Examining Kruger’s best game and “The Last Dance”

Filmstudy Examining Kruger’s best game and “The Last Dance”

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Remember the 1996 Ravens’ offense?  You’re not alone if you’ve forgotten how good Vinny Testaverde was that year with a receiving corps that included Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander, Floyd Turner and tight ends Brian Kinchen and Eric Green.

Testaverde was a fine no-huddle QB and the Ravens had a solid offensive line.  It’s been said that former Ravens Head Coach Ted Marchibroda wanted to go exclusively to a no-huddle offense, but he didn’t believe the defense could hold up to the additional time on the field.

Fast forward to 2012 and the Ravens again have a fast-paced offense which increased both the total number of plays and those for the defense.

How big a deal is it that the Ravens are playing more defensive snaps than their opponents so regularly?

In one sense, it’s not so bad when they’ve outscored their opponents 398 to 344.

Examined another way, the Ravens defense has been on the field for many more snaps than their previous playoff teams:

Eventually it takes its toll. Consider the chart below:

Those additional snaps make a big difference in terms of injury risk and freshness under duress.  Aside from the benefits of being able to control the pace of the game, a less obvious benefit for a team that runs the ball effectively is the reduced total snap count and pursuant reduced injury risk.

The circumstances in which consistently high defensive snap counts hurt, may be converging this week for the Ravens.  Specifically, the Ravens will be playing on a short week, with the opponent having a bye, in the altitude of Denver.  Fortunately, Manning’s natural style shortens games, but I would expect the Ravens to make every attempt to reduce total plays from scrimmage.

The Ravens were on the field for 87 defensive snaps, all competitive.  They last allowed 87 (plus 1 kneel) in the overtime win at Houston 12/13/10.  The only game I have scored with more snaps was the 12/24/00 game when the Jets rolled up 91 offensive plays:


Versus the Run:  30 plays, 152 yards, 5.1 YPC

Versus the Pass:  57 plays, 267 yards, 4.7 YPP

Overall:  87 plays, 419 yards, 4.8 YPPA


By number of defensive backs:

3 DBs:  None.  Since these are usually goal line plays, none is good.

4 DBs:  24/92, 3.8 YPPA, 1 TO

5 DBs:  61/118, 5.2 YPPA, 3 sacks, 1 TO

6 DBs:  2/9, 4.5 YPPA


By number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer:  2/19, 9.5 YPP

4:  31/158, 5.1 YPP, 1 TO

5:  20/98, 4.9 YPP, 2 sacks, 1 TO

6:  3/-8, -2.7 YPP, 1 sack

7:  1/0, 0.0 YPP


Individual Notes:


  • The front 7 snaps were split save that Lewis played all 87.  By player: Cody 20 snaps, Jones 42, Kemo 22, McPhee 40, Ngata 65, Suggs 63, Tyson 12, Ayanbadejo 16, Ellerbe 68, Kruger 65, McClellan 6, Upshaw 38.  Hall was inactive and Bynes was relegated to special teams after serving as defensive signal caller versus the Broncos and Bengals.
  • I expected more mid-series division of the OLB snaps, but much was forced by injury.  Albert McClellan was limited to 6 first-half snaps.  The Ravens leaned on Kruger for 65 snaps.  Suggs, who could be seen having difficulty with his legs, played just 12 of the final 35 snaps (beginning Q3, 5:09).  Upshaw played just 14 snaps prior to Suggs aggravating his injury, but 24 snaps the rest of the way.  Similarly, Ayanbadejo’s playing time began only when Ellerbe was hurt (Q4, 8:15).
  • Andrew Luck went after the Ravens’ linebackers the entire game.  Lewis was targeted 9 times with 6 completions for 80 yards.  Ellerbe was also targeted 3 times, all of which were completed for a total of 44 yards.  Suggs surrendered a 13-yard completion the only time he was targeted.
  • McPhee’s workload is back to a normal level.  He had a defensive-line-leading 61 snaps versus Dallas in week 6, but played just 90 total snaps in the last 10 games (6 activations).  He is still used primarily in passing situations, but on Sunday that included the end-of-half drive and most of the 4th quarter.  Now that he’s demonstrated the ability to play more snaps, he is one of the players the Ravens can reasonably expect to play at a level significantly higher than he has to date this season.

Kruger turned in his best game as a professional.  Let’s review:


  • (Q1, 14:14) He lined up at LDE and worked across the line to take down Hilton for a gain of 1 on a WR screen left.
  • (Q1, 8:41)  He beat Allen inside for pressure but Chykie Brown’s illegal contact negated the incomplete pass.
  • (Q1, 3:52)  He seemed blocked around the pocket by Winston Justice, but reached back to dislodge the football from Luck.  McPhee recovered to end a drive that had covered 62 yards and 5 first downs.
  • (Q1, 0:56) He bulled Sowell directly into Luck, knocking him down to record a QH
  • (Q2, 3:47) Graham came from the OLS with a jump cut inside past Costanzo and made initial contact.  Meanwhile, Kruger rushed from a 9 technique (set up well wide of where a TE would normally set), rendering Sowell’s hands useless with a swipe as he moved past him on the outside to clean up Luck for the shared sack.
  • (Q2, 0:31)  Kruger took a step forward, then dropped back to a short-zone coverage on the left side and batted down a pass intended for Avery.  Williams was alone with Avery and a little soft which might have resulted in a big play had it not been for the PD.
  • (Q2, 0:12)  Kruger had coverage on Fleener who slid to the left sideline some 10 yards downfield.  Luck threw for Hilton, 17 yards downfield near the left numbers.  Kruger peeled off, but overran the play and Williams was very soft, which allowed the speedster 8 YAC to set up Vinatieri’s half-ending FG.
  • (Q3, 10:23)  He had a great jump from another wide 2-point stance.  Sowell couldn’t touch him until he was even with him on the outside with his left foot firmly planted.  A shove at that point was futile as Kruger moved by on an unaltered path for the 8-yard sack.  Comically, McGlynn and Sowell had their hands up asking for the roughing the passer flag as Luck hit the ground hard and several Ravens dove in for the loose football.  There should be an NFL equivalent for Smokey the Bear (“Only you can prevent QB concussions”).
  • (Q4, 13:21)  He rushed himself out of position on Ballard’s 24-yard run right.  With the edge lost, Ballard outraced Brown up the sideline.
  • (Q4, 12:40) He set up wide left in a 3-point stance.  Ngata stunted outside and over the inside move of Kruger as part of a play designed to create an opportunity for Haloti.  However, Kruger bulled through the double from Costanzo and Linkenbach to register another QH before Ngata could arrive.  Luck threw incomplete.
  • (Q4, 3:37)  It must be nice to be Paul Kruger and have your team up by 15 late.  I’m sure he was pretty much free to set up in whatever manner had the best chance to get pressure.  He lined up in a 3-point stance very wide on the OLS, took 2 stutter steps towards Costanzo then swiped his hands away as he moved by on the inside to knock down Luck again.  Luck overthrew an open Wayne 16 yards down the left sideline.
  • (Q4, 3:33)  The Ravens overloaded the left side with Graham and Ellerbe picked up by Costanzo and Linkenbach, respectively.  Kruger stunted inside and was untouched by the befuddled Satele.  Unfortunately, Luck slipped free, rolled out, and threw incomplete to Hilton near the right sideline.  There Pollard let one of the Gatorade twerps get the best of him and was flagged for taunting.
Other notes:
  • Graham was again terrific.  He’s been a poor man’s Lardarius Webb in terms of his versatility and turned in a day that included half a sack (9 times as a pass rusher) and the PD that resulted in Williams’ interception.  He’s played the run well, moves inside to play the slot receiver in the nickel, and plays outside effectively when the Ravens field only 2 corners.  He’s allowed just 1 TD and intercepted 2 balls.  I don’t think the Ravens would have made the playoffs without him.
  • The Ravens played 61 snaps of nickel, so it’s fortunate all 3 corners played well.  As a group they were targeted 30 times with 15 completions for 137 yards (4.6 YPP), 0 TD, 1 INT, 3 PDs, and 1 illegal contact penalty.
  • Bernard Pollard will have difficulty playing with NFL rules as they now stand.  It’s difficult to fault him for the hit on Wayne (Q4, 3:46).  It probably shouldn’t have been flagged, but it was at worst a necessary risk to dislodge the football.  However, he exacerbated it with the ridiculous confrontation with the Colts’ waterboy 2 plays later.  Pointing to the scoreboard might have drawn a flag, but would have ended the conversation.  Pollard will be another key figure Saturday who was inactive for week 15.

