For the 2nd consecutive season, the Ravens flexed their depth in the secondary. The results were far from those of 2011, but the season was more rewarding.
At safety, Pollard and Reed were every-down fixtures, but the Ravens drafted core special teamer Christian Thompson in the 4th round and acquired backups James Ihedigbo and Sean Considine. Omar Brown forced his way onto the practice squad and later the roster with an uncanny knack for finding the football in the preseason.
The Ravens started the season as strong as virtually any team in the NFL at Cornerback. Let’s set the stage:
- Lardarius Webb was the best CB in football in 2011 (including the postseason).
- Cary Williams had played effectively in the 2nd half and was headed to a contract year, a good combination.
- Jimmy Smith also played well in the 2nd half of 2011 after being injured on the kickoff of his first NFL game.
- Chykie Brown, a 5th round section in 2011, lost his roster spot to Danny Gorrer in camp, but made it through the season on the practice squad and eventually was elevated to the 53-man roster.
- Asa Jackson was drafted to provide a kick/punt return backup in addition to more depth at corner.
- Corey Graham was signed as a core special-teams player who did not figure to see time on defense.
- The Ravens were so satisfied with their depth they cut Danny Gorrer, who had been terrific in limited duty in 2011.
The Ravens appeared loaded in the secondary.
Unlike 2011 (but very much like almost every other year), the general trend of changes in the secondary was negative as the season wore on. The story of the secondary wasn’t material for a Hollywood script this season, but the results were good enough to play a role in bringing the Lombardi back to Baltimore.
Each player has 3 grades:
- The 2012 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 Value grade is a representation of the player’s contribution relative to 2012 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-. In the case of linebackers and secondary, this grade includes consideration for their special teams contributions.
- The Developmental grade is an indication of how much the player outplayed 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.
Those of you who visit PFF (a site I highly recommend) or get snap counts from the Gamebook will notice the snap totals I report are lower because they don’t include penalties, uncontested plays (spikes or kneels), or plays where the offense lines up in a kick formation that end in a run or pass.
The 2012 Ravens had 1390 such defensive snaps as a unit in 20 games (69.5 per game). Except where noted, all playing time information includes both regular season and postseason snaps.
Individual Player Comments
2012 Role: Nickel CB (409 snaps, 29%). Chykie was used as an outside corner in the nickel and saw defensive action in 12 of 20 games. Following the injury to Jimmy Smith, he was used extensively, but not without interruption. He lost his nickel role twice with the acquisition of Chris Johnson and return of Jimmy Smith.
What was there to like about his season? For the season, he allowed just 1 TD in 277 drop backs played.
When did he play best? He had 3 PDs against the Giants in week 16 to help the Ravens seal the AFC North.
When did he play poorly? He didn’t play well through the playoffs, accumulating 4 penalties and 3 missed tackles in 4 games (3 as a corner). He messed up the coverage on Welker signaled by Graham during the AFCC to allow the Pats their only TD. He was replaced in the nickel by Jimmy Smith for the Super Bowl.
What was his signature play of 2012? His PD in the divisional game at Denver floated into the hands of Corey Graham who returned it 39 yards to put the Ravens up 14-7. Amazingly, that interception was not even Graham’s signature play of the game.
What does he need to do better? He needs to be a more consistent tackler, particularly on special teams where he missed 4 while making 11. That included a miss on Holliday’s kickoff return TD in the divisional game at Denver. He had 3 penalties on special teams as well including running into Akers in the Super Bowl which gave the 49ers another shot at 3 points after a miss.
Grades: Play D+, Value C, Developmental C+, Brown was a 5th-round draft pick in his 2nd season. His first opportunity against live fire was better than the replacement level, but not good enough to keep his job secure. There were enough highlights to believe he can contribute at a higher level in the future. His special teams contribution is factored in his grade above. Most teams would love to have a young, 5th corner of Chykie’s current ability and upside. At present, your team would be in trouble if he was 3rd on your depth chart.
2012 Role: Outside corner with 4 DBs and slot (nickel) corner with 5 DBs (855 snaps, 61.5%).
What was there to like about his season? He was a versatile player who was outstanding at times. He replaced the Ravens best defensive player (Webb) and helped stabilize a secondary that was running out of answers. He was officially penalized for unnecessary roughness in the Super Bowl, but I believe the officials just got the number wrong and it was Cary Williams based on Graham’s demeanor following the play and timing of the flag. That was his only penalty of the season on defense or special teams. He played the run well and PFF shows him with just 1 missed tackle in the last 10 games.
When did he play best? His performance against the Broncos in the divisional game was central to the Ravens’ win.
