One of the strong points of the Baltimore Ravens defense thus far has been the stellar play of the front seven, particularly in run defense.
That was on display again on Sunday, when the Ravens actually turned in an acceptable performance against the run despite giving up 203 rushing yards to the Buffalo Bills. The box score didn’t tell the whole story, as Baltimore’s run defense had an underrated showing in Buffalo.
What skews the stat is the fact that the Bills ran the ball 55 times. The team’s yards per carry average was only 3.7, which isn’t too bad for a Ravens defense that was on the field for over 36 minutes. The Ravens also forced four tackles for loss, while the Bills recorded zero.
In the second half, the Ravens buckled down defensively, and the front seven was the key to keeping the Ravens in the game long enough for a late comeback attempt.
Let’s take a look at the success the Ravens had against the run on Sunday in the second half, as well as the struggles in the first half.
Q1, 10:54 remaining, 1st and 10
Buffalo’s first offensive play from scrimmage was one of its most perfectly executed plays of the day.
As for the Baltimore defense, things didn’t go so well.
With four down linemen, the Ravens defenders immediately get turned away from the running back, C.J. Spiller, and it is up to inside linebacker Daryl Smith to make the play.
The fullback engages with Smith, and the hole for Spiller couldn’t be any bigger, as he easily scoots to the second level.
Safety James Ihedigbo is able to meet Spiller in an open area of the field, saving the Ravens from what could have been a touchdown run and instead holding it to just a 10-yard gain.
This play was a prime example of Buffalo’s underrated run blocking, but also note the fact that not a single Ravens run defender could shed a block. Not even Smith against the fullback.
Q3, 15:00 remaining, 1st and 10
The defense really buckled down once the second half began, and Baltimore’s front seven was on full display on the first play of the half.
Baltimore lines up with four down lineman and its run-stopping outside linebacker, Courtney Upshaw, against a Buffalo offense that has a 21 personnel with the tight end on the left side and a fullback on the right.
Off the snap, the Bills tip their hand that the run is to their left, and the Ravens’ down linemen all collapse to their right, with Upshaw in containment mode on the outside. Defensive end Chris Canty immediately bursts through the line off the snap.
This forces Spiller to cut back to his right, where outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is waiting to force him back into the middle, ultimately resulting in just a one-yard gain.
Gap integrity was a problem early on for the Ravens, but on this play, each player correctly collapses toward the ball carrier, with both outside linebackers containing the outside, making it seemingly impossible for Spiller to break through the offensive line.
Q4, 12:49 remaining, 2nd and 1
Though they didn’t run many read-option plays, the Bills ran plenty of plays out of the shotgun on Sunday. Given quarterback EJ Manuel’s running ability, defenses must respect his ability to tuck it and take off.
On a 2nd and 1, the Bills line up in the shotgun, with running back Tashard Choice to Manuel’s left. On this play, the Bills did in fact use their read-option.
Baltimore counteracts Buffalo’s 12 personnel, balanced offensive line with a nickel package featuring three down linemen and linebacker Terrell Suggs on the left side of the defense.
On this play, Canty capitalizes on the opportunity presented by the fact that left tackle Cordy Glenn must choose between blocking him or Smith.
Glenn chooses Smith, which gives Canty a free shot at Manuel and Choice; however, the wrong decision in who he should commit to would result in a large gain for the Bills.
Manuel hands the ball off to Choice, and Canty’s proper diagnosis of the play allows him a free running lane to the ballcarier.
Canty makes the tackle as Choice approaches a bunched running lane, resulting in just a one-yard gain. This won’t be the last time the Ravens front seven sees the read-option this season, and the only way to have consistent success against it is to have defensive ends and outside linebackers who can make the proper commitment to the right ball carrier, which Canty did on this occasion.
So, as you can see, it really wasn’t as bad as it seemed. The broadcast crew kept making references to last year’s game against Dallas, when the Cowboys ran for 227 yards against the Ravens. The difference was that, in that game, Dallas averaged 5.4 yards per carry. Again, Buffalo averaged only 3.7. The run defense wasn’t as poor Sunday as the totals indicate.