In my previous post, Dean Pees & the Ravens D Part 1, I provided information about the personnel choices and basic coverage schemes that Dean Pees likes to use during his tenure as the Ravens Defensive Coordinator. I made the distinction that when possible, Pees likes to rely on the 4 man pass-rush to create pressure up front. In 2014 when the Ravens amassed 49 sacks, the 2nd most in the NFL, he only blitzed on 31% of passing downs according to PFF. This was essentially the league average blitz percentage across the NFL.

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Because generating pressure on the QB is such an instrumental facet of defense in today’s NFL, I wanted to more closely examine how Pees adjusted to the loss of Terrell Suggs in 2015, and compare this adjustment to how he coordinated the defense in 2012 when Suggs was also injured.

I mentioned in the last article that the loss of Suggs had a pretty substantial impact on the overall effectiveness of the defense as measured by Football Outsider’s DVOA in both seasons, so in order to get a definitive answer for why this is the case, I went back and charted 3 games in 2012 the Ravens played without Suggs, 3 games in the first half of the 2015 season, and 3 games in the second half of the 2015 season.  I took this approach because the Ravens defense played appreciably better in the second half of the season, and I wanted to ask why. Was it personnel, scheme or perhaps both?

 To best control for the level of competition I chose one game from each group against a relatively novice QB, one game against a solid veteran QB and one game against a QB considered to be “elite”. I didn’t chart the outcome of each play, but I did chart what percentage of the time Pees dialed up a blitz and the percentage of man vs zone coverage.

The first game I charted in 2012 was week 1 vs the Bengals. Andy Dalton was still a relatively young player at this point and it showed. The Ravens D was able to rattle him with mostly a mix of basic zone coverages and a really potent 4 man rush led by Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee and rookie Courtney Upshaw. The Ravens played with a comfortable lead for pretty much the whole game.

Week 3 against NE was a different game entirely. Not only was Tom Brady under center, but the Ravens were playing from behind for much of the game. So what did Pees do to disrupt Brady? He played mostly man coverage and blitzed a lot. It wasn’t a perfect formula as shifty Julian Edelman proved to be a match-up problem, especially near the goal line, but it worked well enough to result in a win.

In Week 6 against Dallas, Lardarius Webb left early in the first half due to a torn ACL, but Pees stuck with his gameplan to play mostly man to man, and he also brought the blitz at pretty high frequency of 44%. The run D was gashed in this game, but the pass coverage held up pretty well by putting Tony Romo under a lot of pressure, and was able to get a critical stop on a 2 point conversion to seal the win.


% Man Coverage

% Zone Coverage

% Blitz

2012 Bengals Week 1

9/41 (22%)

32/41 (78%)

10/41 (24%)

2012 Patriots Week 3

31/46 (67%)

15/46 (33%)

24/46 (52%)

2012 Cowboys Week 6

26/43 (61%)

17/43 (39%)

19/43 (44%)

2012 Average

76/140 (54%)

64/140 (46%)

53/140 (38%)

 Fast-forward 3 years to week 2 against Oakland, and we see a similar game-plan vs 2nd year QB Derek Carr that Pees employed against 2nd year QB Andy Dalton in 2012, predominantly zone coverage (76%) with minimal blitzing (20%). He wanted to force the young QB to matriculate the ball down the field, but unfortunately Oakland had a better scheme and a very good performance from Carr. The Raiders spread out the Ravens D and Carr got the ball out quick while showing off his mobility on a number of bootlegs, roll-outs, and even a designed keeper that picked up big yardage. In the end a questionable defensive holding call on Will Hill nullified his interception leading to a Raiders victory.

In week 3 against Cincinatti, Pees reverted to a strategy more similar to that which he showed against NE and Dallas in 2012. He dialed up a blitz on a 58% of Dalton’s drop-backs and used predominantly man coverage (63%). In the end, this was another close loss. The defense yielded a number of big plays including an 80 yard TD to A.J. Green after he torched Kendrick Lewis in a bad mis-match. This game really exposed the limitations of the Ravens secondary as none of the CBs could cover the Bengals WRs in man to man concepts.

