Ravens must account for Watt

The Ravens travel to Houston on Sunday with the Texans having big questions at quarterback. But the Ravens would be foolish to believe this game will be a walk in the park. On the defensive side of the ball, the Texans have potential MVP candidate J.J. Watt, who is playing well above the $100 million contract extension he received at the start of the season.

(Discuss this post on the BSL forums here)

Watt has become the best defensive player in the NFL and is a dominant pass rusher. Houston runs a base 3-4 defense, but they have multiple nickel and sub-packages that move Watt around to find his best match up for each game.

His athleticism reminds you of the defensive equivalent to an athletic tight end. When you talk about the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, you say they’re too big and strong for corners to cover, but too quick for linebackers and safeties to keep up with. Watt is the same on defense. He’s too strong for offensive tackles to block on the edge, and too quick for guards and centers to block inside.

RT 1a

Here, Watt lines up as a 4-3 defensive end against the Giants right tackle.

RT 1b

From the snap, Watt wins leverage. Despite being 6’5” and 289 pounds, Watt manages to keep his pad level lower than the tackle. He quickly gets his hands inside onto the body of the tackle. With quick hand placement and low pad level, Watt gains all the leverage in the block before the tackle even has a chance to get himself set.

RT 1c

Watt uses that leverage to his full advantage. He shoves the tackle to the outside.

RT 1d

The tackle can’t deal with Watt’s strength and is forced to try and almost tackle Watt to save the sack.

RT 1e

But Watt makes a great diving effort to get to quarterback Eli Manning and make the sack.

As I mentioned above, the Texans will move Watt all around the defensive line to find his best match up. He’s comfortable playing in just about every technique.

3 tech 1a

But if the Texans don’t line him up outside the tackle, he’ll most often be found as a 3-technique defensive tackle, as he was here against the Titans.

3 tech 1b

Watt uses his quickness on the inside against guards. On this rush, he fakes a rush into the A gap before working back to the B gap outside right guard Chance Warmack.

3 tech 1c

Watt uses a quick club and swim move, his most effective move, to fight through the block attempt from Warmack.

3 tech 1d

He quickly works past Warmack and closes in on the quarterback.

3 tech 1e

Watt wraps up the quarterback for another sack.

But Watt has more strings to his bow than just being a terrific pass rusher. He can be a stout run defender too. He often blows up blocks and finds himself in the backfield, making tackles for loss.

run D 1a

The Eagles are one of the best running teams in the NFL and have been since Chip Kelly was appointed head coach. Kelly was wise to run the ball away from Watt on a zone play intended to go towards the right tackle.

run D 1b

But Watt uses his quickness off the snap to get play-side of his blocker and then uses his strength to stand him up.

run D 1c

Watt quickly works pass the guard in to the backfield. Running back LeSean McCoy spots Watt breaking through the line and knows he has to cut back his run quickly.

run D 1d

But before McCoy can start his trademark juking moves, Watt closes the gap and dives to make the play. He even manages to get his hand on the football, nearly knocking it loose. McCoy is forced to accept a loss on the play.

Watt is in terrific form at the moment, with seven sacks in his last three games. But he has the complete game to back up his pass rushing skills. He’s a force to be reckoned with in the run game, as we’ve seen above, and is always alert to quick passes and screens, getting his hands in passing lanes to deflect passes. He has an impact on almost every snap. The Ravens will have to prioritise Watt, identifying exactly where he lines up on every play and have a game plan to deal with him.

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NFL Player Rankings Through Week 15

I’ve been unveiling the NFL’s All Decade Teams using Z-score to determine the best individual seasons. With the 2010 to the present seasons left to unveil, which we’ll do at the end of this season, this is a build up to who may be the top players when the season ends, and an early prediction for league MVP

Check out these articles for all you need to know about Z-Score. The short version is that a score is assigned to each qualifying player on a scale of -4.0 to +4.0, where 0.0 is average.

Anything over 1.96 is considered in the top 5% or “elite” by some definitions. In most seasons, scoring above 1.96 means you should be in consideration for the league’s MVP.

Here is a look at the elite players, MVP candidates if you will, with 15 weeks in the books. There were eight of them when we did this following week 4, and seven of them following week 10. They were Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, Peyton Manning, Marshawn Lynch, Antonio Brown, Aaron Rodgers, and Arian Foster. We have narrowed the field to four of them this time around, and one that stands out far above the rest.

Discuss your thoughts on this topic on our message board.

