The fine folks at Football Outsiders love breaking down the game with a combination of scouting and statistical analysis.
Baltimore Beatdown had the pleasure of asking the website five questions relating to the Ravens' upcoming 2013 season.
After reading the Q&A, I advise you to then purchase the 2013 edition of the Football Outsiders Almanac. It's well worth it for all you football die-hards out there.
Without further ado, here's the Football Outsiders Q&A:
Question: Based on how many plays Michael Oher had at left tackle in the 2012 regular season and Bryant McKinnie had in the 2012 postseason -- what was the percentage Joe Flacco was hurried or sack with each left tackle?
Football Outsiders: I am afraid I don't have all of the postseason breakdowns available. Even if I did, I would be concerned about another major variable: the offensive coordinator change, which affects everything from blocking schemes to the number of 3, 5, and 7 step drops. Oher allowed eight sacks and 25.5 blown blocks on pass plays by our count: numbers which are too high for a playoff-caliber left tackle.
If Ravens fans have worries about McKinnie's long-term viability, they can take a little solace in Juan Castillo's presence as a deputy line coach. Castillo was a mess as the Eagles defensive coordinator, but he was a successful line coach for years, and a lot of players respond to his gentle-yet-firm approach.
Q: Ray Rice took 257 carries (second lowest output in the last four years) and ran for 1,143 yards (his lowest output in the last four years.) With Bernard Pierce running for 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie, would the Ravens be wise to run Rice even less in 2013?
FO: During camp visits I noticed Pierce getting more involved in the passing game, as well. Diversification always helps a running game, and it usually keeps the starting running back healthy. Pierce was so effective against the Colts and Patriots in the postseason that it's hard to argue against a regular role as a change-up back who absorbs some of the grind-it-out carries. Ravens fans remember Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes as a 1-2 punch. Rice and Pierce can be like that, though Rice is more like Priest than Jamal.
Q: Baltimore's defense was uncharacteristically down a year ago, finishing the year ranked 17th in total defense. How do the additions of Chris Canty and Elvis Dumervil affect Baltimore in this regard, from a statistical standpoint?
FO: It is not as easy as plugging in 14 sacks or 28 hurries (Elvis and Canty's total for 2012, 23 of them from Elvis) because so many variables are involved. From a scouting standpoint, you add one of the quickest pure pass rushers in the league in Dumervil. He is not a hard guy to isolate during 1-on-1 drills in training camp: Elvis is quicker than Terrell Suggs, and his abilities stand out even when he is working out with a bunch of defending champions. The Ravens get to rush Suggs and Dumervil from opposite ends, which will dictate terms for the offense's pass protection, and should aid a secondary that has a lot of new faces/rookies/injury cases. Canty is a veteran grinder at this point in his career.
Q: Torrey Smith claims he sees double coverage a lot. Is there a statistic that FO keeps to back up how often he sees bracket coverage or more than one defender?
FO: We don't. Here's why. Watch a bunch of 11-on-11 and try to figure out what "double coverage" really means. Sometimes, yes, it is clear that two defenders are bracketing the receiver, though that is not as common an NFL tactic as it is at college or prep. Much more often, you have the cornerback trailing the receiver with a safety coming in "over the top" on a deep route. Was that safety doubling Smith, or was he doubling any receiver who ran a deep route? The answer is almost always b. Sometimes, you get a rolled zone coverage to one side of the field: it could be Torrey's side, or the side with the most receivers. Sometimes, you see what appears to be Cover-7, a complicated man-zone hybrid where the defense makes the coverage decision at the line of scrimmage based on the offensive formation.
Now, based on all of that variation, who is qualified to say how often Torrey Smith was double covered? Not some independent website. Again, I could isolate a play where the coverage was obvious, diagram it, write a blog piece about it, but I cannot take 70 plays and say "Torrey was double covered on 24 of them," and no one else really can, except perhaps the Ravens staff.
What I can say is that the Ravens offense is built around the receivers' ability to stretch the safeties deep and take the lid of the defense, and Smith is the guy most often tasked with doing that. If he has some two-catch game, but the rest of the offense does really well, and he claims he was drawing double coverage, I would guess before looking at the film that he is telling the truth,
Q: What was the rate of yards gained per play when Haloti Ngata was on the field vs. when he wasn't in 2012?
FO: That's another breakdown I don't have, and would be reluctant to use anyway. One of the games Ngata missed was a 55-20 win over the Raiders, a beat-down of a bad offense. Another was the meaningless Bengals game at the end of the year. He also missed a lot of a Browns game: another ugly offense. If I crunched the numbers, because the Ravens faced bad offenses and Bruce Gradkowski when Ngata was out, it might show that the defense was "better" without him, or that there was no change. That's a good example of why statheads like me have to be careful: NFL sample sizes are small and variables are vast. Doing some scientific-looking breakdown on a snap-by-snap basis can actually add more error to the method than it takes away.
Ngata is one of the best defenders in the NFL, and he is crucial to the Ravens' reload, not just as an anchor on the line but as a veteran holdover on defense. If the Ravens lose him for a game or two again, they should hope it is against some bad offenses.
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