All-22 Study: How Peyton Manning will test the Ravens secondary

Hey everyone–we are Dan Bryden  and Chris Worthington, two good friends and past college roommates as well as avid Ravens fans.

Just one month ago, the Denver Broncos paid a visit to M&T Bank Stadium and handled the Ravens with ease. Then the Broncos won their last two games of the regular season by at least a touchdown, the same fashion in which they’d won the previous nine. Now, with an 11-game winning streak and a week of rest, the Broncos seem poised to make the most of their blockbuster signing of Peyton Manning. They will try to reach the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 2005, when some guy named Jake Plummer was their quarterback.

Conversely, the Ravens look to reach their third AFC Championship Game in the last five years. In spite of some key injuries and offensive inconsistency, the Ravens are riding an emotional high. They are betting that Ray Lewis’s final ride will be motivation enough to overcome the Denver juggernaut. Can they do it?

We’ve looked back at the week 15 matchup against the Broncos and dissected several key plays. This will not come as a shock to anyone, but the young Baltimore secondary will be tested a great deal on Saturday. The Ravens have recently leaned on their Quarters coverage to allow the corners to play with cushion and to give the safeties in the middle of the field more freedom to fill run gaps. The Ravens will need to play with great discipline against a Manning led passing game. He loves to test the secondary deep down the field, especially a secondary as inexperienced as that of the Ravens. However, this also means that many of the routes are slow to develop, giving the Ravens’ pass rush time to get to the quarterback. In week 15, the Ravens pressured Manning on 8 of 22 dropbacks (36%), and his passer rating was a measly 39.6 when pressured. It will be another extremely tough matchup, but there is some hope. On to the tape!

Situation: 1Q 11:20, 1st and 10 on Ravens 42

Offensive playcall: All comebacks

Defensive playcall: Cover 1 Pressure

The Ravens drop safety James Ihedigbo to the line of scrimmage to pressure Manning, leaving the defense in Cover 1-Man. The offensive playcall instructs all of the receivers to drive 15 yards down the field and come back to the ball. This play is one of many in Manning’s arsenal that puts stress on the corners. The corners are protecting against the deep pass by playing ~7 yards off of their man, but this also makes it almost impossible to drive towards a route breaking back to the quarterback.

On the left side of the formation, WR #87 Eric Decker breaks his route at the 27 yard line while Carey Williams tries to recover from his backpedal. At the time of this screen shot, the ball is just being thrown, aimed for the 31 yard line (red X). It is almost impossible for Williams to take away a potential deep route and protect against the comeback at the same time.

As you can (barely) see on the far right of this shot, Williams is a full 3 yards away at the time of the catch. Unfortunately, there isn’t much Williams can do.

In this situation, the Ravens must get pressure on Manning, or else he will pick apart the defense with these throws. Because all of the receivers are running intermediate routes, if James Ihedigbo or another pass rusher can get to Manning quickly, he may be able to disrupt the play before the routes can develop.


Situation: 1Q 10:27 1st and 10 at the Ravens 32

Offensive playcall: Double move

Defensive playcall: Cover 2-man

Further down the field on the same drive, the Broncos are going to take a shot at the endzone. This time they will test CB #39 Chris Johnson with a double move by WR Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas runs a hitch at a depth of 8 yards and Johnson is playing him very close (matchup in orange). But then Thomas breaks vertically to the endzone and, with safety James Ihedigbo (purple circle) playing with insufficient depth, Thomas eventually gets wide open.

This image captures just how poorly Ihedigbo (purple circle) plays this route. The ball is in the air (blue circle in front of the JumboTron) and WR Thomas has gotten behind CB Johnson.

Luckily for the Ravens, the ball sails over the head of Thomas. This would have been a sure touchdown with an accurate throw.

This play highlights the importance of discipline in the secondary. The Baltimore safeties cannot get caught out of position in this situation. This particular throw was off-target, but Manning doesn’t miss all too often.


Situation: 2Q 14:28, 1st and 10 on the Ravens 29

Offensive playcall: Pin

Defensive playcall: Quarters

The Broncos come out on first down with their 12 personnel package (1RB, 2TEs) and plan to take a shot down the field. The Ravens are playing in their base 3-4 package and will play Quarters coverage (Cover 4) after the ball is snapped.

Manning, during his dropback, is eying safety Ed Reed (orange circle) to determine whether or not he will provide inside help to the wide-side corner (Cary Williams) against Demaryius Thomas’ post route. The slot receiver, Eric Decker, will run an intermediate crossing route to bait Reed into jumping him. Reed is now stuck between two receivers and has far too little depth to cushion an inside breaking route from the outside. Additionally, Cary Williams is coached to play with outside leverage in Quarters, and Manning likes the matchup.

Even with the ball in the air (blue circle), Cary Williams is still playing on the outside shoulder of Demaryius Thomas (top left of image).

Cary Williams recovers very nicely and is able to knock this pass down before it reaches Thomas. This is a great play on the ball, especially because the playcall was specifically designed to beat the Ravens’ Quarters coverage.

This is encouraging for several reasons:

  1. Manning’s mastery of Xs and Os is well documented, and the play was disrupted despite being a perfect call against the coverage
  2. The Ravens youth at cornerback is not getting exposed like some fans feared
  3. Williams has clearly improved/learned since given up a touchdown on a very similar play to San Diego in Week 12 (below)

Here, the Ravens are playing Quarters coverage against the same post route by Malcolm Floyd. Floyd turns Williams around (2) and, by the time the ball is in the air, all Williams can do is desperately dive in an attempt to make a tackle. Floyd walks into the endzone to break the 0-0 tie.

Quick Notes:

  •  In the Week 15 matchup, Manning not only tested the secondary but it was very clear that he wanted to run the ball too.  There are many instances in the game where you can see Manning audible to a run play based on the Raven’s defensive personnel.  They had success in the running game too, running backs had 43 carries(!) for a total of 167 rushing yards including Knowshon Moreno’s 115 yard outing.
  • All of the plays drawn up above had a play action element.  Peyton Manning likes to manipulate safety positioning both through play action and through eye manipulation.  Raven safeties need to play with discipline and not fall for false run keys.
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About the author

Dan Bryden   

Dan played high school football at Wilde Lake and graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Psychology. Dan is currently a Maryland Terp working on his PhD degree in Neuroscience. He has experience writing published scientific material as well as blogging for SBNation via Baltimore Beatdown. Beginning in the 2012 season, Dan has been writing about the Ravens focusing on the X’s and O’s of the game of football with heavy use of overhead (All-22) film analysis. The Columbia, MD native currently lives in Silver Spring.

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