“The Ravens hybrid defense”
You see that everywhere, don’t you? In almost every article, blog post or comment concerning the Ravens defense, the author normally acknowledges how “multiple” it is. It’s almost a cliché at this point.
But, what does that even mean?
The typical narrative of the Ravens defense usually goes something like this: They play some snaps in a 4-3, others in a 3-4 and its always really confusing.
Yet, the film breakdown tells another, much more interesting, story.
Here, we have an end zone view of the Ravens defense in the Chargers game of the 2012 season. If you’re thinking “wow, that looks a little bit like a 4-3 defensive alignment”, you’d be correct.
Here, we have another end zone view of the Ravens defense in that same Chargers game. And yes, that looks exactly like a 3-4 alignment.
Here’s the kicker:
Both of those screen shots are from the same exact play. This play.
Not as black and white as you once thought, right? And, I’m not even done yet.
Like many defenses in the NFL, the Ravens are incorporating both 3-4 and 4-3 principles into their defensive base front. This is commonly called an “under” front.
Now, some would look at the full picture of the under front and notice how the defense is actually stacked up on the weak side rather than the strong side. The reasoning behind this strategy is actually because of the assumed coverage of the secondary.
Usually, teams that use an under front as their base defense also run a lot of three-deep coverage on the back end. This allows the strong safety to enter the box (normally on the strong side) while the free safety has a deep third responsibility.
Essentially, this adds an extra linebacker in the box, filling a gap and making it more difficult for the offense to run the ball.
So, why do all of this? Why not just accumulate the talent necessary to run a classic 3-4 or 4-3? The answer is actually very simple.
February through April, the phrase “best player available” is thrown around quite a bit in regard to the Raven’s draft strategy. Well, this “hybrid” scheme allows the Ravens to draft or sign any available defensive player regardless of his perceived scheme fit. In short, every player fits in some capacity.
In some way, shape or form, every Raven has an opportunity to help this defense no matter their skill set. And, that is the culture John Harbaugh can build a dynasty around.