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Bye Week Defensive Profit and Loss

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What’s worked? What hasn’t? How to keep improving . . .

Baltimore Ravens v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens are sitting pretty at 5-2 heading into their bye week. They’ve reeled off three straight wins, taking a nice 2.5-game stranglehold on the AFC North. John Harbaugh’s Ravens are typically strong in September, meddle in October, then unleash hell following the Ravens off-week.

The bye provides the Ravens times to self-scout, take inventory and game plan the remainder of their season. Harbaugh’s teams typically have a decisive identity on each side of the ball in November and December. Being able to expand on what’s been successful and cut dead weight with what’s continuously failed is imperative.

Let’s take a look at what’s expected to be expanded upon and what needs to be cut.


Profit:

Contrary to popular belief, the Ravens have actually been extremely positive as far as generating pressure at times, although the pass-rush is quite streaky. Taking into account there is no real dominant presence, the Ravens pass-rush has been better than expected, although they haven’t been able to translate pressure into sacks. The main reason why is because teams were attacking underneath opposite of Marlon Humphrey. When quarterbacks get the ball out on their first read, it’s a tall task to consistently disrupt their rhythm.

To measure how effective a unit is at generating pressure, I like to cross reference three sets of data with my own eyes.


Pass Rush:

  1. ESPN’s pass rush win rate
  2. PFF pass rush/pass block grade
  3. Pro Football Reference’s pressure, QB hits and QB knockdowns.
  4. What tape shows

ESPN uses player tracking via geolocation to establish one simple principle: who won over the first 2.5 seconds of a pass rush?

ESPN uses the 2.5 second benchmark for two reasons.

  1. Anything before is too quick to truly judge who won a pass rushing rep.
  2. After 2.5 seconds falls into a grey area of coverage sacks vs. winning.

Further, it measures a pass-rusher’s ability to win with their first move, and offensive lineman’s ability to thwart a pass-rushers initial plan.

The Ravens are charted as follows by ESPN’s PRWR’s (only top ten best and worsts are displayed).

The Ravens rank second at pass-rush win rate (56%). This might be puzzling considering how low their sack numbers are. It’s because the 2.5 second threshold hasn’t been met often. Teams have thrown the ball underneath so quickly and frequently that pass rushers simply don’t get an opportunity to get home.

Matt Judon ranks 5th among DE/OLB win rates, winning 27% of his pass rushing reps. He’s behind Shaquil Barrett, Khalil Mack, T.J. watt and Robert Quinn.

Judon wins a lot, plainly put. His losses are quite bad, though, which leads to his PFF grade being only “above average” (68.6). His grade is also hurt from a few penalties, which PFF weighs significantly. PFF also magnifies big wins and losses, whereas ESPN’s PRWR treats all wins and losses the same.

Judon is on pace for a career-best year and a massive contract.

• 3rd in QB hits (13) and QB knockdowns (9). That means Judon has hit the passer while throwing four times.

• Four sacks, which isn’t lighting the world on fire, but Judon has been getting hits and pressures, so he will get home more with better coverage and considering his high win rate.

• 15th in pressures (18), only Ravens player with 10 or more

He will set personal bests across the board if he continues his current pace. Over 16 games at this rate Judon would produce around 30 QB hits, nine sacks, and 41 pressures.

Taking into consideration that Judon has dropped into coverage 49 times in 201 pass snaps defended and the picture is painted of a versatile, durable defender who wins frequently.

Judon has won with speed-to-power, length and efficient athleticism as a pass-rusher. He has great eyes, which allows him to take the right path to disrupt the quarterback as opposed to rushing blindly and hoping for the best.

Tyus Bowser has also been impressive which he demonstrated in Seattle, where he was PFF’s highest-rated defender. Bowser saw only 15% of defensive snaps over his first two season but with Pernell McPhee on the injured reserve, I fully expect Bowser to step up. His technique has improved year-to-year and his athletic profile is awesome.

Brandon Williams had quarterback hits on consecutive plays in Seattle, which gave him three for the year. Williams’ career-high is four QB hits in a season, so perhaps he has turned a corner. Any interior pass-rush is a welcome sight, although it appears that Wink doesn’t ask the big uglies to really do more than push the pocket in his two gap system. Pierce and Williams are asked to shoot gaps to disrupt and clear lanes for stunts, but rarely more.

Jihad Ward has been a pleasant surprise, as he can play face up over the center, 3-tech, 5-tech and saw snaps at OLB in Seattle. He isn’t a game-breaker, but fills the void that Brent Urban left as a lengthy 3-tech who can clog passing lanes and snag nearby ball carriers.

