See you in Foxboro.
Like it or not, the Ravens belong. They have one of the best point differentials in football, have the best DVOA, and have done what the other AFC pretenders couldn’t. They beat the teams they were supposed to.
Sure, the Ravens record should be much better. Per Football Outsiders, 12-4 would have been expected. If you’re an “it-could-have-been” guy, then you might pick 3 plays that cost the Ravens 3 games. I don’t look at it that way, but I see a team peaking at the right time to play good playoff football. As currently constituted, the offensive line is the best in the game and has led the way for 418 rushing yards on 70 carries (6.0 YPC, excludes kneels) in the past 2 games with just 1 play for a loss and only 2 for no gain.
Defensively, the Ravens are playing well despite several ongoing injuries. The defense and running game is a formula that should serve them well both on the road and in poor weather.
Are you a little surprised the Ravens are a 3.5 point dog against Tom Brady, who has never lost (8-0) a home playoff game and the Patriots who have a record of 28-3 in their last 31 games at Foxboro overall? Don’t be. The Patriots popularity and past success at home are propping up the spread between 2 very evenly matched teams.
This should be fun.
The Ravens’ defensive statistics:
Overall: 62 plays, 325 yards, 5.2 YPPA
Vs. the Run: 20 carries, 51 yards, 2.6 YPC
Vs. the Pass: 42 pass plays, 274 yards, 6.5 YPP
By number of Pass Rushers:
3: 1/17, 17.0
4: 28/159, 5.7 YPP, 3 sacks, 2 TO
5: 10/75, 7.5 YPP
6: 2/18, 9.0 YPP
7: 1/5, 5.0
By number of Defensive Backs:
4: 39/191, 4.9 YPPA, 2 sacks, 1 TO
5: 20/101, 5.1 YPPA, 1 sack, 1 TO
6: 3/33, 11.0 YPPA
· Cornell Green had a poor game at RT for the Raiders as he was penalized 3 times for 15 yards. Green allowed McClain to sack Russell for a safety in last year’s game on what was the first career defensive snap for Jameel.
· The Ravens have mixed it up between standard and nickel sets on 3rd and 1 this season. On Sunday (Q3, 10:31) they went with 4 defensive backs and stuffed Bush for a 2-yard loss. Later (Q3, 1:13) they inserted (he wasn’t in the previous play) Frank Walker for a nickel on 3rd and 1. I assume this is done as a defense against the no huddle, which could leave the Ravens vulnerable to a big play on 1st down if the 3rd-down play is converted. On the play in question Sunday, Russell pushed forward for 2 yards, but after the Ravens returned to a standard set, JaMarcus was intercepted by Ellerbe.
· Johnson has sat out much of the last 4 games. In fact, he’s played 11 of 62, 41/63, 27/57, and 52/62 the past 4 weeks. Vs. the Raiders he was replaced by Barnes (10 non-penalty snaps). It’s nice to see some rest for the walking wounded even in a game of this importance. I would hope and presume that JJ will be back to a near 100% workload vs. the Patriots.
· Barnes did not play his first snap until (Q2, 7:51), 2 more penalty snaps in Q2, and 9 snaps in the 2nd half. Once again he benefited from the ponderous decision making of the opposing QB. Barnes typically encircles the pocket to get pressure as he is undersized and seems to dislike contact. Against most of the top “internal-clock” QBs, that leaves him at 5 or 6 o’clock and 2 or more yards from the QB as the throw is made. Against Roethlisberger and Russell, however, he had the time to register a sack in each game. On Sunday that included a FF recovered by Ellerbe. Barnes also had good pressure on a stunt (I don’t have a time reference for this), arrived a moment late, and should have been tagged with a roughing the passer penalty against Frye. I’m fairly certain that would have been called had Tom Brady been the aggrieved party.
· Kruger replaced Suggs for just 6 non-penalty snaps, but an interesting trend may be developing. In the first half Paul played 3 straight snaps (2 non penalties), which is a typical sort of breather. He replaced Suggs again for Oakland’s last 2 plays of Q3, which included a 3rd and 1 and 1st and 10 combination with Ellerbe’s interception. However, on his last 2 entrances, he replaced Suggs in obvious passing situations, specifically (Q4, 9:50, 2nd and 9, Barnes sack/FF) and (Q4, 3:07, 3rd and 11, Raiders final offensive snap). To me, those last 2 substitutions are a serious indictment of Suggs as a pass rusher. He’s continued to contribute against the run, which is the strength of his game, but I’m very surprised that even a slightly hobbled Suggs would not be a part of the Ravens pass-rush package. Were I to try to guess at the reasoning, I would suggest Mattison felt a high-motor player like Kruger would have an increased chance for success against Russell, just as Barnes did. In any case, on the 6 snaps Kruger played, the Ravens generated 2 turnovers and a sack.
· Reed sat out 8 snaps for Zbikowski in Q1 and Q2. I expected that might continue as the game progressed, but Reed went the remainder of the way. While Reed has occasionally been pulled late in blowouts, those are the first meaningful snaps Reed has missed when active in 2009.
