In a game where Peyton Manning displayed limited zip on his throws, the game turned on the Ravens’ ability to stop the run under less than ideal circumstances.
Deferring discussion of Corey Graham’s heroics, this was a game where Denver’s special teams kept the game close and the Ravens’ run defense deserves much of the credit as they played exclusively nickel for Denver’s first 68 snaps. In effect, the Ravens dared the Broncos to run the ball, which they were not able to do effectively for most of the day. In 40 rushing attempts, the Broncos gained just 3.2 YPC and did not have a single carry longer than 11 yards.
The players most responsible for that success included:
Ray Lewis: He was credited with 17 tackles, made a number of 2nd-level takedowns, and negotiated traffic well to move up for stops. His highlight was the tackle of Hillman for a 3-yard loss (Q4, 4:39) set up by Upshaw’s penetration. He was patient on the stretch left to take down Hester for a gain of 2 (Q2, 4:20) when Ellerbe’s penetration turned the play up field. His lack of speed didn’t cause problems in the run game.
Dannell Ellerbe: He penetrated most effectively of any Raven. Highlights included:
- (Q1, 7:41) He filled quickly to take down Moreno for a gain of 1.
- (Q2, 4:20) He blew up Hester’s stretch left to hold the gain to 2 yards.
- (Q3, 10:38) He was first to the ball carrier to stop Hester for a gain of 2 on 3rd and 5, but Lewis and McPhee got tackle credit.
- (Q3, 5:54) He filled well on Hillman’s 1-yard run, but again lost tackle credit, this time to Arthur Jones.
- (OT1, 8:19) Ellerbe penetrated to blow up Hillman’s 1-yard run.
- (OT1, 2:38) He penetrated to take down Hillman for no gain to bring up 3rd and 1
Ma’ake Kemoeatu: He played 16 non-penalty run snaps and made 3 tackles, which was just a small part of his contribution. More significantly, he drew 3 holding flags on Broncos RG Chris Kuper. Was some acting involved? Probably. Kemo made 2 of his tackles as the Broncos were trying to milk the clock in the final minutes of regulation.
Haloti Ngata: He was a bulwark. Despite only 3 tackles, he was difficult to move and the Broncos averaged just 2.8 YPC on his 27 run snaps. His biggest highlight was the penetration to take down Hester for no gain on 3rd and 1 (OT1, 7:48).
Terrell Suggs: See below for a list of contributions.
Versus the Run: 40 plays, 126 yards, 3.2 YPC
Versus the Pass: 46 plays, 273 yards, 5.9 YPP
Overall: 86 plays, 399 yards, 4.6 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
3 DBs: 1/ 2, 2.0 YPPA
4 DBs: 5/16, 3.2 YPPA
5 DBs: 80/381, 4.8 YPPA, 3 sacks, 3 TO
6 DBs: None
By number of pass rushers:
3 or fewer: 1/15, 15.0 YPP
4: 39/234, 6.0 YPP, 3 sacks, 3 TO
5: 3/0, 0.0 YPP
6: 3/24, 8.0 YPP
The Ravens last defensive stand in regulation warrants a review. That’s when the Ravens finally broke out of the nickel. The sequence of plays:
- (Q4, 3:12) The Ravens played 4 DBs against the Broncos jumbo formation that included Chris Clark as a 6th offensive lineman. Hillman ran middle for 5 yards.
- (Q4, 2:30) On the play that seemed to seal the game, Hillman ran off the right edge for 8 yards led by the blocks of tackle eligible Clark on Lewis and Decker on Pollard. The Ravens called their 2nd timeout.
- (Q4, 2:23) The Broncos maintained a 6-man line with 2 receivers and the Ravens converted to 3 DBs, pulling Williams. Hillman ran middle for 2 yards. The Ravens called their final timeout.
- (Q4, 2:19) The Broncos stuck with the 6-man line with 2 WRs split right. The Ravens went back to 4 DBs. Hillman ran left but was turned inside by Upshaw and Pollard. Kemo and Lewis shared the tackle for a gain of 1. The clock stopped at the 2-minute warning.
- (Q4, 2:00) The Broncos were faced with an interesting win probability proposition on 3rd and 7. The Ravens weren’t expecting a pass, as they again fielded just 3 DBs against the Broncos jumbo formation. The Broncos again lined up with Clark at RTE. RT Orlando Franklin pulled to the right and blocked Bernard Pollard effectively in an attempt to win the edge, but Courtney Upshaw got penetration against Hester to blow up the play and Hillman was tackled by Kemo for no gain. Ray Lewis was also in position had a tackle been missed. The Broncos didn’t give up on the play, but the run had a limited chance of success.
