The Ravens found help from some unexpected places on Monday and cruised to a 16-0 win over the Browns despite some very poor play from their offensive line. Historically, I suspect this weekend will mean something different to the NFL.
Briefly, the evolution of baseball statistics has a few key years:
1876: The first Spalding Guide is published
1906: Bill Armour introduces platooning in his final year managing the Detroit Tigers
c. 1942: Branch Rickey is among the first GM’s to embrace statistical analysis of baseball
1969: The first McMillan Encylclopedia is published
1974: The first Neft and Cohen Encyclopedia is published
1982: The Baseball Abstract by Bill James is first published nationally ushering in the era of SABRmetrics
Since the mid 1980s, Baseball statistics have exploded on the web and on the air, and a game previously defined by base/out situations is now increasingly defined by pitch count, velocity, and location analysis of both pitches and batted balls. Baseball also has its win probability devotees, but that analysis has not yet come to dominate the use of relievers, for example. Their use is still defined primarily by the save rule.
What does this have to do with football? In 10 years, we’ll look back to 11/15/09 as the real beginning of win probability as a primary tool in coaching. I think it’s likely MJD’s game-winning kneel at NY and Belichick’s decision to go on 4th and 2 will lead to a new “headset elf”, who may or may not come to be known as the Game Management Coordinator or Win Probability Analyst. The first programs are already in place, but they certainly are not being used consistently. That’s all going to change based on the focus on these 2 plays. If you’re under the age of 40, your grandchildren will grow up in a world where defensive players don’t feel slighted when the coach calls for the old “kneel-and-kick” sequence when trailing by 2 points any more than John Lowenstein felt slighted when yanked for Gary Roenicke with a left-handed pitcher on the mound.
However, I feel confident, after watching the pre-game show on Monday, that Mike Ditka will remain a stubborn fool with regard his view as long as he lives. So, if you think the Pats should have punted or MJD should have just scored, you’ll have at least 1 person with whom to gripe.
Back to the Ravens’ defensive statistics (excludes 1 kneel):
Overall: 60 plays, 161 yards, 2.7 YPPA
Vs. the Run: 25 carries, 87 yards, 3.5 YPC
Vs. the Pass: 35 pass plays, 74 yards, 2.1 YPP
By number of Pass Rushers:
3: 1/-8, -8.0 YPP, 1 sack
4: 14/53, 3.8 YPP, 1 TO
5: 18/26, 1.4 YPP, 3 sack, 1 TO
6: 2/3, 1.5 YPP
By number of Defensive Backs:
3: None. That’s good news since the most common 3-DB set is goal line defense.
4: 31/95, 3.1 YPPA
5: 22/72, 3.3 YPPA, 3 sacks, 1 TO
6: 7/-6, -0.9 YPPA, 1 sack, 1 TO
· The biggest single story was the contributions of some players who had not been producing defensively. The Ravens got very good performances from:
· Fabian Washington, who looked excellent in run support and did not make any serious coverage errors
· Dawan Landry, who had position for the reverse (Q1, 11:54) and the hands for the pick-6 on the deflection (Q3,12:20)
· Paul Kruger, who had a PD and created pressure including Lewis’ sack
· Chris Carr, who wasn’t perfect, but had a deflection INT that led to 3 points
· Brandon McKinney, who saw an increased role (16 snaps), but didn’t make the stat sheet
· Trevor Pryce, who beat a double team to record a sack when the Ravens rushed just 3 men.
· Dwan Edwards deserves special mention. He has now played 2 consectutive exceptional games. He had one of best games as a professional vs. Cincinnati, when he led the team in tackles with 8 and registered 2 QHs. Against the Browns, he had 5 more tackles and played an amazing 51 of 60 (85%) defensive snaps. That came after playing 51 of 73 snaps vs. Cincinnati. That’s a lot for any lineman, but for someone lining up on the inside for some passing downs, it’s a tremendous workload. As you’ve seen me write in the past, I’m a fan of keeping the front 7 well rested when personnel allows. Thus far, however, Edwards is showing no ill effects.
· The other linemen split the 60 snaps well with Pryce playing 30, Bannan 28, Kruger 25, Gregg 23, and McKinney 16. It was a game where the Ravens certainly could have brought on Jones or Jameel McClain for some plays as a down lineman, but for whatever reasons, the coaches did not elect to do so. Talavou and Barnes were inactive.
· Gooden suffered a concussion (I’m not sure which play) and played just 3 snaps in the 2nd half. Ellerbe (15 snaps) and McClain (16) both got some decent playing time. The Ravens defense was outstanding in the 2nd half with those players splitting time and each made contributions. It will be interesting to see how Barnes is used the next few games. As a pure speed rusher, he plays well against QBs that hold the ball too long. That’s Roethlisberger in a nutshell. I haven’t taken the time to see why Rodgers is getting sacked so much, but I don’t doubt that it is also a factor for him.
