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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Ravens Defense- Talented but not really practicing this week

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On November 8th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Baltimore Ravens In this Week 9 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

This week we’re very likely to hear the old stories about how the Irsay family “stole” the Colts from the city of Baltimore. Those folks don’t seem to have a firm grasp on the term “ownership” and leave out the part where the city was literally trying to legally steal the Colts from the Irsays. Also, those people always seem to leave out the part where they “stole” the Browns from Cleveland in order to have their current NFL team. Hypocrisy aside, this week’s game has a chance to be a good one.

Let’s see what we can expect in week nine.


Defensive System:

When I think generally about Baltimore Ravens football I always think of the defense first. For what seems like their entire history the Ravens philosophy has revolved around the idea of having a highly talented defense that they seem to restock with more talent year in and year out. And for most of the past two decades that talent has been plugged into a 3-4 base defense that just seems to work.

I thought about going through and trying to find the “bad” years of Ravens defensive football but their worst year defensively they finished 12th in points allowed at 17th in yards given up and, oh yeah, they also won the Super Bowl that year.

Other than that one “bad” year that resulted in a Super Bowl championship, the Ravens defense has finished ranked no worse than 12th in total defense allowed in the past decade. Since being promoted from linebackers coach in 2018, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has helped continue the Ravens run of dominate defenses.

Let’s take a look at what ol’ Wink will try to do on Sunday.

Tricky, tricky

Wink’s defense, much like the Ravens offense, relies on deception. Before the snap the Ravens come out looking like they’re going to blitz. They have defenders ready for the receivers and tight end and they’re using a single high safety over the top.

It looks like the Ravens are sending six pass rushers and will be playing man coverage. At the snap of the ball the safety that had come up to “cover” the tight end drops to play a deep zone while the other safety works his way to take away a zone to his left.

The linebackers who were aligned in each a-gap drop to get into their zone in the intermediate middle of the field, while the cornerbacks drop into a zone consistent with the depth of the receivers who have entered their part of the field.

The Ravens end up just rushing four and wind up in quarters coverage.

Carson Wentz and the Eagles were ready for it but had they been fooled they could have easily tried to beat this blitz by running a short route to the middle of the field that likely would have been intercepted by one of the linebackers who dropped instead of blitzing. The Eagles were ready but the Ravens look to confuse opponents into making mistakes.

Forcing mistakes

Something that this defense is really good at doing is forcing mistakes. I lost track of how many times the defensive backs were swiping at balls when a receiver or tight end made a catch but this play isn’t unexpected, this team is clearly coached to rip the ball out whenever possible.

Romo explains

This wasn’t Tony Romo’s best explanation but it gives you an idea. When receivers stack at the line the way the Steelers are lined up here, it becomes much more difficult to cover in man to man. It’s why you see so many picks and “rubs” from bunch formations. To combat that the Ravens defensive backs are assigned their man based on the direction they run. The outside cornerback is to take the receiver who runs an out breaking route. The slot corner is to take the receiver who runs an in breaking route. On this play there was no in breaking route and because they had safety help over the top, it was the safety’s job to pick up the second out route and the slot corner would then fill in for the now vacated zone the safety was theoretically covering before.

It’s a good way to cover this route combo but the safety was just a step slow to cover his man and the Steeler receivers used good depth and route spacing near the goal line to give their quarterback an opportunity to complete a pass. Watch for similar passing concepts from the Colts or pivot routes that fake one way and come back the other to confuse the DB’s and create even bigger throwing lanes for Philip Rivers on Sunday.

Peyton Manning could have told you who was blitzing

I’m not sure there are many quarterbacks who would be able to accurately read this defense before the snap. Pre-snap it’s possible that as many as seven defenders could be rushing the passer, once the ball is snapped only five men do and four of them rush against the right side of the line while Calais Campbell, who lined up at nose tackle works across the centers face to the left guard, the left tackle and eventually makes contact with the running back who came across the formation to chip block before going out in the flat.

Campbell engaged with four blockers and in doing so prevented the Steelers from having enough help on the right side of the line. They confused the Steelers and sent four rushers against three blockers. Sometimes football is just a numbers game.

All of the blitzes

According to Pro Football Reference these Ravens blitz nearly 45% of the time which is the most in the NFL. They get pressure 26.6% of the time, which means that not every blitz is effective, but these guys are going to keep dialing them up.

And that’s a good thing

My biggest concern is the fact that while Rivers has carved up defenses who blitz he hasn’t played a defense who disguised their intentions as much as the Ravens do. Though I’m hopeful his 17 years of experience will prevent him from falling into the traps these Ravens look to set.


Defensive Line:

Names to know: Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams, Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis.

Colts fans probably recognize Calais Campbell from his highly productive years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Campbell has four sacks this season and I fully expect him to line up over Mark Glowinsky as often as he can to try to take advantage of that matchup, the Colts really Ryan Kelly to be healthy as I believe he’s going to be helping block Campbell most of the day.

You may also recognize Jihad Ward. Ward spent 2018 and part of 2019 in Indianapolis before being cut and signing with the Ravens. Ward racked up three sacks during his 2018 campaign but for many Colts fans this was his most memorable moment while wearing Colts blue:

Derek Wolfe spent eight seasons with the Denver Broncos before signing with the Ravens in the off season. Wolfe has been a solid player his entire career and has been solid against the run so far this season.

Brandon Williams is 6’1” tall and weighs more than 335 pounds. Quenton Nelson is listed at 330 pounds, but he’s also four inches taller at 6’5”. Being that heavy and that compact usually lends itself to being difficult to move. Having said that, if given the opportunity I believe Nelson would win almost every one of those battles but Williams won’t go without fighting to defend his gap as if he was trying to get to the last double bacon cheeseburger on planet Earth.

If you were impressed with Brandon Williams’ size wait till you see Justin Ellis! Ellis is a 6’2” 350 pound ham hock of a man. Weighing in at about 14 the size of the average cow, Ellis is another man who figures to be difficult to move.

And these are just the defensive linemen who have played more than 20% of the teams snaps. You might see players like Justin Madubuike or Broderick Washington Jr.

One final name to know that I predict you will absolutely see on the field this weekend: Yannick Ngakoue. If you thought by getting him out of the AFC South it meant we wouldn’t have to play this guy twice in 2020, you were in the majority. Unfortunately for everyone but Ngakoue, the Colts will once again face the talented pass rusher after the Vikings traded him to the Ravens just weeks after the Colts week two beatdown of those Minnesota Vikings. Given a full off season with the Ravens I believe he would be listed as an outside linebacker but given his late addition he’s still listed as a defensive end so that’s why I have him in this section.

Stopping the run

The Ravens big defensive line does a really good job moving laterally on zone runs to prevent rushing lanes from opening up. They aren’t perfect but they’re very good and have been consistent.

Nowhere to run

Sorry about the audio on this and the next clip, I was listening to a podcast and I didn’t even think about recording that audio. My bad.

Once again the Ravens big run stuffers move to the play side to fill any gap the running back might have otherwise taken. Their effort allows the flowing linebackers to take down the running back and finally end this play.

Hey you’ve seen this before

This is the same play we talked about just a little bit ago but this angle really shows how effective this defensive line can be when it’s working together to get a free rusher to the quarterback. We know Campbell does his best to occupy the entire left side of the offensive line while the defense runs a stunt on their left (offenses right) that’s designed to give Yannick Ngakoue a free run at the quarterback. Ngakoue can’t bring down the quarterback on his own but his teammates are happy to lend a hand.

This defensive line isn’t loaded with big names who jump out at you other than Campbell and now Ngakoue. For the most part it’s a group of linemen who are good in their roles and play with good technique. While it’s possible I don’t expect the Colts to get much going on the ground this Sunday.


Linebackers:

Names to know: Patrick Queen, L.J. Fort, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson, Malik Harrison and Chris Board.

Before I go any further I’m going to go ahead and address it because it’s happening and I don’t exactly know how it could impact this Sunday’s game. I will say that it seems likely that everyone I’ve listed above will play this weekend. However, Queen, Fort and Harrison were all in close contact with all-pro corner back Marlon Humphrey. In similar situations around the league, as long as no one else tests positive they will likely be allowed to participate in this weekend’s game. Judon was apparently exposed to someone else and his five day window has passed and is now back with the team.

Queen and Fort are the two guys you’ll most often see lineup at the inside linebacker position for these Ravens. Board is another ILB but I don’t believe we’ll see much of him if Queen and Fort do in fact play as expected.

Judon, Bowser, McPhee and Ferguson play along the edge as outside linebackers. You could easily argue that these four are closer to being defensive ends than linebackers and I wouldn’t argue with you, that’s just how this defensive system names it’s positions. Regardless you’ll almost always see these guys in a two or three point stance right on the line of scrimmage.

Coverage isn’t their strong suit

This is L.J. Fort and I know he isn’t a defensive back for three reasons. #1. He wears number 58. # 2. He gets beaten like a rug by (I believe) Boston Scott and #3. because he doesn’t celebrate like an idiot when the running back drops the ball.

Sure the back dropped the ball but Fort was absolutely roasted on this play. After Nyheim Hines effort last week, if he gets matched up one on one with Fort, expect the ball to go his way.

This is one of those plays that everyone asks “How?”

How did that guy get so wide open? Well you see, linebacker Chris Board gets confused in coverage. When a defensive back has to pull you over and put you in position before the snap there’s a good chance you don’t know what your job on that play is supposed to be. Board’s job was to cover any shallow receiver who went toward the sideline. Instead Board thought he should spy Carson Wentz, a job that Patrick Queen was already doing.

So the Ravens were spying Wentz with two players and while Wentz can run them in on occasion, they should have probably covered that tight end, instead.

A nice gain for James Connor

So far this season L.J. Fort has been really good against the run. On this play he is thrown to the ground by... Eric Ebron. First round rookie from LSU, Patrick Queen decided to run right into the waiting tackle’s block and was able to disengage and make the tackle, he just did it 10 yards down field. Not a great rep for these linebackers.

