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BSL: Dean Pees & the Ravens D Pt.1


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#1 BSLGabeFerguson

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:28 AM

I examine the schemes behind a Dean Pees coordinated defense to help understand the struggles of the Ravens defense.

 

http://baltimorespor...-ravens-d-pt-1/


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#2 BSLGabeFerguson

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:37 AM

Going back and rewatching the Ravens All-22 film a second time was both frustrating and encouraging. I tried not to sound too opinionated in the piece, but I strongly believe that scheme was not the problem. It's certainly fair to question a playcall or tendency here and there, but game outcomes often came down to a simple mental or physical error. A player falling down, a wrong step in coverage, or a missed tackle often have huge consequences.


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#3 BSLChrisStoner

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:42 AM

Going back and rewatching the Ravens All-22 film a second time was both frustrating and encouraging. I tried not to sound too opinionated in the piece, but I strongly believe that scheme was not the problem. It's certainly fair to question a playcall or tendency here and there, but game outcomes often came down to a simple mental or physical error. A player falling down, a wrong step in coverage, or a missed tackle often have huge consequences.

 

I think watching this past year would be difficult for evaluation.  Injuries impacting the performance (not just defensive injuries... but the offensive injuries... a less efficient offense, also hurts the defense).... 

My only real knock against Pees is that I'd like to see the Ravens be more aggressive...

That said, he does get credit for the improved performance of the defense over the 2nd half of the year.



#4 BSLChrisStoner

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:43 AM

Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar said this today on Twitter:

 

@SI_DougFarrar 60m60 minutes ago

You talk to Broncos defender after Broncos defender, and the same thing comes out -- they love Wade Phillips because he schemes to talent.

 

 

Can the same be said for Pees?



#5 jkough1

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:49 AM

Hasn't some of the talk this year been that the schemes Pees uses at times are so complex that guys hesitate due to assignments (which leads to bad footing or falling down)? 

 

I think this plays into Chris's point. If you've got less talent, you need to reduce the scheme go with what guys are good at and trust they win. If you over scheme it'll all fall apart (sound familiar).

 

FWIW though, is it really scheming to allow Jackson, Wolfe, Miller, Ware or even Wolfe, Miller, Ware rush the passer and drop 7 or 8 guys into coverage and play press (because Talib and Harris are capable). 

 

I don't doubt for a second that if you overlaid Pees scheme in Denver they'd actually be saying the same thing about him as that personnel plays to what Pees wants to do and it's strengths, IMO. 



#6 BSLGabeFerguson

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:52 AM

Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar said this today on Twitter:

 

@SI_DougFarrar 60m60 minutes ago

You talk to Broncos defender after Broncos defender, and the same thing comes out -- they love Wade Phillips because he schemes to talent.

 

 

Can the same be said for Pees?

That's a good question, and I would tend to say yes. A few examples of my reasoning would be Jimmy Smith 2013-2014, as he emerged as a top-shelf CB, Pees gave him more and more responsibility. He went from playing his corners solely on one side of the field to letting Smith track the opposing teams top WR for a significant # of snaps.

 

Also in 2014, I think Pees did a masterful job of utilizing his front 7. The Ravens secondary was really horrid in the second half of the season, but it was largely masked because Pees kept things simple on the backend and implemented Suggs, Dumervil, McPhee, and Jernigan exactly how I would like to see. Mosley and Smith had great seasons because the front 4 commanded so much attention and they were allowed to make plays all over the field.

 

Even in 2015, it's hard to point out what players were misused or how he didn't get the most out of them. The CBs were limited and Pees knew it, so he tried not to put them in position to fail. He used Will Hill exceptionally well as a TE eraser.


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#7 BSLRobShields

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:54 AM

Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar said this today on Twitter:

 

@SI_DougFarrar 60m60 minutes ago

You talk to Broncos defender after Broncos defender, and the same thing comes out -- they love Wade Phillips because he schemes to talent.

 

 

Can the same be said for Pees?

Wade Phillips...the reason Denver is where they are, at least coaching wise.


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#8 BSLGabeFerguson

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 11:57 AM

Hasn't some of the talk this year been that the schemes Pees uses at times are so complex that guys hesitate due to assignments (which leads to bad footing or falling down)? 