It was a day we’ll all remember for our own reasons.  While Ray’s dance does nothing for me, the team did a wonderful, understated job with video clips of his career.  It looked to me as if he was surprised with the offer to play tailback in the victory formation.  He was previously shown with helmet off, removing his jersey.  Ted Williams homered in his final at bat in 1960, took his position in LF, and was then was replaced by Carroll Hardy.  This was a similar and fitting tribute for Ray.

How well did Lewis play?  The traditional media outlets seemed to limit their commentary to his tackle total combined with leadership anecdotes and career statistics.  With as many as 3 games left to play, Ray’s current contribution is still relevant, particularly his contribution on passing downs.  For the 9 times he was targeted, here’s what I saw from the all-22:


  • (Q2, 11:18)  Lewis reacted well to the tipped ball in the air, but dropped a made-to-order interception off Ngata’s deflection.  It’s not good that Ray failed to make the play, but he was properly positioned to defend the pass for Avery had it cleared Ngata.
  • (Q2, 3:07)  Luck completed a 7-yard pass to Fleener crossing in front of Lewis between the numbers and the left hash.  Lewis took him down quickly to deny a 3rd and 14 conversion.
  • (Q2, 0:45)  Luck completed a 13-yard pass to Wayne in the seam.  Lewis was the underneath coverage, but anticipated a different throwing lane and could not correct in time.
  • (Q3, 2:53)  Wayne ran a deep cross and Ray had underneath coverage.  Luck threw in the seam behind Wayne, but Ray was still a little late and missed a deflection.
  • (Q4, 13:46)  Wayne ran directly at Ray, 10 yards up field then cut right as Lewis followed.  The coverage was good, but Luck was on target and Lewis could not deflect the ball nor take down Wayne who escaped for a 19-yard gain (9 YAC).
  • (Q4, 9:14)  Lewis was unable get over in time to cover Allen who lined up at RTE and turned quickly to the outside to accept a 9-yard pass from Luck.
  • (Q4, 7:48)  Williams had coverage of Avery on a slant.  Luck threw on target, but Lewis delivered a solid hit to take Avery down for a gain of 7.
  • (Q4, 5:39)  Allen lined up at LTE and ran the same pattern to the opposite side as before (Q4, 9:14).  This time Lewis reacted quickly and was in position to deliver a big hit as Allen slipped, and both Lewis and the ball passed over him, incomplete.
  • (Q4, 3:12)  Luck completed a 12-yard pass to Fleener in the seam.  Lewis wasn’t able to react to Fleener’s turn around, but made the tackle to hold Fleener to 2 YAC.
  • (Q4, 2:14)  On the Colts final play from scrimmage, Lewis had soft coverage on Ballard who headed to the sideline.  Ballard dropped Luck’s 4th and 5 pass without being contested.

Lewis wasn’t awful in coverage, but Luck threw at him 8 times in the last 34 minutes of the game.  On the plus side, he only allowed significant YAC one time (Q4, 13:46) and no plays of 20+ yards.  Much of how the Colts attacked Lewis might have been different had he hauled in the interception on that first throw.

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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time. If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick


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