Super Bowl XLVII Defensive Notes vs. 49ers 2/3/13—Jekyll and Hyde Defense Delivers in the Clutch
For a change, the Ravens played just 60 snaps defensively, but nonetheless allowed a SB-record 468 yards for a winning team. The Ravens failed to contain the run effectively, allowing 6.3 yards per carry and were burned for 9.2 yards per pass play.
So how did the Ravens come out on top with such a poor defensive effort? The simple answer is that the Ravens won a majority of the game’s most important plays. As I see it there were 11 defensive plays in particular that won the game for the Ravens. Here is the countdown as I saw it:
11. (Q4, 3:32) Vernon Davis had a step on Corey Graham 40 yards down the right sideline. Pollard was over late, but the ball went incomplete off Davis’s fingertips.
10. (Q1, 4:26) On 3rd and goal from the 8-yard line, Kruger whisked past the hands of Davis to sack Kaepernick for a loss of 10. McPhee also had pressure up the middle and the 49ers settled for a FG.
9. (Q2, 7:06) Moss lined up in the slot left and crossed between the right hash and numbers. Kaepernick’s pass sailed over his head as Moss made no attempt to elevate and Reed hauled it in for his 70th interception as a Raven and record 9th in the post season. The Ravens would fail to score when they turned the ball over on Tucker’s fake field goal, but this was a field-position changer that preceded the TD pass to Jones.
8. (Q2, 0:25) With the 49ers driving at the 9-yard line, Jones penetrated past the pulling Iupati to take down Gore for no gain to set up 3rd and 2.
7. (Q2, 0:21) On 3rd and 2 from the 9-yard line right before the half, Kaepernick rolled right. Suggs stayed home on the OLS, covering Vernon Davis while Ngata, Lewis, and Ellerbe strung out the play and converged on the QB. Kaepernick slid down for a sack at the original line of scrimmage that was credited to Kruger, but a function of the containment. The 49ers would settle for a FG.
6. (Q3, 3:25) The 49ers were 3rd and 7 at the Ravens 21. Kaepernick threw deep left for Ginn who was behind Reed and Graham, but Williams flashed across and leapt high for the PD inside the 2-yard line. Ginn was lined up to receive the throw, but his left foot landed just out of bounds. It would have taken a masterful contortion effort for him to have brought the ball down and tapped both feet in bounds, but that didn’t make the deflection any less impressive. After a running into the kicker penalty, the 49ers would eventually settle for a FG.
5. (Q2, 12:04) With the 49ers lined up 1st and 10 at the Baltimore 24, James took the handoff from the shotgun and looked to run off tackle to the right. However, Arthur Jones penetrated across the face of the pulling Iupati to force James to the outside. Upshaw worked off the block from Walker to force James even further back and outside to the right, but could not make the tackle. Pollard came up, but James evaded him with a spin move, still 6 yards behind the LoS. When James neared the LoS, Ellerbe hit him high and spun him again (but also missed the tackle), slowing him so that Graham could finally wrap up. As he went down, Upshaw delivered a hard hit that dislodged the football. Moss, Iupati, and Walker were all staring down at the loose ball and within 2 yards, but Jones covered it, and none of them even made an attempt to dive on it. This was great team defense and hustle at its best and it’s one of the lasting visual memories I’ll have from this game.
4. (Q1, 4:31) Kaepernick moved up in the pocket then right to escape Suggs, but under late pressure from Reed missed high off Crabtree’s hands at the goal line. The throw may have been intended for Moss deeper in the end zone, but he was not able to react to the deflection
3. (Q4, 2:00) On 2nd and goal from the 5, the Ravens rushed just 3 as Suggs stayed home on the left side to cover Gore. Kaepernick rolled right spied by Upshaw with McPhee trailing. Both Walker and Gore were at or behind the LoS, so Kaepernick threw for Crabtree by the right pylon. Graham came up to deflect the football from behind. From the top view, it’s clear the Ravens were fortunate Kaepernick attempted to force the ball into a tight window, because they had no one within 7 yards of him as he threw and would have had no answer had he tried to reverse his field and make a play with his legs or in concert with Gore.
2. (Q4, 1:55) On 3rd and 5, Reed blitzed untouched off the ORS as 3 receivers released to the right. Unlike the miscommunication that led to the Pats only TD 2 weeks before, Pollard, Smith, and Graham picked up Walker, Moss, and Crabtree respectively from this blast of receivers. Reed leapt, but was unable to deflect the pass for Crabtree at the 3. He secured the football and turned to the goal line as Graham wrapped him up, but the football was dislodged by a vicious hit from Jimmy Smith to set up 4th and 5. If the Ravens had to get one helmet-to-helmet no-call all season, you’d have picked this one and no flag was thrown.
1. (Q4, 1:50) On 4th and 5, Smith lined up in press coverage of Crabtree on the right side. The Ravens rushed 6, including Ellerbe who came untouched between Staley and Iupati to put immediate pressure on Kaepernick. The 49ers QB lofted the ball to the end zone along the right sideline. Smith got his hands on Crabtree within 5 yards of the LoS and maintained contact as Crabtree tried to shove him loose at the goal line. Smith fell backwards to the turf, but the ball was overthrown (perhaps 4 feet out of bounds) and Smith’s jam had eliminated the possibility of drama from a catch and toe tap attempt.
On these 11 plays, the Ravens played a mix of passive containment of Kaepernick peppered with pressure that made him very uncomfortable. They were effective defending the short field and played outstanding team defense, particularly in the nickel. Kaepernick was particularly ineffective when he shrunk the field for himself rolling right and the Ravens contained well when he did so.
Despite the 49ers’ big-play success with both the pass and run, the Ravens found a niche set of plays where they were effective. Specifically, they held the 49ers to 2 conversions in 10 3rd/4th down attempts and just 23 total yards on those plays.
The stats are based on 60 defensive snaps:
- Versus the Run: 29 plays, 182 yards, 6.3 YPC
- Versus the Pass: 31 plays, 286 yards, 9.2 YPP
- Overall: 60 plays, 468 yards, 7.8 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
- 3 DBs: None
- 4 DBs: 43/395, 9.2 YPPA, 1 sack, 2 TO
- 5 DBs: 17/73, 4.3 YPPA, 2 sacks
- 6 DBs: None
By number of pass rushers:
- 3 or fewer: 3/0, 0.0 YPP, 1 sack
- 4: 22/234, 10.6 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO
- 5: 4/52, 13.0 YPP
- 6: 2/0, 0.0 YPP
- 7: None
- The Ravens were effective in the nickel and not coincidentally, the play of Jimmy Smith was central to the Ravens success. After a week alternating with Chykie Brown in New England, Smith won back the full-time LCB slot in the nickel. He played just those 17 nickel snaps and was never beaten. In addition to the 49ers last 2 snaps detailed above, he registered a PD coming around Moss (Q2, 1:15). He also played appropriately soft in coverage of Walker on 3rd and 13, holding Walker to a gain of 6 along the right sideline on the first play after the lights came back.
- The Ravens were forced to redistribute Haloti Ngata’s snaps after his injury and the burden fell primarily to Arthur Jones (49 snaps) who played a central role in 2 of the 12 plays that won the Ravens the game (see plays 8 and 5 above). He also sacked Kaepernick for a loss of 6 immediately before the lights went out. While he didn’t make any other tackles, that was enough.
- Ellerbe and Lewis played every snap, as did the starting defensive backfield (Reed, Pollard, Graham, and Williams). Other defensive participation among the front 7 included Cody (22 snaps), Kemo (23), McPhee (20), Ngata (35), Suggs (56), Tyson (14), Kruger (21), McClellan (2), and Upshaw (41).
- Kruger returned to duty as a pass-rushing specialist with the need to hold the edges versus the run. He delivered 2 sacks in just 17 times rushing the passer and both were among the big 11 plays above.
- Upshaw’s playing time returned as the Ravens played primarily 4-DB sets. He set the edge well in the run game, and spied Kaepernick effectively. Against Manning and Brady, he was used as a pass rusher on 19 of his 20 pass plays on the field, but in the Super Bowl he dropped to cover on 17 of 22 drop backs.
- Ellerbe was active and contributed to several of the Ravens’ big plays with some terrific run defense in the first half. He worked off the block of Miller to take down Gore for no gain (Q1, 14:39). He shot the right B gap for another takedown of Gore for no gain (Q1, 9:27). His pressure on the 49er’s final offensive play forced Kaepernick’s hurried throw.
- Lewis was consistently isolated in the short and intermediate passing game and surrendered 4 completions for 73 yards, including 46 after the catch. He didn’t play the run well and had a game that, from an individual standpoint, was unrepresentative of his legendary career. However, on the final 3-play stand, he made some contributions that might have gone unnoticed.
- On 2nd and 5 (Q4, 2:00) Lewis jammed Vernon Davis who appeared to be Kaepernick’s primary read. He slid back to pass him to Reed, and then ran to the right sideline to set up containment for the rolling Kaepernick, but the ball had been released, incomplete.
- On 3rd and 5 (Q4, 1:55) Lewis realigned Pollard to the offensive right side where he was able to pick up Walker. Lewis himself moved to cover Frank Gore, who would have otherwise been the 4th receiver going out right through a cleared out zone. The Ravens effectively accounted for all 4 receivers and Jimmy Smith delivered the PD.
- On 4th and 5 (Q4, 1:50) Lewis crept to the line showing an A-gap blitz between LG Iupati and C Goodwin. He rushed inside on Iupati while Suggs rushed straight ahead at the left tackle Staley. Ellerbe was left free to blitz untouched between Staley and Iupati for the game-winning pressure, but he had help from his veteran friends.
- During the game, the Ravens had 4 players go to the clubhouse (Pollard, Reed, Pierce, and Ngata). Pollard and Reed did not miss any snaps, but Pollard was clearly playing hurt and Kaepernick exploited him for 4 completions for 87 yards.
- The loss of Ngata came on the same play where the 49ers pulled within 28-20 on Gore’s 6-yard TD run (Q3, 5:05). Even though the 49ers would subsequently cut the lead to 2, the Ngata injury was probably the emotional low point of the game for Ravens’ fans. With Ngata in, the Ravens allowed just 4.4 yards on 16 runs. After he departed, the 49ers ran 9 times for 98 yards (10.9 YPC).