In Search of Defensive Playmakers

Filmstudy In Search of Defensive Playmakers

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In a game where the offense again struggled mightily, the defense leveraged an early lead into an extraordinary playmaking effort.

Discussion about this defense over the last several weeks has centered on their inability to make big plays.  The lead for all of the 2nd half provided a lens for just how effective this unit would be if the offense can provide some points.

In particular, Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith, and James Ihedigbo all turned in numerous big plays.

The big defensive story for the Ravens on Sunday was the return of Webb to slot coverage in the nickel.  That move opened up pass-rush flexibility the Ravens have not enjoyed all season.  It’s a rare in-season change in duties that provides real hope.  I have detailed Webb’s performance in another piece (CLICK HERE), but suffice it to say it was the greatest single-game performance ever by a Raven CB.

Of the Bengals 87 snaps, 85 were competitive (1 kneel, 1 spike):


Versus the Run:  30 plays, 121 yards, 4.0 YPC

Versus the Pass:  55 plays, 244 yards, 4.4 YPP

Overall:  85 plays, 365 yards, 4.3 YPPA

By number of defensive backs:

3 DBs:  None

4 DBs:  32/188, 5.9 YPPA, 1 sack, 1 TO

5 DBs:  47/103, 2.2, 3 sacks, 2 TO

6 DBs:  5/23, 4.6, 1 sack

7 DBs:  1/51 (uggh)

By number of pass rushers:

3:  3/46, 15.3 YPP, 1 sack

4:  36/170, 4.7 YPP, 3 sack, 3 TO

5:  12/11, 0.9 YPP, 1 sack

6:  4/17, 4.3 YPP

7:  None

Other Notes


  • A large portion of the damage against the Ravens (134 of 365 total Cincinnati yards) came on 3 broken defensive plays.  Without excusing those, the Ravens otherwise overwhelmed the Bengals with pressure and coverage.  In particular, the success with limited pass rush numbers is a formula the Bengals have used effectively versus the Ravens over the past 4 seasons.  Including 4 more sacks with 4 or fewer pass rushers against the Cats, the Ravens have now sacked the QB on 24 of 229 such plays (10.5%) for the season.  By comparison, the Ravens’ greatest pass rush unit (2006) generated 28 sacks with 3 or 4 rushing in 311 such plays (9.0%).
  • Several things went wrong on the Hail Mary, and they have been reviewed furiously over the past few days, but the decision to rush 3 men on the final play is one I don’t like with the combination of distance and a weak-armed QB.  With a full step, Dalton threw the ball 54 yards to the mosh pit at the 3-yard line.  A 4-man rush will typically force a quicker throw and one that has more chance to be released both without a full step and behind the LoS.  Had that occurred, the toss might have come up short of the end zone by more than 3 yards and there would be no debate of whether or not Ihedigbo’s net contribution was positive.
  • I’d like to see the current down-by-contact definition in the NFL rules.  If anyone has a copy of the rules circulated to the teams, please post it as a comment.  I am assuming that Dierdorf’s description of the rule regarding the wrist being part of the hand is correct. Green’s non-fumble was a bad on-field decision and it was one of the 3 worst review decisions I have ever seen (while I can’t recall 2 as bad, it’s always nice to leave some margin).
  • Suggs did not look right.  He moved slowly, had no explosiveness, and had just 2 pressures in 48 pass rushes.  Much of that came against Andrew Whitworth, who was returning from injury and was exploited by Dumervil.  No one is going to say so, but the foot injury this week seems to be meaningful.  Nonetheless, he played 77 snaps in a game the Ravens needed to save their season.  It’s a tribute to the pass rush and scheme that they were so effective collectively with little contribution from their sack leader.
  • Here is a snap-count chart of the Linemen and linebackers:
  • The loss of Brandon Williams could easily have left the Ravens short handed against a Bengals team that has often used a 6-man line against the Ravens.  However, DeAngelo Tyson played well (including his first NFL sack) and the total need for DL snaps was reduced by the Ravens lead.  That allowed 47 of 85 defensive snaps with 5 or more DBs.  Aside from Suggs, who played a lot of snaps considering his effectiveness, the front 7 were extraordinarily well rotated for an 85-snap game.
  • Dumervil was a beast.  The interplay of coverage and pressure is often discussed, but in addition to his own outstanding game as a pass rusher, he regularly created a gaping B-gap for Webb’s rushes off the slot.  His 6 pressure events deserve a review:
    • (Q2, 14:10)  Elvis stunted through the left A gap to flush Dalton right where he threw incomplete for Sanu.
    • (Q2, 10:37)  He bulled Smith for pressure as Dalton threw incomplete off the fingertips of Eifert who was covered well by Arthur Brown.
    • (Q2, 2:36)  His stunt was picked up by Zeitler, but he got his hand up and deflected Dalton’s pass at the LoS.
    • (Q3, 0:21)  Dumervil bulled Whitworth then broke off for a 5-yard sack assisted by Webb’s compression of the pocket.
    • (Q4, 15:00)  The Ravens generated a jailbreak 9-yard sack shared by Elvis (who slipped by Whitworth inside) and McPhee (pushed past Smith inside after a chip from Zeitler).  Canty also bulled LG Boling to compress.
    • (Q4, 0:21)  Dumervil again bulled Whitworth for a left-arm necktie sack of Dalton as Whitworth also rode him to the ground.
  • Jimmy Smith had one of his best games as a professional, but it was not without warts:
    • (Q1, 6:56)  Smith had a step in coverage of Sanu by the left sideline.  Sanu stopped and Dalton’s pass was overthrown by 10+ yards, but Jimmy had tight coverage.
    • (Q2, 15:00)  Smith again had tight, inside coverage of Sanu and used the sideline as an extra defender as Dalton’s pass sailed well out of bounds.
    • (Q2, 10:32)  Smith had tight coverage of Jones between the numbers and left hash.  Dalton threw a strike in the small window, but Smith stripped the football as Jones came down with it.
    • (Q2, 5:45)  Smith was left without a receiver to cover on the left side, but identified the screen to Bernard and flashed up past RT Smith’s block on Suggs to take down the rookie for a loss of 1.
    • (Q2, 2:36)  Ngata deflected Dalton’s pass at the LoS, which seemed like a good result at the time, but Smith and Elam had tight bracket coverage on Green, the intended target.  The throw had pick-6 written all over it.
    • (Q3, 3:15)  Smith was alone with Green who ran a 15-yard out route on the left sideline.  Smith trailed, then undercut the route to swat the ball away with minimal effort.
    • (Q4, 8:30)  Jimmy could not get off the block from Tyler Eifert as Bernard took the screen left 18 yards (-4 + 22 YAC) for the Bengals first TD.
    • (Q4, 1:03)  Smith and Webb converged to take down Sanu for a gain of just 5 in bounds on a play that would drain 20 seconds off the clock.
    • (Q4, 0:02)  Smith could be seen blasting Ihedigbo on the sidelines after the hail mary, but he was curiously not nearby.  As the ball approached, Graham, Webb, and Daryl Smith leapt along with 3 Bengals receivers Sanu, Eifert, and Jones.  Miles kept his feet behind the pile.  Smith covered Marvin Jones on the left side, but trailed the play as the receiver crossed and left Smith 10+ yards from the sea of hands as the ball came down.
  • As long as we’re making lists, let’s review the play of Daryl Smith:
    • (Q1, 12:00)  He made a diving PD of Dalton’s pass to Bernard.
    • (Q1, 11:56)  He took down Bernard a yard short of the marker to force 4th down and 1.
    • (Q3, 10:46)  Smith had good coverage of Eifert in the end zone.  Dalton had to force Eifert to turn to make the catch and Smith came down on top of him as the ball dribbled away incomplete.
    • (Q3, 4:02)  Smith alertly recovered Green’s fumble and returned it for an after-the-whistle TD.  The review failed, but that didn’t make Smith’s alertness any less appropriate.
    • (Q4, 12:30)  Daryl ran over Bernard for a pressure as Webb knocked down Dalton’s pass for Green.
    • (OT, 15:00)  Smith diagnosed the short pass right off play action and took down Alex Smith for a gain of just 3.
    • (OT, 12:24)  Smith somehow failed to deflect a ball that passed right through his arms for a 6-yard conversion to Eifert on 3rd and 5.
    • (OT, 11:02)  Smith shot the right A gap to take down Bernard for no gain, but was injured on the play and missed the final snap.
  • Ihedigbo’s story is the most dramatic.  He combined an opportunistic, 2-pick day in coverage with aggressive run defense, the failure to impede a pair of tips to Green that resulted in 94 yards and a TD, and redemption on the containment and pursuit of Bernard on the 4th-and-2 stop in overtime.  His list of accomplishments and failures for the game is well known, so I won’t review, but he’s been a solid defender for the Ravens this season and has provided as much value per cap dollar as any defender other than Daryl Smith.
  • PFF charged the Hail Mary blown coverage to Chykie Brown.  I think that is most accurate.  Brown had Green on the left and neither made a leap for the ball nor marked Green for takedown after Ihedigbo’s ill-advised tip.  James manned up to his mistake, but Chykie had a significant role.

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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.

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