Improved depth key to defensive resurgence

Imagine you're a 260-lb. outside linebacker who plays 70 snaps a game, or that you're a 320-lb. defensive tackle who plays 60 snaps a game.

You might be the best player on your team at your position, and you might be in fantastic shape, but over the course of a 60-minute contest, you'll get worn out. Your pass rush skills will fade, your technique will get sloppy and you won't play to your fullest potential.

Now, imagine you're a 260-lb. outside linebacker who plays 55 snaps a game. Picture yourself as a 320-lb. defensive tackle who plays 45 snaps a game.

That's the situation that the Ravens have fallen into this year. Due to the progression of veterans like Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Arthur Jones, and the emergence of rookie Pernell McPhee, the Ravens have been able to constantly rotate defensive personnel in their sub packages, giving a number of their starting linebackers and defensive linemen a breather countless times over the course of a game.

"We're constantly rolling guys in, which we've never really done," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "I've never come off the field before, and now we're able to get ... Kruger's rolling in. We're rolling DBs in. The interior, with McPhee and Art Jones coming in, made some huge plays at the end of the game. We haven't done that in a long time. We haven't had this much depth.

"It just shows the potential that we have, and it shows that we need to dominate like this. This is the NFL. We're going to have some games when we're going to have to grind it out. But it shows the potential that we have."

When you've got a defense chocked with veterans, you have to worry about the wear and tear that those players will experience over the course of a game, and on a bigger scale, over the course of a season.

How effective can a veteran player be in January if he's played over 1,000 snaps during the regular season? He might still be able to play at a high level, but is there any denying that he could be sharper if he only saw 800 regular season snaps?

If you can limit the number of reps each player sees without decreasing your unit's on-field performance, it could pay large dividends in the end.

"It's been very important," head coach John Harbaugh said. "We do have more depth, we do have more pass rushers, we do have more run-stuffers. And, I think our younger guys, the guys who were young last year, have kind of moved into those roles, so they can actually play more plays as well. And then we've just got a rookie class that's ready to play, and that's been a big plus for us. So, hey, the fresher you are out there, obviously the faster you can play. So it's good to play all the guys - you get maybe 21 or 22 defensive players, and it's good to play them all."

Johnson, who has played basically every single down in previous seasons, admits that he's had to adjust to the new rotation, which leaves him on the sidelines much more than he's used to. But the veteran linebacker knows that getting fresh, capable players into the game will benefit the team in the short-term, and the decreased reps and less wear and tear will benefit him in the long-term, as well.

"It's definitely an advantage for our team being able to roll guys, keeping guys healthy and keeping guys fresh," Johnson said. "Rushing the passer is probably the most exhausting thing you could do on the field, so when you're able to get fresh guys in all the time, it's nice."

blog comments powered by Disqus