 

I think this plays into Chris's point. If you've got less talent, you need to reduce the scheme go with what guys are good at and trust they win. If you over scheme it'll all fall apart (sound familiar).

 

FWIW though, is it really scheming to allow Jackson, Wolfe, Miller, Ware or even Wolfe, Miller, Ware rush the passer and drop 7 or 8 guys into coverage and play press (because Talib and Harris are capable). 

 

I don't doubt for a second that if you overlaid Pees scheme in Denver they'd actually be saying the same thing about him as that personnel plays to what Pees wants to do and it's strengths, IMO. 

I think there is some truth to this, but the other option is be very vanilla and unlike 2014 the Ravens front 4 didn't have the horses to cover for a limited secondary.

 

The Ravens essentially lose 3 of their best 5 defenders when McPhee left, Suggs got hurt, and Jimmy never fully recovered. That's not even counting Ngata.


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#9 BSLMikeRandall

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 04:02 PM

I wish I could be a fly on the wall in some of the meetings when they are game planning. Or be able to listen to the headset in game. 

 

Pees called out Jimmy Smith this year saying he wants to see him be more aggressive. Is that Pees' play calls why Jimmy wasn't being aggressive, or Jimmy not listening to coach? There was that play in the Bengals game where you got the tape from Gabe, where the Bengals had the ball near the goal line, and Jimmy Smith is lined up five yards deep in the end zone. A.J. Green breaks his route off at the goal line for an easy pitch and catch score. 

 

Is that Pees calling the play? Or is that Jimmy not having a clue where he is on the field, and he would get an earful from coach later? 

 

I wonder if a move out of the booth and down to the field would help the defense out some? It may sound hokey, but no one commands a defense like Ray Lewis did. Rex and Pags and Pees have the headset going into Ray's helmet, but Ray is calling the shots on the fly once the huddle breaks. No one on the defense seems to do that other than Suggs, and when he is out, it killed em this year. With no one on the field capable of playing that chess match, Pees maybe could be on the sideline as sort of a 12th man, yelling to his guys what to watch for. Can't do that from a booth. You get to talk to one guy.

 

I mean, if Pees is on the sideline, at some points, Smith could be on the field 10 feet in front of him, and he could simply tell him "hey, move up." "hey, back off". "hey, no safety help". Instead everyone ends up pointing fingers, playing the "I thought you had him" game when the big play is allowed. 

 

 

Gabe, you know I've been in the "Fire Pees" camp. but I agree that the bend but don't break isn't the worst way to attack a team. It does put an emphasis on getting to 3rd and medium-long downs which is the goal. But the Ravens were the worst at stopping teams on 3rd down this year. There is something to be said for that too. Why can't they figure out how to stop a team when you know the pass is coming? I'm also in the camp that continuity in coaching helps. But I'd say Pees has to be on the hot seat. If there is some kind of regression in Brandon Williams play, i'd say that would be a huge red flag because we've seen regression from Jimmy, Mosley, Webby under him. 

 

I just hope that one day, Rex Ryan keeps not getting to the playoffs, and teams stop offering him head coaching jobs, and he comes in here and brings the aggressive, organized chaos defense back that scare teams, and most importantly, matches up really well against Tom Brady. Public Enemy #1 for any AFC team looking to get to the Super Bowl. You pretty much have to be able to beat him, and the way to beat him as we've seen is to "beat" him. The Broncos hit him 20 times in the AFC title game. 20! I'm shocked the refs even allowed that. But thats how you beat him. A Pees led defense will never do that. We saw it in 2014 when the defense squandered two 14-point leads because they just want to be conservative and keep from giving up the big play....which then tends to happen anyway.

 

Overall, good look. Looking forward to part 2.


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#10 BSLGabeFerguson

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 04:29 PM

I think Pees is definitely on the hot seat in 2016. In my opinion, he was fairly given another chance with some of the adversity he had to face after this past season. I think regression of players like Jimmy and Webb was very much injury related. Mosley, I'm not sure he regressed as he struggled quite a bit in his rookie season in coverage as well. Perhaps he just got more exposed and Daryl Smith declined in coverage and Mosley had to take on a larger role.