- From the play on the field, it wasn’t obvious which team was coming off a bye and which had played 87 snaps just 6 days prior. I would have expected the Ravens to 1) shorten the game offensively and 2) establish rotations for the DLs and LBs with well-distributed snaps. The Ravens ran the ball, and rotated well on the defensive line, but they played Brown, Graham, Williams, Pollard, Reed, Kruger, Ellerbe, and Lewis for each of the first 68 snaps.
- The Broncos may have done the Ravens a favor with their game plan. By keeping 3 receivers on the field, they forced the Ravens to play nickel. That meant more running plays and a shorter game. Furthermore, the decision not to play an up-tempo, no-huddle offense lessened total snaps. Dierdorf commented on it (Q4, 11:25) and Gumbel quoted Manning as saying they’d like to “take their lungs for a test drive”, but the Broncos never did.
- Graham had the best game in his brief Ravens’ career:
- (Q1, 9:58) He intercepted the deflection from Chykie Brown you’ve seen 20 times by now and returned it for a TD
- (Q1, 4:09) He was beaten for a 15-yard TD on a perfectly dropped in ball to Stokely plus a toe tap on the side of the end zone.
- (Q2, 13:04) He was credited with a PD when he rolled over Stokely to dislodge a low pass on 3rd and 10.
- (Q2, 10:08) He peeled of his assignment to take down Moreno for a gain of 7. Had he failed to make the play, Moreno appeared to have a big play ahead of him.
- (Q2, 2:00) He came up to seal the cutback lane on take down Hester for a gain of 2.
- (Q4, 10:37) He blitzed off the left slot receiver and registered a QH as Upshaw’s bull of Clady also knocked down Ball.
- (OT1, 1:33) He peeled off coverage of Stokely to take down Hillman for a 4-yard reception.
- (OT1, 1:01) Graham stayed reasonably close to Stokely, then undercut his route for the interception that set up the Ravens’ game-winning score.
- Suggs has been a non-factor for several weeks, but broke through with a big game. He had 2 sacks, but made a bigger contribution in the run game. His highlights included:
- (Q2, 2:49) He beat Tamme inside to take down Hester for a gain of 1.
- (Q2, 2:12) He penetrated between LT and LG to again take down Hester for a gain of 1.
- (Q2, 1:31) Suggs and Ellerbe pressured Manning as part of a 6-man pass rush, forcing him to throw incomplete.
- (Q2, 1:26) Suggs dropped to cover Hester and hit the RB a little early as the pass fell incomplete.
- (Q3, 11:26) He sacked and stripped Manning for a 4-yard loss. While the sack stood, the Broncos were awarded a first down on illegal use of hands called on both Suggs and Williams.
- (Q3, 2:55) He had good push on Clady to constrain the pocket as McPhee sacked and stripped Manning for a 9-yard loss after he tucked.
- (Q4, 14:25) Suggs bulled Clady again, then beat him inside for another 4-yard sack.
- (OT1, 8:19) Suggs beat Franklin inside to tackle Hillman for a gain of 1.
- (OT1, 7:48) He shed Clady to hold the left edge as Ngata took down Hester for no gain.
- Why were the Broncos flagged for Ineligible Receiver Downfield (Q1, 9:18)? Joel Dreessen was covered up by the left slot receiver. With 8 men on the line of scrimmage, Dreessen was then ineligible and the flag negated his 8-yard reception.
- Manning attacked the Ravens linebackers aggressively with short crosses and late-releasing running backs. Lewis surrendered 8 completions on 8 attempts and a 9th attempt which went for DPI. Unlike the Colts game, Lewis surrendered a pair of 16-YAC plays. Ellerbe had a PD, but was beaten for 5 completions in 8 times targeted. That included the double move by Moreno on which Manning delivered a perfect TD pass (Q2, 7:32).
- The short targets were symptomatic of a larger problem, however. Manning threw only 1 pass more than 20 yards downfield. On that play, Thomas got tangled with Williams on a 32-yard pass that fell incomplete (Q1, 6:44) down the left sideline. In addition to the wind direction, the Broncos decision to kneel out the 4th quarter was probably a function of Manning’s lack of arm strength.