Chuck Pagano came up with another game plan well suited to the opponent. The Ravens were able to limit the damage from the Houston running game and with minimal pressure on Yates, forced him to throw 37 times directly into the strength of the Ravens defense.
If you were genetically designing a new super soldier, you’d want to start with some of TJ’s DNA for his fearlessness.
Most veteran quarterbacks playing the Ravens seem to look for Ed Reed and throw away from him. Yates has a clearly-demonstrated affinity with Andre Johnson, but no apparent fear of the Ravens’ most talented defenders. This led to 5 excellent interception opportunities of which 3 were converted:
· (Q1, 4:41) Lewis stepped in front of the pass for Johnson, who was bracketed by Webb, but dropped an easy interception.
· (Q1, 3:21) Yates threw short right for Johnson, who was all alone, covered by Webb. Lardarius anticipated the throw, jumped the route, and blocked out Johnson with his body from making a play to deflect the ball, much as a good tight end would.
· (Q2, 6:55) Yates threw deep right for Johnson near the goal line. Webb drifted backwards off his man and impacted Reed who was leaping for the interception.
· (Q4, 7:28) Webb and Reed had Kevin Walter bracketed in the seam approximately 23 yards from the LoS. Yates released again. Webb had ideal position for the pick, but with Reed behind him could relinquish any potential tackling responsibility.
· (Q4, 2:00) Jimmy Smith had good coverage on Andre Johnson down the right sideline and Reed anticipated the throw from the snap. He was the first man there by a wide margin, made an uncontested leap, and hauled it in for his 8th postseason pick.
Should you be worried about pressure unable to get home? Not more than a little. The Texans’ offensive line is excellent and the Ravens didn’t bring a complex pressure scheme. They forced Yates to throw into 7-man coverage for most of the day. I scored the Ravens with just 3 deceptive blitzes and one of them was with 3 men. They dropped 8 men to cover from the LoS which is something the Ravens have often done regularly to inexperienced QBs in the past. They made limited use of stunts and delayed blitzes, preferring to contain Yates in the pocket. TJ, who lacks Flacco’s arm strength and accuracy for outside throws, was not up to the challenge.
The Texans had 62 competitive snaps (excluding 1 kneel to end the first half):
Versus the Run: 27 plays, 132 yards, 4.9 YPC
Versus the Pass: 35 plays, 184 yards, 5.3 YPP
Overall: 62 plays, 316 yards, 5.1 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
3 DBs: 2 play, 1 yards, 0.5 YPPA (2 plays of the goal-line 3-safety alignment)
4 DBs: 42/235 5.6 YPPA, 1 TO
5 DBs: 18/78, 4.3 YPPA
6 DBs: None
By number of pass rushers:
3: 3/16, 5.3 YPP
4: 22/105, 4.8 YPP, 3 TO
5: 9/51, 5.7 YPP
Who was the Ravens’ defensive MVP Sunday? It’s difficult to choose between Reed and Webb, but we’ve had years to discuss Reed’s greatest games. Lardarius had one of the best games of any corner in Ravens history and had the best game of his career for the 2nd time in the Ravens last 3 contests. His assignments were targeted 8 times, yet he allowed just 1 completion for 19 yards. However, Webb impacted 3 other plays with a supporting role in coverage. Let’s review all of the passes in his vicinity:
· (Q1, 9:07): Lardarius had good coverage on Dreessen on the right sideline and Yates threw the ball OOB on the run.
· (Q1, 9:01): Webb pressed on Walter, giving him a good shove at the LoS with both hands. Walter ran a short out pattern to the right and appeared to have the ball initially, but was stripped by Webb at the 30. The PD was not recorded in the Gamebook, but had he just tackled Walter at that spot, he would have left the Texans punting on 4th and 2.
· (Q1, 4:41): He had bracketed coverage on Johnson near the first down marker. Lewis stepped underneath for the PD, but Webb’s coverage helped make the play.
· (Q1, 3:21): In solo coverage of Johnson near the right sideline, Webb stepped in front for an easy pick and used his body effectively to block out Johnson. Johnson did not make a top-shelf attempt to play defender on that interception.
· (Q2, 12:00): Webb covered Johnson on a fade route in the end zone. Lardarius occupied the ideal piece of real estate on the play and Johnson leapt, but was only able to tip the ball away and out of bounds. The Gamebook credits Webb with a PD on the play, but he didn’t either touch the ball or hit the receiver while he had the ball, so they are using a different definition than me. In any case the total of 4 PDs matches my scoresheet.
· (Q2, 9:08): Lardarius knocked down a short hitch to Casey on the right sideline.
· (Q2, 6:55): Webb backpedaled off coverage of Walter to get to Yates’ heave for Johnson. He had the right idea, but ended up interfering and might have turned a Reed interception into just a PD.
· (Q3, 11:59): Webb had excellent coverage of Casey by the right sideline as Yates wisely threw the ball out of bounds.
· (Q4, 9:34): Johnson faked a double move up the right sideline and Webb turned backwards to chase just as Johnson turned back to Yates to make the catch for a gain of 19.
· (Q4, 7:28): Unpressured, Yates launched a ball down the seam for Kevin Walter who was bracketed by Reed and Webb. That’s a little like having your child walk to school between a prison and a strip club; you just have to assume something bad might happen. Lardarius tracked the ball the entire way and collected it in stride as if he was the intended receiver.
· (Q4, 0:20) Webb pressed Walter at the LoS in an attempt to disrupt the Hail Mary attempt. I’d have to say the strategy didn’t work as Webb was late getting back and Walter was closest to the football in the end zone when Reed deflected it with his left index finger to end the game.
