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
It’s still a really strong group even if the Philadelphia Eagles poked a couple holes in them last week. One of the beefiest fronts in the NFL. Still led by Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan, a couple of squatty dudes. Can’t say enough good things about Williams. Not only is he, to me, the best nose tackle in all of football, I think he’s one of the top ten defensive players in the league. He’s that good.
But the whole lot of them are talented. UDFA Michael Pierce continues to carve out a nice role as Williams’ understudy. They have “heavy” fronts with both guys, probably combining to weigh 650 pounds, on the field in their 3-4.
Elsewhere, they have Lawrence Guy getting a lot of work as the 5T.
The line will shift to an over front to the strength, especially against two tight ends set to the same side.
Let’s look at their run defense. It’s one of the strongest in the league. Their 3.5 yards per carry is tied for the best in the league with the Seattle Seahawks. And they’ve allowed just seven rushing touchdowns, 4th best in the league. Their 29 runs of 10+ yards are 2nd best and their three runs of 20+ are tied with the New England Patriots for tops in the league.
So again – very, very good.
Elvis Dumervil is back this week and seeing snaps at LOLB. Terrell Suggs on the right though they will move him to the weak side when the can. Albert McClellan sees a lot of work as the strong side OLB.
Matt Judon continues to do well as a rookie and will play either side.
As a team, they have 30 sacks this year. 16 of those come from their outside linebackers with Suggs leading the charge. The defensive line has six, led by Jernigan. Suggs also leads the team with three forced fumbles.
Last thing. At inside linebacker is the same duo as last time, Zach Orr and C.J. Mosley. Orr has 124 total tackles, 85 solo, the latter of which is still greater than anyone else’s combined tackles on the team. But Mosley is the better player and together, they make a strong duo.
Let’s assume Jimmy Smith, their best corner, is held out this week. From all signs of this writing, it will.
If he is, Tavon Young should be the starting left corner and Shareece Wright – who has struggled this season – on the right. Jerraud Powers will continue to play in the slot. Eric Weddle and LaDarius Webb at safety, just like last time.
Quick look at how the secondary has fared.
They’ve allowed 41 passes of 20+ yards, the 8th best in the league. But they have eight completions allowed of 40+, which is tied for 13th worst in the league. So faring a little worse there.
The defense has 16 interceptions, which is tied for the second-most in the league. Ten of those come from the secondary led by Weddle’s four.
As a defense, they’re allowing QBs to complete 63.3% of their passes (17th best), a 6.7 YPA (tied 5th best). Which makes sense. Ravens allowing the underneath throw, not a lot over their heads.
Get a good mix of Cover 1/Robber and Cover 2. They’ll use both on early downs. Cover 3 and Cover 6 in smaller degrees.
Personnel wise, they’re as varied as anyone, as we pointed out last time. 2-4-5 nickel. 2-3-6 dime. 1-4-6 dime. 1-5-5 nickel.
And I don’t know if they stole this from Pittsburgh or if Pittsburgh stole this from them, but they’ve even run a 3-5-3 against 13 personnel, just as the Steelers did in Week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys. Rookie linebacker (who played safety at Portland State), Patrick Onwuasor – #48 – functioning as that extra linebacker.
They are a blitz heavy team but like so many, including Dick LeBeau, they’re thoughtful about it. Will send just four or five but like to overload their linebackers or just as often, bring their safety Weddle off the edge. See it a lot on third down.
Ravens’ Special Teams
The Ravens have the best punter in my mind, Sam Koch. He’s averaging over 46 yards per punt and 32 of his 73 punts are inside the 20. Only 31 have been returned. Great directional punter.
Elsewhere, the gunners are receivers Chris Moore and Darren Waller. The wings on the punt team are safety Matt Elam and FB Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk is the only other offensive player on this unit, sans the gunners.
Matthew’s Individual Report
This is it. This is the game the Steelers were destined to play, against their biggest rivals to decide the division. It’s like Christmas came early this ye….well, I guess it actually came at the perfect time. Buckle up- we’re taking a look at the defensive culprits who want to prevent the Steelers from having any type of offensive success.
We’re already familiar with the defensive line- consisting of Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy– but how have they faired since their last meeting with the men in black and gold? This team’s defense is anchored by their run-stopping, and pass coverage abilities; so much so that they’re the 6th ranked defense in the league (per Pro Football Focus), even with a negative pass rushing grade. Given, they’re been battling injuries throughout the year (who hasn’t?), but it’s those two categories that propel this defense into elite category. These three men account for much of that success on the ground.
Since their week 9 meeting, anchor big man Brandon Williams has graded positively in each game he’s taken part in. He’s actually coming off of his best performance, amounting 4 tackles at or behind the LOS, 6 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry. Needless to say, he’s an incredible defender and fills gaps as good as anyone in the league right now. Taking a look below we see exactly what I mean. He lines up in the middle of the field, on the Raven logo (#98). As soon as the ball is snapped, he engages all the while keeping his leverage and position. Crazy thing? He was double teamed. Both the center and right guard pursuit Williams, but to no avail- he throws them off like rag dolls, and grab the ‘back for no gain. Incredible.
