Who’s to Blame for Leaky Run Defense?

Filmstudy Who’s to Blame for Leaky Run Defense?

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Defensive Notes vs. Minnesota (10/22/17)

In case you missed it yesterday, the Colts lost to the Jaguars 27-0 in a game in which Jacoby Brissett was sacked 10 times among 20 QHs (knockdowns).

T.Y. Hilton was quoted afterwards as saying:

“It is the offensive line.  They need to block.”

Hilton’s words are both entirely right (in the assignment of blame) and entirely wrong (in being said publicly). They are a cautionary tale to a team like the Ravens amongst whom there is plenty of blame to share.

For some reason, Ravens fans want to know if Harbaugh has “lost the team” and speculate over that during games rather than focusing on the play on the field. We only get 48 hours of meaningful football memories per year, so I’d prefer not to waste time worrying about that question while a game is in progress. However, squelching public discussion of blame is one of the most significant roles a coach plays in promoting unity.

Crazy Unbalanced Roster

For the first time this season, the Ravens found themselves without a healthy scratch. They had 5 players ruled out on Friday with another doubtful. That injury report also included 10 players with the “questionable” status. Maclin and Matthews were ruled out on Sunday, which meant the other 9 questionable players had to play so the Ravens could fill their game day active roster.  To fill in the gaps, the Ravens:

— Reacquired Tony Bergstrom (who they had cut earlier in the week) as the 7th healthy offensive lineman

— Signed WR Griff Whalen who had been released in camp

— Played with just 4 true wide receivers (Campanaro, Moore, Wallace, Whalen) and 2 TEs (Boyle, Watson) plus 1 hybrid (Mayle)

— Activated all 7 defensive linemen even though they went all of 2016 with just 5 linemen ever getting a snap

Disturbing Run Defense

When trying to find the underlying problem for a leaky run defense, you’ll see some crazy ideas tossed around.

Bronson Kaufusi: He was called out by Harbaugh for a lack of physicality against the run versus the Bears. Is it possible that deficiency continued against the Vikings? Bronson played 5 snaps on which the Vikings ran the ball 4 times for 15 yards (3.8). Whatever his technique issues, Kaufusi had nothing to do with the run defense issues in this game.

Carl Davis was ineffective in his return: Davis did not make the defensive stat sheet in 22 snaps, but the Ravens allowed just 32 yards on 13 carries (2.4) with him in. I’m calling bullshit on that hypothesis also.

Tony Jefferson can’t tackle: Jefferson was beaten twice in the open field, once when stiff-armed by Murray and another time when juked by Murray on the game’s 2 longest runs, which totaled 64 yards. However, Jefferson’s missed tackles only served to tack on the final 20 yards or so (approximately 12 on the first run and 8 on the second) on 2 breakaways. The more significant question is how the plays made it to level 3.

To summarize:

— (Q3, 15:00): The Vikings zone blocked to the left and Keenum handed off to Murray running left. Case then continued with the naked boot play fake by rolling right. Za’Darius Smith bit hard on the fake and chased Keenum without first seeing the ball. Pierce also engaged RT Remmers, pushing hard to the front side of the play to the point where his back was turned to Murray’s cutback. Mosley also slipped reversing to the cutback. That left the back side wide open and Murray burst forward for 22 yards before first contacted by Jefferson, who he stiff armed to extend the run to 35. I can’t blame Smith too much for biting on the fake, because the Ravens have run that same naked boot perhaps twice per game for the last 8-9 years (and must have done so plenty in practice as well). However, he had to either see the football or know he had help from behind.

— (Q3, 8:05): Terrell Suggs crossed the face of LTE (I can’t read his number from the broadcast angle), who easily sealed him inside. Meanwhile, C Elflein combed to pin Pierce for RG Berger, then took out Onwuasor in L2. Similarly LT Reiff executed an outstanding combination block, pinning Williams for LG Isidora and moving to L2 to block Mosley. WR Wright blocked Webb straight ahead at the LoS. WR Thielen motioned inside and blocked Weddle in L2. Murray ran 20+ yards before Jefferson got a hand on him inside the 10. The play was as well blocked as you’ll ever see a downhill run schemed including a pair of highlight-worthy combination blocks. The Vikings essentially forced one of 3 players (Suggs, Weddle, or Webb) to beat a block from an eligible receiver to prevent the breakaway.

It should be clear that Jefferson was only part of the problem.

The defensive line was tired from the extended drives: For the first time this year, the Ravens had more than 5 defensive linemen active.  Ricard did not play on defense, but that left 6 defensive linemen to share 151 individual snaps spread over 64 team snaps (2.36 per play):


I don’t see anything alarming about these totals.

The defensive line had a lousy game: On the surface it seems logical, since there are some linemen in every play and the runners have to get to level 2 to uncork damaging runs. Both of the long runs occurred against the nickel.  Summarizing results by DBs:


How does the number of DBs reflect differently on the defensive line? In standard (4 DB packages) the Ravens have 3 defensive linemen. With the nickel, they have 2, and with the dime they have only 1, because the Ravens usually play an additional OLB on the inside in such packages (including all 8 dimes on Sunday). It’s a stretch to find fault with the line, especially considering the breakdowns on the 2 longest runs above and success of the standard package.

If I had to pick a single problem (it’s much more complex than that) that I haven’t often heard, it’s that the nickel defense is vulnerable to the run when teams have eligible receivers that can block effectively.

Jaylen Hill Debuts

Hill had a fine debut, so let’s review his snaps individually:

— (Q2, 4:57): Hill covered Wright slot left on post. Wright had Hill beaten deep, but Keenum threw left to Thielen for a gain of 5.

— (Q2, 4:16): Hill covered at intermediate distance on a bunch right. He broke off to cover Thielen running an out route to the right sideline a Keenum threw to Treadwell for a gain of 11 between the hashes.

— (Q3, 11:56): Hill covered the RTE Morgan as Keenum threw left to Thielen who was flagged for OPI.

— (Q3, 11:33): On 3rd and 13, Hill raced in unblocked off the right edge to McKinnon for a gain of 5.

— (Q4, 12:02): On 3rd and 5, he covered Thielen slot right. The Vikings WR ran a zero-cross with which Hill not only kept up, but took inside position and cleanly deflected to deny the conversion. Had the ball been more underthrown, it would likely have been an interception.

— (Q4, 9:17): Hill covered Wright slot right closely as Keenum threw left to Treadwell for a gain of 10.

— (Q4, 6:01): Hill was blocked by Wright from slot left to help lead McKinnon’s run left for 6 yards.

— (Q4, 5:16): On 3rd and 5, Hill covered Thielen slot right, who gave a firm push for separation coming out of his break. The play was completed for a gain of 14.  Trent Green said he “might have got away with a push,” but Greg Gumbel was appropriately more firm in his disdain for the lack of a call.

— (Q4, 3:13): On 3rd and 9, Hill lined up shallow on twins right. Clark undercut McKinnon for a gain of 5 to deny the conversion.

His debut was encouraging at the least. At the most, he’s already usurped Webb’s job as the SCB. Including penalties, Hill played the last 5 snaps in the slot, 7 of the last 11, and 9 of the last 18. Prior to his entry, Webb played the first 17 snaps in the slot.

Lardarius Webb can help the team in a lot of ways, including a different role on the back end. Given some of the struggles Jefferson has had, I would not be shocked to see more varied use of personnel at safety and Hill’s play could be the catalyst.

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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 filmstudy21@verizon.net or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick


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