Explaining the Raven's Base Defense

Over the last couple of months, we've watched our beloved Raven's team be dismantled from top to bottom. First, it started with the retirement of Ray Lewis and Matt Birk; two staples of the organization. Then after that, important free agents started to skip town for bigger contracts elsewhere, causing Raven fans to worry about the team's future. Not a great way to start the offseason, right?

Wrong. The Ravens needed a change. And, badly.

Yes, they just won the Super Bowl, but how often is Joe Flacco going to play like he did in the post season? I'm a big Flacco supporter and I wouldn't even bet on him returning to that kind of form. Those expectations are just way too high.

Ozzie Newsome, looking into the future, realized that the team wasn't built to continue winning. That is why he has completely revamped the defense and, particuarly, the front seven. But, don't get me wrong. These moves have some risk attached. Chemistry can't be bought or even drafted, so the Raven's will luck-out if this team gels immediately.

With the chaos of this offseason has come mass confusion about some of the new players acquired and where they'll play within the scheme. So, I've decided to break down each position in the Raven's "hybrid" front seven:



Rush Linebacker

This is a position where the main goal is to get to the quarterback at all costs. The "rush" backer has a "two way go" and has ample room to get around the tackle. Also, this player will occasionally drop into the flats or other short zones. For the last two years, Suggs has manned the weak-side "rush" linebacker position (also known as the "leo" or the "elephant"). However, because of the addition of Elvis Dumervil, it seems that Suggs will be making a move to the strong side of the formation. Now that Dumervil is in the picture, the Ravens will need to line him up in this position to utilize his strengths.

3 Technique Defensive Tackle

As I said before, the Ravens have a hybrid defense. By this, I mean they incorporate 4-3 and 3-4 principles into their base. Or, otherwise known as an "under" front. In a typical 4-3, the 3 technique is the disruptive tackle who rushes the passer and attacks gaps. Think Geno Atkins or Gerald McCoy. Last year the Ravens were forced the put Haloti Ngata in this position due to losing Pernell McPhee to injury. While Ngata may be an incredible athlete, he is better suited closer to the center controlling two gaps. This offseason, the Ravens brought in Chris Canty to take over this position and let Ngata move back inside. Canty, who has been a more than suitable 3 technique his entire career, should be an immediate upgrade for this defense.

1 Technique Nose Tackle

While some teams employ smaller players to attack single gaps, the Ravens use this position to clog up the middle with a large two gapping lineman. Last year, the Ravens rotated in Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody. However, both players struggled mightily all season. Next season, Haloti Ngata will be free to play this role thanks to Ozzie bringing in Chris Canty. With Ngata plugging up the middle of the formation, it will be difficult for teams to run up the gut of the Raven’s defense. Also, with the addition of Brandon Williams in the third round of the draft, Pees will have a deep defensive line rotation.

5 Technique Defensive End

On the strong side of the formation, more 3-4 principles are utilized. Typically the Ravens have a lineman line up directly over the tackle and two gap. This means the lineman will control the blocker in front of him and play both and C and B gaps. After Corey Redding left in the 2012 offseason, Arthur Jones was asked to take this role over. Despite some struggles early on, Jones finished the season strong and left little doubt in who will play this position in 2013. The Ravens also brought in Marcus Spears this offseason, but it seems highly unlikely that he’ll start over Jones.

Strong-side Linebacker

Before Suggs came back from his injury, the Ravens used Kruger at the "rush" linebacker position and Upshaw/McClellan on the strong side. When Suggs returned, he was plugged in at the "rush" while Kruger got benched for Upshaw in the base defense. This is because Kruger’s weaknesses of defending the run and dropping back into coverage would have been exposed more often on the strong side. Simply, the strong-side backer lines up over the tight-end and holds the edge against the run and often drops back into coverage On the other hand, Upshaw’s skill set translates perfectly for this position. Next year, to get Suggs and Dumervil in at the same time, the Ravens will have to move Suggs to the strong side. With Suggs’ pass rushing skills declining due to his Achilles injury, this might be a great career move.

Weak-side Linebacker

This position is usually reserved for the most athletic and quick linebacker on the team. Because the 3 technique in front disallows the guard to get to the second level, the weak-side linebacker doesn’t have to worry about fighting off blocks. Danell Ellerbe, who left for Miami, played this position last season and helped solidify the Ravens defense down the stretch. Right now, rookie Arthur Brown is slotted to start at this position. His ability to fly all over the field will be a great asset at this position. Expect Brown to have a sensational rookie season.

Middle Linebacker

This position, long occupied by Ray Lewis, is the "thumper" of the defense. Because he lines up over the strong-side uncovered guard, the middle linebacker has to stack and shed blocks every run play. Typically, this player is much bigger and plays with better technique than the weak-side linebacker. Luckily, the Ravens were able to pick up a young player who fits this mold perfectly in Rolando McClain. Despite his many off the field issues, he has been a great run defender on the strong side of the formation.

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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