Defense Pitches Another Shutout

Filmstudy Defense Pitches Another Shutout

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Defensive Notes vs. Miami 10/26/17

It doesn’t seem right that any NFL team would have the sort of ups and downs the Ravens have had in 2017.

The Ravens are just the 9th team since the merger to both win a game by 40+ and lose a game by 37+ in the same season.  The others:

— 2009 Titans (8-8, failed to make playoffs)

— 2009 Seahawks (5-11, failed to make playoffs)

— 2006 Chiefs (9-7, lost WC round to Colts)

— 2005 Packers (4-12, failed to make playoffs)

— 2003 49ers (7-9, failed to make playoffs)

— 2002 Jets (9-7, won AFC East, won WC vs. Colts 41-0, lost in divisional round)

— 1988 Saints (10-6, failed to make playoffs)

— 1970 Cowboys (10-4, lost Super Bowl V)

Several Baltimore connections exist:

— The 1970 Cowboys were thrashed at Minnesota in Week 5 by a score of 54-13 and again destroyed 38-0 by the Cardinals on MNF in Week 9. They nonetheless recovered to win the NFC championship and lose to the Baltimore Colts in SB V.

— The 2003 49ers were blasted by the Ravens in Baltimore 44-6 at their nadir.

— And the 2005 Packers lost to the Ravens 48-3 on MNF in the game that included the first significant playing time for Mr. Greenroom, Aaron Rodgers.

Of the teams who produced these extreme results, 3 of the previous 8 made the playoffs.

Don’t worry.  Be happy.

Run Defense Rebounds

After Jay Ajayi ripped off a 21-yard gain on his first carry (Q1, 14:55), the Dolphins RB was held to just 2 yards on 12 carries the rest of the way.  Ajayi was tackled for loss 5 times on just 13 carries.

The return of the run defense featured performances on all 3 levels. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce were outstanding on the DL. The edge setters did a much better job shedding blocks from eligible receivers to force runs inside after Ajayi’s first run. And finally, the secondary made some nice run tackles, most notably Webb and Jefferson.

The Ravens have never allowed 4 yards per carry in a season and face an uphill battle to extend that record. One way to look at their progress towards that goal is in required yards below 4 to attain their goal.  This is best illustrated by example.

— The Ravens have allowed 1062 yards on 251 carries through 8 weeks.

— For their current number of carries, 1004 yards would be 4 YPC.

— Since they would need to have allowed 1003 to date to avoid the 4.0 mark, they have allowed 59 (1062-1003) too many yards to meet their goal. We’ll refer to this total as “surplus yards”.

— Versus the Dolphins, the Ravens had a dominant defensive game (19 carries, 45 yards), which was 31 yards below the 4.0 standard (dropping their season surplus yards from 90 to 59).

— It should be obvious that if the Ravens are successful stopping the run, other teams will be less likely to run against them, so the Ravens will encounter an additional practical friction in lowering their YPC number.

As well as they played against Miami, the Ravens will need 2 more such games (without further regression) to get below 4.0 YPC.

Defensive Line

The Ravens averaged just 1.8 defensive linemen per play with the continued use of just 1 down lineman on every dime snap.  No defensive lineman was taxed individually (see below) or played more than 58% of snaps.

Snap counts by player:

dl-vs-miamiWillie Henry had another solid game rushing the passer. He was on for 28 pass snaps and delivered 3 pressures and 1 QH as I scored it. If you’re looking for hope, he’s one of the players who could emerge as a star in the 2nd half.  Because he plays many more of the high-leverage downs, his play could have magnified value.

Michael Pierce played less than he has for most of the season. He’s still played 68% of the defensive snaps for the season, but that figure was just 36% versus the Dolphins. Part of that is the return of Brandon Williams, but I believe the solidification of Henry’s role and the additional passing/dime snaps were factors as well. He had just 2 tackles, but when he was in, the Dolphins ran the ball 9 times for 17 yards (1.9 YPC).

Brandon Williams continued to play at a high level with 4 tackles, 3 of which were for losses. Neither fully reflects how he dominated the line of scrimmage.

Linebacker

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Tyus Bowser had another solid game rushing the passer including his 2nd career sack and a PD on just 10 pass snaps.

Za’Darius Smith rushed effectively with 4 pressures and a half sack in 37 pass snaps as I scored it. Those figures would be just OK for an edge rusher, but many of Smith’s pass snaps came from the inside.

