I read an excellent piece on the early days of football which described a game in which Jim Thorpe had a huge punt that essentially won a football game in an era where the basic strategy in football was “Wait for your opponent to screw up.”
The same can be said about the Ravens series history with the Cleveland Browns.
On Sunday, the Ravens rolled up an early 14-0 lead, but then played bend-but-don’t-break defense the rest of the day to hold Cleveland to 15 points despite a horrific offensive showing spanning the 2nd and 3rd quarters. They had plenty of help from their friends in Cleveland.
Every Ravens fan old enough, recalls the 2000 defense fondly. The base 4-3 was dominant, but on 3rd down, Marvin Lewis would often have the Ravens line up in the quarter defense (7 DBs) with down linemen Boulware, Burnett (typically aligned slanted against the center), and McCrary along with Ray as the only heavies. In 2000 versus the Browns, the Ravens went to that defense 6 times in 2 games, allowed -16 yards, including 2 sacks and an interception. The Browns only positive play was a pass for 7 yards on 3rd and 10.
Fast forward to 2012 and the defense not only doesn’t play quarter, they didn’t play a single snap of dime versus the Browns. Against a mix of 4 and 5 DB sets, Weeden completed a respectable 7 of 14 passes on 3rd or 4th down. However, 4 of those were short of the sticks, so only 3 of his 7 completions resulted in first downs. The Browns’ only run for a first down came on his 6-yard scramble (Q3, 4:43).
Among the failed 3rd-down conversions were incomplete passes on 3rd and 1 on each of the Browns first 2 drives.
When the Browns had their 2nd best starting field position of the day (Q3, 1:03) they began their drive with consecutive false starts followed by a timeout required to avoid a delay of game penalty. They would run 3 plays for 9 yards and punt.
Despite 5 red-zone possessions spanning 11 plays inside the 20 (not to mention all of their other plays), Weeden did not throw a single pass into the end zone.
Waiting for the Browns to screw up proved much less torturous than Waiting for Godot.
After amassing a commanding 1st-quarter lead in time of possession, the Ravens still managed just 61 offensive snaps (excluding 1 kneel) compared to 65 for the Browns:
Versus the Run: 27 plays, 117 yards, 4.3 YPC
Versus the Pass: 38 plays, 174 yards, 4.6 YPP
Overall: 65 plays, 291 yards, 4.5 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
3 DBs: 2/0, 0.0 YPP
4 DBs: 35/138, 3.9 YPP, 1 TO
5 DBs: 28/153, 5.5 YPP, 1 TO, 1 sack
6 DBs: None
By number of pass rushers:
3: 4/8, 2.0 YPP, 1 TO
4: 24/119, 5.0 YPP
5: 8/24, 3.0 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO
6: 2/23, 11.5 YPP
- Dannell Ellerbe had an outstanding game at a position of need. He led the Ravens with 9 tackles and registered 3 QHs including a sack. His 3 QHs came in the span of just over 10 minutes and included:
- (Q3, 10:12): Forced throw OOB
- (Q3, 10:05): Sack -2
- (Q4, 15:00): Incomplete
- Ellerbe’s tackles were 6 (pass), 6, 2, 1, -2, 1, 1, 2, and 4 yards from the LoS and he was the biggest contributor to slowing down Richardson in the 2nd half (11 carries for 29 yards). Ellerbe had an unnecessary roughness flag (Q3, 6:10) which was the only significant black mark on an outstanding game. He played every snap and was assigned to spy Richardson for much of the game. The fact that the Browns rookie averaged 3.4 yards per time targeted was largely a function of Ellerbe.
- Reed had another big game against one of his favorite opponents. He had 3 PDs, the last of which was his 60th career interception (Q4, 2:19). He dropped another near INT (Q3, 13:21) immediately before Williams’ pick. Is there a chance Ed will catch Paul Krausse? Perhaps, but he’d need 21 more interceptions, which is likely to mean he’ll need to play 4 more seasons. I don’t see that as a realistic possibility, but his total is already more impressive in terms of the era. In fact, his 9-interception season in 2008 came when the NFL had its lowest ever per-game interception rate. Reed missed a tackle on a pass left to Watson (Q2, 14:34), but among 5 tackles, he made an outstanding cut of both Schwartz and Richardson for a gain of 1 (Q2, 10:51) and came up quickly to take down Richardson for a gain of 3 on a pass left (Q4, 13:20). He played his best game of the season on Sunday and sadly I think it’s no better than even money he’ll ever have another performance as good for the Ravens.
- The Ravens made good use of Courtney Upshaw who was used at DT, DE, and as an outside linebacker. With Pernell McPhee inactive, the Ravens employed a 4-man rush of Kruger, Upshaw, Ngata, and Suggs for most passing situations. Those were the team’s best pass available pass rushers, so it made sense, but the team got much more pressure from Ellerbe’s blitzes than with that group. Despite just 1 sack, the Ravens knocked down Weeden 7 times and his skittishness under pressure led to an awful game. Upshaw had only 1 pressure personally (Q4, 9:37), but that, combined with Ngata’s recognition forced Weeden to ground the ball at the feet of Richardson. Courtney played the run well, including 2 solo tackles for no gain (Q3, 10:56 and Q4, 9:29) and an assist among his 14 snaps (excludes 1 negated by offsetting penalties) where the Browns ran.
- Cary Williams had an uneven, but overall fine game in coverage. He was step for step with Little down the left sideline (Q1, 14:56) on a ball that was slightly overthrown. Gordon could not haul in a pass deep middle (Q2, 4:47), but had he secured the ball with his fingertips, Williams would have stripped him. He lost Gordon when he looked into the backfield (Q2, 4:40) as the receiver broke outside for a gain of 26. I can’t recall a successful retreat of 15 yards on an interception return ever, but that’s exactly what Williams did (Q3, 13:15). After securing a diving interception thrown by the pressured Weeden, Williams outmaneuvered the Browns’ offense from the 36 back to the 21, then all the way to the Cleveland 39. What I found interesting was the choice of blocks by the Ravens’ defenders. Each understood the likely cutback route and wanted to make a block to provide room along the left sideline, but most of the players also looked to block a faster player and allow Cary to outrace the linemen. Jimmy Smith, in particular, had an excellent block on Alex Smith as he motioned Williams to follow him. Kruger had an initial block of Greco by the right sideline, and Reed shouldered Watson off the play after the turn, but Arthur Jones failed to get any piece of Mack, who would eventually track down Cary by the left sideline.
- Jones played 36 snaps after a career-high 58 at Houston 2 weeks ago. He twice knocked down Weeden, bringing his career total to 5 QHs. Jones finished with 4 tackles and is currently the Ravens’ 2nd best down lineman.
- Corey Graham had a difficult game in coverage. He was targeted 8 times in just 22 pass plays while he was on the field with 6 of those completed for 44 yards. He missed 2 tackles and his most damaging result, the TD pass in the seam to Gordon (Q4, 9:33), was negated by an illegal formation penalty.