Put Up or Shut Up? Elam Has Best Game as a Raven

Filmstudy Put Up or Shut Up? Elam Has Best Game as a Raven

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Defensive Notes vs. Lions 12/16/13

Matt Elam’s “rookie” disrespecting of Calvin Johnson received significant pre-game review.

While Johnson was effectively controlled by the Ravens’ corners, Elam delivered his best game as a professional.

Let’s review Matt’s game:

(Q1, 14:14)  Elam flew up for the initial contact in the backfield and forced the play outside as Bush ran left for 1 yard and was tackled by Webb.

(Q1, 12:19)  Elam was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he and Daryl Smith hit the sliding Stafford.  However, Matt made a careful approach and did not hit Stafford in a vulnerable area.  It’s fairly clear the officials intended to flag Smith, who hit Stafford’s head, but the zebras got the number wrong.  We’ll know this week for sure if Elam does not receive a fine from the league but Smith does.

(Q1, 11:49)  Stafford threw to Burleson for a gain of 17 (6 + 11 YAC).  Elam missed the tackle at the spot of the reception.

(Q2, 11:46)  Elam submarined through the right B gap to take down Bell for a gain of 2.

(Q3, 8:00)  Elam raced up from 15+ yards off the LoS to take down Reggie Bush for a loss of 3 in the open field.

(Q3, 5:28)  He contained an open left side and turned Bush inside for a gain of just 3.

(Q3, 3:26)  Matt moved up quickly through traffic to take down Bush for a gain of 2 up the middle.

(Q4, 3:42)  He delivered a big hit to Pettigrew who nonetheless held on for an 18-yard gain that set up the Lions go-ahead score.

(Q4, 0:38)  Stafford overthrew Burleson approximately 20 yards down field between the numbers and left hash and Elam collected it after a bobble for his first career interception on the Lions’ last offensive play.

Elam was credited with 10 tackles.  His play wasn’t without flaws, but it was a solid effort at an opportune time.  Other than a big step up in play from Oher or Rice, I can’t think of a player where improved play would be both a reasonable possibility and as big a benefit as for Elam.

Pees typically employs a system where the corners each have a fixed side of the field.  Smith plays right CB (RCB) and Webb plays left CB (LCB) in the base defense.  In Detroit, however, the Ravens’ defensive game plan clearly focused on Johnson and had Jimmy Smith following Megatron on every play where he was used as an outside receiver.  This was the first time the Ravens played matchup this season.

I went back and reviewed the placement of the 3 corners at the moment of each non-penalty snap:

There is a LCB on 2 more plays because 2 of the 3 times all 3 corners were on one side were to the left.

By coverage assignment on the 2 primary outside receivers:

Some notes on these alignments:


  • Much of the Ravens’ defensive success the past few weeks has been based on Lardarius Webb’s return to slot coverage in the nickel.  Against the Lions, Webb played on the outside virtually every snap (on 3 plays when all 3 corners were on 1 side, I have listed both Smith and Webb as outside corners above).
  • Webb and Ngata (see below) were the game’s defensive MVPs.  Lardarius played on the outside and on an island, primarily versus Kris Durham.  The Lions’ receiver was targeted 4 times with just 1 reception for 5 yards.  Webb’s ability to take man coverage against Durham made it possible to use Smith on Johnson and roll safety coverage to help.  Webb allowed just 2 completions for 5 yards and no YAC.  He finished with 4 tackles.
  • Jimmy Smith held Johnson to 3 catches for 21 (Q4, 6:56), 7 (Q2, 8:08), and 1 (Q2, 2:00) yards among 7 times Stafford targeted him.  He also failed to push Johnson out of bounds along the right sideline as Calvin rushed past him to collect a 37-yard completion (Q3, 7:22) on a play where Smith appeared to pass coverage to James Ihedigbo.
  • The Ravens played 56 of 63 snaps in the nickel and Corey Graham lined up to cover the slot receiver in each case.  In recent weeks, Webb has provided a spark for the Ravens pass rush with good pressure off the slot.   Graham rushed the passer 3 times on Monday, including a pressure (Q1, 11:49) and a QH (Q1, 7:11).  Graham was nearly invisible in coverage of CJ (that’s a good thing in this case) in the slot aside from the oft-replayed drop (Q1, 4:28) where Johnson literally threw Corey out of the play as he cut.
  • Stafford did his damage over the middle, between the linebackers, and in front of Ihedigbo.  Despite his interception, Daryl Smith had a bad day in coverage including allowing the go-ahead TD to Fauria (Q4, 2:27) when he was unable to find the football despite good position.
  • I expect Webb to return to the slot in the nickel versus the Patriots.  He’s a better matchup than Graham for either Edelman or Amendola.