 

To answer some of the questions you posed: first the TD to Green if my recollection is correct, Green ran a rub route out of the slot with Jones crossing over on an in-breaking route. It's a very difficult play to cover in man when the ball is delivered on time because the crossing routes create a natural pick. If Jimmy plays closer to the LOS the pick becomes impossible to avoid. It also opens up more options for the receiver as all it takes is a step to the outside to open up a simple pitch and catch on a slant. Playing a couple steps off actually gives the corner a better angle to make a play. Now you can certainly make an argument to play a zone in this situation, but Pees was bringing pressure to try to force an errant throw from Dalton. It's one of those situations where it's hard to weigh the aggressive approach vs having coverage that can hold up. The other aspect of this play is that the Bengals used motion to uncover the man coverage. To your other point, maybe having a veteran on the field like Ray Lewis audibles the defense into a zone after initially showing man, but that clearly did not happen in this case.

 

In the end, I think you have to weigh personnel in the evaluation above anything else. Every DC wants to hit the QB 20 times a game, I think there were some games last season when the Ravens D might have done that. But without the pass-rushers up front, it's just not possible to bring that kind of pressure when the secondary isn't elite. There are too many blitz beaters out there to sell out on every play to pressure the QB with 5 and 6+ rushers.

 

Denver has the luxury of two elite edge rushers and a pair of Pro Bowl CBs on top of very underrated interior pass-rushers.

 

The Ravens had one very good edge rusher, a couple decent interior rushers, and a group of CBs that were frankly below average.


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#11 BSLMikeRandall

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 05:14 PM

Personnel definitely matters. No doubt Denver is loaded, even without a good DC like Phillips running it.


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#12 ShawnBrubaker

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Posted 02 February 2016 - 06:17 PM

Good article Gabe. My issues with Pees are as follows:

 

1) Scheme is one part of his job. Ensuring proper technique and communication is another, along with his position coaches. Whatever you think of his schemes, to not hold him (and his staff) accountable for the lapses in technique and communication this year is just silly.

 

2) I have a fundamental disagreement with the concept of off coverage in all but third-and-long situations. Off coverage can neutralize your pass rush by allowing quick passes. Further, you get five yards to make contact with a receiver, and I think it's folly not to use it. 

 

3) Lack of nuance in his coverages. I've noticed with Pees that he's either all aggressive (all press man, safeties in the box), or all conservative (all way off the ball, safeties deep) way too frequently. What's wrong with press coverage on the edges with your safeties deep? 

 

That said, I will readily admit that Pees is as good as it gets as a front-seven coach. In no way can you blame him for this year's pass rush when Courtney Upshaw was being counted on to provide as a pass rusher. It's really his work with the secondary and their coverages that I take issue, even when the talent was good. 


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#13 BSLGabeFerguson

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Posted 03 February 2016 - 04:41 PM

Shawn, I think in general it's hard to differentiate between when to blame coaches and when to blame the players/talent on the field.

 

For me, when I see basic coverage concepts blown, it's on the players. Technique errors I feel are on the players and position coaches. These are NFL players and almost all of the players in the secondary are veterans. There is no excuse for some of the mental errors that happened this past season.

 

I do think talent is a problem as well. How many players have seen get fired over the past 2 years? Chykie, Asa, Melvin, Elam essentially got benched, Arrington got benched, Webb got moved to safety. I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting a few players as well, but you get the point.

 

That said, who knows if the coaches are doing all they can to instill discipline and focus in the players. The coaching staff is far from blameless, and I think bringing in an experienced DBs coach will help a great deal. The Ravens had a first year DBs coach this past season, and I have no doubt his lack of experience had something to do with the problems we all saw. So that's on Pees and Harbaugh imo.

 

Regarding off coverage, I understand your feelings about it, but I think it can be a successful strategy if the CB plays it correctly. I put a GIF of Vernon Hargreaves playing off-man on a 3rd and short in my Ramsey/Hargreaves breakdown. It could very well be that the Ravens teach it the wrong way because it does seem at times that they are just giving away first downs.

