Undoubtedly, trading for Marcus Peters is the most noise the Ravens have ever made mid-season in their brief but illustrious history.
The Ravens acquired a young, two-time All-Pro cornerback in exchange for (essentially) Kaare Vedvik and Kenny Young. That’s right, Marcus Peters, who leads the NFL in interceptions since he was drafted in 2015 was acquired for a K/P and a young linebacker who has been a healthy scratch the last two weeks.
Before we get into what Peters means for the Ravens, let’s get to know Peters skill set and some background ...
Marcus grew up in Oakland and emerged as a budding track and football star. His senior year, Peters netted seven interceptions and returned six punts/kickoffs for touchdowns, leading McLymonds High School to their first ever undefeated season.
Peters went on to play at the University of Washington, where he was redshirted as a freshman in 2011. He wound up becoming a star in the Huskies defensive backfield, netting 11 interceptions and 35 pass deflections in 34 games over three years.
Peters is fiery, competitive and hates to lose. Those traits led to some immature decisions as a collegiate athlete, which hurt his draft stock. Despite those decisions, Peters was still selected in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs, and immediately became a star. Peters was a second-team All-Pro as a rookie and the 2015 DROY after leading the NFL in interceptions (8). The fourth year corner was selected to two pro-bowls and during his three-year stint with the Chiefs, he was selected to the ‘NFL Top 100’ three times.
Peters was suspended for one game by the Chiefs after throwing a penalty flag into the stands. He believed he had already been ejected, but regardless he made a poor decision and was fined $24k in addition to a one game suspension by the Chiefs.
The Chiefs then traded Peters to the Los Angeles Rams the following offseason for a second and a fourth-round pick. Peters struggled at times in 2018 with the Rams, although he made a number of impact plays.
Fast forward to 2019 where Peters has been solid in coverage, played well against the run and fared well against the likes of Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr.
Following injuries to Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Maurice Canady and DeShon Elliott, the Ravens need reinforcements in the secondary. In addition to trading for Peters, they brought back DB Bennett Jackson, who was on the team’s practice squad this summer before joining the Jets.
Now that we’re all caught up, let’s look at what Peters can do for the Ravens on the field.
I won’t dive too deep into Marcus Peters college career. He only allowed 38% of passes his way to be completed and was the preeminent player at his position heading into the NFL Draft.
My favorite individual source of NFL Draft scouting reports and information, Walter Cherepinksy summarized Peters skill set and accurately predicted his transition into the NFL:
For the NFL, Peters is a man-cover corner who is capable of going one-on-one against good receivers and keeping them from big games. Peters will give up some plays here and there, but overall, he has been very good at limiting the effectiveness of No. 1 receivers. Peters has the speed, size and agility to run with them and prevent separation. Peters is quick to maintain coverage in and out of breaks with the agility to open up his hips and run downfield when the wideouts go vertical. He also shows a nice job of defending the back-shoulder sideline throws that are en vogue in the NFL.
Peters is a dangerous cornerback to throw at with his ball skills. He is adept at snatching the pass and taking it the other way. In the NFL, it wouldn’t be surprising if he has some significant interception totals in some seasons.
For Peters to stick in the NFL and be a success, he has to change his attitude to work with a variety of coaches. Peters could mesh well with one staff and then have issues with another. With the frequency of coaching staff changes, it is important for Peters to become coachable. It wouldn’t be surprising if he becomes a player who bounces around as teams get tired of his act while other teams feel they can work with him.
Walter Football also broke down Peters skill set incredibly well—
Excellent at running the route
Can play press man
Can play off man
Loose hips to turn and run
Agile; maintains coverage in and out of breaks
Physicality; will battle receivers
Good hands for a cornerback
Adept at playing the ball for breakups
High-points the ball well
Can fight big receivers
Can run with vertical receivers
Great fit for zone scheme
Can have lapses to give up a play or two
Is he coachable?
Doesn’t react well to some coaches
Some question whether he learned from past issues
Cherepinsky hit the nail on the head with pneumatic precision.
