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The Ravens played ball control, with 76 offensive snaps to just 41 defensive. Thatâ€™s a measure of both the offense and defense, of course. The Ravens were effective at moving the ball into 49er territory using a combination of short passes, runs, and timely penalties. Meanwhile, the defense held San Francisco to just 163 yards in by far their best effort of the year.
Iâ€™ll stick to the defense after making an observation that I have not previously noted regarding the offense…
When the Ravens needed to put the game away, the offense took over at the Baltimore 17 with 14:48 to go in the 4th. The 49ers would not run another play until 6:22 was left in the game. The 14-play, 43-yard drive (which was extended by a running into the kicker penalty), wasnâ€™t sexy, but it was just what the doctor ordered. After Kochâ€™s punt, the 49ers had what would be their lone possession of the 4th quarter. That resulted in the missed Nedney FG. While there are good reasons to be concerned about the Ravens red-zone offense, McNair played his first mistake-free game and was not sacked despite the carnage on the offensive line.
The broadcast itself was wretched. The game was in CBS HD Lite and shot as if with SD cameras stretched on a wider format. There were a large number of QB tight shots on Dilfer, which are common to SD broadcasts and the bane of meaningful defensive analysis. Unlike other HD games, I found it very difficult to identify numbers, particularly in the secondary. To the stats:
Â· Landry was taken out for Sapp for 3 straight plays on the final 49ers drive. Those are the first plays he has missed this season. He made the tackle immediately before being removed and returned for the last 3 defensive snaps, so I assume it was an equipment issue of some sort.
Â· Johnson and Reed are now the only 2 Ravens to have played every defensive snap. Theyâ€™ve been the Ravens 2 most valuable defensive players for the season.
Â· Reed has not been used against the run very often this season neither in his old creep-up-to-the-line role, nor committing early to support the run as the 8th man in the box. He has played centerfield well amassing 4 takeaways (3 INT, 1 FR) and 7 PDâ€™s. I know weâ€™ve seen him miss some tackles this year, but he has just 9 tackles (1.8 per game). Reed has never had fewer than 3.7 tackles per game in any season. He has played centerfield well amassing 4 takeaways (3 INT, 1 FR) and 7 PDâ€™s. Based on the success heâ€™s had in this role, the Ravens general success vs. the run, and the presence of Landry, Iâ€™d be surprised if heâ€™s used much in run support the rest of the way.
Â· Johnsonâ€™s transformation from a pass-rush support specialist to every-down outside linebacker continues to amaze me. I have not gone back to count stuffs, but heâ€™s been terrific against the run. Johnson lined up in a 3-point stance at DE in several non-dime alignments (he typically lines up at DT with 6 DBâ€™s in), and recorded a sack. I would expect the Ravens will use JJ in more of a hybrid role until Pryce returns.
Â· Justin Bannan had a fine game, leading the Ravens in YPC (1.4) and YPPA (2.3) when in. He also was on the field for Johnsonâ€™s sack in the 2nd quarter. Thatâ€™s now 2 sacks he had observed up close in the 92 pass plays heâ€™s been on the field as a Raven. OK, enough of the negativity, he now leads all Raven defenders in YPPA for the season at 3.8, including a very stout 2.0 YPC vs. the run.
Â· The Raven pass rush scored their 2nd sack of the year with a 4-man pass rush. They also collected 2 sacks with 4 DBâ€™s on the field, the first 2 sacks thus far collected without the dime.
Â· More fun with sacksâ€¦Dwan Edwards was on the field for 2 of the Ravens sacks, his first 2 in now 39 pass plays this year. On one very slow developing roll out (2:36 to go in the 2nd), Edwards:
o Came out of his stance in epically slow form (truly comical, it looks like heâ€™s playing 6-million-dollar-man, very much worth a DVR review).
o Was not blocked by a lineman (he was chipped by Walker before he released)
o Had a free run at Dilfer (this had to be a matchup of 2 of the NFLâ€™s slowest men for their positions) during which he lumbered and appeared to be more worried about overrunning the play than collecting his 1st NFL sack.
o Arrived late, recording a QH as Dilfer threw incomplete.
We canâ€™t see a lot of the coverage, particularly when there is a dump off, but Corey Ivy was not picked on this game. The 42-yard pass was Gilmore beating Martin, and the TD pass was Battle beating McAlister. Ivy moved to the slot when Martin was on the field as the nickel.
How can the Ravens Defense Improve this Season?
Paramount is the recovery of Pryce and Rolle. Each return would be a boon to the pass defense which has been the Ravens weakness this season.
Other than that, it gets scary:
o The Ravens have played the last 4 games against mediocre teams with even more mediocre offenses
o In each of the last 4 games theyâ€™ve faced QBâ€™s that were not slated to be the starter in week 1.
o They are on pace for 29 sacks, less than half of last seasonâ€™s total
o Neither nickel backup (Martin and Prude) has been effective
o Landry has not had a good coverage year
Right now, Iâ€™d say both Bannan and Ivy are playing over their heads. Itâ€™s wonderful that they are stepping up and contributing with the injuries, but having them play more significant roles than last season is dangerous.
When analyzing the weaknesses of a baseball team, I like to ask myself how a player can improve to be of value. With most hitters, the information is already present in walk and age columns. Players under 27, or with good plate discipline typically trend upwards, while free swingers (Mr. Sheets and Mr. Rayford may be available for interviews), particularly those over 27, can be counted on to decline. Itâ€™s more difficult to determine the leading indicators for non-skill positions in football, but Iâ€™d submit the following for discussion:
o The Ravens will not do any better than limp (regardless of offensive heroics) into the playoffs with the defense playing at the level they have for the first 5 games.
o Even the return of Rolle and Pryce will not improve the defense enough to contend with the best passing teams in the conference.
o I see only 4 players with a real possibility to improve the level of play (at their respective positions) to date this season, Barnes, Landry, Martin, and Pittman. Itâ€™s not a good thing that 3 of those 4 are non-starters.