Yates had a quarterback rating of 0.0 throwing to targets covered by Webb.
There are a whole lot of reasons to want to have Ray Lewis on the field, but his 4 biggest assets, purely in coverage, are:
· The ability to diagnose a screen pass. He not only picked up on the screen left to Foster (Q3, 8:57), but did so quickly enough to avoid the cut block from Myers. Lewis took down Foster for a loss of 7.
· The ability to read the QB’s eyes. He jumped in front of the pass intended for Johnson (Q2, 4:41). Sadly, he dropped an easy INT, but the reverse angle shows Lewis recognized the target earlier, but appears to be baiting Yates to make the throw.
· The ability to find a football in the air tipped at the LoS. Sadly there wasn’t one of these on Sunday, but think back to Ngata’s tip in week 1 if you’re looking for an example.
· The ball-dislodging hits for which he positions himself. Yates underthrew Tate short right (Q4, 11:54). Dierdorf said he thought Yates would want the throw back, but Tate would have had to absorb a tremendous hit from Lewis had he made the catch.
· Ayanbadejo was active and played on special teams, but did not play a defensive snap. Ellerbe took his place as the 2nd linebacker in the nickel. Dannell was picked on in zone coverage and was the closest man on 4 completions among just 21 pass snaps. Those included Daniels 12-yard catch between the right hash and numbers (Q2, 13:10), Johnson’s 17-yard reception near the left numbers (Q3, 9:04), and Johnson’s 16-yard catch (Q4, 2:17). He came on a delayed blitz, but was closest to Foster (Q2, 6:44) on the screen pass that went for 12 yards and set up the Texans only TD. Entering the New England game, the lack of a coverage-specialist linebacker for the nickel is a concern.
· The Ravens played primarily combinations of their base defense (42 snaps), so their heavies had a few more snaps than usual. Cody played 31 snaps, Jones 9, McKinney 17, McPhee 17, Ngata 53, Redding 44, Suggs 61, and Kruger 13. For the linebacking platoon, McClain had 36 snaps and Ellerbe 24.
· Cody had an up and down game. He shed a block from Brisiel to take down Foster for a 2-yard gain (Q1, 6:02). His highlight of the day included 2 shed blocks to take down Foster for no gain (Q3, 12:32). Terrence also moved quickly to his right to take down Foster for a gain of 2 (Q3, 6:43). However many of the times the Texans ran up the middle, they had an answer for Cody. For example, Myers sealed him solo (Q2, 15:00) on Foster’s 19-yard run up the middle). He was pulled after consecutive pancakings by Myers (Q4, 13:30) and Brisiel (Q4, 13:01). McKinney immediately worked off Myers to tackle Foster for a gain of just 1 (Q4, 12:29).
· Suggs didn’t have a great game as a pass rusher, but he contributed several important plays in run defense and ran down a receiver. He caught Foster from behind on a screen pass (Q1, 5:28) to hold him to a 2-yard gain. He dropped to zone and covered Johnson on a shallow cross (Q3, 6:04) where he had good coverage, but should not have been credited with a PD. He worked off Dreessen effectively to take down Foster for a gain of 1 and force the Texans to punt from their own end zone (Q3, 1:08).
· Carr was a healthy (I assume) scratch. Danny Gorrer also replaced Chykie Brown among the actives. The inactives are of great interest to me each week since it’s often the most information you’ll get about players on the margin who rarely see a defensive or offensive snap. Minor injuries may have played a role, but I would say the trend of inactives would indicate the coaches like Brown over Gorrer for special teams but were not confident that Carr (perhaps given health or other conditions this week) could handle coverage responsibilities as the 4th corner and wanted Gorrer active.
· The Ravens made no attempt to change the side of their cornerbacks to follow a specific receiver. Williams played LCB and Webb or Smith RCB the entire game. I do not recall any such attempts to follow a receiver since Kenny Britt at Tennessee in week 2. However, Reed appeared to shade to Johnson’s side for most of the day. In the big win at New England in the Wild Card game following the 2009 season, Reed was assigned to cover Moss over the top for most of the game.
· The Texans run a naked boot off play action that we don’t see any more from the Ravens. Specifically, Yates will occasionally boot left, which should be easier to sell, but should also make throwing more difficult for a left-handed QB. On the first play from scrimmage, he had an 11-yard throw to Johnson from such a design. His near interception by Reed (Q1, 0:23) was also on a boot left. He escaped pressure from Ngata (Q3, 9:04) by spinning left and still completed a pass to Johnson for 17 yards.
· It’s unusual to be able to say so in a game where a receiver catches 8 balls for 111 yards, but the Ravens effectively shut down Andre Johnson. Yates targeted him 15 (!) times and had a QBR of 37.8 on those throws including 2 INTs and 0 TDs. To be fair, much of that was poor decision making on the part of Yates, but AJ failed to make a defensive play on either of the interceptions on which he was the target.
· The Ravens had held opposing QBs to a rating of 58.8 with 6 TDs and 11 INT at the Vault in 2011. They extended that success by holding Yates to 28.8, 0 TDs, 3 INTs on Sunday. The Texans did not have any pass plays of 20+ yards.
· It was the first time in Ravens history they have played an entire game without a penalty. Previously, they had just 1 penalty on 5 occasions (last 12/26/10).
· Foster scored the Texans’ only TD on 3rd and goal from the 1 with 4:48 remaining in the first half. Thereafter, the Texans went 0 for 7 on 3rd and 4th down.