Ask 100 folks to come up with 3 adjectives to describe the Ravens’ defense and you’ll get a lot of overlap.
I’m guessing the most common words might be aggressive, physical, and opportunistic. It’s that last word I want to examine for a moment.
The Ravens had 13 passes defensed versus the Bengals on Sunday. For the season, they lead the league in passes defensed with 112. That’s 8 more than 2nd place San Francisco. Unlike past seasons, however, they aren’t converting those hands on the football to interceptions as often. The Ravens are in the middle of the pack with 15 interceptions, but are 28th in interceptions per PD with 1 pick every 7.47 PDs. If they had a league-average ratio of INTs per PD, they would have 21 interceptions.
What team has had better ball skills (and no doubt a little more luck)? That would be the Patriots who have intercepted 23 passes on just 58 PDs. That works out to an interception every 2.52 PDs.
Reed (not a PD), Pollard, and Carr all had good interception opportunities Sunday. The PD by Suggs also appeared destined to be an INT, but fell harmlessly.
How about fumbles? We can start with the fact that Pollard’s recovery of the fumble forced by Suggs (Q4, 7:26) was the Ravens first in 8 games (Wallace’s lateral recovered by Kruger on the last play of the game at Pittsburgh). The Ravens lead the league in forced fumbles with 21 (of 27 total opponent fumbles). They have recovered 11 fumbles. The league average is 67% (268 opponent fumbles recovered of 400 forced). So they also have recovered 3 less fumbles than one might expect.
Those 9 missing turnovers have made the difference between a team that is +2 and one that could easily be +11. The Ravens completed an outstanding opening game against the Steelers with 7 takeaways and 0 giveaways, but since have just 19 takeaways in 15 games with a -5 turnover differential. The league average for the season is 25.3 giveaways compared to 24 by the Ravens.
The Bengals had 68 competitive snaps (excluding 1 kneel):
Versus the Run: 23 plays, 106 yards, 4.6 YPC
Versus the Pass: 45 plays, 231 yards, 5.1 YPP
Overall: 68 plays, 337 yards, 5.0 YPPA
By number of defensive backs:
3 DBs: 1 play, 0 yards
4 DBs: 24/93, 3.9 YPPA
5 DBs: 41/244, 6.0 YPPA
6 DBs: 2/0
By number of pass rushers:
3: 7/15, 2.1 YPP, 1 sack
4: 27/101, 3.7 YPP, 1 TO
5: 10/105, 10.5 YPP
• Webb again played well after he lost Green for an 18-yard gain (Q1, 5:48). He was targeted just 4 times on the day with 3 complete. I recall an old Maryland basketball game versus Duke in Joe Smith’s sophomore season. He was held to 4 points or thereabouts, but came up with a crucial block in the last 10 seconds to thwart a Duke comeback. Lardarius was invisible most of the day because Dalton wasn’t challenging him, but he was right there on the final 2 end-zone heaves as he got a hand on each one. Should the first one have been a penalty? Sure, but offsetting. On the last play (Q4, 0:02), it appeared Webb was out of bounds but came back in for the 2nd touch after Carr made initial contact. Webb also contributed a key early stop when he and Kruger diagnosed and converged to stop Hawkins on the shovel pass (Q1, 11:39) to force the Bengals first punt on 4th and inches.
• Jimmy Smith was targeted only once in 13 pass plays while he was on the field. That went for a 2-yard completion to Simpson (Q3, 14:47), but Smith was on him immediately to make the tackle. Carr replaced Smith in the 3rd quarter. Dalton targeted him 4 times in 21 passing snaps, but he kept the receivers in front of him for short gains and got his hands on 2 balls intended for Green on the final drive. He jumped Green’s route over the middle (Q4, 0:44) for a near interception, then got a piece of the last throw into the end zone. You can’t have enough good corners in the postseason, but I hope Carr remains the Ravens’ 4th corner based on the play of the others.
