In June I wrote an article for Football Outsiders in which I analyzed Baltimore's defense under Chuck Pagano last season to see how Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis would be utilized in the Colts' defense this year. This was before the NFL All-22 film became available, and includes about 20 total plays (I offered to analyze every play from these three games but Aaron Schatz deemed that unnecessary). I thought it'd be fun to publish the research notes from that article for the Stampede Blue faithful to pick apart. Also since Brad Wells wrote in his post today that he will "be wathcing game tape of Baltimore's defense last year to get a sense of how the Colts will use Freeney in 2012" I thought this could come in handy for his research (particularly the Ravens jersey-number key at the end).
For the purposes of these notes, the term "front" refers to any players other than defensive backs lined up on the line of scrimmage at the snap. More frequently, this term refers to the number of players in a three-point stance, but the Ravens' hybrid three-four defense frequently defies traditional position roles. The ambiguity of the OLB/DE position on every play is what makes the defense both interesting to analyze and difficult for opposing offenses to decipher.
The list of players in each front signifies their alignment from right to left:
Week 6 vs Houston
Highlight 1 - 4th and 3/Single back formation (3WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Ngata, McPhee, Kruger) Nickel (5 DBs) all 4 players in 3-pt stance, 4 man rush
Highlight 2 - 4th and 4/Shotgun formation (3WR) - 4 man front (Kruger, Ngata, Redding, Suggs) Nickel (5 DBs) Kruger and Suggs standing up, others in 3pt stance. Buck linebacker threatens blitz but drops into coverage. Suggs rushes, Kruger jams TE at line of scrimage and ends up off balance 5 yards behind it, so not sure if he was supposed to rush after the jam or drop back but it looked like he was trying to stay with the TE. *SUGGS ON WEAK SIDE
Highlight 3 - 3rd and 3/Shotgun bunch right (4WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Ngata, McPhee, Kruger) Nickel (5 DBs) Kruger drops into coverage of short zone in front of right side bunch formation, Buck linebacker blitzes B gap.
Highlight 4 - 1st and 10/2 TE Single back formation (2WR) - 5 man front (Suggs, Ngata, McKinney, Redding, Johnson) Base (4 DBs) This is the first look at the actual base defense, playing a 3-4 solid formation with Safety Bernard Pollard dropping into the box as well. everybody on the line but Johnson starts in a 3-pt stance. All 5 rush the passer.
Highlight 5 - 1st and 10/I formation (2WR) - 5 man front (Suggs, Jones, Cody, McPhee, Johnson) Base (4 DBs) Everybody but Johnson in 3pt stance
Highlight 6 - 2nd and 6/Shotgun Stacks (4WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Ngata, McPhee, Johnson) Nickel (5 DBs) All 4 in 3-pt stance, 4 man rush
Highlight 7 - 4th and 1/I formation (1WR) - 6 man front (goal line defense)
Highlight 8 - 2nd and 8/I formation (2WR) - 5 man front (Suggs, Ngata, Cody, McPhee, Johnson) Base (4 DBs) Safety and Mike LB blitz, Suggs takes one step to fake a rush then drops into coverage. Thats a 6 man rush with a DE/OLB in coverage instead of a safety. And it worked. Matt Schaub was sacked.
Highlight 9 - 3rd and 15/Shotgun formation (3WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Ngata, McPhee, Kruger) Nickel (5 DBs) Suggs has a Freeny-esque super wide split. 4 man rush
Week 9 vs Pittsburgh
Highlight 1 - End of game hail mary situation - 3 man rush (prevent defense)
Highlight 2 - 3rd and 5/Shotgun formation (4WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Ngata, McPhee, Kruger) Buck LB Jameel McClain starts over a guard showing a 5 man front, but drops back before the play begins when RB moves in short motion into trips formation. This gives away the coverage and leaves McPhee heads up on the center, Ngata with outside shade on the left guard, Suggs outside shade on left tackle, and Kruger split so wide off right tackle that he either should've tried to jam the bunch formation at the line of scrimage or call a time out. Roethlisberger steps through the empty spot in the defensive rush and makes a few phonecalls while he waits for somebody to get open for a touchdown.
