You’ve heard the old saying about having 24 hours to celebrate any win before prepping for the next game.
There were 7 plays defensively that almost cost the Ravens the game. Let’s review:
(Q2, 10:10) On 1st and 10 the Ravens lined up in the nickel against 3 wide receivers and an I-formation backfield (I refer to this formation as 302 with 3 standing wideouts, no tight end, and 2 in the backfield). Kalil blocked Jones, TE (lined up as FB) Ellison blocked Smith, RG Berger blocked Bynes, and Jennings gave a mild shove in the back to Ihedigbo, which was effective on the slick field. Arthur Jones slipped off a tackle 4 yards down field and Gerhart trucked Elam and Jimmy Smith in level 2. Graham and Bynes hustled to make the tackle after a 21-yard run up the middle. It was the first play of an 11-play, 45-yard FG drive.
(Q2, 5:51) On 3rd and 9, the Vikings lined up with 4 wide receivers (1 left and 3 right or 1 X 3) and a TE in a 3-point stance again against the nickel. Patterson, the lone receiver on the left side, motioned right and took the pitch for a reverse 6 yards in the backfield. Simon was blocked by WR Webb, Berger blocked Daryl Smith effectively at first and then from the side/back and low. Sullivan stood up Tyson, and Jennings made a good block on Webb in level 2 that backed him up 5+ yards. Patterson ran right for 18 yards on a play that was fortunately negated by Berger’s personal foul. Cassel would set up Minnesota’s first field goal with a 14-yard gain on the next play.
(Q3, 13:31) With 3rd and 10, Minnesota lined up with 3 wide (2 X 1) and split backs in the shotgun. The Ravens ran the nickel and showed press coverage on all 3 wideouts. Jimmy Smith did not get his hands on Patterson, Webb barely touched Jennings in the left slot, and Graham whiffed with his right hand on Simpson. Cassel threw to the crossing Jennings for a gain of 19 (6 + 13 YAC) between the right hash and numbers with Webb trailing. Despite quick 6-man pressure, Cassel was able to complete the pass due to press-coverage whiffs. This was the key play in the Vikings’ FG drive to pull within 7-6.
(Q4, 14:28) On 3rd and 8 from the 8-yard line, the Vikings lined up 401 (2 x 2) shotgun vs. the nickel. The Ravens rushed 4, but did not generate any meaningful pressure. Jimmy Smith was lined up opposite Simpson, but the Vikings WR broke right through the seam in the back of the end zone. Ihedigbo was not deep enough to defend as the trajectory of the football was directly above him. Simpson tapped down for the score that gave Minnesota a 12-7 lead.
(Q4, 2:00) Immediately following the go-ahead TD to Pitta, the Vikings lined up 302 vs. nickel again with split backs in shotgun. The Ravens rushed 4, but again failed to get any pressure despite a stunt by Upshaw. Cassel threw a 27-yard strike for Simpson (20 + 7 YAC) who ran behind Daryl Smith and in front of Elam between the hashes. The Vikings were at the Ravens 41 and set up for another lead change on the next play.
(Q4, 1:45) On 1st and 10 the Vikings lined up 401 (2 X 2) in the shotgun against the Ravens nickel. Arthur Brown showed blitz from offensive left side (OLS) and Upshaw was left to rush uncontested (initially) from the ORS. Brown came uncontested through the left B gap, but was unable to adjust to the handoff to Gerhart and ran himself out of the play. The key blocks at the LoS came from Sullivan on Canty, Loadholt on Upshaw, and Berger on McPhee. LG Johnson moved to level 2 and assisted Ellison in the block on Daryl Smith and Jennings blocked Webb. Gerhart ran 41 yards up the middle through missed tackles from Ihedigbo and Elam for the TD that put Minnesota ahead 19-15.
(Q4 1:01) On 3rd and 10 the Vikings lined up 401 (2 X 2) in the shotgun. The Ravens countered with an unusual nickel. Jameel McClain, who is a pure 2-down run stopper, was on the field as the 2nd ILB with Daryl Smith. McClain dropped to coverage on the OLS with Jimmy Smith. Casssel threw a screen right to Patterson who weaved 79 yards (-4 + 83 YAC) through traffic for yet another lead-changing TD. The key blocks came from Ellison on Webb, Berger on Daryl Smith, Sullivan on Ihedigbo, and Simpson (who appeared to hold Graham). As the play developed, McClain was closest to chasing the slow-developing play down from across the field, but he simply did not have the wheels to do so. The key absence was Arthur Brown, who is the normal nickel LB in such situations. He would have been able to run the play down, but was apparently benched after his failure on the previous drive (Q4, 1:45). The TD put the Vikings up 26-22 with 45 seconds and just 1 more comeback remaining.
A few notes on these plays:
- The tackling, particularly by the safeties, was atrocious.
- All of these plays were run versus the Ravens nickel. As you can see below, the Vikings averaged 9.6 YPPA against the nickel (5 DBs) and 2.8 YPPA against all other combinations of defensive backs.
- Gerhart is a particularly effective versus the nickel because he’s hard for a defensive back to take down. The Ravens contributed a number of missed tackles to his efforts.