Peters is physical, takes risks, has incredible ball skills and lets up the occasional big play. He has incredible hips and can play either man or zone, although press man highlights his physicality at the line of scrimmage.
During Peters stint in KC, then defensive coordinator Bob Sutton ran a high frequency of man coverage.
From Pro Football Focus in 2017:
No team plays more man-coverage than the Chiefs. The Chiefs use Cover-1 (man coverage with a single-high safety) as their staple coverage, and run it more than any other side. They have allowed three passing touchdowns in this coverage shell and five touchdowns in man coverage overall, allowing just 50 percent of the passes thrown against their man coverage to be caught.
Under Bob Sutton, the Chiefs bread and butter was Cover-1. Their defensive focal points were Eric Berry and Marcus Peters.
The primary man coverage shell, Cover-1 leaves a single-high safety as a safety net on the back end, with the cornerbacks manning up against the receivers in front of them. No team ran more predominantly man coverage schemes than the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, and more often than not they went with Cover-1, using it on 43.2 percent of their snaps against the pass. On those plays, they allowed 57.2 percent of passes to be completed and while they allowed five touchdowns, they also came away with five interceptions.
Cover-1 has similar principals as Cover-3 match zone, which is what the Ravens love to use with a press-jam look. Both Cover-1 and Cover-3 have a single-high safety that will roam deep between the hashes, taking the “deep middle” away.
Depending on personnel, teams will execute these coverages differently. If a team has a dominant free safety such as Earl Thomas, corners are comfortable playing outside leverage and keeping the sideline to funnel receivers towards a ball-hawking safety. If the corners are dominant such as Marlon Humphrey and safety play is a little suspect, corners will want to play inside leverage and funnel the receiver towards the sideline.
When teams have talent at both safety and cornerback they can be diverse. They can take inside or outside leverage depending on personnel, formation, field position etc. This allows a defense to be multiple and force both receivers and quarterbacks to process more pre-snap and be more reactionary post-snap.
The more a defense forces a quarterback to think, the longer the quarterback will hold the ball. The longer the quarterback holds the ball, the more time pass rushers have to get home. The more time pass rushers have to get home, the more times the quarterback will get hit. The more times a quarterback is hit, well, the more likely the defense is to succeed.
In 2018, Football Outsiders calculated each NFL Quarterback’s DVOA with and without pressure in 2018:
Across the NFL, quarterbacks produced twice as many yards per play (7.8 vs. 3.9) and enjoyed a near-100% jump in DVOA when they worked in a clean pocket versus when they dealt with pressure.
There have been incredibly in-depth debates about which is more important: having a good pass-rush or good coverage. Long story short, the two are dependent upon each other. PFF found that it’s easier to pay pass-rushers than cornerbacks because pass-rush numbers are more consistent on a per-player basis year-to-year.
A good pass rush can be negated by an effective quick passing game. Good coverage can be negated by good pass blocking. If that’s news to you, please knock yourself down a peg and start reading up on the sport.
Now, let’s take it back to Peters and the Ravens defense specifically.
Under Wink Martindale, the Ravens defense consists (mainly) of 4 key elements:
- Cover-3 match zone
- Cover-0 (all out blitz, man coverage)
- “Creepers” (blitzing linebackers/defensive backs, dropping defensive lineman in coverage)
- Man Coverage, primarily Cover-1 and 2-Man under (man coverage, two high safeties playing deep halves)
Martindale likes to blitz. A lot. In 2018, the Ravens blitzed (sent 5 or more defenders) on 39.1% of defensive snaps. That number led the NFL by 1.8% and only six teams blitzed over 30% of the time (three of which in the AFC North).
The Ravens generated pressure on 41.9% of blitzes, which ranked 20th in the NFL. However, that means that the Ravens generated pressure from blitzing on 16.4% of total defensive snaps. The Chargers led the NFL in pressure rate/blitz at 55.1% yet only blitzed on 14.6% of defensive snaps. That means the Chargers generated pressure from blitzing on 8% of defensive snaps.
