Look back at preseason results and you’ll find they are a poor indicator of regular-season performance. Even the play of the starters is colored by play-calling and effort constraints.
What I did find more telling, however, were the substitution packages the Ravens used while the 1’s were in, particularly on defense. Except as noted below, The Ravens played a basic nickel package on 3rd down including:
- 4-man front: Dumervil, Ngata, Canty, Suggs. Sometimes standing, mostly in a 3-point.
- Linebackers: D. Smith, A. Brown
- Secondary: J. Smith, C Brown, Graham, Huff, Ihedigbo
Here is a brief description of the first eight 3rd down snaps:
(Q1, 14:17, 3/11): Canty worked past LG Larsen (who correctly picked up the stunting Ngata) for a fast-developing sack of Freeman with 4-man pressure.
(Q1, 8:35, 3/7): The Ravens lined up with 8 men on the LoS and inside the slot receivers. Chykie Brown and Ihedigbo rushed from the offensive right side (ORS) as Dumervil, Ngata, Smith, and Arthur Brown dropped to cover. The Bucs picked up the scheme and Freeman completed a strike to Ogletree (who got behind Graham) for 22 yards.
(Q1, 6:25, 3/6): Dumervil lined up in the neutral zone, then jumped early to set up 3rd and 1.
(Q1, 6:25, 3/1): The Ravens went back to a run defense with Upshaw, Spears, Ngata, Canty, and Suggs up front. Bynes and Smith were the linebackers, and Smith, Graham, Ihedigbo, and Huff the DBs. Brian Leonhard ran through a pile for 2 yards and a first down.
(Q1, 4:54, 3/9): The Ravens went back to their standard nickel. D. Smith blitzed as part of 5-man pressure. Freeman completed a short pass to Ogletree who was taken down immediately by Graham for a gain of 6 that forced Tampa to settle for a field goal.
(Q2, 13:59, 3/1): For the first time, the Ravens lined up with 3 DBs with a set that included Graham, Huff, and Ihedigbo on the back end, a 6-man front of Cody, Brandon Williams, Jones, and Pericak (did someone lose their helmet?) with McPhee and Dumervil on the edges. Smith and Brown remained at ILB. James ran up the middle for 3 yards and a first down.
(Q2, 12:43, 3/6): The Ravens played a 4-man front of McPhee, Jones, Canty, and Upshaw. D. Smith and A. Brown were the ILBs, and J. Smith, C. Brown, Graham, Ihedigbo, and Huff were the DBs. Both ILBs blitzed for a 6-man rush and Daryl Smith overwhelmed the RB to dislodge the football. A. Brown, who was trailing closely, lost the football in the air, but it was recovered by the alert Upshaw. After review, the play was ruled an incomplete pass.
(Q2, 8:53, 3/6): With the deluge at its heaviest, the Ravens played their standard nickel DBs with Dumervil, Jones, Brandon Williams, And McPhee as the 4-man front. McClellan and Bynes also rushed for 6-man pressure that included a stunt. Despite the optimal blitz situation against which to screen, Bynes diagnosed the play and took down James for a loss of 5.
For the Ravens of recent years, the defensive signal caller has played every snap. Last season, that included signal-calling starts from Lewis (until injured in vs. Dallas), McClain (until injured vs. Washington), Bynes (Denver and Cincinnati), and Ellerbe (NYG). I’ve been very interested to see who would emerge as the signal caller, because it determines the personnel flexibility. There were, effectively, 5 options that made sense for every-down players, Huff, Elam, Smith, Bynes, and Arthur Brown. Each brings advantages:
• If Huff or Elam were to be assigned the role, the Ravens would be free to play the broadest set of defenses, because there is no “required” linebacker. The Ravens commonly play a 3-safety goal line set which precludes a cornerback from sporting the green dot.
• Daryl Smith is the Ravens senior ILB, so he may be best positioned to make defensive adjustments from the middle, but he need not be the defensive signal caller to do so unless he is receiving helmet chatter right up to the snap. At Jacksonville he was a solid coverage outside linebacker in their 4-3, but he missed virtually all of last season. He’s 31, but based on Thursday’s alignments, Pees must be convinced (or wants to determine) he can still provide value in coverage.
• Josh Bynes is still raw, but has the speed to cover and making him the signal caller could be a longer-term solution. He is the odd man out in the nickel with Smith calling plays and Arthur Brown designated as the nickel linebacker.
• If Arthur Brown were ready to play 3 downs consistently, he’d give the Ravens the flexibility to play dime with Ihedigbo, Elam, and Huff all on the field with 3 corners and a 4-man front. By comparison, with Smith on the field, the Ravens would be forced to leave Brown off the field to add a 3rd safety. That effectively precludes the dime.
Beyond the signal-calling question I’d make several other lineup observations based on what we saw Thursday:
• It’s difficult to see how Jameel McClain makes this team. His competition isn’t Smith, it’s McClellan and Bynes. In addition to the difference in cap numbers, both McClellan and Bynes provide value as core special teamers.
