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How Does the 2011 Ravens Pass Rush Measure Up?

 

The Ravens are 2nd in the NFL with 25 sacks in 7 games.  That’s a big step forward from last year’s disappointing pass rush and begs an obvious question.

 

Where are the extra sacks coming from?

 

The easiest answer to this question would be to simply show the difference in absolute sacks by player, but you don’t need me to do that for you.  The question should really be rephrased.

In what situations are the additional sacks occurring?

 

To that end, I thought it would be fun to compare 3 teams, the 2011 team, the disappointing 2010 pass rush which generated a franchise-record-low 27 sacks, and the 2006 team which generated a team-record 60 sacks.  If you’re a fan of the 2000 or 2003 Ravens defenses (and who isn’t) we’ll need to look at those another time in the interest of brevity.

 

 

All of the values will be presented as sacks as a percentage of drop backs.  I’m defining a “drop back” as any play where a player either throws a pass or is sacked without a penalty occurring.  If the QB drops back and subsequently scrambles past the line of scrimmage, it is not counted as a drop back.  I exclude spikes and passes thrown/attempted from special teams formations.  A pass thrown by a running back, say, would be included.

 

I would have liked to have had Quarterback Hits (QHs) coded as well, but there are complications.  Not every sack is a QH (specifically strip fumbles and times when the QB is run out of bounds) and not every QH is a sack (pretty obvious).  Furthermore, QHs are the source of many errors in the Gamebook.  Providing pressure in a general sense doesn’t need to result in either a sack or QH, but there is no standard definition for a “pressure” nor is it a stat counted by the NFL.  Sacks are a good proxy for overall pressure, but they are not all encompassing.  It’s a little like judging a hitter entirely by what we used to know as the “scoreboard statistics” (AVG/HR/RBI).  They are good indicators, but not as good as slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

 

On we go, and we’ll start in a fairly obvious place.

 

Sacks by Down

 

2011

2010

2006

1st

         8.0

1.7

10.4

2nd

         4.9

3.1

8.6

3rd

       15.0

9.0

13.3

4th

       40.0

9.1

5.6

All

         9.9

4.4

10.6

 

Reading the upper left entry, the Ravens have sacked their opponents on 8% (7 of 87) of all 1st down passing plays.  I considered including all the raw data, but I want to focus on trends, reasons, and frequency, so I’m just going to give you the percentage rate in each case and expand as needed. 

 

First of all, you can see from the overall rate that the 2011 Ravens are generating more than twice as many (225% as many) sacks per pass play than their 2010 counterparts and have an improved sack rate for all down situations.  It should also be a comfort to see the Ravens so close (94%) to the pass rush rate posted by the 2006 “Organized Chaos” defense.  If this were baseball I’d say it’s a lot easier to hit .350 through June 20th than it is for a full season.

 

To date, the 3rd-down sack rate of the 2011 team is their most impressive accomplishment.  The Ravens frequently substitute Kruger, McPhee, Ayanbadejo, and a 3rd corner on those plays.  For much of the year, the third corner replaced Webb on the outside.  Lardarius moved inside and was afforded some pass rush opportunities from the slot.   Webb has rushed the passer 16 times in 7 games this season with half a sack, a deflected pass that foiled a 3rd down, and a pressure.  He rushed the passer just 9 times all last season.  Carr returned to slot coverage against Arizona with Webb remaining on the outside.

 

Kruger has developed a devastating spin move to combine with his ability to use his speed, size, and motor to turn the corner.  Because he depended more on the outside move in his first 2 seasons, he was primarily a threat to QBs that held the ball too long.  Now he’s a legitimate threat to beat his blocker inside or outside.  He hasn’t played as many snaps as McPhee, but has registered 3 sacks, a QH, and a PD in 82 plays as a pass rusher.

 

Ayanbadejo has been a pleasant surprise.  With the release of Tavares Gooden, I figured Brendan would be used more in coverage, but he’s been assigned as a pass rusher on 49 of 120 defensive snaps (41%).  He’s proven particularly effective when he comes delayed and causes problems with blocking assignments when he drops to cover.  For the year he has ½ a sack and 5 QHs, which is tied for the team lead with Johnson and Suggs.

 

Webb played a similar role with the 2010 team, but wasn’t used as frequently as a pass rusher (only 9 times all season).  Kruger lacked the outstanding spin move he has developed this season and registered just 1 sack and 2 QHs in 172 pass rush snaps.  Schematically, the Ravens used Kruger to develop opportunities for other pass rushers, but he was limited in ability to win a 1-on-1 matchup.  Redding and JJ played a lot of the 3rd downs in 2010.  While they both were contributors, they could have benefited from additional rest.  Pagano has done that in 2011 as JJ’s snap percentage has dropped from 98.9% to 77.6% and Redding has been trimmed from 59.0% to 53.3%.

