Ravens vs. Bills 9/11/16—Defensive Notes
Old friends (Rex, Ray, and Ed), a solemn recollection of 9/11/01, and a quality win highlighted Sunday for Ravens fans.
If you’re here, I assume your primary interest is in the Ravens’ defensive effort against the Bills.
The game was reminiscent of the inaugural opener at the new Meadowlands facility versus the Jets in 2010. That game was a 10-9 choke out of the Jets in which the Ravens defense, led by Lewis and Reed, held the Ryan-coached Jets to just 44 offensive snaps and 6 first downs (the fewest ever by the Jets). The contest versus the Bills was not as extreme (48 snaps for the Bills with 11 first downs), but it was a game that both teams seemed eerily eager to shorten.
The Bills had the best rushing offense in the NFL last season as measured by yards. However, with both starting offensive tackles out by halftime (LT Cordy Glenn to an ankle injury and RT Seantrel Henderson to suspension), and Taylor well contained, Buffalo could manage just 65 yards rushing (2.7 YPC).
Even more impressively (from the Ravens’ perspective), The Bills managed just 95 net passing yards (4.0 YPP). The Ravens were particularly effective containing Tyrod in the pocket. He ran for 1 first down, but he wasn’t given the opportunity to roam from sideline to sideline with the option of a 15-yard scramble or 25-yard pass.
Are you one of those people who needs to have a dark rock under which to look? There you’ll find the Ravens with another game without a turnover.
Rather than spend all our time under that rock, I’ll just say I don’t think this is a defensive formula that will work against some more-talented opponents.
Let’s review by group.
(Note: all snap counts exclude accepted penalties that result on no play, spikes, kneels, and special teams plays that result in a run or pass):
The Ravens dressed just 5 defensive linemen with rookie Willie Henry a healthy scratch. Among the others:
Timmy Jernigan (34 snaps) was one of the Ravens’ defensive stars with a cleanup sack to exploit Mosley’s pressure (Q2, 13:42), a QH delivered on the sideline (Q4, 12:15) that the Bills could be heard protesting, and a pressure on Suggs’ sack on the Bills final offensive play (Q4, 4:53). He also penetrated to tackle McCoy for a loss of 1 (Q1, 6:19). Jernigan often (12 snaps) lined up as the Ravens’ only defensive lineman with 5 other linebackers in the front 6. On those snaps, there most typically was not another player in a 3-point stance and all 6 players were at the LoS and inside the slot receivers. Those 12 snaps included the Bills longest play (33 yards). However, Buffalo gained just 8 net yards on the other 11 plays combined.
Brandon Williams (36 snaps) and Michael Pierce (14) played together on each of Pierce’s snaps. They were effective and Buffalo made no significant attempt to run middle while they were in. When McCoy finally did plunge in for the Bills only score (Q2, 3:06), they ran outside left tackle (away from the Ravens behemoths). Williams added a slow-developing, but bone-crunching QH on Taylor (Q3, 0:36). He also flushed Taylor once that led to Matt Judon’s QH.
Brent Urban (8 snaps) played just once after halftime. He was in on the goal line stand, but Pees did not have him in for any obvious passing situations where he made use of his height during the preseason.
Lawrence Guy (19 snaps), was not employed in obvious passing situations either. I have only 2 mixed run notes on him, but the Ravens held the Bills to 11 rushing yards on 11 runs when he was in.
The return of Terrell Suggs (31 snaps) was one of the game’s major story lines. He delivered the 12-yard sack (Q4, 4:53) to snuff out what would be the Bills’ last chance. He flushed Taylor (Q4, 12:06) right to end the previous drive when Wright was able to direct him out of bounds for a gain of 3 on 3rd and 7. I had hoped Suggs would maintain the quickness needed to set the edge effectively, but he made an inside move on Glenn (Q2, 7:32) which resulted in McCoy’s 13-yard run left. It was a play he might have made 5 years ago. For now, it’s just a data point on a legendary resume and not a trend. The 65% utilization of Suggs seems to me a reasonable expectation for the season.
Albert McClellan (33 snaps) stepped in to the bulk of the Sam role and was one of the stars. In racing-form, here are his highlight notes in the order recorded:
–Wins left edge vs. Glenn and forces Bush inside for loss of 3
–Gets hands on Taylor, but is unable to bring him down. Tyrod escapes left and throws to Clay for 33.
–Backs up Dray in goal line, but goes down as McCoy forced back inside. Recovers to trip up McCoy short of goal line.
–Sheds block from pulling Incognito to tackle Bush for loss of 6
Somehow, the Ravens always manage to lean on McClellan for more than is expected. With the set of situational pass rushers the Ravens have at OLB, it seems this year, he will have a significant 2-down role.
Matthew Judon made his NFL debut (12 snaps) with mixed results. He had a slow-developing cleanup QH (Q3, 10:19). He helped corral Bush for a loss of 3 (Q2, 6:44), although he went uncredited. He was pushed well wide of the play by LT Glenn as McCoy ran left for a gain of 8 (Q2, 9:39).
Za’Darius Smith (31 snaps) was part of the regular standing pass rush crew. I have 3 bad edge notes for him for which I’ll give you time references (Q1, 0:04 and Q2, 10:11 and Q3, 12:21). After he failed to stay home on the second of those (the 16-yard reversal of field by McCoy) he was removed and presumably chewed out while Judon lost the left edge on the very next play. As solid a result as the Ravens had versus the Bills in terms of YPC, it’s pretty clear the team has some run-stopping issues at OLB. Smith twice flushed Taylor left. One of those ended in an incomplete/QH by Jernigan (see above). The other sent Taylor running for a 6-yard conversion on 4th and 1.
