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2017 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 16 Ravens Defense: Good, but Exploitable

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On December 23, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to take on the Baltimore Ravens. In this Week 16 matchup, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we are up against.

It’s surprising to me I’ve made it through Wednesday before our Saturday game and I’ve yet to see anyone mention that the Irsay’s stole the Colts from the people of Baltimore. Further, I’ve yet to even see a single Baltimore fan say that while acknowledging that the city of Baltimore government was actually trying to steal the team from the Irsay’s. And while Robert Irsay, by every single account, wasn’t a great person, protected the company he rightfully owned and moved them to a city who was happy to have an NFL team.

Just to go one step even further, not once have I seen any Baltimore fan mention the above while also being self-aware enough to realize that the only reason they have a team to root for is because they stole their franchise from Cleveland.

Here’s lookin’ at you, Baltimore.


Defensive Scheme

The Ravens run a 3-4 hybrid scheme. It looks similar to what we use due to the fact that both our head coach and defensive coordinator both come from Baltimore. There isn’t much I can say about the 3-4 that you don’t know, and if you don’t know about it at this point, that’s probably your fault. Instead, I want to focus on Dean Pees, the Ravens’ current defensive coordinator. For help on Mr. Pees I went to BaltimoreSportsAndLife.com, and found an article from Gabe Ferguson, which you can find here.

In the article, he breaks down what ole’ Dean likes to do. Let’s take a look:

You’ve probably heard or come to the conclusion on your own, that Pees’ style of defense is “bend but don’t break” and that it lacks an aggressive mentality. In many ways, this analysis is accurate, but I question the negative connotation these labels tend to illicit. To better illuminate what Pees’ defense aims to accomplish, I am going to break down a series of plays from the week 3 game vs Cincinnati.

As Colts fans, we should all be aware of the term “bend but don’t break”. We’ve just always watched it break.

At its base, Pees is trying to take away the run, put teams in 3rd and medium-long, and minimize big plays. The defensive front mostly adheres to 2-gap principles, meaning each of the down lineman are responsible for rushing lanes or “gaps” to either side of them. Linebackers or safeties are then tasked to fill the gaps. This puts a lot of responsibility on the DL and requires stout players that won’t give ground when head up over an offensive lineman.

I disagree with the likely assignments above, but the premise is right.

Against the pass, the OLBs are tasked with providing the bulk of the pass-rush. In sub-packages, one of the big DTs or DEs comes off the field and is replaced by a DB. OLBs effectively become pass-rushing DEs and the 3-4 DEs move to the interior and rush as DTs. One of the drawbacks to having big, run-stuffing DEs and DTs is that these players often struggle to produce much of a pass-rush, which puts even more of the pass-rush burden on the OLBs. This is why we have seen players like McPhee and Za’Darius Smith used as interior pass-rushers. Here, on 3rd &6, the Ravens walk up the ILBs to the LOS to show blitz, but drop them off into shallow zones once the ball is snapped, leaving a 4 man rush.

Put blue jerseys on them and they’re a far superior version of the Colts.

In the secondary, Pees tends to favor zone schemes behind the 4 man rush, but there is a good amount of man coverage implemented as well. Dropping 7 into coverage has many benefits, especially when the CBs struggle to hold up in man coverage. More of the field can be taken away by defenders in both deep and short zones. Pees tends to vary his coverages based on the opponent, and in this game against the Bengals, he played mostly Cover 3 and man to man with some Cover 4 mixed in as well.

Yep.

The problem with playing lots of zone is that there are always holes that can be exploited, and if there are any mistakes or miscommunications on the backend these holes become glaring. Furthermore, if the 4 man rush is not able to pressure the QB, it often becomes a simple game of pitch and catch once a receiver finds a void in coverage. On this same play, the Bengals run a 3 man route that probably should have easily been covered if not for a slip by the CB Rashaan Melvin(arrow). The front 4 does not stand much of a chance against 7 blockers, with Dumervil getting double teamed and Courtney Upshaw unable to beat the TE off the edge. Smith and Timmy Jernigan run a simple stunt on the interior, and while Jernigan eventually gets a one on one and pushes his blocker back into the pocket, Andy Dalton has plenty of time to find a wide open Marvin Jones for a big gain. In reality, it was a poor throw, but Melvin was so far out of position the catch was easy to make for Jones.

