The Ravens had more than a little success defensively in 2011.
What went right above all else for the 2011 Ravens’ defense was an absence of serious injuries on the defensive line. The Ravens only had 7 players suit up the entire season and none of them played less than 17% of the total snaps. Brandon McKinney was deactivated 5 times (including the AFCC) and Arthur Jones missed 2 games late in the season, but the Ravens otherwise dressed the same 7 men for every game.
The Ravens regained some of their 2006 glory with a 48-sack regular season that included standout performances from Suggs and rookie Pernell McPhee. As a unit, they were the key to a pass-rush scheme that was conservative by number of rushers but delivered top-tier results.
The Ravens were again outstanding defending the run, registering their 16th consecutive season with less than 4.0 YPC (3.6 YPC during the regular season, 3.7 YPC for 18 games, excluding kneels). For the last 8 seasons, Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson have played a big role and developed into the best edge-setting tandem in the NFL. The Ravens have kept a solid stable of interior linemen and backups which is evidenced by the number of defensive linemen that have been filched from the Ravens practice squad over the past decade.
I’ve given each player 3 grades:
- The 2011 Play grade is a representation of how well he played vs. his positional peers last season. It is not a representation of value relative to salary.
- The 2011 Value grade is a representation of the player’s contribution relative to 2011 salary. Great players, at mid career (after signing their first FA contract), will almost never be graded an A in this category since they are typically paid the market price for their services. It’s not a slap in the face to be graded a C here, but the best front offices will have many more As and Bs than Ds and Fs because they consistently uncover value in the draft and sign bargain free agents. A player who does not miss time due to injury, but otherwise performs exactly as might be expected by his contract would be graded a B-.
- The 2011 Developmental grade is an indication of how much the player improved relative to expectation. The primary reason to expect growth (or decline) is age, but injuries (particularly changes to prospective durability), leadership, position changes, etc. were all lumped in this category. Even a 35-year-old gets a developmental grade.
Snap totals and percentages include only non-penalty snaps which were played competitively (excludes kneels and spikes) for both regular and postseason games. The 2011 Ravens had 1,119 such defensive snaps as a unit in 18 games.
Individual Player Comments
2011 Role: Starting 2-down DT/NT (497 snaps, 44%). Cody
played a number of 3rd down snaps where the distance to go was less than
What was there to like about his season? Cody played more
snaps than in his rookie year up from 12% to 44%. He had a number of
push plays, particularly early in the season, where he blew up the play
and someone else got tackle credit. The Ravens played the run more
effectively with him in than without (3.5 YPC with Cody in, 4.0 YPC
When did he play best? In the season’s first 2 games,
opponents rushed for 38 yards on 19 carries (2.0 YPC) with him in and
102 yards on 26 carries (3.9 YPC) without.
When did he play poorly? He got pushed around, primarily by Patriots center Dan Connolly in the AFCC.
What was his signature play of 2011? He was credited with
just 21 primary tackles in 2011 and didn’t force a fumble, so there
isn’t much from which to choose. A low tackle total is not atypical for
a space-eating DT, but Ravens fans have been spoiled by the tackling
frequency of Kelly Gregg for many years. One play I hope is indicative
of his future came against the Texans in week 6. He pursued Foster well
on a stretch right (Q1, 0:32) and helped take him down for no gain.
What does he need to do better? Terrence needs to be able and
assigned to penetrate more often if the Ravens want to use him for
disruption as opposed to gap control. That would include more run
blitzes and the ability to set aside 2-gap responsibilities on more
plays. By using him as part of run-blitzing schemes, he could help
compress the pocket. To date, he has had very little impact on the pass
rush. The Ravens sacked the QB on 4.4% of drop backs with him in and
9.0% when he was out. He has yet to contribute a single sack or QH in
260 passing snaps in his first 2 NFL seasons.
Grades: Play C-, Value C+, Developmental: C. The improvement
in the Ravens run defense is a positive, but his progress isn’t as far
along as most had hoped.
2011 Role: Rotational 2-down DT/DE (258 snaps, 23%)
What was there to like about his season? Jones dispelled
injury concerns that caused him to drop to the 5th round of the 2010
draft. He played just 8 snaps in 2010. While he missed 2 games at mid
season, health is not an ongoing concern.
When did he play best? He contributed to 5 tackles on just 18
plays at Seattle. He had a QH and drew an illegal hands to the face
call versus the Browns on 12/4.
When did he play poorly? He didn’t play well in either game
against the Steelers. What success the Steelers run game had in week 1
came with Jones on the field. In both games, the Steelers were more
effective passing with him in.
