The 2007 season is one I have no interest in reliving. Those Ravens were shorthanded defensively after a superb 2006 season. As a unit, the secondary fell apart with injury after injury while the pass rush shriveled with Trevor Pryce out much of the year. A poor pass rush begot poor secondary play and poor secondary play reduced the options for rushing the passer.
While Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis held together the run defense, opponents compiled an 87.6 passer rating and league-high total of 15 plays of 40+ yards. The Ravens stood at 3-2 through 5 games, winning squeakers vs. the Jets, Cardinals, and 49ers while being trashed thoroughly by the Browns 27-13 in Cleveland and beaten on opening night 27-20 by a bad Bengals team.
On the other hand, the 2008 Ravens were 2-3 and headed to Miami in the middle of 15 straight weeks without a bye. They had a rookie QB with 1 TD and 7 INTs and had just been blown out by the Colts 31-3 in a game that included Chris McAlister’s last meaningful playing time. That team got off the deck and went on an 11-2 run culminating in the divisional playoff win at Tennessee.
So which of these teams is the 2009 version of the Ravens more like?
The Ravens have had a reasonably difficult schedule to date and it does not get easier from here, much like 2007. Neither team had beaten anyone that could be termed good. But to me, the big difference is in the quality of wins and losses. The 2008 and 2009 openers (Cin and KC) are similar in that both were reasonably close on the scoreboard late, but were thoroughly dominated by the Ravens. The 2008 and 2009 Ravens each lost a close game to a good team with questionable officiating (Ten and NE). Both the 2008 and 2009 Ravens administered blowout wins vs. bad Browns teams. The 2008 team lost another close game where they outplayed a good team on the road (Pit) while the 2009 team was outplayed but lost a close game at home (Cin). The 2008 Ravens were blown out in one of the most lopsided games in the NFL all season (Ind), for which there is no comparable game in 2009. The only unmatched game from 2009 is the 31-26 win at San Diego.
The fears about the pass rush and secondary are not unfounded, but the Ravens will be as healthy as can be hoped if Gaither returns. At present, I don’t see a reason to be concerned about the team in general.
The play totals below exclude the Bengals’ kneel:
Overall: 65 plays, 404 yards, 6.2 YPPA
Vs. the Run: 33 carries, 143 yards, 4.3 YPC
Vs. the Pass: 32 pass plays, 261 yards, 8.2 YPP
By number of Pass Rushers:
3: 4/21, 5.3 YPP
4: 19/179, 9.4 YPP, 2 TO
5: 8/71, 8.9 YPP
6: 1/-10, -10.0 YPP, 1 sack
By number of Defensive Backs:
4: 29 plays, 102 yards, 3.5 YPPA
5: 24 plays, 242 yards, 10.1 YPPA, 1 TO
6: 10 plays, 32 yards, 3.2 YPPA, 1 sack, 1 TO
7: 2 plays, 28 yards, 14.0 YPPA
· Chris Carr had been OK in pass coverage prior to Sunday. He broke down 3 times on the final drive however. The illegal contact penalty should have been offsetting with a flagrant hold on Pryce by Williams. When the Bengals reached the 35, he lost Chris Henry who made an 11-yard gain out of bounds. He then polished it off by tripping on Caldwell’s game winning TD.
· Barnes did not play a down in the first half, but he played 9 snaps in the 2nd. I’ll remember 2 plays in this game. He pressured Palmer on 3rd and 4 to force an incompletion and punt (Q4, 5:41). Previously (Q3, 1:01), he missed the tackle near the line of scrimmage on Benson’s 28-yard. On his 8 non-penalty snaps, the Ravens gave up 76 yards (9.5 YPPA).
· With the exception of the missed tackle on his TD run, I’m not overly concerned about Benson’s big game. The Ravens 50-game streak was broken by Corey Dillon in a 16-0 Ravens win at Baltimore in 2001.
· Gregg continues to play very well. He’s been the best surprise on the defense so far. While he’s played in a platoon role, he’s had the highest tackle rate in the league among DTs. Through 5 games, he’s been on the field for only 133 plays (41% of the Ravens plays, penalties included for a direct comparison basis), but he’s made the tackle on 18 of those, which is 6th among all NFL DTs. I have 5-week tackle totals to go with 4-week snap totals for the 5 DTs ahead of Kelly in tackles. Tommy Kelly (27 tackles in 211 plays), Marcus Stroud (27 in 229), Kyle Williams (27 in 255), Tank Tyler (21 in 163), and Sean Rogers (19 in 227). Assuming each of those players played their average number of snaps from the first 4 weeks in week 5, there is not another DT who has made the tackle on more than 10.3% of his snaps played, but Gregg has done so on 13.5%.
· Ngata played just 34 of 65 snaps (52%). I have to wonder if he wasn’t sick or nursing a minor injury. The only other times he has played that few snaps since his rookie year were in games that were decided early. On the Bengals’ game-winning drive, Edwards was on for 6 plays and Ngata 5.
· Gooden played 62 of 65 real snaps Sunday, marking his first game as a 3-down player. I thought Gooden looked solid in coverage. He had tight coverage on Coats’ fingertip drop down the middle (Q4, 0:43). He made a good stop of Leonhard on 3rd and 2 during the final drive, however, he was a factor in Benson’s big game. Ellerbe and McClain both seem more decisive and physical. The Ravens want Gooden to be a starting linebacker, but he might be more valuable now if rested for passing situations. The team could use Ellerbe and/or McClain otherwise. McClain continues to make the most of very limited chances. He had an assist on his only play Sunday. Ellerbe did not see action defensively.
· Johnson took 4 plays off, which is more than usual. He played 61 of the 65 real snaps Sunday. Aside from an early pull against Cleveland, he’s otherwise had played all but 3 of the real snaps for the 2008 Ravens.
· On 4th down and 1 on Bengals’ final drive (Q4, 1:47) the Ravens played nickel, essentially conceding the 1st down for an in-bounds play. Palmer scrambled 6 yards for the 1st. The Ravens clearly wanted to burn the clock, but it was a real chance to end the game. The Bengals called timeout prior to the play, so the Ravens were able to substitute to get the package they wanted on the field. Had the Bengals made a first down, they might have rushed to play no huddle, but the Ravens could have called a timeout before the snap (they had 2).
· Washington missed several plays after getting part of Lewis/Ocho helmets. He was off the field on the next play when Palmer completed an 11-yard pass to Henry who got out of bounds at the 24. Just 3 plays later, Washington was again off the field when Walker committed the PI penalty on 3rd and 16.
· After reviewing at home, I can see why the PI on Walker was called. It wasn’t a smart play given the prospective down and distance. If Walker instead had made a clean tackle, the Bengals would have faced a 4th and 6 at the 20 and would have been forced to use their final timeout.
· Reed had his best game of the year and should be a candidate for defensive player of the week. He caused 2 turnovers and contributed 6 tackles. With the 52-yard INT return he moved into 5th place all time on the list of interception return yards, passing Paul Krause and Night Train Lane. Only Woodson, Sharper, Sanders, and Tunnell remain ahead of Ed.
· Kruger was deactivated with the return of Gooden.
· The Ravens brought deceptive pressure on just 5 of 32 pass plays as I scored it. During the Bengals game winning drive, they rushed a plain vanilla 4 on 4 occasions and 3 on 4 others. Palmer does not throw well on the move. I have to believe more pressure was warranted.
The Ravens 3 biggest defensive plays:
1. Reed’s pick 6 (Q3, 6:27)
2. Reed’s forced fumble (Q1, 14:05).