FILMSTUDY: Defensive shell game continues…notes vs. Chargers 11/25/12

If Dan Fouts, instead of Ian Eagle, had handled the play-by-play call on 4th and 29:

Trips left, Smith alone on the far side of the field. All but five of the good…er, Chargers lined up at least 15 yards downfield…Four man pass rush…Flacco has all…freaking…day. He dumps it off to Rice on the right side. Rice turns upfield to the 50…are you kidding me, 3 stiffarms? He’s at the 40 and Boldin lays out Weddle from behind. Where’s the flag? Rice dives for the first down marker and he’s short. Oh my God what a lousy spot. They’ll look at this one with the clock under 2 minutes, but I have a feeling we’re going to be hosed on this one. This reminds me of a play we ran at Oregon versus USC in 1972…

Dannell Ellerbe went down midway through the 2nd quarter with an apparent lower-leg injury. With the Ravens trailing 7-0 and the Chargers driving, it didn’t look good.

This season has been a study in trying to find players, particularly on defense, that can play some portion of the roles left behind by their IR’d or limited star teammates. On Sunday, some answers to those questions may have emerged.

The Chargers had just 65 offensive snaps, all of which were competitive:

Overall:

Versus the Run: 23 plays, 91 yards, 4.0 YPC

Versus the Pass: 42 plays, 189 yards, 4.5 YPP

Overall: 65 plays, 280 yards, 4.3 YPPA

By number of defensive backs:

3 DBs: 1/2, 2.0 YPP

4 DBs: 28/140, 5.0 YPP, 2 sacks

5 DBs: 35/127, 3.6 YPP, 4 sacks

6 DBs: 1/11, 11.0 YPP

By number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer: 4/16, 4.0 YPP

4: 31/127, 4.1 YPP, 4 sacks

5: 5/16, 3.2 YPP, 2 sacks

6: 2/30, 15.0 YPP (Rivers 21-yard TD to Floyd and another 9-yard completion to Alexander on consecutive pass plays in Q2)

7: None

Individual Notes:

- The Ravens won the snap count battle for the first time since week 4 vs. the Browns. (88-65, excluding kneels).

- Ayanbadejo was outstanding as one of Ellerbe’s replacements. He was in for just 23 (non-penalty) snaps on which the Ravens allowed 3.2 YPPA and made several big plays:

  • He was part of the pressure, with Kruger’s bull on Clary, that forced Rivers to ground his pass right (Q2, 2:09)
  • He took a double team from Vasquez and Clary which allowed Upshaw to stunt inside for his sack (Q2, 2:06). While Upshaw got the credit (probably because he made the most visible impact on Rivers), Suggs and Ayanbadejo also arrived virtually simultaneously with contact.
  • He wrapped up Brown for a gain of just 3 on 3rd and 7 (Q4, 3:34) to force the SD punt that would lead to the tying score.
  • He took down Gates for a gain of 2 with no YAC (OT, 11:41) to force 3rd and 6.
  • He slid underneath the double team on Jones to take down Matthews for a gain of 1 (OT, 5:56) to force 3rd and 3. Pollard was incorrectly credited with the tackle in the Gamebook.
  • On the very next play, he had tight coverage on Alexander and pried the ball loose for a PD at the sticks.

- It was nice to see a Ravens linebacker able to cover. Brendan has played the game a long time and can be effectively used schematically in a number of ways (absorb blocks, line up as a down lineman, drop to coverage from the LoS), the value of which is often overlooked. He played a much more significant role in the 2011 defense (26.2% of snaps).

- Bynes did not fare as well. He played just 5 snaps, but on his first (Q2, 5:12) he appeared out of position and Rivers took advantage with a 15-yard completion to Floyd that included 7 YAC. Bynes’ would have 2 plays in Q3, but from the beginning of the 2nd half, McClellan and Ayanbadejo would split the snaps as the 2nd ILB.

- Kruger was again very good in 40 snaps. For the 2nd straight game, he sacked the QB on his first pass rush (Q1, 12:13), this time with a bull on Clary for a 7-yard loss. He bulled Clary again to pressure Rivers into grounding a pass (Q2, 2:09). He bulled Harris for pressure (Q4, 11:56). He beat Gates outside for a QH (Q4, 11:10) that was negated by the personal Foul called on Pollard. He would again bull Clary (OT, 14:16) on Rivers’ pass to McMichael which was dropped. He didn’t have the rate of success he did against the Steelers, but as with the hand-shedding outside moves versus Adams, Kruger found success with the bull rush, and kept it up. The Steelers come to town with huge question marks on the offensive line including injuries to RT Adams and RG Colon. Pittsburgh gives up a lot of size without those players.

- Corey Graham was again solid at corner. He was not playing too soft and anticipated well on his fingertip PD (Q2, 12:25), but he should have come up with the football. He defended the sticks to push out Ajirotutu 2 yards short of a first down (Q2, 2:00). He had a PD with tight coverage on Alexander (Q4, 3:39) to bring up the pivotal 3rd and 3 which would give the Ravens their final shot to tie. He was used to blitz off the slot and got a pressure (OT, 14:11). Rivers focused more of his passing to Williams’ assignments.

- Arthur Jones had a breakout game with good plays as a pass rusher and versus the run. He was particularly effective beating and maintaining double teams. By the end of the game, he was playing passing downs (examples Q4, 3:34 and OT, 14:11, both 3rd and 7) where the Ravens have recently gone with no true interior linemen or just Ngata. A sample of his top plays:

  • He initially engaged Hadnot, then stunted outside around Harris, engaged by Suggs for a 7-yard sack (Q3, 11:38).
  • He then pushed past Hadnot’s right shoulder to sack Rivers for a loss of 8 (Q3, 7:04) while Suggs bulled Harris to compress the pocket.
  • He bulled Harris to force the run inside as 3 Ravens converged to take down Matthews for a gain of 1 (Q4, 10:23).
  • He somehow burrowed under a double from Clary and Vasquez to take down Matthews for a loss of 1 (Q4, 9:01).
  • He was again doubled by Clary and Vasquez, went to his knees, yet slipped off to take down Matthews for a gain of 4 (OT, 12:24).
  • In another example of what the Ravens interior line has needed more of, he went to a knee, and was pushed back a yard, but maintained a double from Vasquez and Clary (OT, 5:56) that allowed Ayanbadejo to slip through untouched to take down Matthews for a gain of just 1.

It’s difficult to objectively rate, but for the first time this season, I think the Ravens played truly outstanding team defense, swarming to the ball and trying to create opportunities for their teammates. In particular, some of the tackling on runs and outside passes reminded me of the “11 billiard balls” quote about the 2000 defense. Maintaining a low total snap count contributed to the ability to swarm.

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