Analysis Notebook: Week 17
Well 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:
Matt 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.
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