The tandem of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil had their best combined game in two seasons to provide both the spark and exclamation point on another fine defensive performance.
The other compelling storyline from this game is an apparent change in the depth chart at OLB with the healthy scratch of Za’Darius Smith.
Smith’s production has been a disappointment for most of the season and despite a physique to compete at the NFL level, he simply does nothing well enough to be valuable. To summarize:
–Smith played 71.3% of the team’s meaningful snaps prior to the Bengals game.
–The Ravens allowed 3.6 YPC with him and 3.3 YPC without him.
–The Ravens allowed 6.3 YPP with him and 5.2 YPP without him.
–He’s been on the field for 266 pass snaps, rushed on the vast majority of those, yet recorded just 1 sack and 2 QHs.
With Judon and Doom both having solid games, it’s reasonable to ask if we’ve seen the last of Za’Darius for 2016.
The Ravens also share the burden of Smith’s disappointing season, because they tried to expand his role (out of necessity) from that of a situational pass rusher to a 3-down defender. His 2015 production as a situational pass rusher (38.1% of snaps, 5.5 sacks, 1 QH by official totals) gives hope he can improve his production in a more defined role.
Smith’s 3rd season may well determine whether he is playing for a significant free-agent contract or hanging on at the fringe of the NFL. I think he could add value in at least two significant ways:
First, he could accept his limitations as a pass rusher and become a controlled early-down rusher who looks first to play the run very well. That supports the Ravens’ other strengths well and could mesh with the eventual retirement of Suggs. It is not the road to NFL riches, of course, which is why relatively few OLBs do it well.
Alternatively, he could spend the offseason working to improve his pass rush skills. To me that means improving what he does now, but also adding a new move to become a credible threat to beat a tackle to either side.
Summarizing Ample Time and Space (ATS) by number of pass rushers:
Notes on the pass rush:
–The overall average of 51% (ATS on 26/51) matched Flacco’s 6-year average for 2010-15. Over the course of the entire game, the pass rush was just average, but adjustments by Pees and the players made the rush most effective when the defense should have been most tired.
–The Bengals ran 25 snaps (+2 more live penalties) in the 4th quarter. That should have had an enormous impact on the Ravens pass rush, yet the rush finished the quarter stronger than it began with 8 of the last 10 Bengals snaps resulting in some form of pressure (4 PDs, 3 pressures, and 1 sack/FF).
–What adjustments led to the revitalization? Matt Judon was rested and played 6 snaps in the 4th quarter, including 2 PDs. Timmy Jernigan, who managed just 1 pressure in 32 pass rush snaps, left halfway through the final drive and Brent Urban used his height to contribute a PD and another pressure over the last 7 defensive snaps. Terrell Suggs delivered a pair of strip sacks and a pressure in the 2nd half despite his heaviest play workload of the season (57 snaps). Elvis Dumervil (16 of 33 pass rush snaps in Q4) had enough left in the tank to register 3 pressures – and the game-winning strip sack – on the last 2 drives.
–Pees called just 2 deceptive blitzes which resulted in a gain of 22 with an 8-man rush (Q3, 5:47) as well as a 2-yard pass against a double twist.
–The Ravens rebounded from the Cowboys debacle to post impressive pressure with numbers, including just 81 net yards on 20 rushes (4.1 YPP) with 5+.
–Despite a higher ATS rate, the coverage was able to keep pace by allowing 21 fewer yards than expected with 3 or 4 rushing.
–Tempering many of the noted positives is Suggs first strip sack, which occurred despite ATS on Dalton’s roll right (Q3, 7:27) was a coverage sack. Similarly Guy’s QH (Q1, 4:20) came despite ATS.
–In aggregate, I think the 56-yard improvement on expectation approximates the secondary’s contribution to pass defense.
The Ravens opened the game with the standard 4-man secondary of Wright, Young, Webb, and Weddle. With the exception of a single snap missed by Wright, those 4 played the entire game. Pees made an in-game change at nickel, however.
Jerraud Powers played the initial 7 (+1 penalty) snaps of nickel at SCB, during which time:
–(Q1, 9:32): Tyler Boyd beat Powers for an 18-yard gain on the left hash. The play was negated by Eifert’s hold of Orr.
–(Q1, 0:47): Boyd again beat Powers in man coverage between the numbers and right sideline for another 18-yard gain.
Pees then modified his use of Powers. Jerraud was only used as the nickel on some 1st and 2nd downs for the remainder of the game (19 more snaps). When the Bengals were in more obvious passing situations, including all subsequent 3rd downs and the entire final drive, Webb moved up from FS to SCB and Elam took his spot at FS. Elam would go on to play 25 snaps, his most in the last 2 seasons.
