Can Defense Keep This Up?

Filmstudy Can Defense Keep This Up?

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Is the Turnover Level Sustainable?

In the simplest terms, of course not.

I always laugh when a color analyst offers that the team that wins the turnover battle will probably win the game. It could be said more accurately (in terms of causality) that the team that wins the game will probably win the turnover battle. That’s because the trailing team naturally takes more chances to catch up, while the team with the lead is trying to minimize turnover risk as part of closing.

The Ravens have never trailed this season and have held big 2nd-half leads in each game. Paradoxically, the Ravens offense has played a substantial role in the generation of turnovers.

However, this version of the Ravens appears headed to a special year in terms of takeaways.

Last year, the Ravens led the league in interception rate, both per opponent pass attempted (18 of 578, 3.1%) and per pass defensed (18 of 70, 25.7%). It’s probably obvious why the former ratio is meaningful, but since interceptions are also passes defensed, the ratio of INTs/PDs is a measure of team conversion rate on interception opportunities.

In 2016, the Ravens led the NFL with just 3.89 PDs per INT (70 PDs, 18 INTs). Thus far in 2017, the Ravens have 17 PDs (leads the NFL by 5) and 8 INTs for 2.13 PDs per INT. That is a remarkable conversion rate, but the fact the Ravens have 5 more picks than any other NFL team has also been a function of the fact they have moved from 20th to 1st in PDs.

The tennis-ball drill appears to have paid off.

Keeping it Simple

Lots of folks are going to point to yardage as a method to minimize the Ravens defense.

The Ravens gave up some chunks of yardage on pass plays that appeared as if they must have been blown coverages.  However, Dean Pees again called a game with minimal deception or scheme for pressure and allowed the combination of 4 rushers and 7 on the back end to maximize turnovers that would determine the outcome.

The pass-rush scheme was similar to that used in Cincinnati:

pass-rushers-browns

Pees rushed 4 for most of the game, including 20 consecutive pass plays in the 2nd half.  After just 3 deceptive blitzes versus the Bengals [see definition here], Pees called just 2 versus the Browns on 45 drop backs.

Despite the lack of numbers or scheme for pressure, the Ravens allowed the Browns QBs Ample Time and Space (ATS) on just 23 of 45 drop backs, which is very close to Flacco’s 7-year average.

Pees didn’t use a spy to slow down Kizer. He didn’t rush with numbers. He almost did not blitz (6 the entire game, up from 2 in Week 1). He just waited for the Browns to mess up and they did with drops, pre-snap penalties, and another 5 turnovers.

The lone significant scheme change to the Ravens pass rush from Week 1 was the use of an OLB to rush from the inside. The Ravens fielded a 3-OLB package on 20 snaps (plus 1 other penalty). When the Browns passed, that most frequently included Judon rushing from the inside, although Bowser did so as well.

Usage of 3 OLBs accelerated (particularly in the 2nd half) with the injury to Brandon Williams. However, the Ravens had already used 3 OLBs on 8 occasions in the first half.

Individual Notes by Positional Group

Defensive Line

The Ravens again dressed just 5 of their 8 defensive linemen.  Willie Henry, Bronson Kaufusi, and Chris Wormley were inactive.

The Ravens used just 1.86 defensive linemen per play, a function of dime snaps that included 3 OLBs, Mosley, and 1 lineman.

Note: Snap totals exclude kneels, spikes, accepted penalties that result in no play and runs/passes from a scrimmage kick formation.  As such, these totals will be slightly lower than other published sources.

Michael Pierce (40 snaps) had a solid game. He had just 1 tackle assist, but beat Bitonio for a hard QH (Q3, 11:28), bulled Zeitler for pressure as Hogan overthrew Coleman in the end zone (Q3, 9:35), and made Zeitler whiff to quickly flush Kizer which led to Onwuasor’s sack (Q3, 7:44). He has scary quickness for a big man.

An extended injury to Brandon Williams (19 snaps) would be very serious. Before leaving, he had 1 pressure in 9 pass snaps and 3 tackles in 10 run snaps. The Ravens have significant depth at the 1 and 3-tech spots, but he will be missed.