Fast-forward again to week 8 vs San Diego, and we still see a similar strategy in place against a high-caliber QB. Pees dialed up blitzes on 54% of Philip Rivers’ dropbacks, and use man coverage 56% of the time. This was another close game, and the Ravens were able to pull out a victory in the end, but they still had major coverage issues throughout the game punctuated by a 70 yard TD pass to Malcom Floyd on a blown coverage.


% Man Coverage

% Zone Coverage

% Blitz

2015 Raiders Week 2

12/50 (24%)

38/50 (76%)

10/50 (20%)

2015 Bengals Week 3

27/43 (63%)

16/43 (37%)

25/43 (58%)

2015 Chargers Week 8

22/39 (61%)

17/39 (39%)

21/39 (54%)

2015 1st half Average

61/132 (46%)

71/132 (54%)

56/132 (42%)

In week 10 vs the Rams, the Ravens played another fairly inexperienced QB in Case Keenum, and we saw a similar trend where Pees plays a higher percentage of zone coverages (62.5%). In this game, Pees brought pressure at a moderate 34% clip against the young QB. In the end, the Rams made more mistakes and the Ravens eked out a win in a very sloppy contest where neither team could move the ball very effectively.

In week 15 against the Chiefs, the Ravens played a much more formidable QB in veteran Alex Smith, but instead of reverting to the previous form of heavy blitzing and man coverage, Pees stuck with a high percentage of zone coverages (82%) and only blitzed 18% of Smith’s dropbacks. Even though, the Ravens lost the game by a fairly wide margin, the defense actually performed quite well in this contest, limiting Smith to 171 yards passing and the Chiefs as a team to only 277 yards of offense. Pees blitzed on only 6 plays in this game and 4 of those blitzes were zone blitzes which do not expose the secondary to the same extent.

The next week vs Pittsburgh, Pees took this conservative approach a step further, as he called only two blitzes the entire game vs Ben Roethlisberger. However, he did play a higher percentage of man coverage at 44%. One of the trends that became apparent in the second half and in this game in particular was a shift from predominantly cover 3 to cover 2. This shift was important for two reasons. First, cover 2 is a bit more conservative in that allows short completions to the flats, but it tries to take away vertical passes with 2 safeties playing deep therefore leading to less big plays. Secondly, and very importantly for this game vs the Steelers in particular, Pees did a great job of disguising 2 deep man and cover 2 zone so the defense was showing the same look pre-snap. The CBs are aligned closer to the LOS, and he even had DBs follow motion pre-snap on zone coverages. So even without blitzing, Pees was able to confuse Roethlisberger and force him into a lot of bad throws which led to a surprise Ravens win.


% Man Coverage

% Zone Coverage

% Blitz

2015 Rams Week 10

12/32 (37.5%)

20/32 (62.5%)

11/32 (34%)

2015 Chiefs Week 15

6/33 (18%)

27/33 (82%)

6/33 (52%)

2015 Steelers Week 16

17/39 (44%)

22/39 (56%)

2/39 (5%)

2015 2nd half Average

69/104 (66%)

35/104 (34%)

19/104 (18%)

Before, I get into the takeaways, I wanted to touch on some of the differences between 2012 and 2015, what changed, and what stayed the same. The first thing that I noticed was the speed on the field declined from 2012 to 2015, especially in the secondary. Webb pre-injury, Bernard Pollard, and Ed Reed were an impressive group of defensive backs. Pees, or perhaps more accurately Teryl Austin, even had Cary Williams playing a relatively high level. They tackled better and were faster rallying to the football.

There were also some interesting differences in the front 7 alignment, specifically in how the DL aligned in the base D. In 2012, Pees used a more classic 3-4 front with two DEs playing 5T and a NT aligned over the center (Image 1 below). He used a bit of the 4-3 “under” alignment with 1 5T, a NT, and a DT aligned as a 3T. By 2015, the 4-3 under alignment (Image 2 below) was used predominantly. In terms of gap-responsibilities, the major difference is the 3T 2-gapping the weakside OG instead of the weakside OT. This alignment puts more responsibility on the “rush” OLB, and makes it easier for the ILBs to attack gaps instead of having to control an interior offensive lineman.

