With the Ravens leading by 3 (Q4, 5:26), Matthew Judon bore down on Andy Dalton for a fast QH, but not before Dalton delivered a strike to Tyler Boyd for the 3rd-and-12 conversion. As Boyd escaped Brandon Carr for significant YAC, it appeared for a moment as if he might go the distance before Tony Jefferson made the tackle for a gain of 32.
Unlike the 2017 heartbreaker, the Ravens recovered to stop the Bengals on the next 3 plays for 2 yards before Randy Bullock missed a 52-yard FG wide right to preserve the 3-point lead.
This was a game of exorcised demons for the Ravens, including:
— The missed PAT vs New Orleans. Tucker connected 3 times, including a 56-yard FG, while Bullock missed his only attempt. Tucker has now made 20 consecutive FGs between 50 and 57 yards over the last 46 games since missing wide right from 55 yards at Miami on 12/6/15.
— The New Year’s Eve nightmare that ended 2017 (see above).
— The dominance of the Bengals 4-man pass rush and related interceptions. Joe Flacco has 12 TDs and 15 INTs in 10 starts against the Bengals since the Super Bowl win. Jackson threw an interception on Sunday, but he presented the Bengals with an entirely different stylistic challenge.
— The recent mediocrity of the run defense, which had allowed 4.1 YPC over the previous 25 games. The Ravens allowed 3.0 YPC vs the Bengals, but just 1.4 YPC (14 carries for 19 yards) to running backs Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard, who were averaging 4.8 YPC combined entering the game. Andy Dalton had 29 yards on 2 scrambles to lead the Bengals in rushing.
— The snap-count dominance of the Bengals in recent years. The Ravens outsnapped the Bengals 75 to 54 (excluding penalties, including kneels) and amassed 15 first downs by rush alone (they have had only twice had more in franchise history with top of 17 vs Denver 10/10/2010).
— The lack of an impact runner. Gus Edwards channeled Le’Ron McClain (low center of gravity, effective straight-ahead style, yards after contact) to provide the perfect North/South complement to Jackson’s elusiveness.
Note: All snap counts provided below exclude the defensive hold by Jimmy Smith.
To put it simply, the Ravens did nothing fancy. Their 54 defensive snaps included:
— Base Nickel (32 snaps): Part of what made the run defense so impressive was the fact the Bengals forced the nickel with 3-receiver sets for most of the game. That allowed them to run at a formation that included just 2 defensive linemen for 12 of their 14 designed runs.
— Big Nickel (5 snaps): Clark lined up as the SCB on these snaps, which were all passes (5.2 YPP).
— Dime (14 snaps): Surprisingly, the Ravens stayed out of the dime on a handful of typical down-and-distance situations, including 3/6 (Q1, 13:45, no huddle), 3/7 (Q1, 2:15), 3/6 (Q2, 5:18), 3/4 (Q3, 7:57), 3/5 (Q4, 12:41). They went to the dime for the last 3 defensive snaps (beginning 2/3, Q4, 2:00) and recorded a PD on each play to seal the win.
— Standard (2 snaps): The Ravens lined up with 4 DBs and 3 DL twice. The first time came with 1st and goal at the 4 (Q3, 11:50). The second came in response to a jumbo OL package (Q4, 4:50).
— Goal Line (1 snap): The Ravens responded to a Jumbo package on the 1-yard line with 4 DL and 3 DBs.
The Ravens showed no evidence of defensive fatigue, but were fortunate the Bengals did not have a typical dominant snap count or effective running game. They activated just 5 DL, including Patrick Ricard, who did not play a defensive snap. The DL totaled just 93 snaps (1.72 per play) spread well among Pierce (22), Urban (26), Williams (23), and Wormley (22). Those light workloads should help extend the freshness from the bye.
The pass rush remained missing in action for a 4th straight game.
The Ravens allowed the Bengals ample time and space (ATS) on 16 of 38 drop backs (42%), which is good, but the 22 times Dalton/Boyd didn’t have ATS included 8 times where the ball was out quickly and just 14 pressure events including 1 sack and just 3 other QHs.
Martindale employed much less scheme than normal in this game with just 10 individual blitzes from off the line of scrimmage. He called 7 stunts and dropped 2 or more from the LoS on 6 occasions. Only 3 of the pass rushes met my standard of deceptive (included some combination of 2 among blitzers, stunts, and multiple coverage drops on the same play).
The pass rush statistics by number show a similar, conservative story:
I saw a tweet from @NFLMatchup this week which indicated Dalton had one of the best passer ratings with 5+ rushing the passer. Despite the success with the 5-man rush, the Ravens were more effective with reduced numbers.