When did he play poorly? He wasn’t terrible in any game, but he missed 2 tackles and allowed 6 short completions against the Browns in week 9.
What was his signature play of 2012? His overtime interception of Manning was something special. He didn’t bait Manning, but he trailed Stokely most of the play, found the football in time, and stepped in front to intercept Manning’s floatation device. Just 6 plays later, the Ravens would be headed to the AFC Championship game.
What does he need to do better? For the last 3 months, he’s done everything well. He’s not yet 28, but played less than 100 snaps defensively the previous 2 seasons combined with the Bears. This goes as one of the great finds for the front office.
Grades: Play B, Value A-, Developmental A. He was signed as a core special-teams player and ended up a starting corner. He makes veteran money, but there aren’t a lot of corners as good who are making less.
2012 Role: Backup safety occasionally used in the dime (275 snaps, 20%).
What was there to like about his season? He was effective as a pass rusher and provided some value stopping the run. The Ravens sacked the QB on 8.7% of pass snaps when he was in, the highest rate of any Raven who was in for 100+ passing snaps.
When did he play best? He had a sack and a QH in just 4 snaps against the Steelers on 11/18. On those 4 snaps, the Ravens had 2 sacks, 1 QH, 1 turnover, and -14 net yards.
When did he play poorly? He missed 3 tackles versus the Eagles in week 2.
What was his signature play of 2012? He stunted inside to beat Colon for a drive-ending sack of Leftwich (Q4, 4:41) with the Steelers in Ravens’ territory in the 11/18 win at Pittsburgh.
What does he need to do better? I would not expect any change in his own play, but he’s versatile in terms of ability to play the run, pass, or rush the QB, so Pees may find different schematic uses for him. If the Ravens wanted to play more dime (a possibility with Ray Lewis gone), Ihedigbo’s value would be higher.
Grades: Play C+, Value B-, Developmental B. Ihedigbo is 29 and part of the Ravens’ age problem at safety. It’s not simply a matter of expected decline in play, but the Ravens need to be able to save money with some quality safeties on their rookie contracts. While I think he’s a better defensive asset than Considine, he was deactivated for 4 games where I am unaware of an injury. That may mean that Considine is more valuable on special teams.
2012 Role: Outside corner in the nickel acquired at mid-season (73 defensive snaps, 5%).
What was there to like about his season? His assignments caught just 5 of 14 passes when targeted.
When did he play best? He first suited up for the Ravens at Pittsburgh on 11/18 and played just 6 snaps, but on his 2nd snap he forced a fumble from Mike Wallace that resulted in a Ravens field goal. The Steelers gained 12 yards on his 6 plays and 13 of those came on the pass to Wallace that was fumbled.
When did he play poorly? He looked bad losing Garcon (Q4, 0:36) for the game-tying TD at Washington in week 14.
What was his signature play of 2012? The strip of Wallace (Q1, 10:46) at Pittsburgh.
What does he need to do better? He’ll be 34 in September. He’s probably a still a candidate for a mid-season call from a team with injuries at corner.
Grades: Play C, Value C, Developmental C+. He did exactly what the Ravens could have hoped and beat his own expected decline by playing decently when he did. He almost certainly won’t be a Raven in 2013, but he came to town in time to pick up a ring in the twilight of his career.
2012 Role: Starting SS (1160 snaps, 84%). Pollard suffered a rib injury in week 2 at Philadelphia and played just 19 snaps. He was again injured against Washington and sat out the last 3 games of the regular season. Nonetheless, his snap count was the 3rd highest on the team among defenders.
What was there to like about his season? With a physical safety that is comfortable closer to the LoS, the Ravens were able to defend the run in the nickel. Missed tackles are a difficult stat by which to judge safeties. Safeties that play off the line of scrimmage will typically miss fewer, since they need to tackle receivers as opposed to getting trucked more frequently by big backs. In addition, it’s more likely a safety close to the LoS will need to take a chance to defend the sticks, which is more likely to result in a miss. Anyway, Pollard had 15 missed tackles in 2012. Based on the timing (9 in his last 6 games) I’d say it was probably related to the rib injuries.
When did he play best? Before his first injury of the season sidelined him in week 2, Pollard was off to a terrific start with 10 tackles, 3 PDs, and a diving interception of Michael Vick to snuff out a drive in the end zone. He’d done all that in 83 snaps.
When did he play poorly? It was obvious Pollard was playing hurt in the Super Bowl. He surrendered completions of 32 (Moss, Q4, 12:00), 29 (Crabtree, Q3, 14:44), 18 (Davis, Q3, 7:53), and 8 (Davis, Q2, 0:57). In the first 3 cases, the receiver was open behind him.
