One of the key factors that played into Baltimore’s 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday was the willingness to switch things up on both sides of the ball.
On offense, some trickery was implemented, and on defense, a more consistent, aggressive and disguised pass rush was used.
At the forefront of the pass rush was cornerback Lardarius Webb, whose added contribution off the edge proved to be the finishing touch on an already successful front seven.
Until Sunday, Webb had rarely been used as a blitzer, but when he was finally inserted into that role, the results were extraordinary.
After an up-and-down season, Sunday may have been the turning point for Webb, who not only had success as a rusher, but in coverage.
Let’s take a look at how Webb’s presence was felt in the backfield.
Webb starts this first-quarter play lined up in the slot.
Just before the snap, he creeps up to the line, fully committed on the blitz. At this point – down a man in coverage – he must at least force pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton to make this play successful.
Webb does just that, finding an open gap on the left side of Terrell Suggs. With Webb’s closing speed, he is able to get to Dalton in time to force an errant throw, leading to an incompletion.
On that play, Webb was the lone extra pass rusher. But later in the game, the Ravens began to send multiple rushers from behind the defensive front.
Here, both Webb and linebacker Arthur Brown are used as rushers.
With two extra rushers, Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has to make a choice.
At this point, he is in position to see both Webb and Brown blitzing, but since he is the only blocker in the backfield, he’s outnumbered, and the Ravens pounce on the opportunity.
Green-Ellis commits to Webb, freeing up an easy shot on Dalton for Brown, who forces an incompletion.
Blitzing Webb earlier in the game likely made the Bengals aware of that possibility, and when Green-Ellis saw Webb, he made the commitment, likely not expecting Brown to blitz as well.
Now that the Ravens have a Webb-Brown blitz combo under their belt, they used that to their advantage later in the game.
This time, Webb comes up from the slot, and Brown is lined up as an outside linebacker.
Again the Bengals running back – this time Giovani Bernard – has to make a choice, and he fully commits to Brown.
There’s only one problem.
Brown was used as a decoy, and he retreats into coverage, but it takes too long for Bernard to react, and at this point Webb has a free path to Dalton.
He forces Dalton into the end zone, where he barely gets a throw off.
The Ravens established Webb’s pass-rushing presence early in the game, and later on implemented other gap blitzers to complement him.
With Webb’s speed, he can’t go unaccounted for when he signals he’ll rush off the edge, which opens the door for other Ravens defenders.
Perhaps five or six of these kinds of plays a game could be what the Ravens need to start forcing more turnovers on defense, giving a struggling offense more scoring opportunities.