Brent Urban (50 snaps) again led all defensive linemen in playing time. He got good push versus RG Zeitler and RT Coleman that included the initial flush of Kizer that led to Suggs’ strip sack (Q1, 7:38). He also took down Crowell for a loss of 1 when he pushed past Njoku (Q2, 13:41).

Carl Davis (10 snaps) had 2 nice looking “Oklahoma” plays where he worked off an opponent (Q3, 10:15 and Q3, 8:19), each to take down Crowell for a gain of 2. However, he also gave the Browns a free play when he was on the field as a 12th player (Q2, 6:31) and was unable to maintain position versus a double team which led Crowell’s 17-yard run (Q3, 10:49). The Ravens will rely on him more during any Williams absence.

Patrick Ricard did not play a defensive snap.

Linebackers

The Ravens activated all 8 of their healthy linebackers, with only Za’Darius Smith sitting out.

The 4 OLBs had clarified scheme in Week 2.

Terrell Suggs (44 snaps) had his 2nd sack fumble on a cleanup sack of Urban’s flush (Q1, 7:38). He added 2 other QHs and 2 other pressures (Q4, 2:40 was miscredited as a QH) among 30 pass snaps. He also drew a holding call on RT Coleman (Q4, 1:55). Suggs’ first QH (Q1, 13:48) came when he bulled then shed LT Joe Thomas on his 9,999th consecutive snap.

Matthew Judon (54 snaps) again played well as the primary Sam and expanded his role to rush from the inside on most 3-OLB snaps (see above). He recovered Kizer’s fumble forced by Suggs (Q1, 7:38). He held the edge well versus Coleman to blow up Crowell for a loss of 1 (Q2, 13:41). He also had a brutal QH of Hogan as Bowser was intercepting his pass (Q2, 0:29). On that play, it appeared Judon might be flagged, but referee Gene Steratore was right there, nodded, and Hogan (amazingly) got up to make the tackle.

Tim Williams (21 snaps) made his NFL debut and beat LT Joe Thomas cleanly to the outside for his first career QH (Q4, 0:32). He also flushed Kizer from the pocket and tackled him for a 3-yard gain (Q4, 14:56), narrowly missing his first sack. Surprisingly, only 4 of his snaps came on either 3rd or 4th down, indicating he was used more rotationally than situationally.

Tyus Bowser (34 snaps) was part of the 3-OLB package and payed a higher percentage of passing downs. He was on the field for 4 of the 5 Ravens turnovers as well as all 3 sacks. He registered his first NFL sack when he bulled, then shed RT Coleman despite a hold (Q2, 2:47). On the very next play he pinched the right edge to tackle Johnson for a gain of 2 (Q2, 2:27). He then intercepted Hogan’s pass and returned it 27 yards (Q2, 0:29) to set up the TD that put the Ravens up 21-7. That cycle of contributions (rush, edge set, coverage) is why he has earned more playing time with results.

CJ Mosley played every snap and led the Ravens in tackles with 10. He had a sack washed out by a phantom illegal use of hands call against Jimmy Smith (Q2, 12:28). While he had another fine game making quick tackles after the catch, he was also caught trailing on several long pass plays including:

–(Q1, 8:49): Telfer’s 20-yard catch by the right sideline over Mosley and Onwuasor.

–(Q2, 7:05): DeValve’s 49-yard catch (21 + 28 YAC) by the right sideline.

–(Q4, 13:53): Higgins’ 28-yard catch by the left sideline over Mosley and Webb in zone.

Kamalei Correa (27 snaps), Patrick Onwuasor (17), and Anthony Levine (22 as the dime), split time next to Mosley.  None were perfect, but I’ll summarize in tabular form:

lbs-vs-browns

Secondary

Pees called the dime on 22 of 66 snaps versus the Browns. For the season, they’ve played 34 dime snaps including 6 turnovers (17.6%!) and 3 sacks (8.8%).

