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It’s OK to Be Excited

Terrell Suggs runs with the ball against Oakland.
Baltimore Ravens/Shawn Hubbard
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Sunday’s win against the Raiders was a return to the suffocating home wins we’ve seen in the past, combining all 3 phases in balanced domination.

Aside from Jackson’s 2 interceptions, it’s difficult to find warts on this one.

When we look at the season to date, we could say:

— The Ravens are at or near the top in most defensive categories other than takeaways.

— They have allowed the fewest points per game.

— They have an outstanding set of corners who have forced the use of a rotation while many other teams are struggling to field 3 guys who can contribute.

— Other than the loss at Carolina, they haven’t been embarrassed in a game

— Excluding blocks, Justin Tucker has now made 100 consecutive FGs from 57 yards or shorter since 12/6/15.

— They have a new offensive identity that is intriguing (at a minimum) and may grow into something sustainable.

— They have an offensive line that is more than the sum of its parts.

— They have well-paired, if not extraordinarily talented skill position players.

— They have outscored their opponents by 73 points, the 6th-best differential n the league.

— They are 6-5 and have a real shot at a Wild Card spot.

— They may have a practical method to utilize both Lamar Jackson and Joe Flacco.

Still haven’t found a way to be happy? Imagine yourself as a Bengals or Raiders fan.

Note: All snap counts provided below exclude penalties and the 2 Oakland kneels.

Defensive Packages

The Ravens had to make changes to work around injuries in the secondary, but flexed their depth with play from Chuck Clark and Anthony Averett. Even Cyrus Jones made a contribution. CB Maurice Canady, activated for the game (and perhaps in reaction to Tavon Young’s injury), did not play a single defensive snap.

Once again, the Ravens kept it simple. The 54 meaningful defensive snaps included:

— Base Nickel (32 snaps): In the absence of Tavon Young, Brandon Carr took over at SCB and played well. Humphrey and Jimmy Smith played on the outside, but also did a little rotation (Carr 47 snaps, Humphrey 51, Smith 47). Anthony Averett (8 snaps) subbed effectively on the outside. The Ravens weren’t as dominant against the run as they were against Cincinnati, but they were effective for a 2nd consecutive week and did so primarily with the nickel forced upon them by Oakland’s 3-WR packages.

— Big Nickel (1 snap): Clark lined up as the SCB on this snap. It’s a formation I would have expected more had the Ravens 1) not maintained control and 2) not needed Clark to replace Jefferson at SS.

— The Ravens did not play any jumbo nickel (5 DBs, 1 ILB, 2 OLBs, 3 DLs).

— Dime (13 snaps): The Ravens never found the right circumstances for the dime on the opening TD drive by the Raiders. They also passed on the dime twice in typical down/distance (3/6, Q2, 5:59 and 3/5, Q4, 10:44). In addition, the Ravens used a 4-CB dime (including Anthony Averett) with Jefferson taking over Levine’s normal slot for 2 snaps. When Clark took over for Jefferson, the Ravens returned to their familiar dime alignment with Levine next to Mosley. In total, the Ravens played 13 snaps of dime, including all 3 of their sacks, their 1 turnover, 2 of 9 conversions on 3rd/4th down, and 2.8 yards per play.

— Standard (7 snaps): The Ravens lined up with 4 DBs and 3 DL primarily on 1st down (5 times), but also once each on 3/1 and 4/1 on the opening drive. Of these, 3 were a response to jumbo (6 OL) personnel.

— Goal Line (1 snap): The Ravens played 4 DL with only 3 DBs on the opening-drive TD (Q1, 8:46).

The Raiders had just 17 offensive snaps after halftime. Once again, the defensive line was not overworked (Urban 34 snaps, Williams 27, Pierce 23, Wormley 17) as the line averaged 1.87 individual snaps per play thanks to Za’Darius Smith’s inside pass rush contributions.

Pass Rush

After a 4-week absence, the pass rush returned for 3 consecutive sacks from Matthew Judon.

Judon became the 8th Raven (18 occurrences) to record 3 sacks in a game and was the first ever to record sacks on 3 straight plays for the Ravens (credit @Yoshi2052 for researching each of the 18 occurrences). The last player to record three consecutive sacks was Brad Scioli in 2002…who did it to Carr’s brother, David.

The Ravens allowed Carr ample time and space (ATS) on 17 of 37 drop backs (46%), which doesn’t seem bad until you see he had the ball out quickly another 7 times and the Ravens generated some form of pressure on just 13 pass plays.

Martindale again dialed back elements of deception against a veteran gunslinger, including just 8 blitzes from off the line of scrimmage and 3 stunts. The Ravens dropped 2 men from the LoS on 7 occasions, primarily including some combination of Mosley, Levine, and an OLB. However, Brent Urban also dropped to cover once on a play Carr converted 3rd and 10 for a gain of 16 to (Q2, 4:27). To clarify, the pass was thrown well out of Urban’s coverage responsibility, but the play underscored the futility of pass rush deception with a QB who gets rid of the ball so quickly.

