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Earl Thomas’ quietly dominant season

Thomas quietly impacted the Ravens defense more than any other defender

New York Jets v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The common fan believes in simple stats. Touchdowns, sacks, interceptions, receptions, are what make good players, in their eyes. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes the best stats are the ones that never happen.

Many have rumbled in his first season with the Ravens, FS Earl Thomas III didn’t have the impact that he was paid for in free agency.

A quick glance at his box score totals from 2019:

• 38 combined tackles

• Two interceptions

• Four pass deflections

• Two sacks

• One forced fumble

These numbers added up to a Pro Bowl season? How?

Over a full season, Thomas had career lows in tackles and pass deflections, while seeing his second lowest total in interceptions.

Then, this happened . . .

The internet went wild with this. Sure, after Thomas put bulletin board material in the Titans locker room prior to their divisional round playoff matchup, this effort wasn’t the physicality Thomas had talked up.

He did corral Henry out of bounds, and save a touchdown in the process, despite Henry keeping Thomas at bay. Was Thomas paid to be an enforcer against 250-pound running backs? No. He was paid to lock down the middle of the field as a true free safety.

Did he do that? Well . . . judging by just two interceptions, no.

Undoubtedly, what Thomas didn’t do was more impressive. Thomas didn’t allow big plays. That’s not hyperbole, or figurative. There are two resources that track advanced metrics on defensive backs: PFF and Pro Football Reference.

According to PFF, Thomas allowed only six completions in his coverage on 14 targets in 15 games. That’s not a typo - just six receptions.

That’s a 42.9% completion rate, the lowest mark of Thomas’ ten-year career. Those six receptions went for 110 yards.

He notched two interceptions on those 14 targets, with a third being called back on a questionable Tony Jefferson DPI call. Considering Thomas lined up at free safety 593 times in 2019, opposing passers avoided Thomas like he had a cold sore at the homecoming dance.

By their tracking, Thomas was thrown at 14 times in 547 coverage snaps. That equates to 2.5 of every 100 passes going Thomas’ way. Pro Football Reference kept a different book on Thomas, showing 11 completions allowed on 25 targets for 113 yards and two interceptions.

That amounts to a 24.2 QB rating. That was the lowest figure in the NFL in 2019. Throwing the ball in the dirt is a 39.3 QB rating. In those 25 passes thrown at Thomas, he had two interceptions and four pass deflections. Six plays on the ball in 25 passes, nearly one every four times the ball way thrown his way.

PFR has Thomas’ 42% completion rate in coverage as the second-lowest in the NFL, and he also didn’t allow a touchdown in his coverage in 2019.

Above is the biggest play Thomas allowed this past season. His coverage on James White was air-tight.

After digging deeper than the initial box score, it’s evident that Thomas’ greatest impact was simply eliminating the middle third of the field past the linebackers. That’s exactly what the Baltimore Ravens paid Thomas to do. He delivered.

Maybe more quarterbacks will decide to throw caution to the wind and test Thomas in the deep third in 2020. Personally, I would recommend against doing so.