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Promising Signs from Pass Rush in Loss

Eric Weddle sacks Baker Mayfield.
Baltimore Ravens/Phil Hoffmann
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Game Changers Week 5

There are plays in every football game that impacts who wins and who loses. They can occur on offense, defense or special teams. Sometimes it’s a play everyone sees, like a long touchdown run or pass, a sack, or turnover. Other times it’s a play that goes unnoticed. It could be a key block on offense or a defender who doesn’t make the tackle himself but executes his assignment, allowing a teammate to make the play.

Close losses usually come down to a handful of plays. The “what-if” plays that had they gone the other way, could turn defeat into victory. Yesterday’s 12-9 loss to the Browns in overtime was one of those games. I played the “what-if” game yesterday during and after the game, but I’m not going to do that here. I’m also not going to try and analyze some of the big plays the defense allowed or how the offense struggled because I’d prefer to have the coaches film (not available on NFL Game Pass until Tuesdays) to do that.

Instead, I want to share what helps me cope after a tough Ravens loss: watching the defense get after the QB.

Weddle sacks Mayfield for 9-yard loss

Q1, 3:55, 3rd & 8 at BLT 35

This is a disguised zone pressure. Pre-snap, there are seven potential rushers at the line of scrimmage (LoS). Willie Henry, Za’Darius Smith, C.J. Mosley and Tyus Bowser are aligned on the right side of the line. Terrell Suggs, Anthony Levine Sr. and Eric Weddle are aligned on the left side. The clip doesn’t show it, but Weddle was originally 11 yards off the ball before walking up to the LoS.

The Browns have five offensive linemen, a tight end and a running back (RB) in their protection scheme. That’s seven blockers for seven potential rushers, but the Ravens only rush four.

At the snap, Mosely, Bowser and Henry drop into coverage, leaving only four rushers. Suggs shoots the A gap between the C and LG. That leaves the LT and RB to handle Levine and Weddle; two blockers for two rushers. But for some reason both the LT and RB look to block Levine. This leaves Weddle unblocked as he rushes the B gap to sack Mayfield.

Notice how after the snap Mayfield doesn’t look to his left until it’s too late? He’s expecting his three blockers on that side (LG, LT & RB) to account for the three potential rushers if they come (which they did). Mayfield is looking to the right side the entire time. We can’t see the downfield coverage from this camera angle, but I think Bowser drops underneath Mayfield’s front-side (right) read, a slant to the #1 receiver.

The LG, C and RG release late so I think the Browns’ were setting up a screen on the back-side (left). But Levine hugs the RB and Weddle gets to Mayfield before it can materialize.

Williams sacks Mayfield for 8-yard loss

Q3, 15:00, 1st & 10 at CLV 25

This is a quick, explosive move by a big, powerful man. At the snap, the Browns C sets to his right but Brandon Williams crosses his face, attacks his inside shoulder and rips up and through. Once Tretter opens his hips to recover, it’s over.

This is another disguised pressure but with a five-man rush. Brent Urban, Williams & Smith rush from a down alignment. Chuck Clark rushes over the RT and Mosley rushes from off the ball. Suggs peels off to cover the RB flaring out to the left flat. Again, we can’t see the downfield coverage but we can see Mayfield holds the ball so I assume the coverage was good.

Just like the first sack, coverage and pass rush worked together.

Henry sacks Mayfield for 11-yard loss

Q3, 8:16, 3rd & 6 at BLT 6

The Ravens rush four and drop seven into coverage on this play in the tight red zone. Matthew Judon attacks the outside shoulder of RT Hubbard. Judon rips under Hubbard and reaches Mayfield, but isn’t able to bring him down. Mayfield reduces his shoulder and keeps both hands on the ball as he steps up in the pocket. He’s able to avoid Judon but is forced to spin away from the pressure. As he leaves the pocket he trips over his LT who Henry had bulled backwards. Henry got credit for the sack, but it was caused by Judon’s pressure.

Suggs sacks Mayfield for 11-yard loss

Q3, 0:53, 1st & 10 at CLV 25

Again, the Ravens rush four and drop seven. This looks like a classic “coverage sack.” I can’t say definitively because of the broadcast camera angle but you can see Mayfield hitch up in the pocket three times, pump fake, then look to scramble.

The Ravens do a good job maintaining their rush lane integrity on this play. Suggs is able to control LT Harrison with a long-arm move and drive him back towards Mayfield. Urban helps to collapse the pocket from the right-side and Suggs is there for the sack as Mayfield tries to escape.

Young & Smith sack Mayfield for 5-yard loss

OT, 9:17, 2nd & 8 at CLV 27

On this play we get a replay angle that does show the downfield coverage. It’s a typical 3-deep, 3-under coverage you see on the back end of a fire zone five-man pressure. That gives the Ravens six defenders to cover the four receivers the Browns release into pass routes.

Up front, Suggs and Urban run a twist game on the left-side. Urban picks the LT & LG as Suggs loops around to attack the A gap between the C and LG. The Browns pass the twist game off well but it leaves Kenny Young and Smith in 1-on-1 pass rush situations. Young blows up RB Hyde and Smith then rushes upfield under the RT Hubbard. They meet at the QB and split the sack.

 

These five sacks were not the only times the Ravens got pressure on Mayfield. I have five other clips of pressures that didn’t result in a sack. While the Ravens were able to pressure Mayfield at times, he did a very good job of avoiding pressure and extending plays. Mayfield is a special player and you can see it already.

The Ravens’ defense held the Browns to 12 points over four quarters and an overtime period. The defense played well overall, the offense struggled with consistency and even the special teams allowed a blocked kick.

As I mentioned in the Week 1 edition of Game Changers, finishing will be a consistent theme for the 2018 Ravens. All three phases will need to finish better in order to win tough games like this one.

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