If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results—which, by the way, it isn’t—then the Baltimore Ravens and their defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, are realizing belatedly that their strategy for defending Antonio Brown during last week’s game was insane.
Frankly, I don’t necessarily agree, but clearly what they tried didn’t work, since Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards. Whenever that happens, something did not go well.
The Ravens, though, are in a period of adjustment. They just lost their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith, the previous week, which threw rookie underclassman Marlon Humphrey into the starting lineup. If only to simplify things, Pees kept Brandon Carr on the left side of the field, and Humphrey on the right.
Even though Brown traditionally takes the majority of his snaps on the offensive left—defensive right—side of the field—and that remained true on Sunday—Brown did see about 43 percent of his snaps lined up on the right, against Carr.
And seven of his 11 receptions for 198 yards came while lined up on the right side of the field. So, yeah, that didn’t work out too well. And in his hindsight, Pees has found himself wondering during the course of the week if he shouldn’t have had the rookie, Humphrey, shadowing Brown.
I’m not necessarily sold on this idea, personally. Humphrey was beaten multiple times the previous week by Marvin Jones after he replaced Smith, and his late interception was the result of an overthrown pass by Matthew Stafford. Humphrey had a solid game, but not necessarily against Brown.
But on Thursday, when he was asked directly if they should have shadowed Brown with the rookie, he said, “I’ll be honest with you; yeah, we probably should have”. Pees even went so far as to say that they discussed on the sideline during the game the possibility of using Humphrey on Brown, but in the end, they elected not to do that. The main reason is that they didn’t get in the practice time to run it.
“If we had done it in that game, it obviously would have been giving away that we were playing man-to-man”, Pees said. “But sometimes it doesn’t even matter if they know what you’re in if you can play it better than they can play it”.
He did say that the Ravens opened the game trying to defend the Steelers with man coverage, but as they jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, they had to abandon that approach and adopt more zone coverages to adapt. And it did work for most of the second and third quarters, but Pittsburgh still put up 25 more points.
Pees added that it would have been too much to ask of Humphrey, in his first start, to make that in-game adjustment, and that in his experience, attempting to make an adjustment that big in-game very rarely works. And frankly, I doubt it would have against Brown.