Without following receivers, the Ravens collectively clamped down on the Browns nominal threats, Corey Coleman (1 catch on 7 targets for 9 yards), Kenny Britt (1 catch on 2 targets for 2 yards), and Sammie Coates (0 catches on 4 targets). However, practice-squad call up Rashard Higgins (who did not even make the Gameday program) caught 7 balls for 95 yards, backup TE Seth DeValve had 2 catches for 61, and WR/RB Duke Johnson caught 3 for 59.

Jimmy Smith (66 snaps) played the entire game and helped hold Coleman and Britt in check. The Ravens played a fair amount of press coverage on both sides and Jimmy was effective doing so, despite the ticky-tack IH call that cost Mosley a sack.

Marlon Humphrey (10 snaps) subbed for Carr and Webb (with Carr moving to the slot. He was unable to collect his first interception (Q4, 2:00) by the right sideline. On the same drive (Q4, 1:09) he took down Ricardo Louis for a gain of 3 with an immediate, in-bounds tackle. For the season, the Ravens have now allowed just 27 yards on his 19 snaps (1.4 YPP).

Brandon Carr (65 snaps) was the Ravens best defensive player.  His contributions deserve list review:

–(Q1, 3:56): He drew an OPI on Britt to negate a 13-yard completion.

–(Q1, 3:09): He covered Coleman well down the right sideline and was credited with a leaping PD on an uncatchable ball.

–(Q1, 2:27): He and Correa each failed to convert difficult tackle opportunities on Johnson’s 16-yard reception (-4 + 20 YAC) between the numbers and right hash.

–(Q2, 11:37): Carr allowed another interception to pass through his hands in coverage of Britt 32 yards down the right sideline.

–(Q2, 7:12): He stripped DeValve from behind for a PD as Correa prepared to deliver a big hit.

–(Q2, 5:04): He was unable to stop the on-target laser to Njoku for the Browns only TD with Jefferson also converging.

–(Q2, 0:29): He was one of 3 Ravens lined up to between Hogan and his intended receiver Higgins on Bowser’s interception (something I can’t ever recall seeing before).

–(Q3, 9:35): He used the boundary effectively to slow Coleman as Hogan overthrew him in the end zone.

–(Q3, 6:33): Brandon again had tight coverage down the right sideline as Kizer overthrew Sammie Coates.

–(Q4, 14:24): He surrendered a 9-yard catch by Coleman who went unflagged for a flagrant OPI.

–(Q4, 6:35): Kizer again missed Coates 30 yards down the right sideline as Carr again used the boundary well.

–(Q4, 6:21): Kizer rolled right with ATS and threw 25 yards for Higgins, but Carr intercepted as the underneath coverage in a tight bracket with Jefferson.

Carr’s play has exceeded any reasonable expectation and his physical style is an excellent match for the pass-rush strength of this defense.

Lardarius Webb (45 snaps) again played exclusively in the slot and was on for all 5 turnovers and all 3 sacks. His athletic end-zone interception ended the Browns best shot to get back in the game (Q4, 11:47). He had another PD by dislodging a ball intended for Higgins to deny 3rd and 10 (Q2, 2:00). On the Browns first play from scrimmage (Q1,15:00) he navigated traffic to undercut Crowell for a gain of 3 on what looked as if it would be a big gain on a misdirection run.

Eric Weddle (66 snaps) remarkably collected the tip from Johnson (Q1, 0:34) for his first INT. He had 4 tackles and some nice bracket coverage on the back end.

Tony Jefferson (66 snaps) also played every snap and was again active in run defense (5 tackles in total). He delivered a QH on 1 of the 2 occasions he rushed the passer (Q4, 2:14). He and Carr were unable to prevent the TD to Njoku (Q2, 5:04), which is at least the 3rd time in 2 games he’s been late to help on the deep outside.

Anthony Levine (22 snaps) played exclusively in dime. His coverage contributed to the terrific results with 6 DBs (see ILB results above) despite a missed tackle.

The Ravens again had more significant contributors than room on their list of stars, but my 3 stars of the game were:

1. Brandon Carr

2. Tyus Bowser

3. Terrell Suggs

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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time. If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick

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