The Eagles have a tough test on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. It will present a number of challenges for some of the young players who the coaches and the personnel staff continue to evaluate as the season nears its end.
On offense, quarterback Carson Wentz will be facing a Baltimore defense that is one of the best in the NFL at pressuring the quarterback. The Ravens attack protections with a variety of different pressure packages, using a multitude of fronts, alignments, personnel groupings and disguises up front and in the secondary.
Shot 1 - #Ravens will present Wentz w/ a host of challenges. Wide variety of fronts, stunts, and blitzes means a lot of prep this week pic.twitter.com/I1lNIokLCT — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 16, 2016
This play here is a Double Mug look very similar to what we saw when we previewed the Minnesota Vikings a couple of months ago. The Ravens have six defenders on the line of scrimmage, with three of them standing up in their respective gaps. The offense has two ways to protect against this kind of look, just as I noted in the analysis of the Vikings' defense. Teams can either slide the protection, have a running back block a player off the edge or use the back to block up a defender inside. It looks clean when you draw it up on a whiteboard, but when you factor in the stunts and twists that the Ravens use, it adds a layer of confusion to the play.
Baltimore runs the equivalent of two TE (Tackle-End) stunts on the inside with the four interior defenders. On a TE stunt, the tackle penetrates first, basically setting a pick for the looper (in this case, the defensive end). While the objective is to get a free shot for the looper, what often happens is that the penetrator will break free thanks to the pass off along the offensive line. Both players get free as the Ravens' defense ends up with the sack.
Shot 2 - #Ravens excel at bringing more on one side than you can block. Get a DB free on Big Ben here. Multi-layered pressure scheme pic.twitter.com/gz6z7PPfuf — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 16, 2016
Like any good pressure scheme, Baltimore thrives on the ability to bring more than you can block on any one side. On this blitz against the Steelers, the Ravens occupy the center with a defensive tackle, essentially cutting Pittsburgh's offensive line in half. With the tight end releasing into the route, the Steelers have just two blockers on Ben Roethlisberger's blind side, and the Ravens send three on a blitz. One rusher comes free and gets a well-earned sack of Big Ben.
Baltimore is very effective at sending second- and third-level defenders on the blitz. That comes from its ability to disguise the pressure. The added element of surprise results in those defensive backs not being accounted for in the blocking scheme.
Shot 3 - Pressure paired with well-disguised coverage. #Ravens take away hot reads with buzzing underneath defenders, results in a sack pic.twitter.com/E5wH4L10aq — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 16, 2016
Even when the defenders from the second level are accounted for, you still have to actually, you know, block them. On this play against the New York Jets, the offense actually slides the protection the correct way as the blitz and New York has the right numbers to match up from the side of the pressure. Quarterback Geno Smith rolls to his left and that side of his offensive line is unable to hold up. On the back end, the coverage rotation from a two-high safety look to one high, as two defenders who looked like they were blitzing before the snap drop out in coverage, takes away the quarterback's hot reads in the progression. The scheme helped create this sack of Smith, as it was only a matter of time until the pressure got home.
From a personnel standpoint, the Ravens have steadily added contributors at every level of the defense. Along the defensive line, Brandon Williams is an immovable object at defensive tackle. Linebackers C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr are one of the best tandems in the game. Both are rangy and athletic as well as physical between the tackles. They have had a lot of injuries at corner, but have young players (including former Temple Owl, Tavon Young, a rookie they drafted in the fourth round) executing at a high level. They also have one of the best safety tandems in the league in veteran Eric Weddle and converted cornerback Lardarius Webb.
As Webb aged and started to lose some of his foot speed, the Ravens felt a move to safety was best for his career, and he has reacted well. He's explosive off the hash, aggressive downhill as both a run defender and a blitzer, and the instincts that made him a productive corner allow him to be all over the field as the last line of defense. On this interception against the Miami Dolphins, he shows impressive range as a "post player" in the middle of the field in Baltimore's single-high scheme. He creates a huge turnover on this go route near the sideline to save a potential touchdown.
On offense, many fans look at Joe Flacco and see the big arm and ability to beat you downfield, and he absolutely can do that.
Shot 5 - Outstanding route by Mike Wallace on the outside, but plays like this are not what the #Ravens are about these days on offense pic.twitter.com/rAClqWOmSH — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 16, 2016
This is an outstanding route by wide receiver Mike Wallace on the outside, and he beats the Jets for a huge play downfield. Notice that the Ravens were lined up in a 13 personnel package with one running back and three tight ends, which is not uncommon for them. While Flacco has the ability to beat a secondary deep at any time, that's not the way the Ravens are playing offense these days. This is an offense predicated on the quick game, with three-step drops and a passing offense based on timing and rhythm.
One of the players who stood out in every game studying Baltimore was fullback Kyle Juszczyk. In some games, the former Harvard star was their go-to third-down back because of his abilities as both a blocker and a receiver. The Ravens find ways to get him the football each week.
Shot 6 - One player that stood out in every game was #Ravens FB Kyle Juszczyk. Equal parts blocker & receiver. #Eagles must be aware of him pic.twitter.com/iDvD3v7q1D — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 16, 2016
It's third-and-6 on Monday Night Football against New England. Flacco dumps this pass off to Juszczyk, who rumbles his way for over 50 yards.
Shot 7 - Fun play that @BenFennell_NFL wouldn't shut up about, but rightfully so. Juszczyk cuts DE then gets up for screen for a first down pic.twitter.com/OQOcuIODq4 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 16, 2016
Here's one of the interesting ways, the Ravens get Juszczyk the ball in the passing game. I wouldn't be shocked at all to see it against the Eagles on Sunday because of their aggressive style of play. Baltimore lines up Juszczyk as a slightly offset tight end near the line of scrimmage. He crosses the formation to block the backside edge defender in what looks like a "split zone" block. The fullback goes to the ground with the cut block, but gets right up and is available for a screen pass from Flacco. The Ravens ran this a handful of times this season with success on almost every rep.
Shot 8 - #Ravens have a strong OL w/ a lot of young pieces, but Juszczyk has improved as a lead blocker & Kenneth Dixon has improved each wk pic.twitter.com/YwIIVIyLMd — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 16, 2016
Juszczyk does plenty of work as a lead blocker in the run game as well. It's a facet of his game that he's worked on a lot since his college days in the Ivy League. The run game isn't incredibly productive, but the Ravens have a big, strong offensive line coached by former Eagles offensive line coach Juan Castillo. The linemen come off the ball hard. Both Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon are tough runners, and they can be very effective on the ground when Baltimore chooses to commit to it. This duo will certainly present a challenge for the Eagles' defense on Sunday.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.