The Ravens lost a key divisional game and their most important defensive leader against the Bengals.
The limited time without Mosley in past seasons has never gone well. He was injured against the Redskins in 2016 and the Ravens went on to lose that game. He missed the next 2 atrocious losses at the Meadowlands versus the Giants and Jets respectively and the Ravens were not able to recover from that 3-4 start.
We’ll come back to the most important question a little later.
Snaps by Scheme
I need to address a definitional issue first. I normally exclude plays negated by accepted penalties from snap counts as I record them. In the case of these defensive alignments, however, I’ve included the number of times aligned along with the number of snaps (excludes accepted penalties, kneels, spikes). For the game, the Ravens lined up 76 times on defense and had 70 snaps as I define them.
The Ravens lined up in 6 basic packages against the Bengals. Since we’re still getting to know Don Martindale as a coordinator, let’s summarize by situation and result.
— They played their base 3-4-4 package on the game’s first play and on 1st and 2nd downs versus 2-WR looks for the Bengals. They also played it on a single 3rd and 2 snap (Q4, 15:00) and for most of the long Bengals 4th-quarter drive. In total, they lined up in this base package 16 times (15 snaps).
Results: 16 snaps, 104 yards, 6.5 yards per play. The plays included the 29-yard pass to Uzomah (Q1, 8:10) and Mixon’s 21-yard run (Q4, 5:59).
— The standard nickel (3 corners/2 safeties with 2 ILBs, 2 OLBs, and 2 DL) was used in the bulk of 3-WR situations on either 1st or 2nd down (28 alignments, 27 snaps). They also used it on a single 3rd and 2 situation (Q1, 6:33) which Dalton beat for a 32-yard TD to Green.
Results: 28 snaps, 140 yards, 5.0 yards per play.
— The Ravens again lined up in big nickel (3 safeties/2 corners) frequently (12 alignments, 11 snaps). The alignment featured Clark as the slot corner and was employed on 1st or 2nd down with the exception of a single 3rd and 1. When Clark was injured (Q3, 14:24), the Ravens abandoned it.
Results: 11 snaps, 59 yards, 5.4 yards per play. Big nickel is commonly used to provide better run support versus teams that like to force the nickel with 3 WRs. The Bengals 3 runs against this alignment went for 23 yards.
— The jumbo nickel (“Buffalo nickel” has also been suggested) consists of 3 down linemen, 2 OLBs, 1 ILB, and a standard set of nickel DBs. It was used less frequently (3 alignments, 2 snaps) than against the Bills. Madden players know this as “3-3-5 nickel.” I’ve been told the Bears use the term “penny” for this package, but I think that’s misleading, given it’s a package with 5 DBs and other packages all have coinage increases with the number of DBs (nickel=5, dime=6, quarter=7, half-dollar=8). I asked some sources I trust online, including the folks at NFL Matchup and they say there is not a common name for the 3-3-5. Until common usage emerges, I’m going to refer to this as “jumbo nickel”.
Results: 2 snaps, 12 yards, 6.0 yards per play. Of the 3 alignments, they gave up a first down on Young’s ticky-tack defensive hold and another on an 11-yard run.
— The Ravens still use the dime as their most common defense for passing situations. In this game, they lined up in the package 13 times (11 snaps). The Ravens used an extreme variation for 3 plays against Buffalo that included all 5 OLBs and no defensive linemen, but that did not make an appearance versus the Bengals. Instead, Martindale employed the more-traditional “light dime” with 1 defensive lineman and Za’Darius Smith lined up on the inside. In this game, Brent Urban was used as the lone defensive lineman on all but 1 snap (Brandon Williams played the last).
Results: 11 snaps, 54 yards, 4.9 yards per play. The Ravens had 2 costly penalties while in the dime, including a pass interference call on Jefferson and an illegal hands to the face on Suggs.
— They played a heavy package (4-4-3) for 4 plays, including one at the goal line and 3 others on the Bengals’ final offensive drive.
Results: 4 snaps, 4 yards, 1.0 yards per play. These included Humphrey’s 3-yard TFL on Mixon on 1st and goal from the 1.
Pass Rush Fizzles
Andy Dalton is effective unloading the ball quickly. The Ravens actually denied Dalton ATS on 23 of 42 dropbacks. That’s solid, but they didn’t convert any of their pressure into sacks and knocked down Dalton just 4 times. Martindale reacted to early failures getting home by slowing down the blitz (16 individual blitzes on 42 pass plays, 8 of which came in quarter 1). Also in deference to Dalton’s quick release, the Ravens rushed 4 on 32 of 42 drop backs (8 times they rushed 5 and once 6).
I’m going to forgo individual player analysis for this game (we’ll have some on the podcast) to focus on the biggest issue the Ravens now face…
How Can the Ravens Survive without Mosley?
The Ravens have 10 days to figure out what to do without C.J. Mosley at ILB.
Based on the play of Patrick Onwuasor as Mike linebacker and signal caller, all options need to be on the table.
Option 1: Call Albert McClellan. He knows the system and is probably the best option in terms of lining up defenders around him. However, when used as an ILB in recent years, he’s looked slow in gap recognition and ponderous in coverage.
Option 2: Ride it out with Onwuasor. Perhaps he can become more comfortable as a signal caller/field general, but his lack of size will likely become even more of an issue as the Mike linebacker. Beyond that, he’s simply not a 3-down linebacker due to poor coverage skills.
Option 3: Scour other rosters for a viable 3-down player. The Ravens need to consider if this is a time to trade either a draft pick or a player to fill the hole.
Option 4: Roll the dice with Kenny Young. He’s a rookie, but he’s playing fast, instinctive football and is the only 3-down option that makes sense. This becomes more viable with a small adjustment…
Sub-option A with any of these: Make either Eric Weddle or Tony Jefferson the signal caller. That will remove a large responsibility from the Mike backer position and allow flexibility of personnel changes inside (the defensive signal caller must typically play every snap, since he has the helmet headset or “green-dot” helmet).
Since the first game of 1997, every Ravens defensive play had been called on field by the Mike linebacker (safety Eric Turner was the defensive signal caller in 1996) until Weddle took over in the 2nd half last night. There are good reasons why it’s not ideal to have a back-end safety call the plays, which begin with relative position on the field after a long pass play. However, when no experienced 3-down ILB is present, extreme measures must be considered.
Weddle has previously called the signals in San Diego, so he probably makes the most sense. Jefferson would make more sense based on typical positioning on the field and that would allow Weddle to continue to align the secondary each play.
Put me down for option 4A.