What was his signature play of 2012? His knockout blow to Steven Ridley forced a fumble that would lead to the Ravens’ last TD and a 28-13 lead in the AFCC. With the challenge, the frequency of replay as a highlight, and the change in the game, we may remember that play 5 years from now as the one that ended the Pats’ dynasty.
What does he need to do better? His style is not conducive to the current direction of the NFL. He was flagged for 8 personal fouls (5 regular season, 3 playoffs) in 2012, which must have been close to the NFL lead. Some of that was the new focus on helmet-to-helmet contact, but he was also called for a taunting penalty literally drawn by the Colts’ waterboy. He’s an intelligent man and may be the Ravens’ defensive signal caller in 2013, but that needs to be cleaned up.
Grades: Play B, Value B, Developmental B. He essentially duplicated his 2011 season in 2012. At age 27, that’s exactly what could have been hoped. I would expect Pollard’s play will improve with an offseason to rest, but he’s a physical player who is often at risk of injury.
2012 Role: Starting Free Safety (1,299 snaps, 94%). Reed played the 2nd most snaps of any defender.
What was there to like about his season? Reed typically plays a deep safety, but he had 2 fine plays in the Super Bowl as a pass rusher. On the 2-point conversion which might have tied the game (Q4, 9:57), Reed blitzed off the left edge untouched and forced Kaepernick to unload well over the head of Randy Moss. On 3rd and goal from the 5 (Q4, 1:55), Reed blitzed off the right edge and leapt high. Kaepernick threw to Crabtree short of the goal line where he was mugged by Graham and Smith for a PD.
When did he play best? Reed had 3 PDs in each game against the Browns, but his best game of the season was the 2nd meeting in week 9, which included his 60th career INT.
When did he play poorly? He allowed 2 TDs (55 and 30 yards) on 2 times targeted versus Oakland in week 10. In the other 19 games he allowed 1 TD and had 5 interceptions.
What was his signature play of 2012? His interception and TD return versus the Bengals in week 1 was his 13th career TD and set the all-time record for interception return yards.
What does he need to do better? I don’t think it’s reasonable for him to do it better, but Reed missed 21 tackles in 20 games per PFF. With 76 tackles, his ratio of tackles to misses is among the worst of NFL safeties.
Grades: Play C+, Value D, Developmental C. He’s still a decent safety and no doubt the defense will suffer if both he and Ray leave, but the Ravens didn’t get a great individual value relative to cap from his last year under contract. If he’s played his last game as a Raven, he’ll finish with 70 interceptions including a record 9 in the postseason.
2012 Role: LCB in the nickel (493 snaps, 36%). Early in the year Jimmy played through a sports hernia and did not play well. He returned to the lineup versus Denver (12 snaps), played effectively vs. Cincinnati, did not see action defensively against either the Colts or Broncos, split outside nickel snaps with Brown versus the Patriots, then returned to be the full-time nickel LCB in the Super Bowl.
What was there to like about his season? He finished strong.
When did he play best? He was outstanding in 17 Super Bowl snaps. Smith allowed a single completion for 6 yards when defending the sticks on 3rd and 13 (Q3, 13:04), had 2 PDs and played a central role in denying the 49ers a TD on their final possession.
When did he play poorly? He was awful versus Dallas when he missed 3 tackles and was penalized 3 times.
What was his signature play of 2012? Jamming Michael Crabtree on the pivotal 4th and 5 play versus the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
What does he need to do better? Assuming he’s over the injury, he’ll need to reduce his penalties. Despite his limited snap count he was the 3rd-most-penalized Raven with 8 flags in 2012.
Grades: Play C-, Value D, Developmental C. Injury cost him most of the 2012 season, but he returned to be the Ravens defensive MVP in SB XLVII. When a player performs poorly, it’s ideal if the reason is both 1) big enough to explain the falloff, and 2) temporary. In Smith’s case, the hernia is a legitimate excuse for poor play and should not preclude him from playing at a high level again. While he should be fine physically, he needs to make sure his commitment to the game, both practice and film study, is at a high level. With the uncertainty over Webb, I think he has the best chance to be the Ravens’ top corner in 2013.
2012 Role: Starting LCB who was injured in week 6 (357 snaps, 26%). Webb was on his way to another outstanding year when he was hurt against Dallas.