• Matt Elam has not yet cracked the starting lineup next to Huff. I would expect that will happen soon, and Ihedigbo will be a high-quality dime.
• It’s a major shift when an effective, inside pass rusher moves to stand up. Pernell McPhee was the Ravens’ best defensive player in the AFC championship game, and did so as a fresh pass rusher (25 snaps) who could get his hands in the air (2 or 3 passes knocked down at the LoS). On a team where depth at OLB is a strength, it surprises me the Ravens would gamble on moving him, but based on his physique, that ship has sailed.
• Dumervil should be a well-rested pass rusher if the Ravens continue to platoon him with Upshaw. Elvis is now 29 and I would expect both greater pass-rush productivity and a masking of his weakness against the run if he can be held to 45 snaps per game. Upshaw’s ability to set the edge is an ideal complement.
• I don’t think it’s reasonable to project a specific level of success from the plays Canty made Thursday, but he’s now embedded as an inside-rush presence on passing downs.
• The interior linemen all appear hungry for work. If the Ravens activate all of Canty, Cody, Jones, Ngata, Spears, and Williams on game day, they should form one of the deepest rotations in the league.
• From the single 3-DB set, I’d say Graham currently tops the Ravens’ depth chart at corner, but Jimmy Smith will be the key to the defensive effectiveness of the 2013 team. If he becomes a top-15 cornerback as he flashed in his rookie season and again in the Super Bowl, the Ravens’ pass rush and exceptional depth will shine. If he is again injured or ineffective, the Ravens will be thin at corner.
For the preseason, I find it helpful to record the offensive linemen by series. I didn’t notice any mid-series changes, but these are the 5 offensive linemen for the first play of each series. Play totals exclude penalties and kneels.
Some notes on the OL rotation:
• Surprisingly, neither Harewood nor Reid played tackle on Thursday despite the fact both have it listed as their position on the Ravens’ roster. I am assuming the most likely chance for either to play is due to injury or ineffectiveness at tackle and given the very limited resume each has there each should see time there later in the preseason.
• David Mims got 21 late snaps, but only after Unga played the 7 series beginning in the 3rd and 4th quarters. That’s not a depth-chart confidence booster.
• Rick Wagner got an extended look at LT. After Oher, he’s the shortest of the Ravens’ tackles at 6’6”. He held up well as a pass blocker with no significant errors.
The big battle on the offensive line is at center, between Gradkowski and Shipley. Here’s how I saw it:
• Gradkowski allowed Flacco to be pressured left from the pocket (Q1, 13:07). He missed 2 other blocks, 1 out front of a screen pass (Q2, 4:14) and another as a pass blocker when he was picked up by Pierce. Scoring: 19 plays, 16 blocks, 2 missed, 1 pressure allowed, 14 points (.74)
• Shipley shared a penetration with Harewood on a missed pull which contributed to Berry being taken down for a 3-yard loss. He had 3 other misses, 2 of which occurred in level 2. Scoring 24 plays, 20 blocks, 3 missed, ½ penetration, 19 points (.79). Both scores would rate in the D range.
Individual Grades and Notes
As in past years, I have given a number of Ravens a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on the 2013 Ravens changed based on their performance Thursday. I don’t rate starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment. The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities in 2013, in positional battles, or have otherwise have something to prove this season.
Allen (0): He remains a valuable special-teams player who made key blocks on 2 of Jones’ long runbacks in 2012. I think he’s likely to make the team, but it won’t be for his skill as a running back.
Anthony (-2): The Ravens 7th-round selection had a tough night:
• (Q3, 9:11): He trailed in coverage of Ogletree crossing for an 18-yard gain
• (Q3, 4:29): He lost Ogletree in coverage, then missed a tackle to allow a 14-yard play (7 + 7 YAC)
• (Q3, 3:11): He was beaten by Hagan for a 15-yard completion near the left sideline
• (Q3, 2:30): He was again beaten by Hagan who dropped the 18-yard pass near the left sideline.
Bajema (0): He started and is the Ravens’ best blocking TE, but his fate is in the hands of others. The uneven effort from Shiancoe helped his cause, but Furstenburg’s grab may have slid him down a notch on the depth chart.
Berry (0): His competition may be with a cornerback for a special-teams spot on the 53-man roster. He didn’t do anything to hurt his chances Thursday, but he’s a longshot.
Brown, Arthur (-1): Brown did not appear lost, but he didn’t make my notes Thursday night. The rating isn’t for his play, it’s a function of Smith being chosen over him as defensive signal caller.
Brown, Chykie (-1): I won’t go over the individual plays, because he was so visible. He’s a decent 4th cornerback, but any snap he takes from the Ravens’ big 3 (Webb, Smith, Graham) will hurt.
