All of the panic over the Baltimore Ravens and their Terrell Suggs-less defense was quieted on Monday night after a deafening performance that saw the team sack rival Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton four times, strip him of the football once, and hold the Bengals to just 13 points.
It’s the same Ravens story every year. They have a dominant defense, lose a quality player from that defense, and then use their depth to restore said dominant defense. Among the players lost this past summer was star pass rusher Suggs, a sack master who balled so hard in the previous season when he racked up an astounding 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions, but then he went down with a torn Achilles in the off-season.
Suggs’ numbers simply weren’t going to be duplicated this season by another Ravens defender and the coaches knew this, so they did the next best thing: work on fundamentals and discipline to have (once again) a strong team defense. This meant they would rely more on the secondary, a young (with the exception of Ed Reed) group of defensive backs that could mirror receivers throughout the game and buy the front seven more time to get after the quarterback.
Such was the case on Monday night against the Bengals, who had a measly 193 yards passing. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees played a variety of coverages — which included Cover 2 — on the back end as they matched up with the Bengals receivers and dialed up creative zone blitzes that are so commonly associated with impressive defense.
Two plays in Monday night’s game — both sacks — illustrate the Ravens’ use of Cover 2 and its variations. On this first play, the Ravens sacked Dalton on third down at the line of scrimmage because of the quality underneath coverage. Dalton lined up with three wide, including a Twin set (two receivers) to his left, and he took a three-step drop.
When it comes to three step drops, the quarterback eliminates half of the field based off his pre-snap keys and looks to find one of the two receivers open in the combination concept or the third option in the middle of the field.
In this case, Dalton dropped back and looked to his left (bottom half of the image), where his two receivers were running a combination concept that amounted to receivers in both the high and low depths of the field.
However, when he was ready to throw the ball to the No. 1 receiver, who ran the quick out, slot cornerback Lardarius Webb jumped the route and forced Dalton to pull the ball down. His deep receiver running the corner route was not open either because of the sinking boundary cornerback. Also, the third and final option — tight end Jermaine Gresham — in the middle of the field was bracketed by the middle and outside linebackers. Ultimately, the play resulted in a sack because of the great coverage from the Ravens.
The quality coverage from Cover 2 was common from the Ravens, including when they blitzed. Later in the game, Dalton again took a three-step drop, but this time he read right where he had high and low pass catchers once again. Instead of sitting back with seven in coverage like the previous example, the Ravens rushed five and dropped six into what amounted to a Fire Zone Blitz concept.
The keys in the trenches were Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Webb, who was the slot corner on this play.
Green-Ellis, who aligned to the left of Dalton, is instructed to block inside-out like any other blocker. While he did start off by checking inside, he failed to check outside where Webb was blitzing from the Field (wide side) and did not pick up the block. Instead, he committed to helping the left tackle block the edge rusher, who attacked the B gap (areas between G-T) from his C (outside of T) gap alignment.
In the back end, the Ravens played a soft Cover 2 (four under,two deep in Fire Zone) to keep the receivers in front of them and break on the ball if or when it was thrown. The key players in coverage were play-side linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and safety Bernard Pollard.
Ellerbe was responsible for covering the tight end running the option route. The route was designed to pull Ellerbe up the field so Dalton could throw behind him to the Dig route ran by the outside receiver. However, that didn’t quite work out.
Ellerbe mirrored the tight end and then passed him off to cornerback Jimmy Smith (who slipped on the play) when the tight end went to the flat. Once he did this, he dropped back into coverage and took away the Dig route from the inside while Pollard, the other key player, broke on the ball downhill from the outside, effectively creating an under and over bracket coverage.
When Smith slipped the tight end was open for Dalton, but it didn’t matter because Webb had just enough time to cover ground and apply pressure on Dalton to force an incomplete pass due to the quality coverage early in the play.
This Fire Zone Blitz concept was a quality design by Dean Pees and one that we’ve seen in different forms from the Ravens in past seasons. It’s very likely that we’ll see something similar on Sunday when the Ravens travel to Philadelphia to face Michael Vick and the Eagles.
Vick and the Eagles offense are coming off of a very poor performance in Week 1, and they’re are facing injuries to their top two receivers. Vick also has struggled throughout his career while trying to identify blitzers before the snap, which is why it’s very likely the Ravens defense dials up more Fire Zone Blitzes as they continue to try to replace the production of Suggs.