Demaryius Thomas – sRBZ: 1.9653 – Thomas has been a model of consistency ever since Peyton Manning took over quarterbacking in Denver. Despite other talented receivers around him, and the Broncos becoming a run first offense of late, Thomas is still logging the big time stats. He ranks second in the league with 96 catches, third in yards with 1,389 yards (99.2 YPG), and tied for third with 11 scores.

Odell Beckham – sRBZ: 2.039 – Beckham not only made the catch of the year, decade, maybe century in a prime time game with Dallas a few weeks back, but he’s also been  putting up some really good numbers in his ten games played thus far in his rookie year. He ranks third in catches per game with 7.1, he is 28 yards shy of cracking 1,000 with two games left (97.2 YPG). In ten games, Beckham has notched nine touchdowns. Even without the amazing catch, Beckham should be a shoe in for offensive rookie of the year.

Antonio Brown – sRBZ: 2.2755 – Brown had found himself the sRBZ leader after four weeks, and was third in sRBZ after ten. But he’s lead all receivers, all year long, and that continues with two games to go. Brown has the most catches by a lot, 19 more than Demaryius Thomas with 115. He’s second in yards per game at 107 (Julio Jones, 109.8), leads the league with 1,498 yards, and like Thomas, also has 11 TDs.

Brown is held out of the top spot in the league by a newcomer to the elite club, cracking the 1.96 “elite” threshold for the first time, thanks to some hall of fame level play of late. It’s also a teammate of Browns.

Le’Veon Bell – sRBZ: 2.7208 – Bell has come on strong of late with a three game stretch of production only matched by Walter Payton. He had a three game stretch where he totaled over 200 scrimmage yards in each game. Bell is the only player averaging over 6.0 yards per touch (6.04). He and DeMarco Murray are the only two players over the 2,000 scrimmage yards mark thus far (Murray: 2,082, Bell: 2,043). He averages 145.8 Y/G, is fourth in the league with 10 TDs, and has not put the ball on the turf one time this year, making him a clear cut choice for MVP with two games to go.

I know what some of you are thinking. Well two things. First, Why not DeMarco Murray over Le’Veon Bell? Murray has 11 TDs to Bell’s 10, 148.7 scrimmage Y/G, and rushing specifically, Murray has more than 400 rushing yards on Bell who ranks second. But Murray has amassed those numbers because of the insane amount of chances he’s got. Teams like to limit their RB touches to around the 300 mark as players don’t seem to rebound well the year after a heavy work load. Murray has already touched the ball 405 times! It’s the first time in nine seasons that someone has eclipsed 400 touches, and Murray could challenge Larry Johnsons mark from that 2006 season where Johnson racked up 457 touches. Second most all-time behind Tampa Bay’s James Wilder in 1984 (492). Bottom line, Murray averages just over 5.0 yards per touch. Good enough for just 12th best among RBs

Second thing that you probably can’t wrap your head around, why no quarterbacks? Aaron Rodgers was on the list last time, Peyton Manning had been on the list until now. Andrew Luck early on. What gives? Well, Luck has a completion percentage below the league average at just 61.4%. He’s attempted the most passes, but isn’t exactly the model of efficiency. His 41 total TDs is tops, but his 7.8 Y/A is just eighth best. Not to mention the only QB to turn the ball over more than Luck is Jay Cutler who was just benched. 14 INTs is tied for third most, and he has put the ball on the turf 12 times. I’ll be very disappointed if the AP simply points to the TD number and anoints Luck the MVP.

When you look at the other top flight QBs, Drew Brees leads in completion % (70%) but his 7.4 Y/A is not great. Tom Brady is in the same boat, with an ok 64.4% CMP%. But just 7.2 Y/A. Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are the leading QBs in sRBZ, and Rodgers took a big hit by practically not even showing up in the Buffalo game last week. He was 17/42 for 185 yards, no TDs and two INTs. Manning has conceded a bit lately going run first, and now battling the flu last week. Passing is just down this year, despite even more rules changes in place to get receivers even more open, supposedly making it easier than ever. Luck might get to 5,000 yards, but no one is sniffing 50 TDs this year. There is no quarterback running away from the field. There isn’t one quarterback noticeably better than the rest like there are in the RBs and receivers cases. You can’t say Peyton Manning is more valuable than Aaron Rodgers, who is more valuable than Tom Brady, who is more valuable than Ben Roethlisberger, who is more valuable than Drew Brees…and so on. This year, they are all practically the same.

