens used a 4-man pass rush almost exclusively. Only twice did the Ravens rush more than 4 and both of those resulted in touchdowns. They sent a 7-man run blitz on 1st and goal at the 2 yard line, but Croyle found Bowe for the TD. They also rushed 5 with 2 (Suggs and Landry) dropping into coverage on Ryan’s TD when the Chiefs had 2nd and 1 at the Ravens 10. Registering 3 sacks in 24 4-man rushes is terrific, and there was nothing wrong with the number of yards per play allowed (5.3). We heard conflicting comments during the off season suggesting that Mattison was both more of a gambler than Ryan and less so. I still hope he’ll take many more chances than he did Sunday.
· Only twice did the Ravens bring what I would call deceptive pressure (Q4, 12:06 and Q4, 5:28). Last season, Ryan frequently brought deceptive pressure with 4 including 1 or 2 DBs to overload a side while linemen on the other dropped into coverage. With SD and NE each lurking in the next 3 games, I have a suspicion the Ravens decided they would not expose their hand in week 1.
· The Ravens did not force a single turnover after recording 1 or more in the last 14 games (postseason included) in 2008. Is it time to panic? No. The Ravens’ turnovers are closely tied to pressure and panic. As the game waned, the team just missed a pair of opportunities for a fumble recovery. Prior to that desperation series, the Chiefs were remarkably patient to avoid turnovers at significant cost (see end of the first half below).
· Reed was much more physical than in 2008. He took down Mark Bradley on the 50-yard completion, but the play that makes me want to believe we are back to business as usual for Ed Reed came on the very next play (Q4, 13:34). He crowded the line of scrimmage on the right side and pursued Larry Johnson across the formation to tackle him high for a 1-yard loss. Had the play been designed to run left, Reed would have had to cut the much larger Johnson at the knees. Reed’s backfield penetration was the hallmark of his 2004 DPOY season, but something we saw very infrequently in 2008.
· Ayanbadejo played 25 of the Ravens 44 defensive snaps. He recorded 3 tackles. I didn’t count how often he rushed the passer, but it was not many. He frequently picked up the TE or a RB in coverage and was effective.
· Barnes lost time to Ayanbadejo, playing just 4 snaps. The first came when Suggs wobbled off for a play and the others came with many of the regulars pulled on the Chiefs last 3 plays from scrimmage. I can’t draw a conclusion from the fact that Barnes was active ahead of Kruger. Barnes has been a decent (albeit frequently penalized) special teamer, but how many do you need?
· Gooden was used as a 2-down backer prior to his injury. It was nice to see him on the bike in Q4, but McClain replaced him and he did not return. Despite starting, Gooden played just 9 non-penalty snaps with his last action (Q3, 9:03) coming on the play where he was penalized to give the Chiefs a first down at the 2 yard line.
· Burgess has still not seen his first career snap on defense, but he made a good tackle on special teams. The Ravens would rather have a logjam at CB than LB. However, given the surplus of 50-somethings, what’s the excuse for such a poor performance on special teams?
· Gregg played 17 snaps in his return and was terrific, recording 6 tackles on those plays. Gregg had a TFL of his own (Q1, 1:58) and also had an uncredited assist when he forced Charles outside (Q2, 3:12) where Suggs ran him out of bounds for a 3-yard loss. Ravens fans could not have hoped for more.
· The Ravens used a rotation at defensive tackle, but Talavou did not see a defensive snap. That’s a little odd considering all the veterans that were pulled for the final series.
· Neither Webb nor Zbikowski saw a defensive snap nor was either used to return a kick or punt.
· The 44 offensive plays for the Chiefs were the fewest by an opponent since the Ravens’ 9-7 win at San Francisco on 10/7/07 (41 plays).
· Gregg, Ngata, Pryce, Suggs, and Johnson all sat out the last series with the Ravens up 2 TDs and less than a minute to play.
· What didn’t go well for the Ravens defense on Sunday? The 4 penalties, particularly the RTP by Johnson and Gooden’s Illegal Use of Hands weren’t good. The defenders also played their worst series with a 24-17 lead in the 4th quarter as Croyle completed 4 straight passes of 9 plus yards to score. That drive along with the 50-yard pass play represented the bulk of the Chiefs’ offense (115 of 188 net yards on the afternoon ~ 61%).
· Did anyone else find it a little strange that the Chiefs were running out the clock in the first half at midfield and down 10-7? After 3 runs and a short pass reduced the clock to 0:01 with 4th and 9 at the Bal 47, the Chiefs set up for a pass play against the prevent defense, but did not attempt to throw the ball into the end zone. It was odd to watch and I’m sure there were a number of TV sets in KC being screamed at.
The Ravens didn’t have a standout play on defense Sunday, but in terms of what each might mean for 2008 I’d rank the biggest 3 as:
Reed’s tackle of Johnson (see above). Reed’s health is the single biggest risk to the Ravens maintaining a top tier defense.
Gregg’s chase of Jamaal Charles. He didn’t make the tackle, but the wheels look repaired.
Johnson’s sack of Croyle (Q4, 2:00). While the fumble was reversed, it was a loss of 8 and the Chiefs would turn the ball over on downs 3 plays later. The 2 sacks for JJ are a career high. If the Ravens are to continue with vanilla rush schemes, Johnson is one of the players who will be relied upon to create pressure.