Sometimes rookies play like rookies

Watch #48 Patrick Queen. At the snap he hops to his right with the receiver who was coming in motion. This hop step takes him out of position and makes it really, really easy for the Steelers right tackle to take him out of the play. Meanwhile LJ Fort is initially impeded by Queen before he takes a not great angle and runs a yard behind James Connor.

I think by now the cat’s out of the bag; these linebackers really didn’t impress me when watching them play. I noticed Fort was usually in better position but Queen has a long way to go.

I can’t tell you 100% who screwed up here

I wasn’t in the huddle when this play was called so I’m not sure if I should blame Queen or Fort. My gut tells me it’s on Queen. Fort acts like he expected to hand off the tight end coming across the field to Patrick Queen, only Queen decided to cover the receiver on his side of the field as if it were man coverage.

What happens next is a small miracle but Eric Ebron didn’t drop a wide open pass and he scoots in for six.

As of right now the Baltimore Ravens have zero off ball linebackers who are good in coverage. Fort can’t run with much more athletic backs, tight ends and receivers and looks like they’ve thrown Patrick Queen into the full complexity of the Ravens defensive system without a life jacket and the kid isn’t struggling to keep his head above the water, he’s just drowning.

The worst part of the Steelers game for this position group is that Fort and Queen won’t get to practice with each other this week, at all. I understand they’ve been participating in video meetings and “meeting virtually” but if those things were half as good as actually being on the practice field, teams would only be practicing virtually to avoid outbreaks and losing guys to contact tracing exposure. What I’m saying is, I don’t expect these two to have everything figured out by Sunday.


Defensive Backs:

Names to know: Chuck Clark, Marcus Peters, DeShon Elliott, Jimmy Smith, and Terrell Bonds

I talked about it above but Marlon Humphrey the Ravens undisputed number one corner back tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss this weeks game. Terrell Bonds and DeShon Elliott were considered to have had close contact with Humphrey and were placed on the COVID list as well. Assuming they do not test positive they will be able to return to the team on Saturday and play in the game on Sunday.

Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott will start at safety. Clark nor Elliott stood out to me while watching these games. There were a couple of possible negative plays but nothing great from either man.

Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Khalil Dorsey and Terrell Bonds all expect to see time at corner. The Ravens were already missing Tavon Young who was lost for the season due to a torn ACL so losing Humphrey further thins a group that already didn’t have much quality depth.

Marcus Peters is an anomaly. He is the kind of guy that will make an amazing interception and the next drive give up a 45 yard bomb due to blown coverage. Most of the time he’s right in the middle of those two things but you truly don’t know what you’re getting from Peters, hopefully this Sunday it’s just blown coverage.

Jimmy Smith has been a solid contributor for nearly a decade. Having said that at 32 years old Smith was used situationally and seemed solid when he was called upon. Now, it seems likely that Smith will get the start and play the majority of the teams snaps outside. I expect the Colts to challenge Smith to see if he still has the athleticism to be an every down corner.

To be completely honest with you I know nothing about Dorsey or Bonds. They’re young, untested players, Bonds a former UDFA from Tennessee State and Dorsey a rookie UDFA from Northern Arizona.

Given this situation I wouldn’t be surprised to see safeties Anthony Levine or Marcus Gilchrist get some playing time in nickel or dime situations but time will tell.

Take what you can get

The Ravens have intercepted 10 passes this season, which is good for 8th in the league. Here Chuck Clark scoops this ball up off of a deflection and has himself an interception. While it’s true interceptions at the end of the half or game aren’t as impressive, just due to the fact that everyone knows what’s coming and it’s likely to be a tipped ball situation, a pick is a pick and you take it if you can get it.

Not great

DeShon Elliott comes up within five yards of the line of scrimmage. He reacts to the pulling tight end and over runs the backside gap the offensive line has created. The running back makes a cut, an offensive linemen gets a block on Chuck Clark who keyed on the offensive line’s movement at the snap.

Now all that’s left is green grass for the back to run to. Had both Elliott and Clark stayed home on their side of the field, Clark would have been in position to come downhill to try to make a tackle and Elliott would have been able to come downhill to help Clark finish the job. It’s possible I could be getting this one wrong. Defensive back play isn’t my strongest point of analysis but both men dropped down as if they were linebackers so I’m applying linebacker logic. For the record, even if these guys were big enough, neither one of them should be playing linebacker.

Not that relevant any more

This play was given up by Marlon Humphrey. It isn’t meant to show that Humphrey is a bad player. He’s not. Instead there’s something I noticed about not just these defensive backs but the defense as a whole the more I watched them. They’re not a disciplined unit.


Final Thoughts:

Despite their talent, which there’s a lot of on this team, they aren’t a very disciplined defense. Plays like the one above are the reason they’re currently the seventh ranked defense and not the first or second. I realize being in the top ten statistically isn’t much of a failure but this defense has the potential to be better than they have been.