The Lions ran 63 offensive plays, all competitive:


Versus the Run:  28 plays, 119 yards, 4.3 YPC

Versus the Pass:  35 plays, 230 yards, 6.6 YPP

Overall:  63 plays, 349 yards, 5.5 YPPA

By number of defensive backs:

3 DBs:  None

4 DBs:  7/55, 7.9 YPPA, 1 TO

5 DBs:  56/294, 5.3 YPPA, 1 sack, 2 TO

6 DBs+:  None

By number of pass rushers:

3:  3/17, 5.7 YPP

4:  25/198, 7.9 YPP, 2 TO

5:  5/15, 3.0 YPP, 1 sack, 1 TO

6:  2/0

7+:  None

Other Notes


  • Tyson’s interception (Q3, 10:40) was a fascinating play that was a microcosm of the game.  The Ravens lined up 6 men on the line of scrimmage and rushed 5 with just Tyson dropping to a short middle zone.  That left Ngata doubled by Sims and Raiola, but Haloti got his left hand up and altered the path of Stafford’s pass.  Bush reached back and tipped the ball to Tyson, who volleyballed it to himself.  From the ground, Calvin Johnson wrapped both arms around Tyson’s right leg and struggled to bring him down as DeAngelo hung on.  That’s where the play ended as we know it, but then there’s that missed opportunity…
  • Jimmy Smith was screaming (well let’s be honest, I can only say he was gesticulating wildly) for a pitch, and rightfully so.  Every fast Lions player was down or on the far side of the field.  Smith would have had to elude only Raiola and outrace Stafford on a TD return.  That was a fast-break opportunity the Reed/Lewis Ravens would not have missed.  Smith was furious and the coaches video will clearly show the open field when released.
  • Ngata had his best game of the season and consistently beat double teams at the line of scrimmage.  His performance was list-worthy:
    • (Q1, 14:52) He bulled Sims for penetration and took down Bell for a gain of 1.
    • (Q1, 5:46)  He penetrated by Reiff to take down Bell for no gain.
    • (Q3, 10:40)  Doubled by Raiola and Sims, he deflected Stafford’s pass that was intercepted by Tyson.
    • (Q3, 7:22)  He defied the laws of Physics by being flagged for offsides when not on the field of play (it was Cody).
    • (Q4, 13:02)  While doubled by Raiola and Sims, he tripped up Bush for a gain of 3.
    • (Q4, 12:26)  He beat Warford outside for a fast QH on a 23-yard completion to Burleson.
    • (Q4, 9:55)  He was blocked by Sims, but got his right arm up to knock down Stafford’s pass at the LoS.
    • (Q4, 3:12)  Again doubled by Sims and Raiola, Ngata slipped off to tackle Bush for a gain of 1.
  • Pees did a good job of spreading the front-7 snaps (actually the front-6 snaps) against the Lions.
  • Upshaw played many more snaps (39) than I would have expected for a game where the Ravens played nickel on 90% of snaps.  By comparison, he played 13 and 23 snaps in the playoff games versus Denver and New England last season.  Upshaw was used 6 times as an inside pass rusher.  I scored him for just 2 pressures in 18 times rushing the passer.  Courtney’s season has been one of the disappointments for the Ravens.  He’s taken a big step backwards as an edge setter while improving from terrible to below average as a pass rusher.  I miss the guy who could dominate the run.
  • McPhee was used just 5 times (1 pressure) as an inside rusher and 8 times on the outside (1 QH).
  • I’m surprised Arthur Brown seems to be in the doghouse.  He didn’t play well against the Vikings and was benched for the last series after taking a bad angle to Gerhart on his 41-yard TD in the last 2 minutes, but there was that whole snow thing.  On Monday he played just 12 snaps of 56 nickels Pees called.  The team did well when he was on the field (3.3 YPPA on his 12 snaps), but he looked bad when he moved too slowly to pick up the hot read, Theo Riddick (Q3, 4:05), who converted a 3rd down.  Prior to the play, Webb was motioning for someone to cover the slot receiver on his side, but Brown was faking a B-gap blitz.
  • The Ravens appear rested both in terms of snaps and injuries for the Pats game Sunday.  It’s a short week, but New England is dealing with an ailing offensive line.

It seems like just last week I was writing about the best games in Ravens history.  I think this one would have to be near the top of most fan lists of prime-time games, road games, or individual achievements.  So, how about that field goal?

Baltimore Colt Bert Rechichar probably got more press when Tom Dempsey broke his 17-year NFL record 56-yard FG in 1970 than he did when he unloaded his bomb in the Colts’ first NFL game (9/27/53).  Bert, who played defensive back, also returned an interception for the Colts’ only TD that day in a 13-9 win over the Bears.

He went on to make 31 of 88 (35.2%) of his NFL attempts, good for 199th of 203 kickers who have made the minimum 50 attempts to make the pro-football-reference.com list.  I think it can be fairly stated that no other kicker will ever take Rechichar’s place as the 5th least accurate kicker of all time unless the number of attempts required is modified.  On the other hand, he’s one of the only NFL players with both 30 career FGs and 30 career interceptions (also 31).

Ex-Raven kickoff specialist Wade Richey had his 56-yard FG overshadowed by Jamal Lewis’ 295-yard rushing game on 9/14/03.

Both Richey and Rechichar are now 5 yards removed from the Baltimore record books.

Who is the NFL’s all-time leader in FG percentage?  I’ll give you a hint, Dan Bailey is 2nd with a 90.4% success rate, but the leader has made an amazing 92.9% of his kicks.

That’s right, Justin Tucker.

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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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