Put more simply, no team in the NFL generated more pressures from blitzing in 2018 than the Baltimore Ravens.
There has been much made about the Ravens lack of pass rush in 2019. There Ravens pass rush is quite an enigma as things stand, but here’s what we know:
- The Ravens are hitting opposing Quarterbacks frequently. Baltimore is leading the NFL in quarterback Knockdowns and quarterback knockdowns/dropback. They’ve hit and sacked QB’s 36 times including sacks, sixth in the NFL.
- The Ravens aren’t getting pressure frequently. They’ve generated pressure on 22.2% of dropbacks, 19th in the NFL.
- The Ravens are blitzing every other dropback. Baltimore has sent 5+ pass rushers on 49.3% of dropbacks, a 10% increase from 2018, and are currently leading the NFL through six weeks (again).
As my friend Vasilis Lericos often points out, the Ravens had one huge outlier in 2018 that juiced up their pressure and sack numbers. The Ravens assaulted Tennessee and Marcus Mariota to the tune of 11 sacks and 17 pressures. If you take that game out, the Ravens accumulated 32 sacks in 15 games throughout 2018, which averages 2.1 per game.
In 2019 the Ravens have recorded 11 sacks through six games, 1.8 per game. Not a huge drop off as many claim. The losses of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith aren’t as significant as they’ve been made out to be. Opposing teams have negated the Ravens blitz by getting the ball out quickly.
According to Next Gen Stats, who chart every QB’s passing target location and depth of target, opposing passers haven’t attacked the Ravens deep. The Ravens past five opponents deep passes are charted as follows ...
- Andy Dalton: 0-1
- Mason Rudolph: 0-3, Devlin Hodges didn’t attempt a deep pass.
- Baker Mayfield: didn’t attempt a deep pass.
- Patrick Mahomes: 3-5, 31 air yards was the longest of his completions.
- Kyler Murray: 4-5, (all of which were between 22-30 air yards).
Of the Ravens last five opponents, they’ve cumulatively attempted 15 deep passes, merely three per game, and completed nine. The longest completion in air yards the Ravens have allowed is 31 yards, which is the shortest of any team in the NFL.
In other words, teams aren’t attacking deep, they’re attacking underneath. The Ravens have struggled defending the flats, shallow crossers, screens and bunch-trips formations. Baker Mayfield threw for over 300 yards without throwing one pass 20+ yards downfield.
Insert Marcus Peters.
PFF has Marcus Peters as their 14th rated cornerback in 2019. PFF has become the NFL’s version of Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t always agree with Rotten Tomatoes ratings (Step Brothers should be way higher than a 55%) but generally I do.
Peters is a clear cut upgrade over Maurice Canady (although he’s played admirably) who injured his hamstring against the Bengals. That leaves the Ravens with Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Cyrus Jones and Justin Bethel.
Let’s say Carr or Humphrey misses a game. That would leave the Ravens with one cornerback who can be trusted. Less than ideal with the likes of Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, DeShaun Watson and Jared Goff on the horizon.
Peters currently leads all CBs in coverage snaps per target pic.twitter.com/KS5HAAN2SI— PFF (@PFF) October 15, 2019
Peters has been targeted 16 times through five games, just over three targets/game. Teams haven’t been throwing at Peters. Now they will be forced to. Marlon Humphrey will return to playing LCB and Peters will most likely play the majority of snaps at RCB. Due to limited personnel, Wink Martindale has had Humphrey shadowing teams top receivers more often. I would expect that to regress.
Returning Humphrey to lock down one side will help to disguise coverage and play-calling pre-snap. Brandon Carr will most likely take more nickel duties and also play some safety in lieu of bringing Chuck Clark in the box. With Jimmy Smith returning to practice Wednesday, the Ravens secondary will be near the same place where they anticipated being before injuries decimated their personnel.
