Let me start by saying this: John Harbaugh is not obligated to tell me the truth.
Even as a member of the media, I hope he won’t tell me the truth in situations that would compromise competitiveness.
So we won’t know when Breshad Perriman will be back, because other teams should be kept guessing. And we won’t hear about his perception of opponent weakness until it unfolds on the field in front of us.
That leaves us in an odd position, where I have to analyze what he says with that understanding.
That said, I was tremendously encouraged by something he said in yesterday’s interviews and I want to share how I interpret his comments.
Here is the question and quote from the Ravens transcript:
In the position groupings, one of the players that really stood out was Anthony Levine with the linebackers. You mentioned the other day, I believe, the possibility of bringing a safety in the box. Is that what you are looking to do? (Ken McKusick)
“Dean [Pees] made a big point in the meeting yesterday that every DB needs to know the dime spot. Every linebacker needs to know all the front defensive line positions, because that creates uncertainty for the offense and who lines up where and some of their assignments. We want to be a very versatile defense that way.”
There is a lot to like about this response:
– He’s quoting Dean Pees. I don’t think he’d say it if Dean didn’t actually say it and it’s not going to work (or at least be a source of conflict) if it’s something Harbaugh believes, but Pees does not.
– It exactly sums up the problem with the Ravens defense over the last three seasons. Specifically, on high-leverage downs, the Ravens have had a very limited number of looks they showed opponents (more below), which has made them easy to game plan against. The 2014 team had an outstanding pass rush (Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee, Timmy Jernigan, and Elvis Dumervil) that obscured the problem. However, in 2013 and 2015, they were exposed because they failed to create offensive uncertainty.
– It effectively points out the dime in particular. A big part of the lack of multiple looks on passing downs has been the fact the Ravens have played just 62 dime snaps the last three seasons.
– Not only does this hint the Ravens may play more dime, it underscores the need to practice the dime. This isn’t table-top football, so the Ravens won’t be able to play a safety in the box if they don’t have players who understand the role.
– The other desired front seven versatility mentioned is primarily a way to disguise the pass rush. I can still recall John Madden providing color for the 2008 Ravens-Redskins game and saying the Ravens would play great two-down defense, then on 3rd down, they’ll show you a blitz you’ve never seen before.
One thing you’ll occasionally hear is that having a great front seven limits the opportunities to use dime and quarter sets. I simply don’t agree and the counterexample I offer is our own 2000 Ravens. That team had one of the greatest front seven units ever assembled, yet played more than one third of their snaps with six or seven DBs on the field. To summarize:
Snap totals include playoffs, but exclude penalties, kneels, spikes, and runs/passes from a scrimmage kick formation.
From what I heard yesterday, it’s clear to me that Harbaugh understands the problem and has a different personal vision for the defense than what the Ravens have employed the last three seasons. I believe him when he quotes Pees as embracing that vision.
The forgotten man, and perhaps the team’s biggest off-season acquisition is Leslie Frazier. He’s specific, technical, and experienced. If anyone can teach defensive backs to take on multiple roles, it would be him.