2012 3-4B

Base 2nd H 2015

So now that we have taken a look at these numbers, what does it all mean? Some of the blitz percentages and zone/man splits were eerily similar between 2012 and the first half of the 2015 season. Pees’ game-plan for a novice QB compared to more veteran QBs was striking. It’s certainly possible that this tendency was something opposing offensive coordinators were able to pick up on and take advantage of. It’s also clear how much emphasis Pees put on pressuring veteran QBs. The frequency of blitzes against the likes of Brady, Romo, Dalton (2015), and Rivers was very consistent when he knew the 4 man rush wouldn’t cut it. I give him a lot of credit for changing his approach in the 2nd half of 2015. His blitz-heavy, aggressive strategy clearly wasn’t working as it left the back-end of the defensed exposed. In the second half of the season, he cut the blitz % in half and played a lot more cover 2. For the most part this approach was successful, with the game against Russell Wilson being the only glaring outlier.

I think there are a couple important takeaways from how the defense adjusted and what contributed to the second half success. First of all, Shareece Wright really did a very good job of solidifying the secondary. He far outperformed the revolving door of Rashaan Melvin, Lardarius Webb, and Kyle Arrington opposite of Jimmy Smith. Wright should be a top priority for the Ravens this off-season in my opinion. Secondly, Jimmy Smith looked much better in the second half of the season. His quickness and speed came back and he was able to be a consistent solid performer. If Wright is retained and Smith can stay healthy, the secondary should bounce back in a big way in 2016.

In my view, personnel issues were the biggest problem for the Ravens defense in 2015. However, that doesn’t abdicate Pees from any blame as well. I think he was far too predictable in his coverages and blitzes in the first half of the season. He did the smart thing and played more to his players’ strengths down the stretch and did a better job of disguising what he was doing. Shifting from cover 3 to predominantly cover 2 helped a lot in this. Moving Lardarius Webb to safety not only removed a liability on the outside, but it also helped sure up the back-end of the secondary.

As for where this leaves the Ravens in 2016, if Suggs comes back to be anything close to his former self it will be a huge boost to the defense. Even in 2012 when the Ravens were winning games, the defense struggled on a play-by-play basis without him. However, given Suggs’ age and the nature of his injury, it’s likely that he may start to show decline. I think it is imperative for the Ravens to improve their pass-rush, because as I previously stated the secondary really came on strong in the second half of the season. If the 4 man rush could get back to being as effective as it was in 2013-14 the defense will be much stronger.

So what does this mean for the Draft and free agency? As previously stated, bringing back Shareece Wright should be a priority. He played very well overall last season, and shouldn’t be too expensive to retain. The defensive line was solid, but losing Chris Canty might cause a few problems. He was an important cog for the Ravens this past season and it’s hard to see Kapron Lewis-Moore or Brent Urban replacing him right away. Lawrence Guy was nice player for the Ravens and he will certainly step into a bigger role along with Carl Davis who was a bit more up and down as a rookie.

In the draft, the Ravens should absolutely consider DeForest Buckner with their first round pick. He would solidify the run defense, and provide a nice boost to the interior pass-rush. I would also not be surprised if Myles Jack is the selection at #6 given the Ravens struggles in pass-coverage over the middle and general need for speed and athleticism. Daryl Smith struggled across the board in 2015 and C.J. Mosley was a disaster in pass-coverage. Given Smith’s salary and the Ravens cap situation drafting Jack and letting Smith go would make a lot of sense. However, the top prospect for the Ravens D would far and away be Joey Bosa. He is an excellent pass-rusher and run-defender, and he can easily kick inside to rush the passer from the 3T position which is an area where the Ravens could use a major upgrade. Jalen Ramsey would also be a nice injection of talent, but if Wright is brought back I would lean heavily towards a front 7 pick as opposed to a selection in the secondary.

Overall, I think there is a very good chance the Ravens defense bounces back strongly in 2016, but it will be reliant upon better health and hopefully some young talent via the draft.

Gabe Ferguson
Gabe Ferguson

Ravens Analyst

Gabe is an avid fan of the NFL and Ravens football. He grew up in Westminster, MD, and attended college at Johns Hopkins University majoring in Biology. He earned his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and now works as a R&D Scientist developing Transplant Diagnostics assays. Gabe has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan.