How the Ravens Defense Shut Down the Chargers

The Chargers offense was everyone’s darling about a week ago (including ours). Justin Herbert was mixing his special talent with smarts and execution as the Chargers rose to the top of the AFC West with a 4-1 record. Then they went to Baltimore and got punched in the mouth.

Entering Week 6, Los Angeles ranked 4th in the NFL on 3rd down, converting 48.5% of attempts. They ranked third in 4th-down conversions (7/8). But against the Ravens, they went a combined 4-for-16 on 3rd and 4th down, largely because they couldn’t handle the aggressive blitz schemes of Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.

On this 3rd-and-5 in the first quarter, for instance, the Ravens were able to get a free rusher off the edge for a drive-killing sack:

From the end zone angle, you can see how the blitz succeeded. The Ravens were showing a double-A-gap look meant to strain the protection.

The Chargers tried to account for the pressure as shown below – 5 offensive linemen to account for Baltimore’s 5 biggest pass rushers:

2021Week6LACOBALDPressure_1
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Based on his reaction, it looked like running back Austin Ekeler was supposed to have a dual read, working inside to out on the two safeties threatening to rush:

2021Week6LACOBALDPressure_2
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

When the safety in the A-gap dropped out into coverage, though, Ekeler started to release into his route to the left before realizing the second man he was responsible for (DeShon Elliott) was blitzing off the edge to the right:

2021Week6LACOBALDPressure_3
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

That would have been a tough block for Ekeler to get to anyway because of the speed and angle at which Elliott attacked. In fact, that speed was a key element to the success of the play. Here’s another look:

What also made the play work was the disruption at the line of the receivers to the right of the formation. The contact was just enough to slightly delay Jared Cook’s release (#87). He was Herbert’s intended target. However, he hadn’t yet turned around by the time the pressure hit home.

2021Week6LACOBALDPressure_4
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The combination of the pressure scheme, the disguise, and the coverage worked together beautifully to challenge the Chargers mentally and prevent a smooth execution of the play.

That wasn’t the only time L.A. had trouble with the Ravens’ pressure looks in key moments. Below was another 3rd down where a free rusher was able to disrupt the play:

That was a 4-man rush against a 5-man protection and a defender still got in free. Below is one more example, this time on a 4th down in the 3rd quarter:

If the Chargers could run that play again, I’m guessing they would have wanted to call that protection differently at the line. But that’s what aggressive and intricate pressure looks will do to a quarterback and his protection. The Chargers learned that the hard way against the Ravens. They’ll need to regroup during their bye week before taking on the Patriots the following week.

Baltimore, on the other hand, will be taking on another 2nd-year quarterback this week in Joe Burrow. It’s almost a guarantee that Martindale will use everything at his disposal to try and strain Cincinnati’s protection schemes like he did to the Chargers.

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