Titans fans will probably remember this as a classic win coming off a bye versus a key AFC Wild Card competitor.
Tennessee impressively avoided errors for most of the afternoon, had a well-scripted, 20-yard run from their starting cornerback (yes, cornerback) Adoree’ Jackson on the game’s 3rd play (Q1, 13:56), and completely shut off pressure up the middle to generate a high percentage of ample time and space (ATS) opportunities for Marcus Mariota. Most importantly, when many teams would have played conservatively with a 3-point lead, the Titans turned to the pass on 6 of 9 plays to drive for the game-sealing score.
Ravens fans will remember this game as one with some costly officiating decisions that went against them.
That happens a lot in close games, but Sunday was a game where the zebras changed possession 3 times and cost the Ravens a timeout. Let’s review:
— (Q2, 6:25): Casey appeared offsides on what would be a failed 3rd-and-2 attempt. It wasn’t egregious, but he knew he was offsides and started to step backwards as Jensen snapped the ball. The significance of this call was magnified when Koch’s 17-yard shanked punt set the Titans up for a 26-yard TD drive.
— (Q2, 4:03): Za’Darius Smith was flagged for an absurd roughing the passer penalty to overturn a failed 3rd-and-5 stop. Smith has a track record of stupid personal fouls (this was his 4th roughing the passer flag in his last 15 games), which may have played a part, but announcers Kevin Harlan & Rich Gannon properly challenged the call and Mariota’s flop.
— (Q4, 15:00): Allen crawled over defenders in a manner scarily similar to the first overturned spot. What made this one so painful was the fact both linesmen ran in along lines which would have resulted in a first down, but the ball was spotted back perhaps 15-18 inches. The end zone view clearly showed that neither Allen’s knees or elbows ever touched the ground and the sideline view provided the linesmen with their initial spot.
DL Thin without Pierce
Michael Pierce did not practice early in the week due to illness. He started, played 7 snaps on the first 2 drives, then sat for the rest of the game. I have not heard any alternate injury news, so I assume he was not well enough to play. The Ravens left Bronson Kaufusi inactive and did not use Patrick Ricard defensively, so that left them with just 4 defensive linemen to share the snap load.
The Titans managed only 50 competitive offensive snaps, but the Ravens averaged 2.64 defensive linemen per play. That per-play average resulted in approximately 25 more individual snaps by defensive linemen than would normally be expected for this many total snaps. While the individual snap totals are not unreasonable for rotational defensive linemen, fatigue from consecutive snaps, particularly on the game-sealing drive in the 4th quarter, contributed to the lack of pressure. On 31 pass plays, the half cleanup sack by Davis was the only pressure event I scored for the defensive line.
Lack of Pressure
The Ravens allowed ATS on 21 of 31 drop backs (68%). Beyond that, there were 4 plays where Mariota delivered the ball quickly before pressure could develop, leaving just 6 plays where the Ravens actually generated a timely pressure event.
Said otherwise, the 3 sacks masked a significant problem.
— Pees sent just 2 individual blitzers (Canady and Mosley) the entire game.
— Of the 3 sacks, 1 resulted from Mariota being tripped by his RG Kline.
Canady Impresses in Debut
After injuries cost him his entire rookie season and half his second, Marcus Canady played his first 9 NFL snaps on defense versus the Titans. Let’s review by play:
— (Q2, 8:02): Maurice covered Decker slot right. Mariota threw incomplete deep left for Davis.
— (Q2, 4:03): He again had coverage of Decker slot right and covered him well on a short out to the right sideline. Mariota was pressured left by Suggs and threw the ball away.
— (Q2, 0:47): He had coverage of Decker slot left, then switched outside to press Davis and guard the sideline. The pass went right for 10 yards.
— (Q2, 0:27): Canady again lined up opposite Decker slot left and maintained underneath zone coverage on the left side as Mariota was sacked by Suggs.
— (Q3, 13:24): He had press coverage on Decker slot right, handed him off in zone, then moved quickly to cover Matthews by the right sideline. Maurice got his hand up and may have either tipped the ball or distracted Matthews, who dropped the pass a yard or 2 past the marker to deny 3rd and 9.
