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What does Yannick Ngakoue bring to the Ravens defense?

Twitched up explosion and sacks — lots of sacks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Ravens made a move that checks off two boxes that are prerequisites for a Baltimore Super Bowl:

  1. Have a former Maryland Terrapin on the roster (Jermaine Lewis, Torrey Smith).
  2. Roster an elite pass rusher (Michael McCrary, Terrell Suggs).

Those are tongue in cheek (kind of), but Yannick Ngakoue fits both categories.

What does Ngakoue bring to Baltimore that the Ravens don’t currently have? A perimeter pass rusher who can bend, truly bend and ghost around offensive tackles and generate quick sacks one on one. Ngakoue will be the most technically skilled, as well as explosive pass rusher that the Ravens trot out on Sunday’s for the rest of the season as well. He also provides scary depth.

Pernell McPhee will not have to take significant snaps in insignificant games, for example. McPhee has put forth extremely strong play over the past two years when he’s on the field. However, he’s both delivered and taken a beating in his career, with a laundry list of injuries and games missed to attest to the fact that it’s wise to limit him to a heavy rotational role to keep him rested and healthy.

Schematically, Ngakoue will both enhance the Ravens current scheme, which is strongly dependent on twists and stunts. He will force passers to step up into the pocket even more, while Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike collapse the pocket.

The former Friendship Knight also produces lightning quick pressures and sacks. According to Next Gen Stats, Ngakoue has registered one of the NFL’s 20 quickest sacks in 2017, 2019 and 2020. He’s appeared four times, registering sacks of:

  • 2.17s (Week 5, 2019)
  • 2.28s (Week 1, 2017)
  • 2.34s (Week 12, 2019)
  • 2.77s (Week 2, 2020)

Ngakoue is the only player in the NFL to appear on NGS’s list four times. The only Ravens to appear on that list since the beginning of 2017 is Matthew Judon (2.27s, Week 4, 2020). Although, Ngakoue’s former tag-team partner in “Sacksonville” and reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week appears on that list twice, as well.

Ngakoue also presents explosive ability on T-E stunts, which he executed in Jacksonville in tandem with Calais Campbell extremely well.

If the stunt between Campbell and Ngakoue looks fimilar, that’s because you saw the exact same thing when the Ravens executed it from the left side against the Eagles.

Ngakoue will open things up for defensive coordinator “Wink” Martindale. While I believe any expectation for blitzing to reduce significantly is hyperbole, it will allow Martindale to feel more confident without as much noise and commotion necessary on the backend. Off-ball players won’t need to be as “deceptive” pre-snap all the time. The Ravens can kind of line up and cover a bit more. This will play to the strength of their three effective press man corners, Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters.

We could see more cover-1/cover-3 and less cover-0, as well. While Martindale won’t relent the blitz, he will feel more confident in four and five man rushes to get home at times. This will allow the Ravens to continue perfecting their exotic pre-snap pressure schemes in practice and relying on the ones they’re confident can confuse their weekly opposition’s pass protection rules.

However, don’t expect linebackers and defensive backs to stop blitzing with high regularity, as it’s Martindale’s defensive DNA.

With Patrick Queen, DeShon Elliott, Chuck Clark, L.J. Fort, and Marlon Humphrey showing prowess as off-ball pass rushers, the Ravens would be foolish not to continue using them enough to force opposing quarterbacks to account for the possibility. The amount of unblocked pressures, as well as the coverage ability of Judon and Bowser when bluffing into zones (Bowser can straight up cover in man), the entire playbook will be Martindale’s oyster.

Ravens off-ball pressures and pass rushes (via Sports Info Solutions):

  • Patrick Queen: 34 pass rushes — 3 QB hits, 2 sacks, 5 hurries.
  • Chuck Clark: 47 pass rushes — 1 QB hit, 3 sacks, 5 hurries.
  • DeShon Elliott: 36 pass rushes — 2 QB hits, 2 sacks, 5 hurries.
Ravens off-ball pressures
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The Ravens four primary off-ball pass rushers have generated 25 combined pressures and 8 sacks on 119 total pass rushes. While you can’t compare one player to four, 8 sacks on 119 pass rushes would be more than any player in the NFL currently has, while 119 pass rushing attempts would rank 68th, according to Sports Info Solutions. Their 25 combined pressures would tie Judon for eighth in the NFL. In summary, they’re still going to blitz, but can also line up with basic four and five man attacks and play man coverage because of Ngakoue.

