Sometimes it’s not about your players.
As a fan, it’s natural to want to pinpoint an explanation for a game like Sunday’s. It’s easiest to develop a theory related to either outside circumstances or the players/coaches we know well. Ideally we’d ascribe it to some temporary or correctable problem. There was lousy play calling, Webb’s injury, blind officials, and the Chargers fell on every loose ball. You’ve heard the excuses.
In this case, I think their athletes simply outplayed ours. Most significantly, Rivers had an amazing night of touch passing while Jared Gaither has been one of the best left tackles in the NFL since he joined the Chargers.
Rivers only dropped back 23 times, but wasn’t sacked or intercepted, threw a TD among 17 completions, had a passer rating of 127.1 and gained 11.7 yards per pass play (YPP).
I normally score the Ravens’ offensive linemen each game, but this week I decided to take a closer look at the play of Jared Gaither. To summarize:
• The Chargers ran 60 offensive plays, all of which were competitive and featured Jared at LT
• Gaither did not allow a single pass blocking event (sack, QH, or pressure) on Rivers’ 23 drop backs
• He missed 6 run blocks, none of which resulted in a loss
• Redding beat him to the inside (Q3, 11:27) to take down Mathews for no gain in what was his worst play of the night
• He recovered the Chargers only fumble with a dive in the middle of 3 Ravens (Q1, 9:07)
• He got away with a hold (Q2, 1:54) on Kruger on the play that would set up the Chargers 2nd TD
• He had a number of fine run blocks to support the 145 San Diego rushing yards, but the highlight came on Mathews’ 24-yard run left (Q4, 7:18) when he sealed the left edge against both Kruger and McPhee.
• By number of snaps, his blocking assignments were Suggs (16 snaps), Redding (13), Johnson (7), Ngata (7), McPhee (4), Jones (3), Lewis (3), McClain (2), Kruger (2), Cody (1), Nakamura (1), Webb (1). There were 3 plays where he did not have an assignment (or didn’t reach one, and 3 plays where he made 2 blocks)
• By my scoring system he had 54 blocks, 6 missed, 54 points (.90 per play)
• Subjectively I’d say he looks every bit the player he was in 2008-09
On to the statistics.
Versus the Run: 37 plays, 145 yards, 3.9 YPC
Versus the Pass: 23 plays, 270 yards, 11.7 YPP
Overall: 60 plays, 415 yards, 6.9 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
3 DBs: 11 plays, 18 yards, 1.6 YPPA
4 DBs: 27/107, 4.0 YPPA
5 DBs: 21/274 13.0 YPPA
6 DBs: 1/16
By number of pass rushers:
3: 1 play/6 yards
4: 8/93, 11.6 YPP
5: 12/155, 12.9 YPP
Nothing Pagano tried schematically helped slow down Rivers.
• Zbikowski pulled a disappearing act. He was on the field for 11 plays, I think. In general terms, the Chargers gained 112 yards on those plays (10.2 YPPA) and Zibby didn’t have an impact. As bad as that was, there were 5 Ravens with worse averages in 7+ plays. Specifically, I recorded him as on the field with the Chargers 2nd and 7 at their own 41 (Q3, 12:45). What’s funny is that the camera pans the field for a 13-yard reception to Brown near the left hash, but Zibby is nowhere to be seen. He’s not in any camera angle in the broadcast, he’s not visible on the sideline (one replay has a clear view of much of the Ravens side), and he’s not visible at the snap, which means he must have lined up as a deep safety on the offensive right side. It’s possible the Ravens had just 10 men on the field for that play, but Zibby was on for the next, so I assume he was on somewhere.
• The run defense was good until the 4th quarter when they allowed 82 yards on their final 2 drives.
• The Ravens have had a number of games this season with sharply contrasting average yards per play by substitution package. Versus the Chargers, the pass rush specialists let the Ravens down with 14.0 yards per play surrendered on the Chargers’ 10 3rd downs (6 converted). By contrast, the Ravens allowed just 3.3 YPPA on 1st down.