What was there to like about his season? He played the run well, was a versatile inside/outside corner, and held opposing QBs to a rating of 42.2 when throwing to his receiver. He has not allowed a TD pass to his receiver in his last 26 games, since surrendering and 11-yard fade to Simpson (Q4, 12:33) in the 2010 finale versus Cincinnati. Since then he has picked off 9 passes.
When did he play best? He had 3 PDs and allowed just 2 receptions for 12 yards in 10 times targeted versus the Browns in Week 4.
When did he play poorly? He didn’t play poorly in any particular game, but he missed 5 tackles in 6 games after missing just 7 in 18 games in 2011.
What was his signature play of 2012? Aside from the play on which he was injured, the play I’ll remember from 2012 was his 4th-quarter interception of Brady (Q4, 2:28) in week 3 which was negated by his phantom defensive holding call.
What does he need to do better? He’ll need to reprove he can play corner at a high level.
Grades: Play B, Value D-, Developmental F. The injuries to Webb in 2009 and 2012 may have derailed a HOF career. In any case, they cast doubt over what position he will play. He’s not an ideal safety based on size and apparent propensity to injury, but if he can’t play corner well, that’s undoubtedly where he’ll end up.
2012 Role: Starting RCB (1,332 total snaps, 96%). Williams was the most durable defensive player on the team. Only he and Reed played more than 84% of the team’s snaps, a far cry from a franchise blessed with every-down defenders. Other than some garbage snaps, he was primarily removed for 3-safety, goal-line alignments.
What was there to like about his season? He again improved as the season wore on. He came into the season as a player with highly suspect ball skills, but collected his first 6 career interceptions to lead the Ravens among 23 total passes defensed in 20 games.
When did he play best? He had a game-changing interception versus the Browns in Week 4 and allowed only 2 receptions.
When did he play poorly? He had a rough start to the season, allowing 20 catches for 294 yards in the first 3 games. He also allowed a 51-yard TD to Eric Decker in Week 15 where he appeared to give up on the play as it was caught (Q3, 9:53).
What was his signature play of 2012? He flashed by the face of Benjamin for his first career interception (Q3, 0:27) and returned it 63 yards to break open a 16-10 game in week 4 versus the Browns.
What does he need to do better? Williams needs to control his on-field behavior. Had he been ejected for pushing the official in the Super Bowl, the Ravens might have lost. He had 2 personal fouls in the regular season plus the aforementioned shoving incident where I believe the flag was incorrectly assigned to Corey Graham.
Grades: Play C+, Value B, Developmental B-. Cary didn’t take the great leap forward one might have expected based on the combination of his 2nd-half play in 2011 and his contract year. Instead he turned in a very similar season in terms of a slow start and strong finish, but displayed ball skills (6 INTs) that he had not shown previously in his career. Williams is reported to have turned down a 3-year deal worth $15 million earlier in the season. Now he will probably command a similar figure, but it is unlikely to be with the Ravens.
Others (Omar Brown, Sean Considine, Asa Jackson, Christian Thompson)
2012 Role: Considine was a core special teams player active for all 20 games, but these 4 had a combined 11 defensive snaps outside of the meaningless regular-season finale versus the Bengals. Neither Jackson (active 3 games) nor Thompson (7) played a defensive snap.
When did he play best? Brown played 4 meaningful snaps versus the Giants that included his drive-ending 3rd-down sack of Manning (Q4, 3:43). He nearly had an acrobatic interception against Cincinnati in week 17. None of the others had such a moment on defense.
When did he play poorly? The worst play came off the field with Asa Jackson serving a suspension for use of PEDs. In his rookie season, he managed to reduce his value tremendously by getting in “the program”.
What was his signature play of 2012? Considine’s end-zone tackle of Spillman on Koch’s intentional safety in the Super Bowl was the most visible of all the intentional holds. Given the discussion to date, I’m guessing there will be a fair number of people who will be aware of it in a vague sense 20 years from now, but it’s not a play where we’ll see the highlight many times. Those are the essential elements for natural story-telling exaggeration. Imagine the octogenarian recounting in 2045…“I remember walking uphill 7 miles each way on icy streets to get to that Super Bowl. Boldin ripped the arm off one of those cornerbacks while making a catch and that player (Pete Gray if memory serves), was never the same after. With the game winding down, our entire punt team tackled their opponent and sat on them to help run out the clock. Back then nickels had bumblebees on them. Give me 5 bees for a quarter, you’d say…”
What does he need to do better? Considine will turn 32 in October. He is who he is and I doubt he’ll have a significant impact defensively again. We’ll know better what the others need to do when they get some meaningful snaps.
Grades: Incomplete. Brown and Thompson should have an opportunity to earn more playing time in 2013.