Perhaps the most perplexing issue for the Ravens pass rush now is their inability to find an inside pairing with Za’Darius Smith. The Ravens had 19 snaps with 3 OLBs on the field, each of which had one lined up as an inside rusher and each time paired with a single defensive lineman.
In seasons past, this would have been the domain of Willie Henry or Tim Jernigan. On Sunday, the Ravens used Pierce (5 snaps), Wormley (7), Urban (6), and Williams (1). Despite the desire to rotate linemen, I can’t come up with a positive spin for this snap distribution. For the entire game, these 4 players contributed to just 5 pressures (Pierce 2, Urban 2, Williams 1).
Tyus Bowser had half a sack and contributions to 2 other pressures as I have it scored in 6 pass snaps to be the most effective individual rusher by a wide margin.
Stopping the Run
Shutting down the Bengals’ top rushers was a team effort. Neither Bernard nor Mixon had a carry over 4 yards. I don’t have a single note indicating the Bengals won an edge, but there are a number of notes for penetration to blow up a run. Let’s review:
— (Q1, 14:22): Suggs backed up LT Cordy Glenn and Williams bulled C Billy Price to blow up Mixon who was taken down by Onwuasor for a loss of 4.
— (Q2, 6:01): Wormley penetrated inside versus LT Glenn to blow up Bernard for a gain of just 2.
— (Q3, 13:08): Williams penetrated past RG Alex Redmond who was much too slow out of his stance. Williams failed to make the tackle, but spun Mixon, allowing Urban to clean up for a gain of 1.
— (Q3, 0:57): Za’Darius Smith held the right edge versus RT Bobby Hart to redirect Mixon left where Suggs cleaned up for a loss of 2.
— (Q4, 7:38): Judon held the left edge vs LT Glenn to bubble Mixon wide where Jefferson got primary tackle credit.
— (Q4, 4:50): Pierce penetrate to the right of C Price to blow up Mixon for a gain of 2. Kenny Young cleaned up.
During the losing streak, the Saints, Panthers, and Steelers have been running the ball effectively to set up manageable 3rd and 4th downs. Demonstrating they can stop the run on terms dictated by the opponent is a big step in the right direction for the Ravens.
Turnover Drought Continues
The last interception for the Ravens occurred (Q1, 9:41) of the Week 5 game at Cleveland. Since then, the Ravens have 1 opponent fumble recovered in more than 360 minutes of football (6 games including OT time).
— Chris Board played his first defensive snap since Week 1 when he entered to play in the goal line package (Q2, 13:00).
— C.J. Mosley had a pass defensed when he undercut Boyd (Q1, 5:40). He also failed to find the football despite over-the-top help from Jimmy Smith when covering Uzomah by the left sideline (Q3, 12:26). He looked quicker than he has in some time, particularly when closing on passes in front of him.
— It’s not entirely clear Onwuasor was responsible for TE Lengle on the wide-open TD pass (Q3, 11:50). Prior to the snap, Onwuasor was late to line up, then pointed at Lengle. Mosley crossed behind him to cover Uzomah, so it appears Peanut should have covered him for at least some distance. Weddle also did not appear to have an assignment as the play finished, but he was focused on the offensive right side.
— Terrell Suggs played 48 of 54 snaps just 2 weeks after Harbaugh made a comment which indicated there might have been a dispute over playing time. He played the run effectively, but he registered just 1 QH and 2 other pressures in 34 pass snaps.
— Za’Darius Smith took a much bigger role as the starting OLB opposite Suggs. That’s a significant change, since both players are rush linebackers. Smith finished with 43 snaps (80%) as compared to just 28 (52%) for Judon. I maintain that 80% is too high a snap count for a player to remain fresh with both inside and outside roles. Smith dropped to cover (Q1, 5:43) and delivered a PD/near INT. He had just 1 pressure as I have it scored.
— Brandon Carr (Q2, 0:39) and Jimmy Smith (Q4, 2:00) each showed excellent skills to cut off a receiver on the boundary. In each case Dalton had ideal touch, but the funneling held up the receiver by a couple of steps.
None of the Ravens corners played a game without warts, but they were effective as a unit. The TD pass surrendered by Humphrey was tight coverage on which Ross was able to get down in bounds and withstand a club from Marlon. Smith had the defensive holding flag, but he also denied a 3rd and 6 conversion to Tate with a stop for no YAC (Q1, 13:45). Carr was trailing on the 32-yard completion to Boyd (Q4, 5:26), but he also had the drive-ending coverage of Boyd 3 plays later (Q4, 4:08).
- Michael Pierce
- Brandon Carr
- Brent Urban