• McKinney was inactive and the defensive line snaps were concentrated. Counts by player were: Cody 37, Jones 26, Kruger 12, McPhee 12, Ngata 53, Redding 33, Suggs 57. While I don’t see how activating McKinney would have made a difference in the outcome, the 3 interior linemen each played more snaps than usual.
• Lardarius Webb was held to 13 snaps with his injury. In one sense, it’s great news he could play at all. I was surprised Gorrer was inactive, even with the return of Carr (1 snap). The Ravens did some rotation in the secondary. Williams led all corners with 53 snaps (Smith 50, Webb 13, Carr 1). All 11 of Zbikowski’s snaps were heavy nickel. Nakamura had 3 goal line snaps and 1 dime snap.
• Cary Williams was exposed. He’s not particularly effective when not playing press and the Ravens couldn’t play press all night when they couldn’t consistently pressure Rivers. Williams was beaten by Jackson up the left sideline for a 58-yard play (Q2, 2:21). He took what I would say was a poor angle while trailing Floyd on the long throw near the right pylon (Q2, 1:54) when he had help from behind in Reed. He was twice beaten when playing soft on the Chargers opening drive of the 2nd half (Q3, 14:11 and Q3, 12:45) by Floyd and Brown respectively. In each case Rivers made an accurate throw, but Williams allowed all 5 passes to his targets to be completed for a total of 112 yards (22.4 YPP).
• Jimmy Smith looked like a rookie. He made some mistakes including overrunning coverage on Jackson (Q1, 8:19) and getting beat by Floyd down the right sideline for the TD that put the Chargers up 17 (Q3, 10:47). He also had a nice strip on Floyd by the left sideline (Q2, 2:27). I’ve got a notation of “Reed late” on a number of the Chargers catches, but most of those would more accurately be described as “Rivers threw outside numbers to avoid Reed”. The play Reed or Smith could have covered better was Rivers’ overthrow of Jackson near the goal line (Q2, 8:42). In any case, it’s not time to panic about the play of either Reed or Smith.
• It was interesting to see Pagano stick with the nickel for this game. The Ravens have depth at both corner and safety, they lack an outstanding coverage linebacker, the game was out of reach early in the 2nd half, and they may face teams in the coming weeks with even more extreme passing offenses. Does those sound like conditions where one might want to play more dime? They have still played just 17 dime snaps the entire season.
• Of the Ravens’ defenders, Redding stood out with two plays in particular. He beat Clary inside for a sack that was negated by Suggs’ head slap (Q2, 11:21). Redding also beat Gaither inside to cross the formation and take down Mathews for no gain (Q3, 11:27).
• It’s difficult to say much about the pass rush other than nothing worked. Collinsworth pointed out the chip blocks thrown by the tight ends. On Gaither’s side, I don’t think that helped as much as with RT Jeromey Clary. He seemed to benefit greatly from being able to square up against his opponent after a chip and he had been one of the worst right tackles in the entire NFL with 11 penalties, 7 sacks and 5 QHs allowed through week 15.
One question that arises after a beating like this is whether or not it provides a blueprint to beat the Ravens. While I am sure teams will try, I think it will be difficult for them to duplicate the circumstances for several reasons:
• On Sunday they faced a dialed-in, top-shelf quarterback, but that won’t happen every week.
• The play calls and choices Rivers made in the pocket took advantage of 2 corners with specific coverage weaknesses while taking Ed Reed out of the game by throwing deep balls outside the numbers. In terms of pass coverage, the game reminds me of the Bills game from last October.
• Gaither was motivated to vindicate himself on a national stage.
• The Ravens moved the ball effectively for the first few drives and converted 7 of 12 3rd downs. Some of the prolific passing offenses struggle defensively. San Diego was able to keep the pressure on by scoring on each of the first 5 drives. That’s not formula that will be repeated often.
• The noise at home has been a big advantage for the Ravens defensively. I think it would be unlikely for this sort of game to happen in Baltimore.