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Depleted Defense Gets Creative to Keep Things Close

Patrick Queen and Geno Stone sack Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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It was really a perfect storm for the Ravens defense in Week 15, with the season-long injuries finally adding all the way up with some help from COVID, just in time for a matchup with *checks notes* Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. So I honestly think it’s a small miracle that Rodgers finished with just 268 passing yards, only 44 of which were to Adams! Of course, the Ravens offense played a major role in that, as Ronald Toothe broke down excellently, but the defense didn’t roll over and play dead either. The practice squad elevations looked like, well, practice squad players, but Wink Martindale did his best to slow down the potent Packers offense.

Let’s go to the tape!

An Almost-There Pass Rush

The Ravens knew they didn’t have the secondary talent to send aggressive blitzes, so they tried to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers with just four pass rushers, to mixed success.

Part of the problem is that Rodgers is so good at getting the ball out quickly, with the Ravens defensive backs just outmatched, even by Green Bay’s lesser receivers. Watch Robert Jackson at the bottom of the screen to see how slowly he reacts to Marques Valdes-Scantling’s in-breaking route.

Justin Houston and Tyus Bowser beating their blockers off the line of scrimmage was a frequent sighting all game, but there’s another wrinkle in this play designed specifically for Rodgers’ ability to extend plays outside the pocket and throw on the run.

Chris Board and Odafe Oweh frequently hovered around the line of scrimmage, with Board responsible for preventing leak-outs from the Packers RBs and Oweh acting as a quarterback spy on Rodgers, similar to how he was used against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 2.

Here’s another example of that:

It worked, in a way, but plays like the clip above show Board and Oweh occupying the same space on the field while Rodgers stood in a clean pocket and picked the Ravens apart down the field. Yes, you want to prevent Rodgers from extending plays, but he was never going to need to against this iteration of the Ravens secondary, so having Oweh spy was solving a problem that rarely arose during the game.

Justin Madubuike, who continues to tease his game-wrecking potential, came up huge on a third down late in the fourth quarter.

With Calais Campbell out, Madubuike did his best impression of his veteran teammate to get the Ravens the ball back for their final drive of the game.

The few times the Ravens did blitz, their downfield coverage just wasn’t there:

As a result, Wink had to drop everyone back in coverage and force Packers receivers not named Davante Adams to beat the Ravens.

Lapses in Coverage

We knew this was going to be a tough one for the Ravens secondary, so I’ll try to avoid being too hard on them.

Their extreme coverage of Adams limited him to just 44 yards, though he did score this touchdown:

This is just an example of forgetting your assignment. Jackson had help on the inside, but Adams’ cuts are so quick and deceiving that Jackson still gives up the outside to Adams, leading to an easy touchdown.

Adams would’ve had more if not for a rare Rodgers miss on this sluggo route, with the Packers wideout just torturing Tavon Young in one-on-one coverage. Rodgers had another huge miss that would’ve put the Packers up by 18 points in the fourth quarter, with Green Bay instead settling for a field goal that kept the Ravens in the game.

Of course, Rodgers also made his usual ridiculous throws into tiny windows, rendering some of the Ravens’ best coverage futile.

And it doesn’t help when this is considered pass interference, either:

Holding The Line

I realized that I haven’t written as much about the Ravens’ run defense lately, and that’s partially because they’ve been so effective. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for only 80 yards on 20 carries, with no run going for more than 11 yards.

There’s not a whole lot to break down when every player in this front seven a) knows their assignments and b) executes them well.

They’re swarming to the ball and finishing plays, especially Patrick Queen. Here’s one of his 13 tackles against the Packers, 11 of which were credited as solo tackles.

In fact, the most notable aspect of the Packers rushing offense was Rodgers’ beautiful play action execution.

This is pretty impossible to defend against, but credit Anthony Levine making the stop short of the end zone in his first major defensive snaps all season.

Rodgers was excellent with fakes all game, as he’s been all season in a variety of ways.

Of course, the Ravens couldn’t get out of the game without one moment that deserves the Ted Lasso Benny Hill treatment.

It’s a comedy of errors here, with a nice fake from Rodgers, Queen getting taken out by Kevon Seymour, and Chris Board slip slidin’ away. But check out Broderick Washington pressuring Rodgers and getting all the way downfield to make the tackle. I have a feeling he’ll be a solid interior presence in Baltimore for the next few years.

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