On the very next play we see a good example of press-man coverage. I said it is a good example because it shows how effective it can be if everyone executes their job properly, but it also shows how one player making a mistake becomes a huge liability. The outcome of the play is an incomplete pass because Dalton overshoots Mohamed Sanu in the slot, but both outside receivers beat the Ravens CBs handedly. At the top of the screen Melvin (arrow) once again falls down leaving Jones wide open, and at the bottom of the screen A.J. Green has a step on Smith and is also quite open. Fortunately, Will Hill does a much better job taking away Tyler Eifert and Webb has decent coverage in the slot on Sanu.

So, what do we know? They are going to use the same formations and basic concepts that we’ve been seeing for the past few years. The biggest difference from the Ravens defense to the Colts defense is the level of talent each squad has on the field.


Defensive Line

Brandon Williams became the NFL’s highest-paid nose tackle last offseason. This year, the Ravens decided to move him to defensive tackle and have him play as a 3-tech. The $54 million man has responded well and usually plays at a high level. He’s stout against the run and generally does a good job with gap assignments.

Michael Pierce was an undrafted free agent in 2016 and has found a starting role with the Ravens. So far, he has played extremely well, and if we are redrafting 2016, he absolutely goes early Day 3 at the latest. A great undrafted find.

The Ravens selected Carl Davis out of Iowa in the third round of the 2015 draft. He’s lived up to that draft spot and is an above-average 5-tech defensive end.

Bronson Kaufusi is another name you might know if you follow the draft. Kaufusi was taken in the third round of the 2016 draft out of BYU. Many thought he would be a good edge rusher in the NFL, and since being drafted has been nothing close to that. The Ravens have moved him into a 5-tech role, where he hasn’t been good either.

  • Sometimes, you just get beat:

WIlliams is good, but he doesn’t look like it above. He isn’t able to fight off his block, loses his footing and hits the ground hard.

  • Getting combo blocked:

I don’t know who this is — I assume it’s Williams again — either way he is just ridden out of the play, which allows a hole to open. If the left tackle did more than lean on Terrell Suggs on this play, it would have gone for more.

  • Ugh:

I watched this play and thought, “Man, the Lions really need to find a good right tackle.” It was at this point that the Colts really need to find a good right tackle, too. Matt Judon is technically a linebacker, but because we’ve had so many talks recently about 3-4 vs. 4-3 edge defenders, I thought I could safely include him here since he comes out of a three-point stance but couldn’t possibly ever find a role in a 4-3 scheme.

  • Davis:

Davis does exactly what you want him to do; he stacks the blocker, reads the play and gets his hands on the running back. You can’t play this much better.

  • Suggs:

This clip is included because I wanted to show that Suggs starts the play with his hand in the dirt, and while I think he was supposed to loop and he realized that wasn’t going to work, he read the QB, chased and hit. But if you watch him start in that stance and do what he does here, it’s not crazy to think he could have easily dropped into the flat and covered a zone.

Why would a coach take his best pass rusher and drop him into coverage? That’s another question for another day, but the fact is, two-point stance or three-point stance just doesn’t matter as much as people seem to believe.


Linebackers

C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Judon and Suggs are the names you need to know here. Mosley and Onwuasor both play inside linebacker and would be instant upgrades over anyone we have on our roster. Judon and Suggs play outside. Suggs is essentially a defensive end but you will see him rush both standing and from a three-point stance.

One thing to note in researching the Ravens is their struggles to defend over the middle. Over on Baltimore Beatdown, Vasilis Lericos wrote this piece on the struggles of their defense:

Baltimore’s defense played relatively well up front. The defensive line held Bell and the Steelers ground attack under four yards per carry. Brandon Williams made his presence felt with a crucial stop on a two point conversion attempt. Furthermore, Terrell Suggs and Tyus Bowserwere able to apply a reasonable amount of pressure off the edge.

