The Ravens jump up to 5-10 on the season after defeating their division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. A sweep of the team that also put their postseason chances in great dispute. It doesn't mean much to the Baltimore Ravens this year, but it does give the coaches a possible glimpse at how to best utilize their players to get the greatest result. Because of that, the snap counts will tell us a lot about who could be staying or leaving this offseason.
As has been the case for the last few weeks, the offensive line has finally found consistency. All five players played a full 100% of the game yet again, and it is clear that while this might not be the best unit we've seen, they are starting to gel around each other and be much better than they were earlier in the year. Add to that fourth-string quarterback Ryan Mallett playing every snap as well, having been sacked only once.
The wide receivers are where things get interesting. Head coach John Harbaugh looks to be giving the best performing players the biggest chances now as we see Jeremy Butler and Kamar Aiken lead the receivers pretty heavily. Aiken did miss a few snaps while he was having his hand looked at, so those two appear to have had the same number of opportunities and it paid off. Both young receivers received a lot of targets with Kamar Aiken catching all 8 of his for 66 yards, while Butler was targeted 6 times, catching only 3 of them for 38 yards. The only other receivers to see any targets at all were Chris Givens, who hauled in one of them for 39 yards; and Chris Matthews, who got his first catch of the season and the first touchdown of the game.
We saw a lot of the offense that we expected at the beginning of the year, with the running backs being heavily featured in both the run game and in catching the ball out of the backfield. Combined, Javorius Allen, Terrance West, and Kyle Juszczyk had 10 receptions on 12 targets, going for 90 yards while rushing 31 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. The addition of these athletes in that capacity allowed Ryan Mallett to find a rhythm early and often and kept the Steelers from being able to blitz too heavily for fear of getting beat for big yards. Look for more of them in the last game of the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals and especially in 2016.
Despite numerous injuries to starters and especially depth secondary players, the Ravens defense held it's own nicely against one of the best offenses in the league. Keeping Antonio Brown to only 61 yards on 11 targets, and Ben Roethlisberger to a 62.7 quarterback rating, it is important to see how they used players to see how the scheme might change next year.
C.J. Mosley was the only player to see every defensive snap for yet another week, showing just how important he is to this defense week in and out. Aging linebacker Daryl Smith was used a little less this week, going from 88% down to 80% as the defensive scheme was primarily looking for the Steelers to throw. In exchange, defensive coordinator Dean Pees spent more time looking at the secondary.
Lardarius Webb played quite a bit at the safety spot, combining with Kendrick Lewis to essentially be two free safeties and take away deep passes. Webb saw 80% of the game, while Lewis got 97%, the second most behind Mosley. Because the Ravens put in Webb more at safety, it took away from the snap counts for Will Hill III pretty significantly, knocking him down to 51% from 98% in week 15. The extra help on the back end did wonders for both Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright, who played 95% of the snaps each. The cover safety help even assisted Kyle Arrington who got 46% against the Steelers, up from the 0% he saw against the Chiefs. All in all, the Ravens focused on playing a much tighter game in the secondary and allowing their corners to play straight on against the top Steeler receivers. Clearly it worked and it might be something we see them do more of.
The defensive line has come into it's own, getting serious pressure with the rush linebackers against Ben Roethlisberger. Sacking him four times and getting frequent pressure with only four rushers was key in allowing the Ravens to focus more on it's secondary and keep players back there to limit what damage could be done against them. If that unit continues to improve into the offseason, there might have to be a serious thought of switching to a 4-3 defense to utilize that abundance of talent.