This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.
Our reports for the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT:
The Ravens still run their 3-4 defense and it’s probably a bit less multiple than years past. Their pass rush has come from a lot of different areas. Only three of their seven have come from their defensive line or outside linebackers. Elvis Dumervil somewhat surprisingly only has one so far.
The Ravens’ run defense is strong. They don’t allow explosive plays – only two runs of more than ten yards all season long. That’s the least given up in the NFL>
The air is a different story, giving up 11 passes of 20+ yards, tied for 25th. Will Hill only has one interception but had another that was called back on holding in Week Two. He’s a playmaker.
Defensive tackle Brandon Williams has only played 61.6% of the snaps this year but is tied for third on the team with 11 tackles. That’s the same mark as a player like Daryl Smith, who has played all of them. Williams was a star in the making last year and hasn’t slowed down a bit.
Chris Canty is out, leading the team a little thin along the defensive line. No other player has recived a dominant amount of snaps. Williams is the only one above 50%. Last week, Timmy Jernigan, Carl Davis, and Lawrence Guy played 32, 31, and 30 snaps respectively. So a pretty even rotation.
Dumervil is still the LOLB while Courtney Upshaw is likely to start the ROLB. Z’Darius Smith and Albert McClellan. Also rotate in. Smith and C.J. Mosley have combined to miss one snap.
In coverage, Jimmy Smith shadowed Amari Cooper in Week Two on the outside. But he didn’t shadow when Cooper moved to the slot. If Smith does the same to Antonio Brown, though frankly, Smith has struggled and I welcome the matchup, putting AB in the slot is a great way to shake him.
The Ravens play a ton of single high coverage. Cover 1 Robber, a man-free look that has a safety – usually Will Hill – play at about 10-15 yards depth to read the QB and rob the offense of any crossing routes.
I’d counter with four verticals, stressing each safety and creating one-on-one matchups, especially with Michael Vick’s big arm. Don’t make Vick read defenses. Throw it up to his playmakers and let them do the rest. Hill can be overaggressive, here getting beat on Tyler Eifert’s double-move and having to hold to avoid giving up the touchdown.
The Ravens seem to be a little less aggressive as a blitzing unit but that doesn’t mean they’re mild. Still get some T/E stunts and they love to sugar gaps, put players in every gap pre-snap, to confuse your slide protections. Force you to pinch in case the A gap defenders come, then they drop out, and edge rushers come free. Saw it often against empty sets, and I probably wouldn’t run any if I’m Pittsburgh. You’re inviting confusion otherwise.
They like to check to a nickel blitz to the open side of 2×2 formations. Have to be alert for that. Here, Andy Dalton exposes it with a hard count and is able to slide the protection to it.
And one last specific piece of info to pass along. Just like the New England Patriots did in Week One, the Ravens will make a call from their LB and shift their defensive line on the goalline. Steelers can’t get penalized this time around, especially when points could be at a premium.
Baltimore’s Special Teams
The Ravens are a little unconventional with two receivers as their gunners. – Marlon Brown and rookie Darren Waller. Anthony Levine is the upback on the punt unit.
Worth noting the Ravens ran a fake last week on 4th and 3 in the second quarter. Believe this one was based off something they saw on tape. The Bengals right edge rusher would stunt inside so the Ravens countered by running the ball with Levine off that edge.
Their core special teams all playing 74 snaps are: safety Brynden Trawick, Levine, McClellan, and linebacker Zach Orr.
JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT:
When Terrell Suggs went down with an Achilles tear Week 1 against the Denver Broncos, his loss dealt a nasty blow to a Ravens defense that was in desperate needs of his abilities on the edge. The ripple effect has been a substantial increase in snaps for pass-rushing expert Elvis Dumervil, from 55.8 percent of defensive snaps last season, to 79.5 percent this year. Dumervil is still a solid pass rusher coming off a 17-sack season, thanks mostly to his quickness and ability to win the leverage battle consistently.
Where Dumervil has never been ideal is as a run defender, as he simply does not possess the length and physical tools that Suggs does when setting the edge. Courtney Upshaw will attempt to fill Suggs’ shoes across from Dumervil, as the disappointing fourth-year player tries to improve on a spiraling tenure in Baltimore.
Upshaw looks like he is about 300 pounds playing outside linebacker (he’s listed at 273), so for his size he does move pretty well. In space he’s far from ideal, but technique and awareness is really where Upshaw falls short as a defender.
Upshaw is at inside linebacker on this play (they’ll frequently move him around the defense), but gets blown out of the hole by the Raiders pulling guard Gabe Jackson. Not much fight from Upshaw afterward, who doesn’t attempt to get back into the play.
Upshaw is a very basic pass rusher who wins with a bullrush on the rare occasion that he gets home. Baltimore dropped him into shallow zone coverage a lot during the games I watched. I like rookie Z’Darius Smith to take time away from Upshaw, as the edge defender’s raw athleticism and high motor has already turned some heads. Perfect replacement for Pernell McPhee in this defense.