I get it. I get the rams and chiefs fans “Peters can’t/won’t tackle” narrative.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 16, 2019
Rams fans in particular saw some of the crazy strips and big hits, expected perfection from Peters. He’s aggressive, but he’s still a corner. Corners miss tackles. Good ones do, bad ones do.. heck.. pic.twitter.com/dFs0n7cO66
Peters has great screen recognition and is aggressive. He often does a great job holding the sideline and forcing runners back inside. His play recognition overall is extremely strong.
Peters has taken 1 coverage snap so far without playing cushion. Rams take advantage, Moore makes Peters miss.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 16, 2019
Peters won’t be playing eight yards off in goal-to-go situations with the Ravens, but he definitely got shook here.
Peters did hold the sideline, but no backup pic.twitter.com/qYmhFnzggQ
The Rams primarily asked Peters to play soft, often giving 8+ yards of cushion pre-snap. That left Peters vulnerable to plays like the screen shown above. The Ravens will ask Peters to return to what he did in Kansas City, mixing up press looks with a more shallow cushion at times. Peters is physical and makes big hits, but he also misses tackles at times. All cornerbacks do.
Peters also will provide insight against the Seahawks, who the Ravens play this upcoming Sunday, as well as the Rams when they travel to Baltimore next month. Peters has often been tasked with covering bigger, more physical receivers, such as D.K. Metcalf and Michael Thomas.
Let’s Peters press and he gives dudes the clamps ♀️ ♀️ ♀️— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 16, 2019
Man handled Metcalf there. Was never out of position. pic.twitter.com/6hV4PCuZyU
Michael Thomas gets called for OPI here, Marcus Peters doesn’t care. Punches the ball out at the top of the route.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 16, 2019
Wink is gonna love how many “shots on goal” Peters puts on tape. Peters is gonna love being encouraged to do so. pic.twitter.com/PWVAuMeE8V
Peters fits a similar profile to Jimmy Smith. He’s physical and handles bigger receivers well. He’s a bit more of a gambler in zone coverage and loves to read QB’s eyes like a safety and jump routes. He’s therefore susceptible to double moves, but teams typically don’t attack the Ravens with double moves or overtop very much. Peters will also have the benefit of Earl Thomas playing behind him. Thomas will shade towards Peters in coverage more so, while Martindale should opt to leave Humphrey on more of an island.
The best usage of Peters will be to eliminate the underneath drags, crossers and screens that teams have run to whichever side Marlon Humphrey isn’t covering.
Peters doesn’t bite on this PA whatsoever, runs the over route before the receiver does. pic.twitter.com/H9J88rR1DZ— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 16, 2019
Peters is one of the better corners in the league at defending crossers and over routes, which have torched the Ravens early in 2019. He’s also communicates well and is vocal on the back end. Peters has big game experience. He’s played in the playoffs each year of his career, and played well in the 2019 Super Bowl against the Patriots. He’s recorded two playoff interceptions in seven career playoff games.
Where Peters has struggled at times is in zone coverage when passing off routes and in soft man coverage without help overtop. Luckily, the Ravens won’t ask Peters to do much of either, while Earl Thomas III will have his back.
Looks like basic cover 3, which rams run a ton. Peters has heavy outside leverage, which means his responsibility is the sideline and John Johnson should have deep middle.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) October 16, 2019
Instead, Johnson jumps underneath and Metcalf scores an easy touchdown pic.twitter.com/lkMTbJF6Tz
Although Peters should’ve ran with Metcalf, this was the safeties fault. If Metcalf is given inside leverage on a deep post with no help overtop, he’s going to score a touchdown more often than not.
While many twitter GM’s have pontificated that Peters play has dropped off significantly, they can’t truly quantify why they think that. FanSided’s Ian Wharton has kept a close eye on Peters throughout his NFL career. He summarized the strengths and weakness of Peters, and why he believes Peters is a “Low-Risk High-Reward” trade for the Ravens.
Despite social media groans about Peters’ coverage ability, he’s been an excellent man coverage corner in his career. He’s finished in the top-10 of my man coverage charts in each of the last four seasons, which specializes in tracking positioning throughout the apex of routes. His bad plays are rare, yet he still has the reputation of being a gambler from his rookie season.
