This year, Matthew Sottile and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Matthew will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Today, the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Ravens’ Front Seven
The Ravens have 16 sacks this year. Nine of them come from two players, DT Timmy Jernigan and OLB Terrell Suggs. Zero of them have come from DBs.
Their run defense is as strong as ever, they’re such a consistent group, giving up just 3.5 YPC against the run. That’s the fifth best mark in the league. Only allowed three rushing touchdowns, tied for second fewest.
Baltimore has allowed just 10 runs of 10+ yards, tied for first, and only three of 20+, tied for 8th. Bottom line: running the ball ain’t easy on this group.
That starts with their interior presence. Jernigan is their three technique and best athlete inside, as judged by his five sacks. But their big boy is Brandon Williams, who is practically impossible to move. But he moves so well for his size too. Dude is ridiculous.
Both those guys play a lot too, over 60% of the defensive snaps. For Williams, that’s even crazier.
They also have, and John Eisenberg pointed this out in Wednesday’s podcast, UDFA Michael Pierce. He’s their Casey Hampton, weighing in at 6’0 329 at Samford’s Pro Day. Pierce and B.J. Finney could tag-team a Thanksgiving dinner after Sunday’s game.
They are a 3-4 defense but similar to New England in how multiple they can be. Za’Darius Smith is their Rob Ninkovich, capable of playing with his hand up or down. Suggs is opposite while Elvis Dumervil is likely to miss another week, a plus for Pittsburgh.
Rookie Matt Judon has been an active force as a pass rusher too. He wears #91 and has played a quarter of the snaps.
At inside linebacker sits Albert McClellan and Zach Orr. McClellan is holding the spot for C.J. Mosley, who seems destined to be questionable this week. Orr has 44 solo tackles, double more than anyone else on the team. He’s played nearly every snap.
You can call their front a more traditional two-gap but they do a great job of working off blocks in any situation.
Statistically, the secondary has been good in some areas, bad in some others. They are third best with just 17 passes of 20+ yards and middle of the pack in 40+. Not too bad there. They’re keeping the ball underneath as evident by opposing quarterback’s 6.9 YPA, tied for 11th best in the NFL.
But quarterbacks have been much obliged to throw the ball underneath, completing 66.7% of their passes, tied for the 6th highest mark against any team. And they’ve allowed 14 touchdowns, in the bottom third of the league. That’s partly because their red zone defense is in the bottom third of the NFL.
Baltimore has picked off eight passes this year but only two of those have come from the secondary. Of course, that’s two more than Pittsburgh…
Eric Weddle is an every-down player, logging more snaps than anyone on this defense. Ladarius Webb, a corner turned safety, is opposite him as the FS to Weddle, who plays near the box and as an overhang/robber defender in coverage.
Elsewhere, it’s Jimmy Smith at RCB ad rookie Tavon Young, enjoying a nice season, at LCB. Jerraud Powers slots inside.
The still have their amoeba subpackage of just one down linemen, often presented in a 1-4-6 look. Anthony Levine moves into the box as their dime player. It’s almost always Jernigan as the down linemen, again, their best pass rusher.
They’re a pretty varied coverage team. Have seen most of everything from then. Against the New York Jets, they went 2 Man in third and short but probably ran more zone coverage than anything else. Here’s Cover 3.
And here’s Cover 2.
They can be an aggressive blitz team. They’ll blitz in any down/distance, 1st and 10, 3rd and 5, doesn’t matter. but watching them the last two weeks, most of their blitzes have come on the opponent’s 20-35.
They’ve run a nickel blitz from the field and boundary.
And a Fire X where the linebackers twist, like we’ve seen in Pittsburgh.
Ravens’ Special Teams
Levine is the quarterback on punts with RB Lorenzo Taliaferro and FB Kyle Juszczyk as the wingers. The wings are wider and don’t get the depth the Steelers’ do, for whatever that’s worth.
Their kick coverage unit has been solid, Justin Tucker booms most of them to the end zone anyway, but they’re allowing 14.7 per punt, including an 85 yard touchdown.
The thing that scares me the most is their ability to get blocks. They do it every year. Won it vs Cleveland a year ago. Have blocked three field goals this year. Two of them were 49+, another was an extra point. Brent Urban is their most dangerous man with a block in each of the last two years. He’s 6’7 and seems to line up in the right (from the kicker’s view) C gap. Could make kicks from the left hash with the ball moving right risky.
Matthew’s Individual Report
After a much needed week off, the Pittsburgh Steelers return to action against the [much hated] Baltimore Ravens. Although both teams will be battling their fair share of injuries, this match up will be nothing short of physically demanding and ruthless. So strap yourselves in, and let’s take a look at the Ravens’ defensive culprits.
Their front seven will always cause problems- it’s in their DNA. Starting with their central nucleus, we see big-man-on-campus Timmy Jernigan. He’s a workhorse against the run, swallowing up ball carriers and would-be blockers to no end. The scary thing is the Florida State product has a pop, a jump for his weight (which is listed at nearly 300 lbs).
He has 4 sacks to go along with his 16 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and also leads the team in quarterback hits- in other words, he’s always hovering around the backfield, hunting down ‘backs of all sorts. Just take a look below to understand what I mean.
Jernigan starts over right guard Brandon Scherff, and is able to sniff out the run right away. As soon as the ball is snapped, he puts on a swim move, pushing Scherff to the side like a rag doll. He illustrates his impressive speed (for a big man) and tracks down the ball carrier for a 1-yard loss.