What was his signature play of 2011? He had a terrific 2-play
sequence against the Jets in week 4 first, he beat Baxter for a QH (Q4,
2:11), then he shed Baxter to take down Tomlinson for no gain.
What does he need to do better? Like many DTs, he needs to
have some impact on the pass rush whether that means containment,
compression, learning to jump for deflections, or creating opportunities
for others with twists and stunts.
Grades: Play C, Value B-, Developmental: C. He’s fairly
quick, but it’s not obvious to me that he’ll develop into a more
dominant lineman. He’s a good 4th DT for goal line defense, but lacks
the size to play a significantly increased snap count inside.
2011 Role: Rotational 2-down NT/DT (190 snaps, 17%). He
often entered with Arthur Jones to spell some combination of Cody,
Ngata, and Redding. He’s been with the Ravens for 3 years and played
19% of snaps in 2010 and 6% in 2009.
What was there to like about his season? Brandon is a solid rotational DT who is a contributor to the Ravens stout run defense.
When did he play best? Versus the Jaguars he had a season-high 4 tackles (1, 2, 1, 1 yards gained) and forced a fumble.
When did he play poorly? He had a missed tackle against the Bengals and otherwise disappeared in week 17, but he didn’t have any awful games.
What was his signature play of 2011? His forced fumble
against Maurice Jones-Drew (Q1, 6:08) prevented a touchdown and kept the
Ravens in the game. It was his first forced fumble in a 6-year career.
What does he need to do better? Like Jones, he needs to find a way to make some contribution to the pass rush.
Grades: Play C, Value D, Developmental: C. He’s not a bad
backup, but makes veteran money as a non-starter. That’s rarely a
combination that’s optimal for value. He’s an unrestricted free agent,
but it’s possible he’d be back on a veteran minimum deal.
2011 Role: Situational inside pass rusher (DT/DE) primarily used on 3rd down and end-of-half drives (361 snaps, 32%)
What was there to like about his season? As a rookie, he
quickly developed into one of the best inside pass rushers in the NFL.
His sack (6) and QH (6) numbers tell just a portion of the story. He
created a number of opportunities for delayed pressure from linebackers
and by flushing/compressing the pocket. Perhaps the best “sack assist” I
can cite took place in the Thanksgiving game versus the 49ers:
When did he play best? Against Cincinnati in Baltimore he
made the last 2 plays (a pressure to force an incomplete, then a sack on
4th and 17) to seal a 31-24 win in a critical divisional game. Both
plays came as part of a 3-man pass rush.
When did he play poorly? McPhee disappeared against the
Browns in the 12/24 game. After weeks of successful pass rushing, he did
not have a sack, QH, or any meaningful pressure.
What was his signature play of 2011? His 4th-down sack of Dalton sealed the Ravens’ win over the Bengals in Baltimore.
What does he need to do better? In relatively few
opportunities (57 rushing snaps), he did not display the ability to play
the run well. He had only 8 snaps versus the Pats in the AFCC in part
because it’s difficult to substitute him with the Patriots in the
no-huddle offense. When the Ravens trust him as a 2-down player, he’ll
be even more valuable.
Grades: Play B+, Value A, Developmental A. Either Jimmy
Smith or Torrey Smith might turn in a better NFL career, but McPhee was
the steal of the 2011 draft.
2011 Role: Starting DT/DE (775 snaps, 78%). His percentages
of snaps played by season: 2006 (42%), 2007 (76%), 2008 (67%), 2009
(50%, injured X games), 2010 (77%), 2011 (78%). There are several
inside DLs with even more time including Wilfork, Rubin, Raji, Alualu,
Seymour, Kelly, etc. However, the best defenses had deeper rotations.
What was there to like about his season? Ngata dominated the
league to a level rarely seen by a DT for the season’s first 4 games.
He had a hand in 6 turnovers in those 4 games. PFF shows him without a
missed tackle the entire season. He was otherwise at or near the top of
aggregate categories for his positional peers. He signed a 5-year
extension which will keep him a Raven through 2015.
When did he play best? His play against the Steelers in week 1
was other worldly. He had a forced fumble, 2 fumbles recovered, and
deflected a pass at the LoS that was intercepted by Lewis.
When did he play poorly? His effectiveness was reduced after
whatever injury it is that the Ravens won’t discuss. I don’t think he
played particularly well against the Steelers at Pittsburgh.
What was his signature play of 2011? His eyes-wide-shut FF/FR on Mendenhall in the opener all but sealed the game for the Ravens.