 

McPhee adds another dimension the Ravens had lacked.  He’s an interior pass rusher who is too fresh (32.7% of snaps) and has too good a motor to be singled on a consistent basis.  When he’s doubled, he creates opportunities for his linemates.  When left to a single opponent, he’s been very effective.  On the surface, his 2.5 sacks and 1 QH don’t seem terribly impressive for 128 pass rush attempts, but he’s collapsed the pocket effectively, and created solo/delayed opportunities for Kruger, Ayanbadejo and Lewis.

 

The 2006 team featured 3 pass rush specialists (Suggs, Thomas, and Pryce) along with the opportunistic Bart Scott.  Having 4 players that could rush the passer effectively for the majority of plays gave Ryan enormous flexibility.  In addition, the Ravens defensive backfield was usually up to the task of man coverage with Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle playing well at corner. 

 

The 2006 team had Corey Ivy at nickel.  Ivy was a 6-year veteran when he came to the Ravens and 2006 was his finest season.  When injuries forced him to the outside in 2007, his effectiveness was greatly reduced.  You’ll probably remember Corey most for his strip sack of Roethlisberger that was returned for a TD by Thomas to put the Ravens up 24-0 in the 3rd quarter of the 9-sack game at Baltimore.  I don’t have a percentage of plays rushed for Ivy in 2006, but he had 2 sacks for the season and 7.5 in his first 3 years with the team.

 

The 2010 team had both fewer pass-rushing weapons and a less aggressive scheme.  As you can see below, Mattison’s affinity for the 3-man rush wasn’t imaginary.

 

Distribution by Number of Pass Rushers

 

2011

2010

2006

3 or fewer

         4.8

       16.3

         4.0

4

       54.0

       48.9

       49.8

5

       29.8

       23.5

       34.5

6

         9.9

         9.4

         9.0

7 or more

         1.6

         1.9

         2.6

All

     100.0

     100.0

     100.0

 

 

The 2010 team rushed 3 men 12.3 more times per 100 drop backs than the 2006 unit.  That difference in rushes was replaced almost entirely by 5-man rushes for the 2006 team.  The 2011 team differed similarly from the 2010 team with the reduced 3-man rushes split approximately equally between 4 and 5-man rushes.  I think it’s interesting that all 3 teams had virtually identical frequency of rushes with 6+.

 

The absolute number of rushers is a good proxy for pass rush intensity, but it doesn’t tell the entire story.  Both Ryan and Pagano use much both more pre-snap movement and press coverage while being willing to rush any of the 11 men on the field.  Cary Williams has rushed the passer 6 times this season (including at least once off an outside receiver) and Samari Rolle had a sack of Michael Vick in 2006.  In 2010, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington combined for just 1 pass rush attempt all season.

 

Now, what worked for these teams?

 

Sacks by Number of Pass Rushers

 

2011

2010

2006

3 or fewer

8.3

3.0

0.0

4

9.6

5.3

9.9

5

10.7

2.1

11.2

6

12.0

6.9

15.7

7 or more

0.0

8.3

13.3

All

9.9

4.4

10.6

 

As you can see, the 2006 team was outstanding any time 4 or more rushed and only rushed 3 a total of 23 times in 16 games.  Of the 2010 percentages, the number that jumps off the page is the team’s inability to get home when rushing 5 (146 pass plays with only 3 sacks and 2 turnovers).  As I mentioned earlier, Mattison used much less pre-snap movement than either Ryan or Pagano, and those numbers are the strongest case I’ve ever seen for the need to combine numbers with other deception. 

 

I was fascinated by an interview with the leader of a battlefield armor unit in Iraq in the early stages of the war.  He made the point that it is optimal to engage the enemy with the minimum necessary force to accomplish the task, which in many cases in Iraq was a single tank.  The 2011 team has a control to it which reminds me of that discussion.  They have rushed the passer with 7 just 4 times and with less than 4 only12 times.  On 236 of 252 pass plays (94%), they’ve rushed 4, 5, or 6, which combined with press coverage, movement, delays, and stunts has proved extremely effective.  As it has played out thus far in 2011, variation by scheme has been more important than variation by number.

 

Ngata and Suggs deserve special mention for their contributions to the short-handed pass rush.  Sizzle’s 5 sacks came with 3, 4, 4, 4, and 5 rushing.  So he’s generating disproportionate pressure when the Ravens aren’t blitzing.  He’s dropped into coverage on a little less than 14% of pass plays on approximately 60% of those plays the Ravens rushed 5 or 6.  Haloti Ngata has also had excellent pressure inside, but all 3 of his sacks have come on a 4-man pass rush.    Ngata had a 4th sack negated by penalty.  His PD/INT in week 1 was also a 4-man rush, but his PD/INT in week 2 was a 5-man rush.

 

The Ravens have 3.5 sacks by the secondary, all of which have come with a 5-man pass rush.  Webb Shared a sack with Johnson against the Steelers, Reed freed the ball from Sanchez for the game opening TD vs. the Jets, and Carr and Pollard each had a sack against the Cardinals.  Of those sacks, Pollard is the only one not to get a free run at the QB.

 

For the remainder of this article and my archive, please visit:

 

http://www.ravens24x7.com/columnists/Ken-McKusick/articles

The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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