AFC Championship Defensive Notes

Filmstudy AFC Championship Defensive Notes

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The drama was reduced, but the game in New England was much like that in Denver.

The Ravens controlled the run effectively, holding the Pats to 3.9 YPC and no run longer than 9 yards (Denver 3.2 YPC, long 11).  They did it despite playing nickel for 77 of the 80 contested snaps (Denver 80 of 86).

The Ravens faced a pair of drop back QBs who were both affected by the weather.  Manning attempted just 1 pass of 20+ yards in the Denver cold and Brady completed just 1 of 5 such throws with the Foxborough wind.  Meanwhile, Flacco was effective in both environs.

The Ravens rushed the passer patiently, but with some effect.  The Ravens rushed more than 4 on just 8 of 52 drop backs.  In the second half, Brady dropped back 28 times, the Ravens rushed 4 on 27 occasions, and they only had players drop from the line to coverage on 2 of those 27 snaps.  The Ravens effectively showed Brady exactly what they would do defensively and Brady was able to complete only 2 passes for more than 13 yards en route to a 21-0 2nd-half shutout.  While Manning made 2 mistakes as a direct result of pressure (the sack/fumble on the tuck and Graham’s 2nd INT), the Ravens would all but seal the game on Ellerbe’s interception off McPhee’s late tip (Q4, 6:57).

Both opposing QBs made frequent use of WR screens and short crosses to exploit the Ravens’ perceived coverage weaknesses.

The Ravens played very punishing physical football with each opponent and left each game largely unscathed despite some key opponent injuries that included the starting RB for each team.  Personally, both Brady and Manning make every attempt to avoid big hits.  In each case, that led to some sub-optimal throws.  I think one could make the argument the Patriots receivers were also tentative given the big hits dished out by the Ravens’ defense.

And, of course, both QBs ran up gaudy offensive snap totals which have rarely resulted in losses in playoff history.

The stats are based on 80 defensive snaps (excludes Brady’s 2 spikes)



Versus the Run:  28 plays, 108 yards, 3.9 YPC

Versus the Pass:  52 plays, 320 yards, 6.2 YPP

Overall:  80 plays, 428 yards, 5.4 YPPA


By number of defensive backs:

3 DBs:  1/ 0, 0.0 YPPA

4 DBs:  2/11, 5.5 YPPA

5 DBs:  77/417, 5.4 YPPA, 3 TO

6 DBs:  None


By number of pass rushers:

3 or fewer: 1/13, 13.0 YPP

4:  43/228, 5.3 YPP, 2 TO

5:  5/71, 14.2 YPP

6:  1/7, 7.0 YPP

7:  None


Other Notes:

  • For the 3rd straight game, the Ravens allowed 80 snaps on defense and won.  As you probably heard on the broadcast, the 87 snap (including kneels) defensive efforts versus the Colts and Broncos were the first such wins in NFL playoff history.  I’m not sure how many teams have won when allowing 82, but I would wager it’s a single digit.
  • Once again, the Ravens defensive participation was spread on the line and concentrated at linebacker.  Among the linemen, Cody played 21 snaps, Jones 32, Kemo 21, McPhee 25, Ngata 65, and Suggs 70.  The linebacker snaps included Ellerbe 80, Kruger 77, Lewis 80, and Upshaw 13.
  • The most effective use of defensive personnel was the handling of Pernell McPhee.  He played just 6 snaps through the first series of the 4th quarter.  Pats opponents are frequently unable to make use of their defensive specialists because of New England’s no-huddle offense.  After the Ravens extended their lead to 28-13 (Q4, 11:13), McPhee was inserted for all but 1 of the remaining snaps.  He was fresh and the Ravens most effective defender from that point forward.  His pressure included a pair of PDs, the first of which was intercepted by Ellerbe (Q4, 6:57).  In addition:
    • He got good push on Mankins and nearly tipped the ball Brady threw incomplete at the feet of Hernandez (Q3, 5:17) that forced a punt.
    • He beat Mankins and a chip from Vereen to flush Brady on his 4th and 4 incomplete (Q4, 8:35).
    • He took a double from Mankins and Connolly (Q4, 2:02) to allow Ngata to beat Mankins 1-on-1 for a QH.
    • He worked off Wendell’s left side to get in Brady’s face on Williams’ interception (Q4, 1:13).
  • The other atypical substitution was the alternation of Smith and Brown as outside corner in the nickel.  They alternated every other series or so with Brown accumulating 41 snaps to 36 by Smith.  Brown missed a tackle on Lloyd (Q4, 13:17) which resulted in 7 YAC.  He and Graham also miscommunicated their assignments on the Patriots only TD (Q2, 4:22), leaving Welker wide open for the score.  Smith wasn’t beaten for any big YAC plays, but he may have had a chance for a PD on Hernandez’ 8-yard catch (Q1, 3:57) which was followed up by Lewis’ helmet-to-helmet hit.
  • The Ravens played a single goal line snap with 3 safeties (Q2, 5:09).  Arthur Jones made a fine play to penetrate and stop Ridley for no gain versus a formation featuring 7 offensive linemen for the Pats.  McDaniel would reinsert a traditional 3-receiver set on 3rd down and Brady would throw for the Pats only TD.
  • No Raven escaped the game with a completely clean sheet defensively.  There were enough penalties, blown coverages, and YAC to go around along with some extended pocket time and a handful of missed tackles.  However, the Ravens played outstanding team defense, contested the Patriots up and down the field, and even good offenses will find a way to stall when they are frequently taken to 3rd down.
  • Ellerbe’s retribution against Wendell (Q2, 9:22) offset several good plays:
    • He chased down Ridley from the ORS on a run left to bring up 3rd and 5 (Q1, 13:40)
    • He blitzed delayed and beat the cut block of Woodhead to register a QH (Q1, 9:14) as Brady threw the ball away deep left.
    • He laid a big hit on Welker (Q2, 9:03) to hold him without any YAC on a 7-yard gain.
    • He beat Solder outside for pressure (Q2, 0:34) on a play Brady nonetheless completed to Hernandez for a gain of 17.
    • He had good coverage on a Brady’s pass grounded at the feet of Hernandez on 3rd and 12 (Q43, 5:01)
    • He collected the game-sealing interception off McPhee’s PD (Q4, 6:57)
  • Simms commented that the Ravens “don’t do much” on defense, which was certainly true in the 2nd half.  It struck me how much this defense has changed from the Ryan era.  Rex didn’t have any problem pulling Bart Scott on passing downs to insert a 6th or even 7th defensive back.  The 2012-13 Ravens have shown no willingness to substitute for Lewis or Ellerbe.
  • Perhaps the best example of the reason not to blitz Brady came on the Pats’ 2nd longest play of the game (Q1, 1:28).  Brady read Graham’s pre-snap blitz and initiated a play action fake with zone blocking to the left.  He helped sell it by handing off with his back to the would-be blitzer.  Graham and Jones bought the fake and Brady wheeled immediately to hit Welker on a WR screen for 24 yards (-4 + 28 YAC).
  • Have a discussion of this game with a Patriots fan and he’ll say the Ravens didn’t win it, the Pats lost it.  Welker’s drop on 3rd and 8 (Q3, 10:15) was a huge play, but it was the Ravens who put the Pats in 3rd and 8, had them considering the possibility of a big hit, and gave them the chance to fail.  That was a microcosm of the entire game.
  • Upshaw has been the forgotten man the last 2 weeks.  He has played just 36 snaps in the 2 games combined.  I expect the 49ers to play more 2-receiver sets that will have the Ravens back to many more snaps with 4 DBs in the Super Bowl.  In that context, the edge setting of Upshaw and McClellan will be much more important.

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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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