Highlight 3 - 1st and Goal (1yd line)/Offset I formation (1WR) - 6 man front (Goal Line Defense)
Highlight 4 - 2nd and 10/Shotgun formation (3WR) - 5 man front (Kruger, Ayanbadejo, Ngata, Jones, Suggs) Nickel (5 DBs) ILB Ayanbadejo lines up on the line scrimmage, but he is standing while the other 4 are in 3-pt stances. At the snap though he pulls and overloads the right guard in a combo blitz with Ray Lewis. *SUGGS ON WEAK SIDE*
Highlight 5 - 1st and 10/Shotgun empty backfield (5WR) - 4 man front (Kruger, Ngata, Redding, Suggs) Nickel (5 DBs) Suggs lines up standing, others are in 3-pt stance. 5 man rush with Jameel McClain blitzing. *SUGGS ON STRONG SIDE*
Highlight 6 - 3rd and Goal (4yd line)/Shotgun formation (3WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Ngata, McPhee, Kruger) Nickel (5 DBs) Suggs lines up standing, others are in 3-pt stance. Suggs jams TE at the line of scrimmage, then proceeds to contribute to a 4 man rush.
Highlight 7 - 2nd and 10/2 TE single back formation (2WR) - 5 man front (Suggs, Ngata, Cody, Redding, Johnson) Base (4 DBs) Suggs and Johnson are in 2 point stance at the snap, rest are in 3 point stance. Johnson drops into man-to-man coverage on a TE, 4 man rush with Suggs coming off the edge.
Highlight 8 - 2nd and 8/Single back formation (3WR) - 4 man front (Johnson, Ngata, Cody, Suggs) all 4 players on the line are in a 3pt stance at the snap, and all 4 rush. *SUGGS ON WEAK SIDE*
AFC Championship Game vs Patriots
Highlight 1 - 1st and 10/Offset I-formation (2WR) - 3 man front (Suggs, Cody, Ngata) Nickel (5 DBs) This is the only play in the study that looks like a true 3-4 defense in nickel. Suggs moves to DE, Kruger plays read and react at LOLB and Lardarius Webb is a DB lined up where the ROLB lines up in a 3-4. This is what Dallas typically does with DeMarcus Ware, except Suggs has a wider split than a 5-technique DE. Both OLBs drop into coverage, 3 man rush.
Highlight 2 - 4th and Goal (1yd line)/Goal-line run formation (0WR) - Bazillion man front (goal line defense)
Highlight 3 - 1st and Goal (7yd line)/Shotgun formation (3WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Johnson, Cody, Ngata) Nickel (5DBs) Cody and Ngata are in 3-pt stances, Suggs is at the line of scrimage in a 2-pt stance, wide split of left tackle. Before the snap OLB Jarret Johnson is roaming the box on the same side as Suggs threatening to blitz. He eventually ends up in a 2-pt stance with an outside shade of left guard a split second before the snap. 4 man rush, but the play is well blocked and the draw goes to the side vacated by Johnson for an easy 7 yard touchdown run.
Highlight 4 - 2nd and 8/Shotgun Trips-right (3WR) - 4 man front (Johnson, Cody, Ngata, Suggs) Nickel (5 Dbs) DTs in 3-pt stance, Johnson and Suggs are upright but both end up rushing the passer, Johnson through D gap Suggs through C gap. *SUGGS ON WEAK SIDE*
Highlight 5 - 1st and 10/Shotgun formation (3WR) - 4 man front (Suggs, Redding, Ngata, Kruger) Nickel (5 DBs) Suggs standing up, others in 3-pt stance. 4 man rush.
Total Plays excluding goal-line/prevent: 18
Suggs at RDE: 13
Nickel Defense: 13
Suggs rushing: 17
Suggs 2-pt stance: 9
Both OLB/DE rush: 12
Ngata - 92
Cody - 62
McPhee - 90
Kruger - 99
McKinney - 91
Jones - 97