Brandon Williams has always been a player I’ve had a secret crush on (hurts me to say since he wears Raven purple), as he’s that extremely large athletic player that could be considered the heartbeat of the defense. That being said, he’s a relatively single-minded defender, strictly focusing on the run rather than the pass rush (not difficult to understand when you’re breaching 330 lbs!) He’s off to a rather slow start to the ’16 campaign, but he’s eventually going to hit his stride and show up to play- these AFC north matchups are where he likes to do so. The Steelers’ offensive line better come prepared to push around some heavy dudes.
Beside the two of them is Lawrence Guy, who again, is more of a run defender than a pass rusher- although his year-to-year grades would say otherwise. He’s always been a bit of an up and down player since entering the league in 2012 out of Arizona State, but he’s improved drastically against the run. He also doesn’t see the field too often, as many NFL defenses are moving towards becoming hybrids- playing more nickel and dime defenses as base sets.
Moving onto the most polarizing player on this defense, Terrell Suggs, we see a warrior who’s battle tested and prides himself on beating the black and gold. Although he missed last contest against the New York Jets, he’s listed as questionable with that biceps injury that continues to reappear more often than not. Even though he’s lacking in played snaps, he leads the team in sacks with 5, and adds an additional 10 hurries to go with it.
In addition to having the ability to get after the quarterback, he’s an interesting athlete because he’s also incredibly influential against the run. Frankly, he’s playing better against the run thus far into the season, which is a scary thought for the offensive line come Sunday afternoon.
We see Suggs line up on his usual right side, over left tackle Trent Williams. Kirk Cousins is in shotgun (which has become a usual offensive formation for the Steelers), and gets after him right away; he stunts inside, engaging for a [short] moment with left guard Shawn Lauvao, eventually getting to Kirk for a 10 yard sack- furthermore, he did so under 2.9 seconds. Alejandro Villanueva is going to have to keep his head on a swivel.
Opposite Suggs is Ravens’ 2015 sacks leader Elvis Dumervil. Unfortunately for the Ravens (fortunately for the Steelers), he’s been battling a foot injury that’s prevented him from demonstrating that explosiveness off the line we’re all used to seeing. He’s tried to battle through the pain, but it’s clear that it’s affected his play, as he’s struggled to make any impact on the field at all. More than likely the Steelers will be seeing a mixture of Za’Darius Smith and Albert McClellan to compensate for Dumervil’s lack of on-field presence, both of whom have played mediocre at best thus far, struggling in both the run and pass rush.
Zachary Orr is the team’s defensive snap leader with 433, but I’d be lying if I said he’s made most of it. The team as a whole has struggled in the pass rushing category, but has excelled against the run (an ongoing pattern for this Ravens defense thus far)- except for Zachary Orr. He’s struggled in both facets of the game, and that’s worrisome for a team’s defensive snap leader. Look for the offense to direct most of their aerial and running attack towards Orr.
C.J. Mosley is the bright spot in the central linebacking role, as he’s played incredibly against the run, and has excelled in the pass rush and pass coverage- one of only 4 players on this defense to do so, and the only player to grade positively in all 4 facets (overall, run defense, pass rush & coverage). He’s constantly all over the field, and has accumulated 16 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, which is astounding for an inside linebacker.
The secondary has its ups and downs, like many teams nowadays in this pass-first league. Both of the team’s starting corners, Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright, have struggled so far this season, but Smith has recorded decent games in his last two contests. Against the New York Giants, Smith allowed 4 receptions on 6 targets for a measily 21 yards, allowing a quarterback rating of 72.2 when thrown at. Last week against the New York Jets, Smith allowed no receptions on 3 targets for a quarterback rating of 39.6.
Wright missed last week’s game as he’s dealing with a thigh injury that forced him into a limited participant role in practice this week. Against the New York Giants two weeks ago, Wright allowed 2 receptions on 4 total targets, for 60 yards and allowed a quarterback rating of 95.8. Wright is clearly the corner to attack.
In their nickel set (which is becoming all the more normal as a base set), cornerback Tavon Young has shown he’s up to the challenge. He’s the only corner to have graded positively on the year, and allowed 4 receptions on 5 targets for 24 yards last week.
The safeties consist of Ladarius Webb, and newly signed Eric Weddle. Weddle has done exactly what you’d expect from a player of his caliper, leading the team by a large margin in the pass coverage category, and has paired that with a great display against the run. Last week, Weddle had 10 tackles and 2 behind the line of scrimmage- sounds like the state line of a certain Steeler safety fans were familiar with for years.
Webb, on the other hand, has struggled this year. He too is battling a nagging thigh injury, but was able to put together a full practice this week. As Weddle’s mind may be focused on stopping Le’Veon Bell on both the ground and the air, look for the Steelers to attack these corners, and include Webb in that as well.
Taking a look at their special teams, we see Sam Koch who has punted 37 balls thus far, averaging 48.1 yards with a long of 68! Twelve of those were inside the 20, with 20 being returned by opposing teams. Conversely, teams have punted the ball 42 times for an average of 45.2 yards with a long of 62. Of those 42, 17 were inside the 20 yard line, and 13 were returned- those went for an average of 5.9 yards, with a long of 20. The Ravens’ special teams have, however, allowed a returned punt for a touchdown- they’ve struggled in this category, so look for the Steelers to potentially deploy Antonio Brown if a boost is needed.