This is one of those games I won’t likely watch again after this week.
It’s easy to dwell on the negatives, but perhaps also comforting to know the World Champs were twice thrashed similarly in 2012 (at Houston and vs. Denver).
Schematically, the Ravens were limited by Denver’s no huddle. The Ravens have a defense built for substitution, but the no huddle precluded most in-series changes. Pees instead substituted primarily by possession. That limited the use of Arthur Brown and forced Elvis Dumervil to play more early downs than he may have otherwise.
It was evident in the 2nd half that the Ravens defense was tired. That didn’t have to happen after outsnapping the Broncos 46-27 in the first half and 87-66 for the game, but was also a function of the no huddle.
The Ravens played nickel on 54 of the Broncos’ 66 snaps and only 4 times before the game’s final 3 drives.
If I had to pull a team positive from this game, it would be the fact the Ravens had decent pressure with a 4-man pass rush. The Ravens sacked Manning on 3 of 30 such plays, but the Broncos nonetheless averaged 8.4 yards per play (YPP) on those.
The Broncos had 66 “real” snaps (excluding play-nullifying penalties and 2 kneels) which is the basis I use for all snap counts listed in this article and differs slightly from other published totals:
Versus the Run: 21 plays, 67 yards, 3.2 YPC
Versus the Pass: 45 plays, 445 yards, 9.9 YPP
Overall: 66 plays, 512 yards, 7.8 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
4 DBs: 12 plays, 44 yards, 3.7 YPPA
5 DBs: 54/468, 8.7 YPPA, 3 sacks
6 DBs+: None
By number of pass rushers:
3: 1 play, 0 yards
4: 30/253, 8.4 YPP, 3 sacks
5: 6/61, 11.0 YPP
6: 5/119, 23.8 YPP
7: 3/7, 2.3 YPP (These were primarily goal line plays with few total yards available)
- The Ravens did not play a single snap of dime (6 DBs).
- Of the DBs, Lardarius Webb was the only standout, shutting his assignments out without a TD for the 27th consecutive game (playoffs included) dating back to the 2010 finale vs. Cincinnati. During that period he has had 9 interceptions. Webb started at LCB with Graham playing the slot receiver in the nickel. As the game progressed and Graham struggled, Webb was moved inside to cover Welker. After registering an early PD, he had good inside coverage on Welker in the end zone (Q4, 14:05). He surrendered just 1 reception for 8 yards. The Ravens probably would have liked to keep Webb as a full-time outside corner coming off his ACL injury, but he’s their best inside cover player and it appears he will stay there out of necessity.
- Michael Huff had a difficult Ravens debut. Huff was party to both of the TDs to Julius Thomas and was unable to evade Clady on Thomas’ 78-yard catch and run for the Broncos final score. He started and played every snap for 3 quarters before being pulled for Matt Elam. He returned for the game’s last 4 defensive snaps beginning with Thomas’ long TD catch and run.
- Here’s are my notes on Corey Graham’s night in case you’d like to follow along on NFL Rewind (which you’ll probably want to do sometime after that root canal you’ve been considering):
- (Q1, 12:25) He was beaten outside by Welker for a 10-yard completion for a first down on 3rd and 9.
- (Q1, 5:42) Welker had a 15-yard reception (6 + 9 YAC) between the numbers and the left hash on a crossing route with Graham chasing.
- (Q1, 4:33) Graham blitzed off the offensive right side (ORS) and deflected the ball high, but it was taken in by Decker for a 5-yard reception nonetheless.
- (Q2, 13:35) He was flagged for illegal contact on Welker which converted a 3rd and 8.
- (Q2, 6:03) He drew offensive pass interference on Decker along the right sideline.
- (Q3, 14:13) He was beaten by Welker outside for a 10-yard completion to convert 3rd and 9. Graham motioned frantically for a review of what would turn out to be a bad missed challenge. That didn’t change the fact that Graham was once again beaten on the play.
- (Q3, 6:42) Playing on the outside against Demaryius Thomas, he failed to release his receiver to Webb as Welker cut hard from the slot to the outside for an easy 2-yard TD reception.
- (Q3, 4:45) As a pass rusher, he drew a holding call on Moreno which nullified a 14-yard completion to Welker.
- (Q4, 13:19) He was left on an island and surrendered a 26-yard TD pass (23 + 3 YAC) to D.Thomas down the right sideline.
- Graham played the game of his career in Manning’s last outing on the very same field. Furthermore, his effective play both inside and outside in the 2nd half of the season was the most significant defensive factor in the Ravens’ Super Bowl run. The Ravens 2013 fates are tied to the current trio of corners, so the Ravens will need to decide where Corey can be most effective and he must play better there.