CJ Mosley played all 48 snaps as defensive signal caller. I am thrilled to see Mosley gambling within the system given the need for another playmaker. He beat McCoy for one of the only fast pressures of Tyrod (Q2, 13:42) which resulted in Jernigan’s sack. He burst though the right A gap for the initial contact on McCoy who was subsequently dropped by Webb and Orr for no gain. With the Bills running primarily outside, CJ had just 2 tackles, but he was an uncredited catalyst on these other plays. Mosley took a bad angle on one coverage play (Q2, 8:50) which allowed Watkins to escape for 3 extra yards.
Zachary Orr (45 snaps) played fast and finished second on the team with 6 tackles. In racing form:
–Orr/Weddle fast to ball on 2-yard pass to McCoy
–Delivers hard hit from behind on 5-yard pass right—turnover opportunity?
–Helps clean up on McCoy RR-1, but Jernigan credited
–Blocked down, but gets up to chase down McCoy’s RL13
–Tackles McCoy for no gain to clean up Mosley’s penetration
–Runs Taylor out of bounds for a gain of 3 to deny 3rd and 7
–Blitzes left A gap and beats McCoy to flush Taylor for Suggs’ sack
Orr’s quickness and recovery speed are assets, but if I had a beef, it’s that he needs to actively find ways to create/convert turnovers.
Kamalei Correa and Chris Carter both dressed, but neither played on defense.
No unit on either side of the ball entered 2016 with more question marks, but the secondary contributed the most to this opening-day victory.
Lardarius Webb played all 48 snaps and contributed to the Bills’ 95-yard passing day in multiple ways despite missing a tackle on Clay’s long reception (Q2, 5:57). He twice blitzed off the edge. On the first he generated a hold on FB Gronkowski (Q2, 8:57). On the second, he wasn’t able to bring down Taylor (a recurring theme), but pressured him to overthrow Bush who had lots of space to run by the right sideline (Q2, 6:50). Taylor overthrew Salas 20 yards down the right sideline (Q2, 14:32). While neither Jimmy Smith (underneath) or Webb (on the back end) were truly close, it was nice to see Webb closing to bracket the Bills receiver and he could have been in position to collect a poor throw. Webb also went uncredited on a run stop (Q3,11:36) set up by Mosley, but the signal caller congratulated Lardarius on the play. Webb earns an initial high grade at a position of uncertainty.
I have Eric Weddle (48 snaps) in my notes just 3 times, for a hit on Clay for a PD, a 2-yard pass tackle, and a 2-yard run stop. However, these plays, coupled with the Bills’ 95-yard pass output is exactly what the Ravens should have hoped for with the Weddle signing.
Neither Anthony Levine (13 snaps) nor the Ravens played a single snap of dime. He was used exclusively as a nickel on non-obvious passing situations, while Tavon Young (12 snaps) played every 3rd down with at least 2 yards to go. Neither player was used in a spy role opposite Taylor as we saw last year with Terrence Brooks shadowing Wilson in the Seattle game. I still expect we’ll see Levine play some dime snaps this season. However, if the reason the Ravens have eschewed 6-DB alignments the last 4 seasons (99 total snaps) is a philosophical aversion of Pees (he says it is not), this game will do nothing to dissuade him.
Jimmy Smith (44 snaps) had a fairly quiet game opposite Sammy Watkins and that’s a good thing. He was twice soft on medium receptions (Q3, 13:45 and Q3, 6:53), but given the time Tylor had in the pocket, he had one of the most difficult jobs on the field.
Shareece Wright (45 snaps) was the team’s defensive MVP. Here are the racing-form notes:
–Streaks past lead blocker (Taylor!) to drop McCoy for a loss of 6
–Diagnoses screen left, beats Incognito’s block, and tackles Clay for a loss of 4
–Directs McCoy to sideline for PR1
–Runs past cut block from Taylor to chase McCoy OOB on RL16
–Beats block from Woods to make tackle on McCoy RL8
–Takes down Clay at 4-yard line after missed tackles by Webb, Young
–Takes down McCoy in level 2 with low, hard tackle RL4
–Beats McCoy’s block to upend Taylor for loss of 2 on student-body left to deny 3rd and 2
–Knocks back Clay immediately on PL7 to deny 3rd and 8
It’s normally a bad thing when your leading tackler is a cornerback, but Wright had 3 tackles for loss, was essentially unblockable, and delivered punishing low hits. His play addresses one of the concerns from preseason, but more downfield coverage tests await.
Price (1 snap replacing Smith) and Canady (0 snaps) were both active. Surprisingly, Will Davis was not, but I have heard no word of an injury. I have come to realize how little this means, but Davis is now listed as SS on the roster.
If you are old enough to recall the 1989 Orioles opener, you know the key hit was a 3-run homer by Cal Ripken that tied the score at 4 in a game they won in 10 innings. It was obvious that formula was not one the Orioles could use to win a lot of games.
Those “why not” Orioles found many ways to win.
The 2016 Ravens will need to do the same, but it’s nice to have a week where we’re not concerned our favorite team has just lost another must-win game.