Coming off a game in which the Ravens struggled to get much pressure on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub - especially in the second half - they turned the pressure up a notch against another potent offense.
Facing a Saints team which featured the NFL’s third-ranked offense and top unit on third downs, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison called for significantly more blitzes than he has throughout much of the season, sending a variety of looks at quarterback Drew Brees, the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
“It was a lot different from last Monday night, when we watched them against the Texans,” Brees said. “They pressured me a lot more than they did last week. The defense played a lot less conservatively. It seemed that Houston’s offense was out there a long time last Monday night. Today, the Ravens’ defense was much more fresh.”
Inside linebacker Tavares Gooden seemed to get more pressure up the middle than he had at any point...well, maybe in his entire three-year career. Jarret Johnson had his first full sack of the season, and Terrell Suggs and Cory Redding both provided a nice rush off the edges.
The Ravens sacked Brees three times on the afternoon, hit him on two other occasions, and consistently brought pressure in his face.
Brees never seemed truly settled when he’d drop back to throw, and there were rarely plays where he had time to survey his full allotment of receivers. Against Houston, Schaub often could go through all of his progressions, and sometimes, even had time to work back through them a second time.
“I think we definitely didn’t want Drew Brees to get comfortable,” Suggs said. “Brees is one of the premier quarterbacks in this league. You definitely don’t want him comfortable. You don’t want to turn the game into a seven-on-seven pass drill. He’s the best in the business, and he’s the defending champ.”
Against Houston, Mattison designed a lot of three-man rushes which allowed eight defenders to drop into coverage. That strategy backfired, as a tired Ravens’ defensive line failed to push the pocket and allowed Schaub to pick the secondary apart down the field.
Today, there was more balance. There were some three-man schemes, but often, Mattison would have a linebacker or two, or even a defensive back, come in to give a run at the QB.
“We mixed it up a lot more today,” Johnson said. “It was a real good job mixing up our pressures and our coverage. Kept them on edge. They didn’t know when we were bringing the house or when we were dropping eight. It was much more our style.
“People hate three-man [rushes] only when the quarterback is standing back there all day long,” Johnson added. “Nobody really notices it when we’re batting balls down and stuff. But when we’re good is when we’re able to mix in the three-man rush, max coverage with our blitzes and our pressures, different disguises. That’s when we’re good.”
The increased pressure helped out the Ravens’ defensive backs, who didn’t have to battle the Saints’ tall, physical receivers for nearly as long on a given play.
“It’s tough to cover somebody one-on-one with no pressure, but when you get pressure like that, you know the ball’s coming out quicker, you don’t have to cover as long, you’re going to be fresher, and you’re going to have more opportunities to get your hand on the ball,” cornerback Chris Carr said.
“So, everybody did a great job of getting pressure today. The linebackers, the defensive line, even the guys in the secondary that were going on the blitzes. It was just a team effort today.”