Bynes (+1): I appreciate screen diagnosis from any defender, but it’s a lot better when the player has the athleticism to make a big play as Bynes did (Q1, 4:54). Pees used him as a 2-down linebacker for much of Thursday.
Canty (+1): On consecutive plays on the first drive he flushed Freeman to the right on a near interception by Brown (Q1, 14:22) and beat Larsen inside for a sack (Q1, 14:17). He diagnosed a screen pass and gave up his rush (Q1, 9:20), but couldn’t get his hands up in time for a deflection. Larsen blocked him effectively on Leonhard’s 13-yard run (Q1, 7:56).
Cody (0): He’s at a crossroads this camp. There may not be room for him on the Ravens, so he’s a candidate for a trade for a 7th-round selection. I noted a couple of plays where he got nice push in the run game (Q2, 6:56 and Q2, 3:09), but he still has trouble maintaining his feet.
Elam (0): He didn’t make my notes although he had 2 tackles. If his reputation as an all-over-the-field safety is accurate, we’ll see much more from him in the next 3 games.
Furstenburg (+1): He made a fine catch over the middle for a gain of 25 (Q3, 13:59). He also leaped and tipped a ball that may have been intended for Streeter (Q4, 2:00). More than his own play, the injuries and play of Shiancoe have improved his stock.
Hall (0): He was officially credited with 3 tackles in 20+ snaps, but it’s very difficult to see how he makes a team this deep in the front 7.
Hamilton (+3): Welcome to the NFL, Adrian Hamilton. He had a list-worthy performance Thursday:
• He beat Meredith outside with a shake-n-bake move (Q2, 0:24) for a QH
• He came unblocked to sack Glennon on the next play (Q2, 0:17) to force a punt
• He had a near PD on a screen left (Q3, 11:10)
• He bulled Remmers into Weber, causing the awful interception by Copeland where no Tampa receiver was within 9 yards.
If he doesn’t make the team, he could be a candidate to be traded for a low-round selection or WR.
Huff (0): He made 1 tackle and played almost exclusively as a deep safety. How the Ravens use him is the only outstanding question since he is the odds-on favorite to lead the defense in snaps this season.
Ihedigbo (+1): He got the start over Elam and was effective playing near the line of scrimmage including his contribution to taking down Martin for a loss of 1 (Q1, 15:00)
Jackson (+1): He played effective coverage including the interception (Q3, 7:21) and also forced a fumble on the previous play (Q3, 7:52) when he upended Hillis. It’s typical to lose corners to injury for some time every season, so Jackson’s return from suspension may provide another fresh body at corner at a time when the street population is depleted.
Juszczyk (0): The Ravens are committed to him given the draft pick. He has a way to go as a lead blocker.
McClellan (0): He’s the Ravens’ version of Joe Orsulak, a player who comes to camp every year without a position, but works hard and ends up playing lots of meaningful snaps. He’ll make the team due to his special-teams play, but I’d bet he’ll fill in significantly on defense at some point this season.
McPhee (0): He was credited with 2 tackles in 18 snaps, but did not make my notes.
Mellette (+1): His jump-ball TD (Q4, 8:10) was one of the night’s few receiving highlights.
Rainey (+1): He gave a spark to the return game and is a candidate to be called upon if the Ravens lose either of their top 2 backs, but the roster is crowded.
Reid (0): He looked good as a pass blocker. If Yanda’s injury proves more serious than the Ravens are letting on, Reid appears to be the next up at RG.
Simon (-1): He was largely invisible playing late in the game. That’s not a good thing for a 4th-round selection.
Smith, Daryl (+2): He didn’t look rusty despite almost no play last season. Regardless of what the Ravens management may be saying, the green dot is clearly his to lose or perhaps Brown’s to win. He made a nice play on the edge to drop Martin for a loss of 1 (Q1, 15:00) and held up Leonhard effectively on a 2-yard pass play (Q1, 9:21)
Smith, Jimmy (+1): See above. I think he’s the odds-on favorite to be the Ravens’ best corner in 2013.
Spears (-1): He played just 5 snaps and looked out of shape.
Streeter (-1): The door is wide open and he’s still on the outside. The Ravens will have to decide to test his vertical explosiveness the remainder of the preseason if they want him to succeed.
Thompson, Deonte (-2): Reed was inactive, Doss was again ineffective, and Thompson may be hurt. Do I hear phones ringing?
Williams, Brandon (+1): He flowed to the ball well and had 4 tackles, all of which would be classified as defensive wins by the Football Outsiders system. It was a solid pro debut in an extended look.
Wiliams, LaQuan (+3): He recovered a blocked punt for a TD (Q2, 0:13). As a gunner, he overran a play where no fair catch was called, but recovered Owusu’s muff nonetheless (Q2, 10:53). His leaping TD catch over Melvin (Q3, 11:19) wasn’t his only receiving highlight. He also beat Goode on a shallow crossing route between the hashes (Q3, 12:25) for an 11-yard catch.