Overall, the Ravens have been successful when coverage has forced opposing passers to go through more than one read. With the addition of Marcus Peters and the return of Jimmy Smith, ample opportunity to get sacks and QB hits should emerge after the bye.


Run Defense:

The Ravens were an embarrassment against the Chiefs and Browns. Much of that had to do with Brandon Williams being inactive and ineptitude from Kenny Young, Patrick Onwuasor and Chris Board.

Those who debate the intricacies of statistics and argue on twitter love to contest, “Well if you take out the Giants game, then McCaffrey is. . .” or, “If Saquon played against Oakland then. . .”

Well guess what? They didn’t. There are 32 teams and each team plays 16 games. Brandon Williams didn’t play against Cleveland. The Ravens got punished. The Ravens run defense ranks third in the NFL in yards per game allowed, they rank in the middle of the pack surrendering 4.2 yards per carry and have allowed eight rushing touchdowns.

The acquisitions of Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort and Jihad Ward have immediately improved the Ravens run defense. Jaylon Ferguson has also emerged as a bullish edge=setter with good length to shed blockers and wrestle ball carriers to the turf.

It’s a bit surreal how well the mid-season acquisitions have performed. Typically, it takes a few weeks to get players up to speed, but the trio of aforementioned players seamlessly transitioned into meaningful roles. Credit in that case is due to “Wink” Martindale and the defensive coaching staff. Being able to simplify the scheme and assignments is a testament to the efficiency that John Harbaugh’s team has adapted despite intense complexity in regard to scheme on both sides of the ball.

Having two fire hydrants clogging four gaps also makes life easier on linebackers. Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams have each commanded a double team on the same play several times this season.

If you want to run the ball, you have to double team whichever, or both of the duo. They’re simply too stout with their low center of gravity and incredible strength. They both play with good balance as well, which allows them to dig in on combo blocks and prevent running lanes from widening. Rarely are offensive lineman able to combo the bash bros quickly, then square up linebackers, which makes being a linebacker relatively easy in run defense. Fill the lane, keep your eyes up, make the tackle.


Pass Defense:

The addition of Marcus Peters has brought obvious value. Jimmy Smith returning will finally give the Ravens the incredible secondary that they had assembled on paper in April.

Marcus Peters, Earl Thomas and Marlon Humphrey are all allowing less than 50% of targets to be completed in their coverage. The one player specifically whose stock is currently soaring is Chuck Clark.

Marcus Peters is just another incredible move by Eric DeCosta, who paid immediate dividends. Peters is the fourth-rated cornerback by PFF. He’s allowing the tenth-lowest completion percentage in coverage and already has two pick-sixes through seven games.

Peters isn’t a bandaid, he’s a liver transplant. The Ravens were abused by underneath picks, screens, drags and crossers prior to Peters, who just so happens to specialize in defending such concepts. He causes quarterbacks to hesitate, and forces passers to target Marlon Humphrey and Earl Thomas, which they weren’t.

Humphrey, Thomas and Peters are allowing three of the ten lowest completion percentages in the NFL as things stand. Along with Chuck Clark, the Ravens have regained air traffic control and are certainly one of the top three defensive backfields in the NFL.

Solidifying the backfield is imperative to improving a suspect pass-rush, especially following the loss of Pernell McPhee. The Ravens will most certainly make additions then tweak their lineup to ensure there’s enough depth to contend.


Loss:

The Ravens are in a great place defensively, which is surprising. Merely a month ago, Baltimore had allowed over 1,000 yards and 70 points to the Browns and Chiefs in consecutive losses. They’ve rebounded incredibly.

However, losses have been quite literally players that have been. . . lost for the year. Tony Jefferson, DeShon Elliott, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith have all missed significant time. Taking these injuries into consideration makes the Ravens 5-2 record much more impressive.

Wink Martindale has remained confident in his unit, and didn’t panic after the Ravens got torched. With so many new faces and injuries, obviously there would be major road blocks.

The bye week will give the defense time to make more adjustments and establish identity on a macro scale and find the right personnel groupings on a micro scale. Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, Jihad Ward, Marcus Peters and Ufomba Kamaulu time to settle and adjust.

These acquisitions (the ones who have played) have been just short of divine intervention. Eric DeCosta gave this defense a liver transplant when it needed one, rather than just putting a bandaid on it and praying.

With the Ravens rejuvenated, healthy and given time to scout themselves, expect an even more efficient and concise unit following the bye week.