 

As for your last point, I haven't really noticed this particular trend with Pees, but I am pouring over a lot of film and I will be sure to keep an eye open for it. I do get a sense that Pees has a "go for broke" kind of approach at times that leaves the defense vulnerable. A bit more nuance could help a lot.


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#14 Filmstudy

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Posted 05 February 2016 - 06:14 PM

First of all, Good piece, Gabe.

 

One thing I haven't seen mentioned here is a complete lack of variation in scheme.  

 

I think the fact the Ravens had only 1 (you could call it 2) defenses on passing downs was what made it so easy to game plan against them.

 

The Ravens played 5 DBs 547 times, 6 a total of 14 times, and 7 on 6 occasions (all with Brooks as a spy vs. Seattle).  My snap counts exclude penalties, passes or runs from scrimmage kick formations, and kneels/spikes.  So effectively, on all but a handful of passing downs, they played either:

 

1. A vanilla 4-2-5 Nickel with 2 ILBs

2. The 3-ILB package with Orr replacing a down lineman

 

Since none of the 3 ILBs (Orr, Mosley, Smith) are truly good coverage players, that meant the secondary wasn't getting much help and the only gain was in pass-rush flexibility.

 

If you look back to the Marvin Lewis or Rex Ryan defenses, each varied scheme tremendously from 5 to 7 DBs and used that flexibility to help with pass rush.  Were the Ravens limited in terms of defensive playmakers in 2015?  Absolutely.  But Marvin Lewis made use of 3 veteran journeyman (Bailey, Trapp, and Harris) to generate an extraordinary number of turnovers (my point being that you don't need great players to vary scheme).  Similarly Ryan's complex blitz schemes and pre-snap movement were the hallmark of his reign here as DC and they frequently came with players like Ivy, Nakamura, and Zbikowski as DBs 5 through 7.

 

The Ravens' defense was severely hamstrung on all 3 levels by the loss of Suggs and lingering Lisfranc concern with Smith, but even with improved talent via return and addition through the draft, I still think he needs a more complex playbook.


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#15 BSLGabeFerguson

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Posted 10 February 2016 - 11:59 PM

First of all, Good piece, Gabe.

 

One thing I haven't seen mentioned here is a complete lack of variation in scheme.  

 

I think the fact the Ravens had only 1 (you could call it 2) defenses on passing downs was what made it so easy to game plan against them.

 

The Ravens played 5 DBs 547 times, 6 a total of 14 times, and 7 on 6 occasions (all with Brooks as a spy vs. Seattle).  My snap counts exclude penalties, passes or runs from scrimmage kick formations, and kneels/spikes.  So effectively, on all but a handful of passing downs, they played either:

 

1. A vanilla 4-2-5 Nickel with 2 ILBs

2. The 3-ILB package with Orr replacing a down lineman

 

Since none of the 3 ILBs (Orr, Mosley, Smith) are truly good coverage players, that meant the secondary wasn't getting much help and the only gain was in pass-rush flexibility.

 

If you look back to the Marvin Lewis or Rex Ryan defenses, each varied scheme tremendously from 5 to 7 DBs and used that flexibility to help with pass rush.  Were the Ravens limited in terms of defensive playmakers in 2015?  Absolutely.  But Marvin Lewis made use of 3 veteran journeyman (Bailey, Trapp, and Harris) to generate an extraordinary number of turnovers (my point being that you don't need great players to vary scheme).  Similarly Ryan's complex blitz schemes and pre-snap movement were the hallmark of his reign here as DC and they frequently came with players like Ivy, Nakamura, and Zbikowski as DBs 5 through 7.

 

The Ravens' defense was severely hamstrung on all 3 levels by the loss of Suggs and lingering Lisfranc concern with Smith, but even with improved talent via return and addition through the draft, I still think he needs a more complex playbook.

That's a very good point that I didn't even take into consideration. With the struggles of the linebackers in coverage playing more dime or even 7 DBs would make a lot of sense, especially with a guy like Will Hill who can be a thumper in the box. I feel like we have seen flashes of creative looks from Pees, but he is pretty set in his ways when it comes to personnel usage.


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