What does he need to do better? I think the Ravens coaches
need to find a way to optimize the value of his efforts between offense
and defense. He’s played more snaps in 2011 than he ever had previously
despite the injuries. On the flip side, the Ravens could really use
more snaps from him on offense to overcome their lack of a blocking TE
and put some teeth in their short-yardage offense. Were he playing for
Belichick, I think he might be used 2-4 snaps per game on offense.
Grades: Play A-, Value B-, Developmental B. He didn’t take a
step backward in his 6th season, which is good. It’s not reasonable to
expect him to be much better of a player than he was in 2011 and from
here on in the Ravens will be paying the market value for his services.
2011 Role: Starting DE (576 snaps, 52%)
What was there to like about his season? Cory’s play improved
in what will probably be his last year as a Raven. He rushed the
passer effectively and played the run well. He was 2nd on the team in
tackles for loss with 11 (Suggs 20) and that is just the surface of his
effectiveness versus the run. No other Raven had more than 6. Have you
ever heard anything from Redding? It’s a contract year, he’s played
well, but he hasn’t bitched about an extension.
When did he play best? He turned in a terrific game on
national TV versus the 49ers with 2.5 sacks plus another QH to go with 5
tackles. To put it in perspective, Redding’s 2.5 sacks that night are
almost 10% of his career total (25.5) through 9 seasons.
When did he play poorly? He didn’t play exceptionally poorly
in any game, but his unnecessary roughness penalty gave the Steelers a
first down when the Ravens had just sacked Roethlisberger to set up 2nd and 19.
What was his signature play of 2011? He took advantage of
McPhee’s “thunderous footstep” (see link above) to record a
fast-developing sack of Alex Smith on Thanksgiving. Interpreting the
question literally, he added another paragraph (not a whole chapter) to
the Ravens/Steelers rivalry with his 13-yard fumble recovery for a TD in
the divisional round in early 2011.
What does he need to do better? It’s not apparent how he
could be expected to improve much as he turns 32 in 2012. Like most
players his age, he’ll need to combine devout training with film study
to maintain his effectiveness.
Grades: Play B+, Value B, Developmental: A- He took a step
forward at a time when most players are simply looking to avoid injuries
and a sharp decline. He’s earned a nice chunk of change and someone
will give it to him. While he’s a good player, the Ravens will probably
take the opportunity to get younger.
2011 Role: Starting DE (1,163 snaps, 95%) and AP Defensive Player of the Year.
What was there to like about his season? Suggs found ways to
contribute in every game. He is well above average as a pass rusher
with a variety of pass-rush moves, a high motor, and a crowbar for a
right arm that forced 7 fumbles in 2011. Despite his conference-leading
sack total, that might be the only area in which he gets more credit
than he deserves. Otherwise, he’s one of the very best edge setters,
pursues running plays well to the inside, doesn’t give up in chasing
down receivers, diagnoses the screen as well as any DE, and has the
flexibility to drop to coverage in support of the Ravens’ zone-blitz
schemes. Despite the strenuous nature of the position, he missed just
56 non-penalty snaps (played 95%) in 18 games. He’s the complete
When did he play best? Several times this season I found
myself writing a catalog of 10 or 15 plays in which Suggs was involved.
The best of those was the season opener versus the Steelers when he had
3 sacks, 3 other QHs, several pressures, including 1 that led to a Reed
interception, 2 forced fumbles, and a holding penalty he drew on Colon
that negated a 55-yard completion.
When did he play poorly? He had a difficult game versus Jared
Gaither (primarily) at San Diego in week 15. In addition to a poor
night as a pass rusher, he also committed 2 penalties.
What was his signature play of 2011? His hide-and-go-seek,
leaping interception of Roethlisberger’s screen pass at Pittsburgh (Q3,
10:42) was a turning point in a see-saw game. Terrell has outstanding
football smarts that were never better displayed.
What does he need to do better? Nothing specific, but he will have to work his butt off to maintain the same level of play for another season.
Grades: Play A+, Value B+, Developmental A. He could have
taken a step backward at 29, but he instead turned in his best season.
He now has several possible paths to Canton. If the Ravens win a Super
Bowl with him, he’s in. If he were to have 1 more similar season to
2011 (DPOY or consideration), he’s in. If he makes 2 more Pro Bowls, I
think that would do it. While it’s not what Ravens fans want, he might
also make it by the longevity route by staying in the league as a
quality and balanced DE for another 5+ years. He’ll turn 30 next
October during his 10th NFL season.