Analysis Notebook: Week 17

Sam Monson explores a key feature that could set one playoff team apart from the rest.

| 2 years ago

Analysis Notebook: Week 17

analysis notebook copyWell that’s another regular season in the books. Seventeen weeks of NFL action done and dusted with just the playoffs left. PFF has run the rule over each and every play run this season and the data is all up on the site to enjoy.

So rather than looking back, let’s take a little look forward at the playoffs and one team in particular that has something rather unique that may give them the opportunity to make some noise. The Baltimore Ravens may have a beat up secondary, a patchy quarterback, and are relying on an unheralded journeyman in Justin Forsett to carry the run game, but they have something none of the other teams in the postseason have – three legitimate pass rushing edge-threats they can deploy at once.

In Pernell McPhee, Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens have three of the league’s best 3-4 outside linebackers.

Some teams (Houston, say) have one elite pass rusher and not a whole lot around him. If your team is lucky (Seattle, Kansas City etc), you’ve got two legit rushers that can cause offenses problems. The Ravens have three.

It’s tough to overstate what that means for a defense that has major problems behind them. J.J. Watt is the best and most devastating player in the NFL, but it’s not that hard to take him out of a game if you really dedicate yourself to doing it. The teams that have neutralized him the most over the past couple of seasons are the St. Louis Rams and the Oakland Raiders. Neither of those sides was very good at the time nor particularly strong as a blocking unit. They didn’t even do anything particularly crazy to stop him – just a mixture of common sense approaches all consciously enacted to minimize his impact on the game.

That becomes much tougher to do the more people you have to worry about. You can run the ball away from one guy, but if the defensive line has three of them, where do you go? You can dedicate extra blockers to one threat, but three guys means if you protect with just five at least one of them has to be one-on-one. If you keep six guys in you’re losing an eligible receiver. At the very minimum by that approach they’ve already made an impact even if they get no pressure – they have reduced the number of receivers the coverage has to deal with by one.



The Ravens’ trio aren’t just individually formidable – Suggs and Dumervil in particular have had success individually without much around them in the past – but together they become even greater than the sum of their parts. There were 13 sacks this season by one of the three that also featured pressure on the play by one of the two others. There were three that featured pressure by both of them in addition.

What exactly does that look like?

Something like this:

SuggsMatt Ryan has no hope on this play. All three of the Ravens’ pass rushers converge on him almost at the same time as he reaches the top of his drop. This play is dead on arrival. McPhee up the middle might be the slowest of the three to get there, but the Falcons kept seven guys in to pass protect and he was actually double-teamed at the line. This is a four-man rush defeating a seven-man protection almost immediately.

If just one of the three had won on the play there is a pretty good chance that Ryan could have escaped the pressure and made a play anyway, but with all three converging at once, it’s game over.

Joe Flacco has shown the ability to get hot and go on a run in the past. This has actually been one of his better seasons on the quiet and he has played pretty well for stretches. The offensive line has helped both Flacco and the run game this season after being one of the worst units in the league a year ago. The Ravens’ offense should actually hold up OK, and if Flacco ups his game then anything is possible on that side of the ball.

Injuries have bitten deep in the Baltimore secondary, and at cornerback in particular they are down to the bare bones. If there’s one thing that can help out an ailing secondary it’s upping the pressure up front and disrupting a passing attack from that side. The Ravens are uniquely qualified among the playoff teams to do exactly that, and it could be the difference in close postseason games.


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam


| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Football

    Don’t forget CJ Mosley. Ravens have a great defense

  • nono

    As the year comes to an end, Id like to use this as a PFF appreciation thread. Despite what many of the naysayers say, you guys have done tremendous work and I come to this site everyday finding info that cannot be found in any other outlet. People may not agree with your methods of grading. However, the amount of tape that is watched collectively by the team must be respected. No other entity is doing the work that you guys do. So you guys will know certain things that nobody will know or understand. I have no doubt PFF will play an important part in the football world for a long time. Ive been purchasing premium stats PFF for a couple years now with no intentions of slowing down. So on behalf of all your readers, Id like to say thank you. Happy New Year and lets have many more!

    • Jay

      I completely agree. This is the best source for information anywhere other than being on an NFL team (maybe). When I first began following this website I initially thought they were to harsh with their grades. But as time went on and I saw more of their analysis and notebooks I realized that I was too harsh, they were being objective.

    • PFFSamMonson

      Thanks for the kind words and Happy New Year to you too!

      • nono

        no disrespect to the other people on the team but you neil and steve are def the core…..i love the articles you guys come out with….happy new year

  • davathon

    The Dolphins have the best 3 edge rushers in Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, and Dion Jordan. It’s just that their coaches are too dumb to move to a 3-4 defense or find better ways to utilize #3 overall pick Jordan. So, he sits on the bench behind Wake and Vernon. No wonder they miss the playoffs every year.

    • Supychou

      Good one. Keep going.

    • Football

      The Dolphins miss the playoffs each year because their GMs and head coach are incompetent

    • Chris

      Wake is the best 4-3 edge rusher in the league. Vernon? Maybe top 15 or 20. Jordan has disappointed this year and has not graded well.

      Dumervil and McPhee are the #2 and #3 3-4 edge rushers, and Suggs ranks top 10 as well.

      The Dolphins front 4 is great, but only a Miami fan would put those 3 ahead of the Baltimore trio.