Nevertheless, the defense was helpless against Pittsburgh’s quick passing attack. Willie Henry, the team’s best interior penetrator, was invisible. Coordinator Dean Pees seemingly dialed up every blitz in the playbook, but the lack of coverage in the middle of the field betrayed the pass rush.

Lericos went on to cite the struggles the Ravens have had defending against backs and tight ends when their interior linebackers are left alone with them.

  • I also noticed these issues:

Mosley slips here, but even without the slip, he was biting hard on the fake that the tight end gave him. He jumps outside and the tight end continues his route. Not a good look for that ‘backer.

  • Technically, not a linebacker:

So, this is a defensive back who makes this play, which is probably worrisome if you’re a Ravens fan that the defensive back reads and attacks the ball carrier quicker than your linebackers do. I completely understand they were playing assignments, but at some point you have to see, run and hit, and Mosley didn’t do what his defensive back buddy was able to do here.

  • Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this... and totally redeem yourself!:

10 points in the comments for the first guy to name the movie (Stampede Blue staff not included.) But, here Mosley is making the kind of play he should have made above; see, run, hit.

  • Not the first guy there:

Which is actually a good thing! The safety comes downhill to make this play, and Mosley comes over to help make the stop. But by delaying his route to the ball carrier, Mosley is actually protecting the defense in case the running back cuts back. He is ready and waiting to defend the cutback and still manages to get a hit in after the back had declared.

All in all, a good effort.


Defensive Backs

Jimmy Smith ruptured his Achilles and also got popped for PED’s. There’s never a good time to do either of those things, but if you’re going to be caught using PED’s, you might as well serve that suspension while healing up and getting ready for next year. Too bad Smith used his first PED failure because he sure could have used some of that HGH coming back from this injury.

The guys that will be playing on Saturday include Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Eric Weddle, Maurice Canady and Marlon Humphrey.

Jefferson and Weddle never leave the field. These Ravens use both safeties nearly 100% of the time. Carr, at 31 years old, signed a four-year $23.5 million deal last offseason. In my opinion, the Ravens are paying him for what he’s done in the past, because at 31 he’s average at best and doesn’t have long to play.

Canady has played more as the season has gone on and opportunities have arisen. He was a sixth-round pick in 2016 and he’s played well, all things considered. Humphrey was taken one spot after our own Malik Hooker at 16th overall, and he has played in every game this season. There are questions every year about cornerbacks coming from Alabama and if they translate. Humphrey has responded to those questions and has played extremely well. The past two games, Humphrey has played on 99% of all defensive snaps. He isn’t likely to leave the field on Saturday.

  • This isn’t really fair:

That’s LeVeon Bell, and the only prayer most cornerbacks have to stop him are to deny him the ball. Bell runs a good route and the rest is history. Even multiple-time All-Pro Weddle can’t stop the guy. Bell is at his peak physically right now and he wont be there much longer. If you enjoy good running back play, get all you can in on Bell ASAP.

  • Pattern matching:

It appears that they are pattern matching here. They aren’t in true man coverage either way. It’s tough to say who is at fault here; possibly the cornerback for sticking with that wide receiver for so long, maybe the outside linebacker who didn’t drop deep enough.

  • Weddle gonna Weddle:

This guy is almost 33 years old and he makes up ground on this play like a much younger man. Had he been given two more yards to work with, he probably comes up with an interception on this one.

  • Man coverage:

I didn’t notice a ton of man coverage in the Ravens games that I watched. On this one, the play action brings up the linebackers and the cornerback isn’t able to stick with the wide receiver on the crossing pattern. It was a well-designed, well-executed play. It was the wrong call against the play that the offense called but there’s a reason both squads get paid.

This is a really solid unit. In my opinion, these guys are the best unit on the team. Jacoby Brissett is going to struggle to find receivers open in this one. Granted, he tends to struggle with that anyway.


Final Thoughts

This defense is immensely more talented than our offense. With that said, we should try to get Jack Doyle involved early and often to test these linebackers. Further, I’ve yet to see Marlon Mack run a route out of the backfield over the middle (my memory isn’t great, if I’m being honest). If that’s a thing that exists in the playbook, this is 1,000% the week to break that wrinkle out. It could pay off in a big way.