The following is a list of positional rankings through 15 weeks, noted with +/- for their change in the rankings since week 10. (UR – Unranked after week 10, N – No change)

Quarterbacks

QBZ 15

Risers: Ryan Fitzpatrick (11, out for the season), Joe Flacco (8), Andy Dalton (5)

Fallers: Brian Hoyer (-9, benched), Colin Kaepernick (-9), Kyle Orton (-8)

Running Backs

RBZ 15

Risers: C.J. Anderson (Unranked to 10), Joique Bell (21), Tre Mason (18)

Fallers: Ben Tate (-14), Mark Ingram (-11), Terrence West (-11)

Receivers/Tight ends

WR-TEZ 15

Risers: Odell Beckham (Unranked to 2), A.J. Green (Unranked to 10, coming off injury), Calvin Johnson (Unranked to 13, coming off injury)

Fallers: Reggie Wayne (-20), Mohamed Sanu (-18), Dwayne Bowe (-15)

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Ravens Persevere Amidst Injuries

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Injuries are a part of football.

Such an expectation seems reasonable considering the high impact nature of the sport and every team must deal with them and their effects on the field at some point during a season. But the Ravens seem to have been hit extra hard this season, especially in the depleted secondary.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

This past Tuesday, the team placed running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), safety Terrence Brooks (knee) and cornerback Asa Jackson (knee) on season-ending injured reserve. So Baltimore now has sixteen players on I.R., five of which are rookies. This is the most players the Ravens have placed on the list since 2008, when they had nineteen during Head Coach John Harbaugh’s first season.

The recent rash of injuries has left the league’s 30th ranked pass defense simply looking for warm bodies to fill the void. Lardarius Webb could pair with several options to start with him at Corner in Houston this Sunday. Rashaan Melvin, who looked solid in his Ravens debut this past weekend could see an increased workload though he has no career starts to his credit. Or perhaps converted Safety Anthony Levine or recently acquired corners Antoine Cason or Chris Greenwood could get the call. Regardless of who you plug in back there the Ravens achilles heel is even weaker.

Still the Ravens (9-5) have a chance to potentially wrap up a playoff spot this Sunday with a victory over the Texans and some help and can secure a spot in any case if they win out. Of course the schedule looks favorable for the purple and black as Houston will most likely start their fourth-string quarterback after the losing the rest of the depth chart to injury while Johnny Manziel’s Cleveland premiere couldn’t have been a bigger disaster. So for the time being Baltimore will need to lean on their productive pass rush to keep the secondary from too much exposure as they hope to punch a playoff ticket.

Here are a few more random thoughts:

  • When Elvis Dumervil was signed over a year ago fans dreamed of the possibilties of pairing him with Terrell Suggs to form an unstoppable pass rushing duo. After a disappointing 2013, this season both players are playing at a high level. While Doom has been setting records, Suggs has been steady and productive. He has at least one sack in his past five games, which is the top current streak in the NFL and ties the longest in Ravens’ history. During this streak, Suggs has recorded 7.5 sacks. Only Dumervil (nine) and Houston’s J.J. Watt (eight) have produced more over this stretch.
  • While the Ravens slugged their way to an uninspired 20-12 home win it should be noted that Joe Flacco’s play continues to impress. Flacco barely missed posting his fourth straight game with a 100 Quarterback Rating or higher which would have matched his personal best – the 2012 Super Bowl run. Flacco’s play since the Bye has been solid. Over the past four games, he has completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 958 yards. He’s thrown six touchdowns and one interception for a 107.2 passer rating, which ranks fourth-best over that span. If the running game flounders as it did against Jacksonville it’s good to know that Joe can keep the offense churning.
  • Speaking of Flacco, I’m still amazed at how this guy continually gets bashed in the media. SI’s Peter King had this to say in Monday column.

“Great call by Baltimore Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak on third-and-five late fourth, green-lighting the glacially slow Joe Flacco to run. It worked,”

I guess Pete missed the fifteen yard scramble in Miami that led to a touchdown drive a few weeks ago. Joe isn’t the fleetest of foot but he’s not nearly as slow as some people think and he should probably run a little more when needed.

  • We’ve found out over the past two weeks that Timmy Jernigan is a pretty good football player. He notched four tackles, two sacks, and five quarterback hits Sunday against Jacksonville. He also disrupted several running plays with penetration into the backfield. You have to wonder what that means for Haloti Ngata’s future in Charm City.

 

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