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Ja’Marr Leaves Ravens Chase-ing Their Tails

Ja'Marr Chase and DeShon Elliott
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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This is Tale of the Tape: Defense. For Tale of the Tape: Offense, click here. 

“Ugly” doesn’t even begin to describe the Ravens’ defensive performance on Sunday against the Bengals. Cincy’s offensive stats speak for themselves: 520 total yards (409 passing, 111 rushing), 8.3 yards per play and 11 plays over 20 yards. Oof.

Tackling is certainly part of the issue, but since that’s so obvious, I’m not going to focus on it here. Instead I want to dive into what the Bengals did to beat the Ravens, both what worked and what didn’t. One quick intro clip to show how well-prepared the Bengals were:

Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow knew that the Ravens would be watching tape to pick up on Burrow’s audibles, so what do they do? They change it up! Marlon Humphrey thought he knew the play call, and the Bengals took advantage for a TD.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into some Ravens defensive tape from the Bengals game on Sunday! This will be fun, right? No? Alas, we must press (or not press, if you’re a Ravens cornerback guarding Ja’Marr Chase) on, and figure out what to do with this Baltimore defense.

Two in a Row for Bynes-Queen at ILB

After a rough start to the season at inside linebacker, the Ravens appear to have found their duo in Josh Bynes and Patrick Queen. I don’t want to get into any Mike/Will debates here, so I’ll just say this: Bynes’ veteran savvy allows the Ravens to trust him with more responsibilities, especially pre-snap, freeing Queen to focus on executing his assignments, making plays and continuing to learn the game.

Just look at how smart Bynes is. He knows the short-yardage situation could mean a QB sneak, so he’s listening for the right signals and alerts the rest of his defense when he hears the call. That kind of football I.Q. not only helps Queen make plays, but it teaches him what to listen and look for on the field.

I’ve talked about confidence as a key element of Queen’s game, and he shows it here. He and Bynes both creep up to the line, and Queen uses his speed to shoot the gap, beat the right guard and blow the play up in the backfield. It’s all there with Queen, as Rob Ryan noted, he just needs more time at a pretty tough position.

Bynes sees this one all the way. Watch him take one step at the beginning of the clip, then another right before the snap to propel him right at the run, which he seems to know is coming. He keeps the blocker away and finishes with a strong physical tackle. Let’s hope Queen (and the secondary) was taking notes on the sideline. ILB play has been a huge issue for the Ravens all year, but they may have found their answer with this veteran-and-youngster, smarts-and-speed tandem.

Averett: Weak Link No More!

The Bengals clearly watched a lot of tape from the Indianapolis Colts game, as they targeted Anthony Averett 16 times on Sunday, including four times on the opening drive. Averett mostly held up, specifically when targeted outside where he struggled against the Colts. Sure, he couldn’t cover Ja’Marr Chase, but who can?

Watch how Averett maintains contact through Higgins’ break on both this clip and the next one. That slows down the WR while allowing Averett to stick with his man to force the incompletion.

Averett was destroyed on out routes and comebacks against the Colts, and this technique is clearly a response to that. This is the form that helped him cover Tyreek Hill to a lot of success in Week 2, and kudos to him for rediscovering it. That’s promising, despite the tough game for the defense overall.

The Bengals’ Unsung Hero

The Ravens blitzed Burrow to a lot of success last season, racking up seven sacks, including five from the secondary. That was not the case on Sunday, as a combination of quick throws and solid pass protection prevented the Ravens from consistently getting to Burrow.

Ravens fans probably know the name Samaje Perine after his 46-yard touchdown run, but his pass protection and blitz pickup in this game was the stuff of legends. Wink Martindale dialed up a lot of blitzes on third down, and Perine seemed to be ready for all of them.

Watching some of these blitzes over again, they look simpler than the ones that have worked this season. Most of them send six or seven rushers at the quarterback, leaving one-on-one matchups all over the field. More five-man blitzes, with the rest in coverage with misdirection and deception provides a bigger margin of error for a defense that needs all the help it can get right now.

But it even seems like regardless of the play call, Perine was just all over it. He studied hard and came in prepared; hats off to him. As the kids are saying these days, he understood the assignment.

A Wild Goose Chase

That’s what it seems to be like trying to cover Ja’Marr Chase. No matter what you try, or how hard, you still end up absolutely nowhere. Tackling after the catch is obviously key, especially against Chase, but him not being so wide open would help with that, too. I don’t think there’s any one or even a few specific things that you can do against him. Just watch this supercut of his routes on Sunday.

Yes, he’s open on almost every play, but where is he open and how did he get there? Pretty much every time, he’s open underneath and inside his coverage. That, if I’m not mistaken, was the Ravens’ plan on Sunday.

Obviously, Humphrey didn’t intend to let him get so much separation, but the Ravens refused to let Chase beat them deep. They succeeded in that, but opened themselves up to his speed and elusiveness after the catch. Better tackling helps clean that up, but even so, an opposing receiver can’t be this wide open for the entire game.

He torched Humphrey all afternoon, of course, but showed an ability to adapt to his matchup that’s so impressive for a rookie wide receiver. He beats Averett by feinting an outside release (a weakness of Averett’s) before cutting inside. Then he beats Jimmy Smith by forcing the veteran to respect his speed before turning out towards the sideline. His cuts are fluid and scary-quick, and he knows how to use his hands to get going off the line of scrimmage.

So what can the Ravens do against Chase? Honestly, I think they just have to double cover him. I’m sure Humphrey will want another shot at winning the matchup, but will the Ravens be willing to risk a repeat performance with either the division or a playoff spot on the line later in the season? I doubt it.

Instead, they should have Averett focus on taking away Chase’s inside leverage with safety help over the top. Rather than stick our best corner in a double-team, Wink should take a page from Bill Belichick’s book and have Humphrey focus on shutting down Burrow’s other targets and trust that Chase isn’t such a transcendent talent that he can dominate a double team. Maybe he can, but it doesn’t seem like anyone has tried it yet. And what defenses have tried thus far, well, that dog don’t hunt!

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