Since Don “Wink” Martindale took over as defensive coordinator of the Ravens in 2018, there has not been a more aggressive defense in the NFL than Baltimore’s. The Ravens have led the NFL in blitz frequency every year since 2018 with outstanding results, ranking 2nd, 3rd, and 2nd respectively in points allowed. This is primarily the result of Martindale’s aggressive defensive schemes creating chaos for the offense. His approach is also the reason that Baltimore will be fine despite losing a few key pass rushers this offseason.
The Ravens Defense hasn’t relied as much on individual pass rushers as they have on scheme under Martindale. They haven’t had a pass rusher reach double-digit sacks in any of the last 3 seasons. Instead, they’ve relied on an aggressive approach that challenges offenses in a multitude of ways.
They challenge with speed, which makes first-round draft pick Odafe Oweh and his sub-4.4 forty such an interesting fit. They challenge with physicality. They challenge with multiple fronts that force the offense to be on top of its game mentally. Most teams have a difficult time in this area against Baltimore.
Martindale particularly loves to attack (or threaten to attack) the middle. He does this because he knows that offenses must protect inside at all costs. Martindale is often able to use this threat to dictate the protection and then attack its weakness.
The below play against the Giants is a great example. New York was in an empty formation, so this was a 5-man protection. The Ravens aligned with 4 potential pass rushers to the right with two defenders over the center. To make sure they could seal up the inside and be able to handle those 4 potential pass rushers, the Giants used a 4-man slide protection to their left.
The right tackle was left alone to handle the remaining down lineman.
The Ravens attacked this protection by dropping two defenders out on the right side and bringing an additional linebacker and safety off the edge to the left.
When it was all said and done, the Ravens were able to force the Giants into using 4 offensive linemen to block 2 pass rushers to one side, and 1 offensive lineman to block 3 pass rushers to the other.
That’s not a fun place to be for a quarterback.
On the below play against the Steelers, Martindale used great design to attack inside with two stunts targeting the center and right guard. First, look at the stunt by the nose tackle (#93) and inside linebacker (#49) over the center.
This held the center inside. Then the Ravens used a T-E stunt on the left to target the right guard.
With the center occupied inside and the right guard taken outside by the stunt, the middle was wide open for a free rusher in the quarterback’s face.
That’s what Martindale’s defense is all about – finding ways to manufacture pressure.
We’ve shown 2 sacks above to illustrate the chaos that the Ravens create on defense. But Baltimore isn’t really a great team at getting to the quarterback. Since 2018, they’ve ranked in the middle of the pack in sacks, finishing 11th, 21st, and 14th respectively. However, the chaos they create generates pressure, creates turnovers, and does a great job of preventing quarterbacks from playing efficiently. The Ravens D has ranked 2nd, 2nd, and 7th in passer rating against since 2018. A game against Martindale’s scheme is not a comfortable one for quarterbacks, and that leads to mistakes.
On the below play, for instance, the Ravens again brought pressure up the middle (shocking, I know). Focus on Patrick Queen blitzing inside and Tyus Bowser dropping into coverage from the edge.
With the pressure in Ryan Tannehill’s face, he did not see Bowser dropping out to the right. The result was another free rusher to the quarterback and an interception.
Martindale’s various fronts and aggressiveness create lots of 1-on-1 opportunities for Baltimore’s pass rushers. The more of those you can create as a defense, the more perfect every offensive lineman has to be for a play to work (all it takes is one man getting beat to wreck a play). This is why the addition of Oweh is intriguing. Martindale will find ways to use his speed off the edge and certainly inside.
The personnel might be a little different in Baltimore’s pass rush this season, but the outcomes should be the same.