How the Ravens defense shut down the Chargers

Casey Sully
ravens defense

The Baltimore Ravens shut down one of the hottest quarterbacks and offenses in the league. Justin Herbert was pressured on 33 of his 42 drop-backs and had 1.1 yards per attempt on those 33 pressured attempts. LA had just 208 total yards and 26 yards on the ground. All of this was with a Ravens defense that was ranking as slightly below average the previous five weeks of the season.

Dominating day from Calais Campbell

The performance, especially in the run game, got started with Calais Campbell. Campbell had a number of plays where he dominated the guy in front of him. Early in the game here, the Chargers are running Duo. In Duo, the offensive line is responsible for their backside gap. If someone is there, they have to block them. If nobody is present in their backside gap, they work a double-team to the playside. It’s designed to get immediate vertical push on the defensive line and allow the running back to read off of the filling linebackers. Based on Duo rules, that leaves Calais Campbell one-on-one with Trey Pipkins who is being used as a 6th offensive lineman. Campbell manhandles Pipkins and throws him clear across the formation into the weakside outside linebacker. He then immediately makes the play on Austin Ekeler for a loss of yards.

Duo Concept
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Duo Concept
ravens defense

Campbell continually blew up the run game of the Chargers and forced them into being one-dimensional. On an outside zone play, Calais, while lined up in a 3-technique outside of the guard, is able to beat the guard to the inside. That should flat out never happen to the offense. The guard is already taking steps laterally with the goal to climb to the middle linebacker and get to the second level. That leaves the tackle to overtake Calais at the 3-technique.

Campbell has no business beating the guard to the spot and crossing the guard’s face when they’re running outside zone away from him. But, Campbell wasn’t a human this game so he beats him anyways. He is able to win the point of attack while also blowing up the crunch from Keenan Allen.

Outside Zone
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Outside Zone

Exotic blitzes

While Calais was dominant most of the game on his own, the Ravens also worked in a number of slot blitzes off the edge to help in both the run and pass game. Baltimore gave a number of exotic looks that messed up protection schemes and caused issues in run blocking. Since Calais was causing such a problem inside, the Chargers eventually tried to pin and pull around him. They’re using both the right tackle and tight end to down-block him while wrapping the guard around to kick out or hook Justin Houston. Ekeler’s track is to get outside, but the Ravens have sent their slot corner on a blitz. That forces Ekeler back inside to the mess that Campbell has created by anchoring on the double team.

ravens defense

Those slot blitzes didn’t just mess up the run game, though. They also caused serious issues in pass protection. The Chargers struggled all day to figure out who was coming on pressures and who wasn’t. Here, the Ravens only send four players, yet get a free runner at the quarterback. Baltimore is showing six potential rushers at the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. However, with the slot coming down late and Herbert already in his cadence, the protection is already locked in.

The Chargers are doing a 3-man slide to the right to protect against Justin Houston and Calais Campbell. However, Campbell is the only one that rushes to that side. That leaves the left guard and tackle isolated on the two down linemen to the left. Since the Chargers are in empty, that leaves nobody to pick up the slot blitzing and Herbert has to get the ball out fast which causes an errant throw outside.

What the slot blitzes and stoutness in the run game also did was allow the Ravens to say “screw it” to backside pursuit on zone running away from them. They knew that the Chargers liked to boot out of those looks and run play-action. The backside ends or blitzing corners were having none of it. They’d continually be in Herbert’s face after his run action and impact throws.

Poor pass protection plan

Once the Ravens got a bit of a lead, it was all downhill for the Chargers. The exotic blitzes started piling up and Herbert and the Chargers did an awful job with their protection plans. Ekeler was at fault a couple times as well. On this blitz, the Ravens are showing seven potential rushers. The Chargers have multiple options on how to deal with it. Through the game, they typically went big-on-big and slid protection to the true defensive linemen or rush backers. Predictably, that’s what they do again here. The Chargers are running a 3-man slide to the left, but they also have Ekeler lined up on that side with what should be a dual read. He knows they’re sliding left so if #21, Brandon Stephens comes, he has him in protection. The other two linemen are taking Calais Campbell and the end outside.

As soon as Stephens bails, Ekeler continues to scan, but leaves early to release on his route. What he doesn’t catch, is the blitz off the edge. Even if he had though, LA has aligned him all the way to the left, which makes that an incredibly difficult block for him to get to. The Chargers lost on this play and protection plan pre-snap. They placed a fourth blocker on the side where they’re most safe with their 3-man slide against three potential rushers. If Ekeler instead has his dual read from #21 to #32 while aligning on the right, he’s in a much better position to pick things up. These unscouted blitz looks exposed Herbert a little in his ability to adjust protections and get things set up when the Chargers aren’t in the right call. Baltimore took advantage of that and shut down an incredibly explosive offense.

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Final thoughts

The Ravens had some great individual performances to help get things going, but their unscouted blitz looks and run defense helped them bury the Chargers offense. Big players showed up in big moments and if Baltimore can keep building and adjusting in spite of all their injuries, the AFC North and the conference as a whole, better be on notice.