— (Q3, 10:13): He threatened to blitz of the slot right opposite Decker, then dropped to cover him down the right sideline. Mariota overthrew Decker OOB as Weddle had bracket coverage over the top.
— (Q3, 6:20): Canady blitzed from opposite slot right, but was too late to apply meaningful pressure. Mariota unloaded quickly over the middle for a gain of 10 to Walker (3 + 7 YAC).
— (Q4, 12:03): On 3rd and 4, Canady was shallow on a bunch right formation. Despite his initial position, he covered Matthews 25 yards down the right sideline. Weddle again had a good bracket and intercepted the overthrow to end yet another drive.
— (Q4, 4:04): On 3rd and 3 from the 11, Maurice covered Decker as one of twins right. He put a hard press on Decker which initially hindered him greatly. Mariota rolled right with ample time and space, then took 2 steps back to the left for an easy pitch to the empty left side of the field. Decker had broken free of the coverage and hauled in the game-sealing touchdown. Patrick Onwuasor was deep in the middle of the field, but was also unable to stay with Decker. Every other Raven was either on the right side following the rollout or rushing the passer. With that sort of press coverage, it was reasonable to assume Decker’s route would be disrupted (it was), but not reasonable to expect Canady would be able to maintain tight coverage for the 6+ seconds the play took to develop.
— Pees employed Canady exclusively as a SCB in nickel (2) and dime (7) packages.
— Canady registered 3 interceptions in his first practice at SCB during OTAs when Tavon Young’s injury forced him into emergency duty. Despite unusual size for a SCB and experience at safety in the 2016 preseason, the Ravens did not move Canady to the outside or the back end.
— Jaylen Hill, who also had an impressive debut versus Minnesota, did not play any defensive snaps versus the Titans. Lardarius Webb played 3 snaps on the first 2 Titans drives, but returned for just 1 more snap early in the 2nd half (4 total).
— SCB snaps were at a premium in general, because the Ravens played 36 of 50 competitive snaps with 3 or 4 DBs.
— In total, the Ravens allowed just 23 yards on Canady’s 9 snaps, 2.6 YPP. Those plays included 1 turnover and 1 sack. Despite an unfortunate ending, he played well.
Willie Henry had parts of 4 tackles, but did not have a pressure event. After Pierce left, he played all but 1 defensive snap. That’s not a good method to keep your best pass-rushing lineman fresh.
Brandon Williams had an off game. Only 1 of his 3 run tackles was a win by the PFF or Football Outsiders definition. He also did not generate any pressure on 21 snaps as a pass rusher.
Tyus Bowser played just 3 snaps on defense. He probably did not help his case for more snaps when his illegal formation penalty negated Koch’s 56-yard punt and Moore’s tackle.
Za’Darius Smith had just the one QH on 17 pass snaps. That would not have been enough even if he had not been flagged on the play. However, he bulled TE Smith to win the edge and took down Murray for a loss of 3 (Q4, 14:55).
Marlon Humphrey is ready for a starting role, but was again held to just 18 snaps at Tennessee. He stayed tight and impressively broke up a slant intended for Davis (Q2, 7:57) to deny 3rd and 5. The ball was popped in the air and nearly intercepted by Carr. On the next drive, he had tight coverage of TE Smith in the left side of the end zone (Q2, 4:08). The ball fell incomplete through a combination of distraction and contact, but no PD was awarded. Carr has played well, but the Ravens are fortunate to have 3 other long corners to go with Hill and Tavon Young who are an outstanding base for the secondary.
Jimmy Smith had another solid game. He had shallow zone coverage on the 29-yard pass on the first Titans play (Q1, 15:00). Matthews found a spot between him and Weddle, who I thought should have been responsible. Otherwise, Smith continued his outstanding season with tight coverage of Davis down the left sideline (Q2, 8:02) and a slant breakup versus Matthews (Q4, 8:56) which had the interception potential to end the game-sealing Titans TD drive.
It would be much easier to find players who managed to stay invisible defensively in this game than find 3 stars, so I won’t try.