· Edwards has become the workhorse of the defensive line and played 50 more snaps Sunday as compared to 37 by Gregg, 30 by Bannan, and 27 by Ngata. The increased playing time had been suiting Edwards well, but he registered just 1 tackle against the Raiders.
· Ngata continued to suffer through his ankle problem. He has not played 60% of the snaps since Green Bay with snap counts of 23, 36, 28, and 27 the past 4 weeks. The Ravens used primarily the trio of Edwards, Pryce, and Suggs in 3rd-down nickels on Sunday. Dwan Edwards has been playing well, in an increased role, and provided some pressure, all when the Ravens have most needed it. However, having a 6-year pro with 2 career sacks playing a key role in your pass rush is not a good thing.
· I’ve heard more declarative statements about Chris Carr than any other Raven since Sunday. I decided to try something new and made coverage notes on each of the Raiders’ 42 drop backs. Of those, Carr was targeted 11 times. Frye picked on him 9 times in the first half, but Russell just twice in the second. Here are the plays in order. I haven’t provided time references, but if you have the Gamebook, it’s easy enough to figure out the times:
· PM8 81 (Pass middle 8 yards to #81, Schilens): Carr had tight coverage and took Schilens down immediately at the 1st down marker.
· PL11 45 Carr allowed Reece to catch the ball in front of him, but then missed the tackle, leading to an 11-yard rumble.
· P0 Ball thrown incomplete. Coverage was not tight, pressure forced Frye to throw away.
· PL2 18 Carr had tight coverage on Murphy and took him down driving him backwards. Good form and result.
· PR15 15 Higgins faked deep and curled. Carr slipped. Landry arrived too late to defend, but made the tackle.
· P0 45 Carr had tight coverage on Reece and registered the PD.
· P0 81 Carr had good coverage, throw was out of bounds.
· PR1 80 Miller again caught the ball in front of Carr and Chris made a nice tackle.
· P0 18 Carr was called for a 12-yard pass interference call. Phil Simms disparaged what was a marginal call.
· PR18 15 Carr was caught playing too soft on an out pattern.
· P0 80 Carr had good man coverage on Miller. The ball was overthrown, but Foxworth also converged quickly. Had the pass been closer to the mark, it might well have been intercepted.
Carr allowed 55 yards on 10 (non-penalty) balls thrown his way plus the drive-extending pass interference call that would ultimately result in the Raiders only TD. In addition to those plays, he contributed to the Ravens 3 sacks, all of which came with just 4 pass rushers. If I thought the penalty was legitimate, I’d probably grade his play a C+, but I don’t, so I’d say B+. Frye had a big 1st half, but Carr was one of the bright spots on the Ravens’ defense.
· The Ravens brought deceptive pressure 6 times in 42 drop backs, but none of those resulted in a sack. On the other hand, the Ravens brought effective 4-man pressure which knocked Frye from the game and generated 3 sacks and 2 turnovers on 28 such plays. When was the last time the Ravens had 3 or more sacks with just 4 pass rushers? Amazingly, it was last week at Pittsburgh where the Ravens rushed four 24 times resulting in just 68 yards (2.8 YPP) with 4 sacks and 1 TO. The Ravens will face a set of QBs that are much more difficult to sack in the playoffs, but good 4-man pressure is usually an indication of solid coverage.
· Dannell Ellerbe had a big day for turnovers, but had just 2 tackles. He got good penetration on 3rd and 1 (Q3, 1:13) which slowed Bush and allowed Lewis and Landry to wrap up and force the Raiders’ punt. I recorded him as targeted on just 4 passing plays which resulted in an incomplete (OOB in end zone, could have been a face guarding call), gains of 4 and 6 where he made the tackle both times, and his interception (Q3, 0:31)
· Ivy had 1 tackle and a LoS tip in 4 plays. The Ravens played dime just 3 times and he replaced Carr for 1 nickel on which he registered his PD.
· Gregg added 6 more tackles in 37 snaps. Through week 16, he continued to lead all NFL DTs in both tackles 45 and tackles per snap. Using the PFF tackles and snap counts, he had 45 tackles on 425 snaps (10.6%). Patterson (44 tackles), Muir (43), Ryan (43), and Tommy Kelly (42) were all close in total tackles, but each has at least 121 more snaps played. I’ve heard a lot of “he’ll never be the same” this season. I agree if you are talking about Kelly Gregg circa 2003 (perhaps his best season) or even 2007 (when he last played a high percentage of snaps), but he’s become a valuable platoon lineman. As the Ravens version of Benjamin Button, he’s had a year reminiscent of (that’s “reminiscent of”, not “as good as”) Haloti Ngata as a rookie.
The Ravens 3 biggest defensive plays:
· Ellerbe’s interception (Q3, 0:31). Dannell returned it 28 yards to the Oakland 22 and the Ravens would score 5 plays later to extend their lead to 8.
· Barnes’ sack/ FF and Ellerbe’s FR (Q4, 9:50). The Raiders were threatening at the Baltimore 25.
· Ellerbe, Landry, and Lewis stop Bush for a 2-yard loss on 3rd and 1 (Q3, 10:31). The play forestalled the field goal that brought the Raiders within 1 for 6 minutes. Thereafter, the Raiders would have 3 short possessions as the Ravens ground out the clock.