These misguided takes aside, Peters’ Rams tenure had been much better after Talib’s re-entrance into the lineup in Week 12 of 2018. He’s allowed only 16 receptions in man in 2019, which certainly runs counter to the narrative that he’s bad or lost effectiveness.
Though his incredible turnover rate slowed drastically, he’s been reliable in man assignments. The biggest issue in Los Angeles for both Peters and Talib often had more to do with poor safety play than their own mistakes.
For Baltimore, this trade likely a home run. Their second cornerback across from star Marlon Humphrey situation has been a disaster despite expectations. Brandon Carr finally looks his age and Jimmy Smith hasn’t played since the Miami game. There was a major need for a legitimate second corner.
Wharton also details how Peters role changed with the Rams, among other factors, has contributed to Peters being less effective in LA than he was in Kansas City—
Just looking at man coverage success rates, Peters’ 2017 rates (80 percent combined, 75 percent in press, and 82.2 percent in off-coverage) aren’t too dissimilar to 2018 (77.3 percent overall, 69 percent in press, 82.7 percent in off, and 77 percent in the slot). His overall success rate of 77.37 in 2018 would still have ranked eighth in the NFL last year.
One of the reasons that Peters has seen an increase of targets has been how defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has used him. Peters was almost exclusively a left cornerback for the Chiefs, and the vast majority of his snaps came off the line of scrimmage and without safety help. He mastered this alignment over his first three seasons.
Taking Wharton’s observations into consideration tells me this:
The Ravens should put Peters on one side of the field, keep him out of the slot for the most part and not ask him to shadow a receiver. The Rams have planted Peters as the RCB in 2019, and he’s improved universally as opposed to 2018.
At Baltimore Beatdown, one of our favorite phrases is, “Don’t force a square peg into a round hole.” The Ravens have shown the ability to resist doing, evidenced by how they’ve tailored an entire offense around Lamar Jackson. Asking players to do something that isn’t their strong suit is the easiest way to steer them towards failure. I believe the Ravens are aware of Peters weaknesses and strengths.
The Ravens are more familiar with their new playmaker than many realize. The Ravens faced Peters twice when he was with the Chiefs and have also held joint practices with the Rams each of the past two summers. That certainly contributed to the Ravens desire to acquire Peters, and likely the Rams had the same inclination with Kenny Young.
The addition of Peters will vastly improve the pass-rush. Teams will no longer be able to pick on Maurice Canady or Anthony Averett underneath. The Ravens have solidified their ILB’s with the additions of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, although I would expect that to be the new target of opposing game plans. That’s a dangerous game to play, as Earl Thomas III has been avoided like the bubonic plague so far this year - only being targeted 10 times through six games.
Quarterbacks are inevitably going to have to hold the ball longer. The Ravens pass-rush will have a better opportunity to get after opposing passers. The defense also won’t need to be watered down to hide the deficiencies of Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett, allowing Martindale to dial up the mayhem once again.
The Ravens play a tough game in Seattle before their bye week, where John Harbaugh’s Ravens typically do an outstanding job taking inventory of what works and what doesn’t, and asserting which type of identity they want to have on both sides of the ball. The Ravens will inevitably play a tough game following their bye against New England before facing the hapless Bengals again.
I would expect the Ravens defense to take major steps forward following their matchup against the Patriots, similarly to how the defense took steps forward when Lamar Jackson took over in Week 10 of 2018.
Eric DeCosta has apparently stolen some magic from the Wizard of Oz(zie) as he’s been outstanding in his first year as GM. Pernell McPhee has proved to be a quality, yet cheap signing. Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort appear to have improved the ILB room, and he just acquired a 26 year-old, two-time All-Pro cornerback for a reserve linebacker and Kaare Vedvik. Earl Thomas has been great and Mark Ingram is second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns. Hats off, DeCosta.
If Jimmy Smith is able to return to form in the next few weeks, the defense will return to a top-10 DVOA unit and perform more like they did down the stretch to win the AFC North crown in 2018.