Up front the Ravens feature a prominent young duo to partner with longtime veteran Chris Canty, who will miss Thursday’s game due to injury. Brandon Williams might be the best nose tackle in football, while Timmy Jernigan is a promising pass rusher for a 3-4 defensive end. In nickel situations they’ll move Jernigan around the front, as his quickness and active upper half force interior offensive linemen to work tirelessly to contain him.
Williams is incredibly quick off the ball for a 6’1, 335-pound man, but his power at the point of attack is unparalleled, as you can see in the GIF above. Plays with extraordinary leverage and arm extension, technique that allows him to control blockers and dominate the LOS.
I’m telling you, that spot you see Williams’ standing in the above image? He legit lives there. So disruptive on a consistent basis. I’m terrified if I’m Cody Wallace. Only positive? Williams is nothing more than a pocket container as a pass rusher.
Here’s Williams and rookie Carl Davis winning in the trenches, with Williams making the stop after showing impressive ability to get off blocks and move laterally for the tackle. Davis’ first step is scary good when he times the snap up properly as he does here, and his physical toolset could make him a draft day steal in Baltimore. He’s got the athleticism to move around the Ravens defensive line, and will likely play a heavy role with Canty out.
The Ravens inside linebacker duo is among the finest in football, as longtime veteran Daryl Smith and second-year defender C.J. Mosley continue to excel. Smith has played every defensive snap for Baltimore this season, while Mosley has missed just one. The tandem works in multiple packages due to their versatile and well-rounded skill sets. Both are adept blitzers and excel in pass coverage, allowing the Ravens to stay in their base defense if, say, Le’Veon Bell gets flexed out wide a bunch on Thursday. If any linebacker can stick with Bell (shhh. I know they can’t) it is Mosley, whose athleticism and movement skills are top notch.
That said, I don’t find either linebacker to be exceptionally instinctive against the run. They’ll flow to the ball and sift through trash, but neither player makes many play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Both sure tacklers who show active feet, but Mosley especially will have trouble locating the football at times, often until its too late. I expected this part of his game to grow more in year two, but so far I have yet to see it.
The Ravens secondary is currently their defense’s weakest link, even with the return of ace cornerback Jimmy Smith. The big corner’s ball skills and physicality are still amongst the best in the league, but he hasn’t yet recovered the quickness and fluidity that he possessed before his season-ending Lisfranc injury last season.
He’s easily Baltimore’s best corner, and is a willing run supporter, but Antonio Brown could be a tough matchup for Smith. Here’s just a snippet of what rookie Amari Cooper did to Smith, a similar receiver in style to Brown.
It was a tough day for Smith and fellow corner Lardarius Webb against Cooper and Michael Crabtree, as the latter defensive back consistently found himself beaten down the field. Webb can be overaggressive in his footwork and get turned around easily by crafty receivers, even falling down on one Crabtree touchdown catch. He’s a highly-competitive corner with good click-and-close, but like Smith, Webb is susceptible to getting beat vertically. If you’ll recall his last visit to Heinz Field, I’m sure you’ll remember it as a game Webb would love to forget.
A lot of media members are bullish on strong safety Will Hill, but I’ve never seen ideal coverage skill from the big defensive back. He fouls a lot in the secondary, and doesn’t have the type of movement skills to play single-high successfully. Hill will hit with authority, and offers an intimidating presence in the box.
His running mate in the secondary is Kendrick Lewis, an offseason free agent acquisition that has taken over for the injured Matt Elam. Lewis is versatile, but doesn’t offer any outstanding characteristics. Those four play a heavy amount of reps, as nickel cornerback Kyle Arrington has seen time on just over half of the team’s defensive snaps this season. The defensive back with the next highest amount of snaps after the top five? Rashaan Melvin with 17 (out of 224 total snaps). The Ravens don’t like to rotate defensive backs often, and the team clearly wants Lewis and Hill manning the safety spots on every rep.
As a whole the unit has really struggled on third down, allowing opponents to convert 53% of the time, the second worst mark in the league. Many of those struggles are due to the Ravens league-leading 33 defensive penalties, most of which have come courtesy of the secondary.
Sam Koch remains one of the best punters in the NFL, a strong-legged specialist who gets some top-notch hangtime. A 10-year veteran, Koch has not had a punt blocked since 2013, one of three career mishaps. 2011 was the last time Koch had a punt returned for a touchdown, a number that directly reflects the punter’s air time and his directional kicking.
That said, Koch’s protection unit had issues last Sunday. The Bengals nearly blocked one punt, before partially blocking the next kick on the following drive. On the partial block, looked like the Bengals ran a twist up front and Mosley failed to pick up the crasher. They also had some minor breakdowns against Oakland, so Pittsburgh could have an opportunity for a big special teams play tonight.
Kickoffs will likely be a non-factor, as Justin Tucker will send almost every one out of the back of the end zone.