CJ Mosley had his best game in some time, despite only 4 tackles. As a pass rusher he had a sack shared with Za’Darius Smith (Q2, 0:26), delivered a QH when he rushed unblocked to flatten Moore (Q2, 1:22), and collected his first career pick-6 on a leaping interception at the LoS (Q4, 14:29).

Secondary

Reviewing first by number of DBs, the simplest way to describe the Ravens results by package is “everything worked”:

dbs-vs-miamiIt’s when you look at the personnel by package that there was some intriguing complexity.

The standard (4 DB package) included Carr, Weddle, Jefferson, and either Smith or Humphrey.

To that standard package, Lardarius Webb was added to form the bulk of nickel (5 DB) alignments. However, the Ravens also used a nickel consisting of Humphrey, Carr, Smith, Jefferson, and Weddle on 4 snaps, with Carr in the SCB role.

For the dime (6 DBs), the Ravens removed Webb and used primarily Carr, Smith, Humphrey, Jefferson, Weddle, and Levine (16 snaps). Webb was on for 5 dime snaps also, but this is the first time I can recall Webb being removed from dime snaps regularly.

In terms of positioning, Webb also played several snaps as a deep safety, which allowed Weddle, Jefferson, or both to move up.

Brandon Carr was targeted frequently. He had a hand in Ajayi’s 21-yard run when he chased from the inside (Q1, 14:55). He was close on receptions of 11, 14, 14, 14, and 28 yards. The last of these was also a declined pass interference penalty (Q2, 5:52) where he never looked for the ball. He led the team in tackles with 7, which is not a good thing for a CB.

After a flashy debut at Minnesota, Jaylen Hill did not enter until the final series at SCB. He played just 7 snaps and did not make my notes.

Marlon Humphrey garnered extensive playing time from the combination of the dime and some relief of Jimmy Smith. He impressively stayed in the hip pocket of intended receivers for most of the night and no catch was easy, including the 20-yard reception by Stills by the right sideline which Marlon tried to strip. He had Landry beaten for an overthrown ball down the left sideline (Q1, 8:19) on which it appeared the Dolphins receiver took him down from behind. I appreciated the physicality he showed to beat the hold of Thomas and drop Landry for a gain of 3 on 3rd and 18 (Q3, 6:35).

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Tony Jefferson stepped up with the sort of effort for which he was signed. He had drive-ending plays on 2 of the first 3 drives, including a takedown of Thomas in the open field for a loss of 1 (Q1, 13:04) and a hard QH when he rushed unblocked to flatten Moore (Q1, 7:36). His diving undercut of Ajayi (Q3, 11:34) also appeared to shut down a big play.

Anthony Levine was on the field for 16 snaps, on which the Dolphins gained 13 yards (0.8 YPPA). He crept up to rush through the left A gap and ran over RB Williams for an 8-yard sack (Q1, 1:54). Anthony was on the field for all 3 sacks and the Dolphins converted just 2 of 11 3rd and 4th-down opportunities with him in the game.

Jimmy Smith delivered 3 PDs in just 7 times targeted, including the 50-yard pick-6. He had a second interception in the end zone knocked away by Weddle (Q2, 5:34). Barring further missed time due to injury, he should be headed to his first Pro Bowl. Per PFF, Jimmy now leads the NFL in QBR against at 24.5 with Davon House (GB), Jalen Ramsey (Jax), and AJ Bouye (Jax) all between 40.2 and 41.4. The best year I can recall for a Ravens CB since 2006 was turned in by Webb in 2011 with a QBR against of approximately 42, which included 0 TDs allowed and 8 INTs (playoffs included) to edge out Revis. Hopefully that adds some historical perspective to Jimmy’s outstanding season.

Lardarius Webb finished with 4 tackles; included in his highlights were:

— (Q1, 14:18): He penetrated unblocked through the left B gap to drop Ajayi for a loss of 2.

— (Q1, 2:36) He tripped up Ajayi just as he was breaking into the open field for a gain of 5 that appeared to prevent a big play.

— (Q3, 1:40): Webb took down Thomas for a gain of 3 (Q3, 1:40) to deny 3rd and 18

Defensive Stars of the Game

  1. Jimmy Smith
  2. Brandon Williams
  3. CJ Mosley

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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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