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What’s that Defense?

by Ken McKusick

Notes:

The offense drives which of 2 base defenses is more likely to be used

    • An offense with 3 WRs “forces” the nickel
    • In these terms, some TEs who regularly flex wide (and are not particularly great blockers) also force the defense to put a SCB on the field
    • When the offense puts 2 WRs on the field, particularly with 2 RBs, the defense is incented to play the base 3-4-4
    • Down/distance/game situation are the other significant components of the choice of defensive package

Base 3-4-4

    • The Ravens played this on just 15.8% of snaps in 2018, so it’s not the most common
    • More opportunity to play it when opponent wants to drain clock
    • Very difficult to run on the Ravens 3-4-4 set due to penetrating DT/NT and good edge setting

Standard Nickel

    • Only 1 substitution is often made to go from base to nickel—SCB in, DT or NT is out
    • 5 DB umbrella visible on the top view
    • You can also identify this package by the 6 heavies in the box—2 DL, 2 OLB, 2 ILB
    • Many NFL OCs like to run against the nickel, even if they have to sacrifice a good blocking eligible receiver such as a FB or in-line TE—having a TE who can flex into the backfield also incents the offense to force the nickel with 3 WRs
    • Total of all nickel snaps 53.7%, 85-90% of which are standard nickel

Big Nickel

    • Slight variation on the standard nickel where a safety is lined up opposite the slot receiver instead of a CB
    • Chuck Clark was the primary player used in this role in 2018

Jumbo Nickel or 335 Nickel (Madden)

    • 5 DBs, but also 3 DL
    • Only 1 ILB
    • No common terminology
    • Requires a good key reading ILB and ideally a SS with good ability to fill

Dime

    • Along the line, pass rush specialists come in, including a joker (OLB lining up in a 3-point stance inside)—ZSmith in 2018
    • Nickel + a safety replaces WLB—Anthony Levine in 2018
    • Flexibility of that spot increases pass rush and coverage options and drives the defense
    • Dime back can be used as a pass rusher, cover a TE or RB MTM, or simply drop to a short middle zone and read the QB
    • Fits well with the need to manufacture fast pressure on 3rd and medium via twist, or blitz from SCB, dime, or ILB
    • 28.5% of snaps in 2018

Quarter

    • We’re getting into some of the more esoteric packages now
    • The Ravens played with 7 DBs on just 8 snaps all season (0.8%), but allowed 0 net yards, including 2 sacks
    • Largely precluded by having Mosley either as the signal caller or on the field for every play
    • Clark and Levine take over the ILB spots, but Mosley moves up to be a pass rusher
    • You can be sure at least 1 of those 3 will rush the QB, but who?
    • Could be used more frequently if a safety calls defensive signals and Mike backer can be replaced by 7th DB

443 Heavy

    • 2 forms…This first one is on a 2nd-down play with an extra offensive lineman inserted and 2 RB
    • Good reaction to a heavy set—defense changes last, adds a lineman, removes a CB vs 0 WRs
    • They ran this 3 times vs Cle, including R10, R-1, R-4
    • 2nd form is on goal line, usually against a 3 TE, 2 RB set
    • Board was a specialist (2 plays), replacing the other WLB
    • In the past the Ravens have used 3 safeties in goal line defense
    • Hard to make changes by goal line, particularly to remove/insert heavies

Racecar Nickel/Dime

    • Uses no true DL
    • Entire set of pass rushers are LBs (5 or 4 OLBS in 2018)
    • Results were phenomenal in limited use 6 snaps/-7 yards, 1 INT, 2 sacks, no positive plays.

10 men on the field

    • This last one you can see the Ravens defense doesn’t seem to be well aligned…10 men on the field
    • A common problem in 2018 (4 times they played short)
    • PFF had an article saying it occurred 32 times league wide in 1 recent season, with the Arizona Cardinals short approximately half of those times
    • Ravens had a disproportionate share and need to clean that up

Thanks to Maureen

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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time. If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas. He can be reached by email at filmstudy21@verizon.net or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick

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