The Baltimore Ravens have the best scoring defense in the league (14.9 points per game), but a much-anticipated addition to the defense that showed up for the first time on Sunday could make the defense even better.
After serving a six-game suspension, safety Will Hill rejoined the team last week and got up to speed in enough time to make his Ravens debut. Not only did he suit up for the team on short notice, he saw a respectable amount of playing time and contributed in a diverse combination of ways for Coach Dean Pees’ unit during Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Hill, a talented free safety who had an impressive 2013 season with the New York Giants, split reps with fellow safeties Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks and Darian Stewart.
Those were the only four safeties to play on defense for Baltimore, with the snap distribution being quite balanced:
- Brooks: 46 snaps
- Stewart: 45 snaps
- Hill: 24 snaps
- Elam: 24 snaps
The most notable takeaway from the tally above is the severe drop-off in Elam’s snap count; his 24 snaps on Sunday were his lowest since Week 1 of the 2013 season, when he was not yet a starter.
Could Hill’s presence in the secondary, combined with the growth of Brooks, take snaps away from Elam on a weekly basis?
Elam’s declining snap count in each of the past three games lends some credence to that belief.
As Hill further acclimates himself with Baltimore’s secondary, it’s reasonable to think his role on defense will gradually grow.
If he becomes a regular at safety in Baltimore, what can be expected?
Let’s go back to his Ravens debut on Sunday to see what he brings to the team.
Hill is an exceptional athlete and that was evident on Atlanta’s second offensive drive. Baltimore’s pass rush has been fairly dominant as of late; adding another speedster such as Hill to the mix just makes it even more intimidating.
The Ravens stacked the right side heavily, which gave them a numbers advantage on the blitz.
Hill, Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley were all sent after quarterback Matt Ryan on the play.
The stacked look confuses the left side of the Atlanta offensive line. Left tackle Jake Matthews takes on Suggs, while the interior blitzer, Mosley, is occupied by the running back.
This leaves Hill with a free shot at the quarterback.
Hill’s impressive closing speed is on display as he takes advantage of his free path to Ryan.
His blitzing speed off the edge, combined with Mosley’s pressure up the middle, leads to a forced throw by Ryan.
Hill takes out Ryan just as he releases the football, with the result being an incompletion.
To have the luxury of two free safeties – Hill and Brooks – who are good in coverage but also blitz threats off the edge is an immense positive for the defense.
Throw in Elam, who has displayed some blitzing ability throughout his career, and Baltimore’s pass rush goes well beyond the big three of Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Pernell McPhee.
Along with edge rushing ability came Hill’s discipline and aggressiveness in run defense.
Again lined up close to the line of scrimmage, Hill quickly diagnoses the run play to his side.
As the play develops, Hill manages to hold containment on the flank while inside linebacker Daryl Smith maintains a potential run lane off the right shoulder of the left tackle.
On this play, the patience of Hill to shoot the gap and try to catch the running back from behind is a plus, as is his awareness to maintain a hold of the potential outside lane.
The running back is forced to bounce to the outside as Smith shoots the gap toward the ball carrier.
As the runner slips outside, Hill is taken on by the left tackle, who delivers a powerful initial push to the safety.
Hill has the strength to shed the block, though, and he effortlessly pushes the offensive lineman to the side.
This gives Hill the angle on the ball carrier in a one-on-one opportunity.
Hill wraps up the running back and knocks him out of bounds, preventing any gain on the play.
The sample size of 24 snaps is small, but Hill did have several positive plays when working close to the line.
He wasn’t necessarily tested in coverage, but how he was used could shed some light on what the secondary will look like in upcoming games.
For example, on this play, Hill and Elam are the two safeties, with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb at cornerback.
Hill’s deep coverage ability allows Elam to line up closer to the line of scrimmage on a run play. That play was directed toward Elam’s side, and while Elam didn’t make the initial tackle, he occupied the run lane to help allow just a minimal gain on the play.
The coverage abilities of both Hill and Brooks gives more freedom to Elam and Stewart – the inferior coverage safeties of the four – to work closer to the line, limiting their coverage duties and maximizing their run-defending ability.
The secondary has been the weakest aspect of a dominant Ravens defense this season. But with Hill now in the mix, the defense should be more even at all three levels.
Having a four-deep rotation of Hill, Brooks, Elam and Stewart gives the Ravens a balanced and diverse corps of safeties that puts the icing on the cake for an already quality defense.