To continue the less-is-more narrative, let’s look at the pass rush by numbers:

It’s nice to see Judon break out of his funk with a burst, but the Ravens need the additional wild card to be consistently effective with the rush. I see 2 players on the Ravens roster who might enhance team pressure.

The first is Michael Pierce, who is having a big year across the board. Martindale has barely tested him as a pass rusher, but he can either provide an effective bull rush or command a double team inside. If the Ravens scheme to play off these characteristics with stunts, delayed blitzes, or simply by maximizing the other 1-on-1 matchups created, I think they’ll get more pressure. To do so, they may need to define roles for Williams and Pierce as run and pass specialists respectively.

The second is Tim Williams, whose ankle injury has him in a loop of limited participation in practice. When healthy, he provides a rested X factor with an impressive set of pass rush moves and the ability to generate fast pressure. Martindale may also be able to scheme for a way to get an additional pass rusher on the field as he did so effectively with 4 and 5-OLB packages the first 2 weeks.

Judon had 3 sacks and 2 other pressures by my methodology. Wormley was also solid with 2 pressures and a PD in 13 pass snaps. After him, the drop off was significant to Smith (1 pressure plus 1 holding drawn), Suggs (1 pressure plus 1 PD), and 1 event each (pressure or QH) from Bowser, Mosley, Urban, Onwuasor, and Carr.

Glass Half Full, Glass Empty

It was great to see Terrell Suggs scoop and score on the 4th-down sack by Judon to put the game away. It was also nice to see the pass rush create the turnover. That’s the good news.

The Ravens have now played 420 minutes (7 games) of football without an interception. During that time, opponents have intercepted the Ravens 7 times among 35 PDs (that’s too many PDs, but the rate of conversion is approximately the league average). Over the same stretch, the Ravens have gone 0/28 converting PDs, including 21 in the 3-game homestand.

The ordered list of takeaways net of giveaways provides a sobering view of team quality. Generally speaking, good teams do well in the category while the league’s worst teams occupy the bottom of the list. Then there are the Ravens who are out of position no matter how pessimistic your view of this season’s defense.

Individual Notes

Michael Pierce again dominated the line of scrimmage. Nothing jumps off the defensive stat sheet, where he registered just 1 tackle. However, the team has been far more effective with him on the field than without this season:

Marlon Humphrey had another outstanding game. Let’s review in racing form:

— (Q1, 11:52): Carr to Washington PR9 (2 + 7 YAC) [4], Humphrey MT at 4

— (Q1, 4:21): Carr for Ateman, 25 yards [4], overthrown incomplete w/tight underneath coverage Humphrey, denies 3/10

— (Q2, 10:28): Carr for Hatcher, 14 yards [3], deflected by Humphrey, denies 3/11

— (Q2, 4:27): Carr to Cook PR16 TE screen converts 3/10. Humphrey blocked by Nelson.

— (Q2, 2:43): Humphrey undercuts Ateman 5 yards [5] for PD, denies 3/6

— (Q4, 7:02): Humphrey quick tackle of Ateman PR2 (1 + 1) [5] on 2/10

— (Q4, 6:15): Humphrey, Judon well positioned for quick tackle 4 yards [5] on low incomplete to Ateman on 3/8

Anthony Averett contributed a drive-ending PD (Q2, 12:07) that went uncredited in the gamebook when he both dislodged the football and sent Ateman onto the chalk.

Brandon Carr slipped when he surrendered the 44-yard completion to Roberts, but otherwise generated several positive coverage notes and delivered a QH. He was also involved in a late coverage switch (Q2, 6:08) where he followed Ateman on a 35-yard incomplete where he was a step behind. Carr would not have been able to prevent the completion on a well-thrown ball, but he probably would have prevented the TD. Brandon also had initial contact on Richard (Q2, 11:21) when Smith took down the Raiders RB for a loss of 1 on a pass left.

Cyrus Jones (2 snaps) missed an interception opportunity when Cook dropped a pass by the right sideline (Q2, 4:33). The Ravens were forced to call a timeout when he was unable to get off the field in time as the 12th defender (Q2, 4:27) to complete the team hat trick of wasted timeouts in the first half.

Jimmy Smith drew offensive pass interference from Roberts (Q1, 0:18) to negate a 34-yard completion. However, he they gave up an 11-yard conversion on 3/10 to Ateman (7 + 4 YAC) when he slipped and was unable to make the tackle short of the sticks. He was well-positioned for an INT on a 40-yard pass for Holton between the hashes (Q4, 10:51), but the ball was deflected by Holton and Smith could only ensure the ball fell incomplete.

Chuck Clark played well in relief of Jefferson in his longest outing of the season (26 snaps). He surrendered the 16-yard TD to Cook (Q3, 5:15). He also forced Carr to ground a pass for Cook (Q2, 5:59), drew an OPI on Cook (Q2, 3:44), and had a low tackle to undercut RB Richard (Q4, 8:15). If the Ravens are to play without Jefferson for any period, Chuck will have to step up with TE coverage.

Defensive Stars

  1. Matthew Judon
  2. Marlon Humphrey
  3. Michael Pierce
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