Timmy Jernigan has been incredibly inconsistent since their last meeting. Unlike Williams, he has many negatively graded games, and was actually kept off of the scoring sheet altogether last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was, to say the least, his worst game of the season. Against the now-potent offensive line of the Steelers, he may replicate that poorly played game once more. He does usually play tout against the run, however- he’s graded positively in 9 games this season, so it really depends on who shows up on Sunday afternoon.
Lawrence Guy has been a wrecking crew this year- I don’t want to use “1 man wrecking crew”, because he’s surrounded by a ton of great athletes helping his cause. That being said, his motor never stops and he’s going to have his best year in the pros since entering the league in 2012 out of Arizona State. He’s a big boy at 6’4”, 305 pounds, so look for him to cause havoc for either Ramon Foster or David DeCastro.
The group of linebackers are an incredibly gifted set of athletes. Very little gets passed them, especially when they have three beasts infront of them eating most of the action and setting up routine tackles. Inside they have C.J. Mosley, and Zachary Orr. The popular belief is that the latter is having an incredible season- but the truth is that he’s having an incredibly poor season. Orr’s dead last on the team in defensive grading, and it’s not even close. Pulling guards, centers and tackles routinely outmuscle him, and is usually swallowed up quickly- not to mention he leads the team in the missed tackles category, not something a player wants to boast about.
Mosley, on the other hand, has been an absolute stud since entering the league in 2014 out of Alabama. He’s only registered 2 negatively graded games, and has played at a high level since their last meeting- looking at that single week 9 clash, Mosley had 7 tackles; 4 of them were at or behind the LOS. He really uses his speed and instincts to his ability, as he’s added yet another facet to his already high level play this year- coverage. He’s drastically improved his aerial defense this year, which is not good news for a Steelers team that will more than likely be without their newest weapon, Ladarius Green. It’ll be a tall task for Jesse James, who will likely fill in for the injured tight end.
The edge rushers are fearful- think what you may about the Baltimore Ravens, but Terrell Suggs has been their rock for many, many years. Even playing through injuries, he’s put together another impressive campaign, racking up 8 sacks and 36 total pressures. This year, however, his bread-and-butter has been against the run. As a team, they’re working cohesively together and shutting down all hopes of a ground attack. The seemingly unstoppable Le’Veon Bell will be hard pressed to punch in a performance like he’s been so accustomed to doing- similarly, the offensive line better come with a hard hat and be ready to rock and roll.
The man who missed the first meeting between the two sides was non other than Elvis Dumervil. Having only taken part in 6 games so far this year, he’s about as natural a pass rusher as they come- he worries not against the run, as he struggles in that category year in, and year out- but that’s not what he’s asked to do; what he’s asked to do is to get after the quarterback. That being said, if you take a look below, he is capable of playing the run. He lines up at his usual left outside position, engages with the Zach Ertz (talk about a mismatch) all the while keeping an eye in the backfield, and makes the tackle. It only went for 2 yards, but could have went for a LOT more.
He’s all warmed up, having played the last 4 games in a row- his on-field play improving each time he steps onto the field. He’s coming off of one of his better performances this year, with a sack, 2 hurries and 3 tackles behind the LOS. This is going to be one hell of a test for this offense.
If you think their secondary has to be the weak link on this defense since everything else seems so strong, you’re sorely mistaken. Somehow, their defense improves with every layer you peel away. Probably the best free agent signing this year, Eric Weddle has been a man on a mission. He grades incredibly high in all three facets of the game- against the run, pass rush, and through the air. He literally hasn’t recorded a negative game all season, and he’s only missed one game! He had 8 tackles, 2 stops and a quarterback hurry last week against the Eagles- it’ll be quite the chess match if Pittsburgh’s offense can reach their potential.
His counterpart, Lardarius Webb, has been the ying to his yang. He too, has played at a high level, recording only 2 negatively graded games throughout the season (only missed one game), and is usually flying all over the field. His coverage has been suspect his last two seasons, but he’s come back with a vengeance.
The corner position is where the Ravens will be hurting on Sunday afternoon- their star Jimmy Smith will more than likely miss the matchup because of an ankle injury. This mean more weight on the shoulders of Tavon Young, who, is also having quite a season. The rookie out of Temple has been asked to do quite a bit, and he’s delivered game after game. He more than likely will be a chunk of Antonio Brown, so this will be the test of the season for him with Smith out of the lineup. Their last meeting saw 10 targets turn into 7 receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown, allowing a quarterback rating of 115.8.
Opposite Young will more than likely be Shareece Wright, who is actually coming off of his best game last week- he allowed only 2 receptions on 5 targets for 5 yards, and included a batted ball. It looks like he’s up to the challenge, as the shifty Eli Rogers, Coby Hamilton, or even Sammie Coates will be his main issues all afternoon.
Punter Sam Koch has kicked 73 balls for an average of 46.3 yards with a long of 68. Of those, 32 fell inside the 20 yard line, with 31 being returned. Conversely, opponents have punted 82 times, which a average of 45.2 yards and a long of 63. Twenty nine have died within the 20 yard line, and 27 were returned. The Ravens’ return unit transformed those 27 into an average of 6.8 yards, with a long of 28 and no scores. Opponents turned their 31 attempts into 11.6 yards per return, with a long of 85, and a lone score.