- Jimmy Smith had a tough draw against Demaryius Thomas. He played well for most of the game, but was beaten badly twice in a 3-play sequence early in the third quarter. He overpursued and Thomas turned a 4-yard reception into a 34-yard catch and run with a quick turn to the outside past Smith (Q3, 13:45). Just 2 plays later Manning dropped in a perfectly thrown ball over the top to Caldwell for a 28-yard TD down the left sideline. Smith was also flagged for unnecessary roughness on a punt return (Q3, 3:18)
- James Ihedigbo played every snap. His highlight came early when he dislodged the football from Julius Thomas with a punishing hit (Q1, 13:10). Manning has effectively frozen safeties for most of his career and the fact that neither Ihedigbo nor Huff were on screen often is a good indication that Peyton was again successful in limiting their usefulness.
- The Ravens played 2 snaps in big nickel (3 safeties). The first was the Suggs’ sack (Q2, 4:00). The second was the 78-yard Thomas TD (Q4, 4:42).
- Josh Bynes played 61 of 66 snaps. He showed some quickness as a run defender and led the team with 8 tackles, but was lost in coverage. The best example was the 23-yard completion (4 + 19 YAC) surrendered to Moreno (Q3, 4:42) where he was 5 yards from the receiver when he made the catch.
- Daryl Smith was the every-down signal caller. He played reasonably well in coverage, including a PD hitting Decker from behind (Q2, 13:30) and a near interception of the pass intended for Julius Thomas 2 plays later (Q2, 13:13). His personal contribution will be important, but he also needs to mentor and help direct the man next to him, whether that is Bynes, Brown, or a combination.
- Upshaw saw significant time at OLB and also lined up as a DT on several passing downs. There is still hope he’ll provide something as a pass rusher, but as time moves on he looks more and more like JJ, a rock on the edge versus the run who has a good nose for the football, but makes very little impact on the passing game.
- Pernell McPhee made a nice run stop (Q3, 4:27) while holding the left edge, but did not line up as an inside rusher nor did he create any significant pressure from OLB.
- Dumervil was one of 3 Ravens (Suggs, Canty) who generated pressure. He exploited Julius Thomas to the inside and past the late block of Franklin for his first sack as a Raven (Q3, 15:00). He still possesses a lightning-quick first step, but lines up right on the neutral zone to exploit it. He was flagged for offsides (declined) on the game-sealing TD to Thomas (Q4, 4:42) which is his 9th such flag in his last 18 games.
- Arthur Brown was the missing man. He played just 5 snaps, but drew a holding flag on Orlando Franklin (Q3, 1:11, declined). The Ravens used him in a handful of obvious passing situations, but with Bynes shredded in coverage, Pees was unwilling to test him as a 3-down linebacker.
- Ngata was effective stopping the run. He got solid push and moved effectively to either side. He would finish with 4 tackles which occurred 1, -1, 2, and -2 yards from the LoS. That is a fine night’s work for any inside lineman, but the Ravens could have hoped for more chaos as a pass rusher.
- Marcus Spears contributed 30 snaps after playing just 9 in the preseason. He held his ground well in the run game and penetrated to help blow up Ball’s run for a loss of 2 on 3rd and 1 (Q4, 9:02) which kept the Ravens’ flickering hopes alive. While his night was good as a run defender, he contributed absolutely nothing as a pass rusher and the Ravens surrendered a team worst 14.2 yards per pass (YPP) on his 18 pass plays.
- Chris Canty’s play was a bright spot. He generated consistent inside pressure with 3 QHs (QB knockdowns) including a 4-yard sack of Manning from behind. His pressure totals, along with Suggs and Dumervil, are more impressive given the Ravens stuck with a 4-man pass rush so consistently.
- Brandon Williams was inactive and Tyson did not play any real snaps.
So, what happens from here?
Why the defense might not get better: The Ravens have depth, but it’s not of the useful variety. They’ve proven themselves vulnerable to the no-huddle offense and most of the good teams in the league will try to exploit that fact and limit substitutions. On a team that is thin at the positions, 2 of their 3 serviceable corners and both starting safeties were flogged on Thursday night. The pass rush is concentrated in just a few players and several members of the front 7 (Spears, Bynes, Cody, Upshaw) have provided little or nothing in terms of pocket discomfort. There is no apparent leader and poor communication in the secondary.
Why the defense will get better: The Ravens just faced their toughest test. A good QB with good receivers and the luxury of running the no huddle at home will have the best chance to beat any team. The successful 4-man pressure against Manning is an excellent sign. While he was able to find open spots in the zone and man coverage with virtually every throw, most other QBs will fail to do so. The Ravens’ top 3 draft picks played just 17 combined snaps (Brown 5, Elam 12, Williams 0). That will change if the incumbents do not play markedly better.