· Webb’s ascension continued both defensively and on special teams. His goal-line punt tip (Q2, 1:05) wasn’t game changing, but it was spectacular. He also drew the block in the back foul (Q2, 14:17) on McDonald which started the Browns at their own 8-yard line. Defensively, he had the sack (see below) and otherwise had a fine game in coverage. He played a total of 18 snaps and the Browns gained a total of -3 yards on those plays. I’m not sure that he will outplay Washington as an outside corner for the remainder of the season, but I think the Ravens best chance to make the playoffs is to stick him out there and see what happens. Washington could be made the “nickel”, but I’d see Webb moving to the slot receiver and Fabian on the outside when he enters as the 5th DB. It seems like a fairly natural progression, but I don’t think it’s seen often in the NFL.
· The Ravens used the nickel (22 times) and dime (7 times) defenses again on Monday. What was unusual was that in a game where the 4 starting DBs played every snap, they played 2 different nickels (Webb 12, Carr 10) and 3 different dime packages (Webb/Carr 4, Webb/Zibby 2, and Carr/Zibby 1). I’ve never seen that sort of variation in a single game, even with some injuries. Walker was active but did not play a defensive snap.
· There continues to be something notable each week to report about the Ravens pass rush. I have no doubt there was a desire to disguise elements of playbook to the Ravens next 3 opponents, but both on Monday and for the season to date, the Ravens are allowing down and distance to dictate when they bring more complex pressure, which is one of the differences between this defense and the Ryan coached units. The Ravens showed 4 deceptive blitzes in the 1st half (3rd and 5, 3/8, 3/9, 3/4). In the 2nd half they had a deceptive blitz on 2nd and 5 (Q4, 9:33), but otherwise all were in obvious passing situations.
· The Ravens executed 4 blitzes in particular, however, which are indicative of the variation in their playbook and the team nature of pass rush opportunities:
· (Q2, 6:34) The Ravens set up with 4 down linemen on 3rd and 4. Webb stood to the right of the Suggs, the RDE. Pryce (RDT) broke right past LG Steinbach. Suggs looped to the left as LT Joe Thomas squared to block him. Webb blitzed off the edge behind Thomas and as Pryce was pushed by the pocket by Steinbach, Webb altered his path to allow the collapsing Steinbach/Pryce heap to pass before hitting Quinn. Bannan also had good pressure from the opposite side. Webb did a fine job altering his path for circumstance, but that pressure had contributors all along the line.
· (Q3, 1:30) The Ravens had 3 down linemen with Kruger and Ellerbe to the left of LDE on 3rd and 7. As the Browns set, Kruger looped into the A gap between LG and C. When the snap came, Edwards hit the right shoulder of the RG (Hadnot) and Kruger attempted to penetrate past C Mack to his left. Almost immediately, the RG and C had their backs to each other and Ray Lewis bolted through on a delayed blitz. Quinn dropped to the ground to avoid the hit. It’s plain from Kruger’s reaction that the blitz was designed to play out just as it did.
· (Q4, 13:11) The Ravens lined up with 3 down and 4 standing (Carr, Zibby, Lewis, Ellerbe) at the LoS with the Browns in a 5-wide (500) formation on 3rd and 11. Lewis and Ellerbe dropped into coverage from the inside, but Carr and Zibby each rushed from the edge. Both Guards were pushed backwards into the QB and both DBs got pressure so that the pocket was reduced to the size of a floor tile. Kruger, the only player who did not get pressure put his hands up and deflected Quinn’s hurried pass over the middle.
· (Q4, 4:17) The Ravens lined up with 3 down linemen and Ellerbe at the LoS on 3rd and 6. Ellerbe dropped to coverage, but Webb blitzed off the slot left receiver and Landry came on a significantly delayed blitz from the OLS. Harrison moved left to pick up Webb, Thomas blocked Kruger, and Steinbach set up to block Landry. Pryce absorbed a double team from Hadnot and Mack (RG and C). That left RT St Clair, who has a terrible rap from the Cleveland fans, in a 1-on-1 matchup with Johnson with no possibility of help from a back. Johnson made an outside move and was pushed by St Calir, but was able to encircle the pocket and hit Quinn’s arm from behind, dislodging the ball.
The Ravens 3 biggest defensive plays:
· Landry’s pick 6 (Q3, 12:28)
· Carr’s interception (Q3, 9:21)
· Tie between Webb’s sack and Lewis’ sack (see above). We saw something impressive from Webb and Kruger on those plays.