- The play of Ihedigbo and Elam can’t be sugar coated. They each missed some tackles and were bad in coverage as Matt Cassel was able to pick apart the Ravens’ zone defense. This game underscored the fact that the Ravens don’t have a legitimate free safety. One of the Ravens many draft priorities next season should be drafting a ballhawk who can contribute more playing 15 yards off the LoS.
- The Vikings got very good blocking from their wide receivers on several of the plays above.
The Vikings ran 63 offensive plays, all of which were competitive:
Versus the Run: 25 plays, 114 yards, 4.6 YPC
Versus the Pass: 38 plays, 265 yards, 7.0 YPP
Overall: 63 plays, 379 yards, 6.0 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
3 DBs: 3 play, 0 yards, no goal-line plays
4 DBs: 29/91, 3.1 YPPA, 1 TO
5 DBs: 30/288, 9.6 YPPA
6 DBs+: 1/0
By number of pass rushers:
4: 23/199, 8.7 YPP
5: 12/40, 3.3 YPP
6: 3/26, 8.7 YPP
- Arthur Brown’s failures and subsequent benching are described above. He was on the field for 11 non-penalty snaps on which the Vikings rolled up 145 yards (13.2 YPPA). Other than the forced fumble on the play on which Peterson was injured, he did very little.
- John Simon played the first 3 defensive snaps of his career, all lined up opposite Vikings RT Phil Loadholt. I’d like to report that everything went well, but he didn’t make a significant contribution:
- (Q2, 8:42) He was blocked effectively by Loadholt as Cassel completed a 12-yard pass to Jennings.
- (Q2, 5:51) He was kicked out by WR Webb on Patterson’s reverse (see above).
- (Q2, 5:16) Loadholt tried to cut block him, which John avoided, but he did not react quickly enough to the screen right as Patterson caught the pass for a gain of 14 (-5 + 19 YAC)
- Albert McClellan, who played 37.6% of the regular-season snaps for the world championship team, played his first 5 defensive snaps of the season. Those plays went well with 4 incomplete passes and a run for 8 yards (1.6 YPPA).
- The Ravens played a heavy (4-4-3) formation 3 times among McClellan’s snaps, including a pair before Peterson was injured. All of those were incomplete passes.
- The Ravens other unusual package was a 4-corner, dime alignment pulled out by Pees (Q1, 1:46). The Ravens have rarely gone to the dime this season, but historically, the vast majority of Ravens dimes have included 3 corners and 3 safeties. Cassel threw incomplete for Simpson and the Vikings were forced to punt.
- All 3 cornerbacks were again outstanding and contributed 8 of the team’s 13 PDs. That’s the 2nd highest total in a game this season. In particular, Webb took over the game defensively in the 2ndhalf when he registered 4 PDs:
- (Q3, 12:18) He broke up a likely TD pass to Carlson at the 5-yard line between the hashes.
- (Q3, 9:00) He knocked down a 20+ yard pass in the seam to Jennings on 3rd and 8.
- (Q3, 3:14) Immediately after missing a tackle on Jennings, Webb stepped in front of the Vikings receiver to knock down Cassel’s 3rd-and-3 pass.
- (Q4, 9:56) Webb had inside coverage on Patterson down the right sideline and nearly intercepted Cassel’s pass to deny another 3rd-down conversion.
- The pass rush was again MIA with no sacks, but the Ravens were effective with 5-man pass rush. After having their 19-game streak of at least 2 sacks broken last week against the Steelers, Dumervil sat with his ankle injury and the Ravens used Upshaw in an increased role (57 snaps). Courtney had just 1 tackle, 1 PD, and a QH that drew a roughing the passer flag. Canty contributed a pair of PDs in 34 snaps.
- The Fox broadcast was outstanding, particularly the superimposition of the yard lines/markers on the snow-covered field. That was greatly appreciated as I scored this game.
So where does this game rank among the Ravens great regular-season home games? I think we’ll all come up with our own answers for this, but here are my top 4:
- 2003 Seattle. The Ravens came back from a 17-point deficit midway through the 4th quarter that was triggered by a blocked punt/TD by Ed Reed, 4 TD receptions by Marcus Robinson, a 4th and 28 conversion, a clock blunder by the referees, and too many other huge plays to mention. The Ravens won 44-41 in front of a half-filled stadium which sounded full.
- 2013 Minnesota. A frustration defensively (like many of these games), but the 5 TDs in the last 127 seconds were the most in a game since at least 1940. I don’t have the tools to research this easily, but the fact I’d like is the elapsed clock time required the last time there were 5 consecutive lead-changing TDs to close out a game. (Ed Note: Some similar records are discussed here, though not this particular scenario) This game may grow in my mind as time passes, but this game had all the elements, weird weather, big plays in all phases of the game, and friends who left at halftime (just like Seattle).
- 2000 Jacksonville. The Ravens finally beat the Jags for the first time in franchise history overcoming a 23-7 halftime deficit and a 15-catch, 291-yard receiving day from Jimmy Smith (the other one). Tony Banks’ 5th TD pass, a 29-yarder to Shannon Sharpe, was the game winner with 0:41 remaining.
- 2012 New England. The Ravens rallied from down 30-21 in the last 4:10 to beat the Patriots with a disputed FG on the game’s final play. Torrey Smith had 2 TD receptions following the death of his brother. The Ravens defense came up with a key stop late to set up the final drive.