There’s a saying in poker…When the game is tight, you play loose. When it’s loose, you play tight.
Andy Reid, Alex Smith, and the Chiefs embodied that tenet on Sunday and won 34-14 with an offensive performance that should not have been good enough to win and did not include a single high-risk offensive play.
Alex Smith was sacked 3 times (all on plays in which he had already tucked the football) and was forced to scramble 4 other times, but he completed 21 of 25 passes with a mix of WR screens, check downs, slants, and by finding gaping holes in zone coverage. Because it’s unique, it deserves a chart for transparent evaluation. So here are all 25 passes thrown:
A few notes on this:
–Most of the chart is self-explanatory except for the “Area” column. That’s a shorthand I use where outside the left numbers is 1, between the numbers and left hash is 2, between the hashes is 3, etc. That represents the spot where the catch was made or ball was thrown, not where the tackle was made.
–Smith threw for 171 gross yards, 105 of which were YAC.
–Only 2 of the passes were medium risk (orange) and nothing was close to a high-risk pass.
–The Ravens had just 1 pass defensed (PD), despite 3 sacks. That’s an unusual relationship.
–The Ravens didn’t have anything close to a forced fumble in the pocket, because Smith tucked and ran, had lots of time to throw, or had the ball out quickly on each of the 32 times he intended to throw (25 passes above plus 3 sacks plus 4 scrambles).
–On the Ravens 1 PD, I’m not even sure Wright actually touched the football, but instead hit Maclin’s arm to dislodge it. So other than the scramble for Maclin’s fumble, the Ravens’ defense may not have had their hands on a live football all day.
–On 3rd and 9 (Q4, 7:35), West ran the ball up the middle for a gain of 3 and the Chiefs immediately settled for a field goal. That would have been an odd decision for virtually any other NFL team, because it extended the lead from 10 to 13 with 6:50 remaining, but it fit the remainder of the game plan like a glove. Kelce was essentially uncovered on the left side and threw his hands up in apparent disbelief that the Smith was unwilling to throw the ball.
There is no questioning the success of this game plan. However, if you were wondering how a QB like Alex Smith has managed a 16 TD, 4 INT season, it should no longer be a mystery.
The Chiefs’ biggest gamble of the day was the 53-yard FG attempt made by Santos (Q2, 0:54). Had that been missed, the Ravens would have had a big change in field position and a chance to get back in the game. As it turned out, the gamble failed when Aiken collected the Hail Mary, since a punt in that situation almost certainly would have resulted in a 21-7 halftime score instead of the resulting 24-14. In the entire 2nd half, the Chiefs did not take a single risk offensively.
So what went wrong? The Ravens offense contributed 2 scores directly and a failed fake punt gave the Chiefs a 24-yard field for a 3rd TD. Otherwise the defense held the Chiefs to 56 plays for 277 yards (4.9 per play) with 5 of 13 conversions on 3rd down. Those totals scream out for a point total in the low to mid-teens.
Other Notes (all snap totals exclude penalties and kneels):
—Jimmy Smith’s injury forced a return to traditional roles in the secondary. Will Hill played every snap. Kendrick Lewis missed just 1 snap due to an injury. Lardarius Webb appeared headed for a game of mixed safety and slot play, but returned to corner exclusively (slot in the nickel, outside in the standard) when Smith was hurt. Shareece Wright played all but 1 snap (the 38-yard TD run) and took over as the every-down RCB on the 2nd drive. Jumal Rolle made his Ravens debut and played 25 snaps (more below).
–The Ravens did not play more than 5 DBs on any play.
Since Harbaugh announced the rest of the season would include some significant trials for young defenders (I’m excluding starters like Mosley and Jernigan), let’s review their play individually on Sunday:
—Carl Davis returned from 3 weeks as a healthy scratch to play 5 snaps. I envisioned a larger role for him when Harbuagh said he’d step in for Canty, but he lost the left edge to Fisher (Q2, 1:17), which allowed West to bump out twice for a gain of 7. Davis had 1 tackle and played just 1 play after the first play of the 2nd quarter.
—Kapron Lewis-Moore was again inactive as the Ravens dressed 5 other healthy defensive linemen.
—Brent Urban played 11 snaps and recorded his first career sack (Q1, 6:24). On the play, he bulled LG Fulton back immediately at the snap, Smith tucked the football, and Urban wrapped up. He did not generate any other defensive statistics or pass rush events (6 rush attempts) as I have it scored.
—Arthur Brown was active, but did not play defensively. With McClellan inactive, this game was an opportunity to use Brown in a hybrid coverage/rush or even OLB role. He does not seem to be part of the Ravens plans and will have a significant cap charge in 2016.
—Zach Orr continues to get playing time replacing Daryl Smith in the 3-ILB package the Ravens run frequently and replacing him on some obvious passing situations. He had 19 snaps, but was party to just 2 tackles and did not register a pass rush event. Prior to Sunday, and despite playing mostly pass plays, Orr had outstanding productivity per play in terms of tackles and pressure events. He didn’t put that kind of stamp on this game, but he also didn’t make any serious errors.
–Za’Darius Smith got his second straight week of significant playing time with 27 snaps (Seattle 31). He overpowered Kelce for a 3-yard sack (Q1, 12:29) with complementary compression from Brandon Williams and the blitzing Daryl Smith. Smith contained from the left edge to take down West for a gain of just 2 (Q1, 12:29). Smith had ample time and space, but eventually tucked to run (Q2, 2:48) and was tackled by Za’Darius and Jernigan for a gain of 1. He capitalized on Williams’ flush (Q4, 8:15) to take down Smith for a loss of 1, his 2nd sack.
—Terrence Brooks played just 1 defensive snap when Lewis was injured.
–Jumal Rolle debuted as a Raven with 25 snaps. As mentioned previously, Alex Smith didn’t really throw at any defender, but Jumal was beaten by Avant on a slant for a gain of 6 on 3rd and 5 (Q3, 4:39). That was the only time he was challenged in coverage unless you want to count the plethora of screen passes where he had to negotiate blocking traffic on the outside. He made just the 1 tackle on Avant.
—Tray Walker was active, but did not play on defense.
–Shareece Wright is not a young player (28), but his play certainly impacts opportunity for others. After getting beat on a number of crossing routes versus Seattle, I interpreted Harbaugh’s comments regarding additional opportunity for Rolle, Price, and Walker as an indication that Wright had lost his starting role. That’s not the case, obviously, since his move to RCB and every-down inclusion, effectively make him the team’s number one corner now. Unless Harbaugh had envisioned significantly more dime defense, it’s now clear the Ravens had very few standard or nickel snaps which were not going to be apportioned to the 5 principals (Hill, Lewis, Webb, Wright, and Jimmy Smith). Smith’s injury created an opportunity for Rolle, but it actually increased the snaps for Hill and Lewis, since Webb returned to play corner full-time.