Going into Week 8, the Ravens coverage splits (based on Marcus Peters coverage snaps, who has played 410/417 defensive snaps and 285 coverage snaps) look like this:

  • Cover-0: 21
  • Cover-1: 77
  • Cover-2: 13
  • Man cover-2: 5
  • Cover-3-: 79
  • Cover-4: 36
  • Cover-6: 7
  • Screens defended: 26 (6th most)
  • Tampa-2: 0

These change depending on opponent, but overall, the Ravens are quite hesitant to play two-high (only 22% of their non-screen coverage snaps are in two high looks). With the addition of Ngakoue, this could lower even more, while dropping seven into coverage and forcing passers to pick them apart underneath.

Ngakoue also has traditionally spent more time with his hand in the dirt as a “defensive end” as opposed to an “outside linebacker” standing. Here are his splits between the two distinctions, via Pro Football Focus:

  • 2020: 110 OLB, 200 DE.
  • 2019: 454 OLB, 392 DE.
  • 2018: 39 OLB, 708 DE.
  • 2017: 23 OLB, 880 DE.
  • 2016: 5 OLB, 701 DE.

Overall, Ngakoue has spent 17% of his time standing, between the two, with some various inside linebacker snaps as well. Baltimore typically has their edge defenders standing, unless it’s an obvious passing situation. Ngakoue has awesome snap anticipation and explodes out of his three point stance, so if he needs to do that to get the quick pressure that has made him an impactful defender, I’m sure they will do so.

Against the run, Ngakoue is a bit light in the pants. Moving into a stand up role in neutral downs with Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike taking on offensive lineman in tight spaces will allow Ngakoue to work against tight ends more, with more of a runway. Ngakoue isn’t the same level run defender as he is a pass rusher, but has made quite a few plays in the backfield against the run. His 31 tackles for loss since the beginning of 2018 rank ninth in the NFL (Stathead.com).

The Ravens do a great job forcing tight ends to block their outside linebackers, which Ngakoue will brutally abuse in both pass and run blocking when presented the opportunity. Playing in a scheme with three down lineman (not including himself) is going to be a scary sight. Five-man rushes will ensure one on ones, or force teams to keep backs and tight ends in to help out. There aren’t many offensive lines that should be able to thwart five-man combinations of Ngakoue, Campbell, Judon, Bowser, McPhee, Wolfe and Williams.

In terms of technique, Ngakoue is easily the most advanced edge rusher on the Ravens roster. His favorite move is the “cross-chop”, which he uses to keep OT’s hands off of him as he speed rushes the arc.

Ngakoue figures to line up at RUSH opposite of Judon, who plays SAM, once he’s fully acclimated into the defense in a few weeks. Bowser will likely rotate at SAM and RUSH, with McPhee and Ferguson also taking RUSH snaps as well as kicking inside at times (McPhee more so).

Ngakoue will bring the juice on third downs, where he forces quarterbacks to drop their eyes and escape, where delayed blitzes and spies should allow Ravens off ball rushers to clean up if Ngakoue can’t get the QB down. His speed and technique to run the arc are better than any pass rusher not named Elvis Dumervil in recent Ravens history. Martindale finally has someone who can threaten strip sacks from the blindside with consistency.

Defensive backs jamming at the line of scrimmage will be imperative, as the best way to negate a pass rush is the quick passing game. Taking those initial reads away, forcing QB’s to go through progressions and beat Humphrey, Peters and Smith will provide even more sacks and turnovers. The Ravens already rank third in sacks per game and second in turnovers forced. Those numbers will trend upwards, as the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL has a bye and a shiny new toy to dominate opposing offenses.