• Williams also had a fine game with 3 PDs and 4 receptions allowed among 10 times his assignment was targeted. He knocked down a 15-yard pass to Simpson between the numbers and the left hash (Q2, 0:51). He got his hand on a pass for Green near the left sideline (Q3, 14:03). Finally, he made a diving, over-the-top PD vs. Green (Q3, 8:17) that appeared at first to be pass interference. He missed a tackle to allow 11 yards after contact on Simpson’s catch (Q4, 5:25). It’s been an up-and-down season for Williams, but it’s great to have a football team with 3 young corners this good.
• So how did the Ravens’ corners play so well when Dalton threw for 220 yards? Unfortunately, the answer may come back to haunt the Ravens in the postseason. They surrendered several big plays in the middle of the field with coverage by the linebackers and safeties. Specifically, McClain was unable to stay with Gresham (Q2, 12:27) on a 25-yard play (0 + 25 YAC) augmented by a poor tackling effort by Reed. Simpson rambled for 23 yards (2 + 21 YAC) with Kruger in coverage and aided by a missed tackle by Williams (Q4, 5:25). Dalton completed a 26-yard pass to Hawkins (Q4, 4:51) where Pollard’s attempt to go for the football may have dissuaded Reed from delivering the hardest possible hit to dislodge the ball. Dalton hit Green over Lewis and in front of both Pollard and Reed (Q4, 1:05) on a 31-yard play that kept the game interesting until the final snap. Leonard also caught a 16-yard pass where Lewis wrapped up quickly to keep the clock running on that final drive (Q4, 0:36).
• Despite the weakness in the middle, the Ravens have yet to convert to more defensive backs on passing downs. They played dime twice on Sunday and now have just 21 such snaps for the season. In the “Believe it or Not” category, they had the nickel on for the final 2 end-zone heaves. All of that occurred in a game where the Ravens best cover linebacker (Ayanbadejo) played just 6 snaps.
• Similar to the 2010 season finale, the Ravens had injuries mount as the game progressed and a high defensive snap count with which to contend. Smith and Zbikowski suffered concussions, Ayanbadejo suffered an injury on special teams, and Jameel McClain left the game for 2 snaps. That left the remaining healthy players with significant snap counts, but unlike last season, the Ravens won’t have a game next week.
• Despite no tackles, Pernell McPhee had several contributions. He beat McGlynn inside to contact Dalton’s arm for an incomplete (Q1, 3:13). Pernell had a slow developing pressure (Q4, 12:47) on the pass to Leonard which was dislodged by Lewis’ hit. He registered a PD at the LoS despite a double team from Cook and McGlynn (Q4, 5:30).
• With the last 3 weeks, it’s not clear to me who will win the Defensive Player of the Year. Suggs made several big plays on Sunday and is the most balanced defender, but Jared Allen finished strong. DeMarcus Ware also had a big game in a losing effort. No member of the 49ers seems to be getting as much attention as Suggs although I could make a case for Justin Smith. Revis was outstanding, but the Jets finished poorly. Finally, Denver’s 3-game losing streak makes it seem unlikely Von Miller will win the award. This is a season where there is a vacuum at the very top. However, I believe there are a set of voters who won’t vote for a player on a losing team or a disappointment like the Cowboys or Jets. That situation led to a plurality win for Polamalu who garnered just 17 of the 50 votes last season. Were this the baseball MVP or Cy Young award, I’d be fairly sure Suggs’ name would be present on every ballot and I believe he’d take the award with less than 50% of the 1st place votes. However, the DPOY voting is a single-name process.
• Let’s take this one more step. I assert Terrell Suggs is 3 wins and a DPOY short of the Hall of Fame right now. He’s been a dominant player on a very successful defense, been invited to 5 Pro Bowls, and piled up a good number of sacks, but he needs a Ring and the award to cement his legacy. Without that, I’m guessing he needs at least 2 more Pro Bowl appearances.