The Ravens’ adjustment underscores their need at outside corner from the loss of Jimmy Smith. I suspect the normal reaction would have been to move Young back to SCB as needed. However, the need to bench Powers was deemed so dire, Pees was willing to take the risk of reducing Webb’s effectiveness and entrusting half of the back end to Elam.
Webb played well in the dual FS/SCB role. Here are my racing-form notes:
–(Q2, 9:24): Made initial hit on J. Wright crossing PM3 (3 + 0 YAC) to deny 3rd/4 after challenge
–(Q2, 1:28): Knocked away pass for Boyd 5 yards between hashes
–(Q2, 1:25): Showed blitz pre-snap, unblocked off ORS, Dalton throws away OOB
–(Q3, 14:22): Dalton to Eifert PM20 (15 + 5) over Orr, Mosley in front of Webb, Weddle
–(Q3, 5:47): Beaten by Boyd on island PL22 (12 + 10) by left sideline with 8-man rush
–(Q3, 5:06): Contained Dalton with Orr to force throw away after flush
–(Q3, 4:23): Followed Dalton’s eyes and leapt but unable to knock down TD pass to Eifert on roll right
–(Q4, 2:21): Had difficulty determining inside release on Boyd PM9 (6 + 3) between numbers and left hash
–(Q4, 1:21): Maintained good coverage of Boyd overthrown in end zone under pressure
It was perhaps an A-/B+ game in aggregate, but it reminded me of Yanda’s dual effort at RG and RT earlier this season in terms of versatility value provided.
Elam had a relatively quiet game at safety, but fell down in coverage of Eifert (Q4, 1:27) which led to a 13-yard gain (5 + 8 YAC) near the right numbers that converted 4th and 3. He was also stiff-armed by Burkhead (Q4, 3:07) on his 7-yard run right. He deserves a share of the credit for the failure of the Bengals to manufacture any pass plays of 30+ yards (the Bengals had just 4.1 YPP on his snaps), but he didn’t have any truly impressive plays on defense.
Tavon Young continued his outstanding rookie season. Everything said about him seems redundant at this point, so I’ll summarize:
–He’s covering men who are much taller than him. In particular, I loved his end-zone PD vs. Eifert (Q2, 15:00), who is 9 inches taller. His other PD came on an athletic reach around (Q4, 6:08) where Fouts correctly identified LaFell (6’3”) as trying to sell the idea he was twisted.
–When unable to get the ball or behind the line of scrimmage, he goes for the fast, low tackle. He wasn’t credited with a PD when he undercut Core (Q1, 9:36), but the Bengals receiver lost all interest in that football with Tavon undercutting him.
–The Ravens miss him at SCB. See the Powers notes above.
–Like Webb in his prime, I think Tavon could add a dangerous blitz option if the Ravens groom him for a hybrid LCB/SCB role next season. Right now, he’s too important on the outside.
Shareece Wright made my notes twice more for soft coverage (Q1, 5:32 and Q2, 6:20) on gains of 9 and 23, but Dalton threw 48 passes, so no one pitched a shutout. For the one play he left, Powers moved to outside corner. I question whether the Ravens would have been able to maintain their lead had Powers been forced to finish the game there.
Eric Weddle continues to be the team’s defensive MVP. Windows remain reasonably tight in the secondary and Eric continues to key the secondary’s low rate of long plays allowed. I just watched the entire 2006 season again while I was sick and Ed Reed dropped a handful of interceptions. We should expect Weddle to drop one occasionally, but also be happy he continues to be positioned well.
The Bengals had just 24 rushing yards on 15 carries entering the 4th quarter. Michael Pierce did not play a snap in the 4th and just 13 for the game.
Kamalei Correa was inactive. This was surprising, considering his broad responsibilities/contributions on special teams.
Given the changes at cornerback, it does not seem to me Pees is comfortable that Chris Lewis-Harris has picked up the defense as yet.
Albert McClellan rushed once from a 4-point stance on 3rd and 22, and backed up LG Boling, but pushed on his face mask to earn an illegal use of hands foul to negate the pressure/Dalton’s incomplete and give the Bengals a new set of downs (Q3, 5:41).
Brent Urban’s 19 snaps were his high for the season. He’s played just 13.5% of the team’s snaps, but he’s played well versus the run and pass.
3rd: Elvis Dumervil
2nd: Lardarius Webb
1st: Terrell Suggs
This was an extremely tough ranking with others considered including Zach Orr, Brent Urban, Matt Judon, Eric Weddle, and Tavon Young.