All-32: How Ravens Can Pressure Joe Burrow

Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Welcome to All-32, a game-by-game preview of every matchup on the NFL slate each week. The goal is to provide a look at the most critical part of each game with a marriage of data and film study. As the season rolls along, the focus will narrow in on the specifics, but for this week, many of the featured players and units are big-picture projections for the teams in question.

If you're interested in our game picks, you can find them on this page.

In order to spend more time on games with stakes, a few matchups have been removed from this week's All-32. Saints-Panthers and Colts-Texans have no playoff ramifications as all four teams are already eliminated. The Bucs-Falcons game holds no stakes because the Bucs cannot move higher than the fourth seed and the Falcons cannot make the playoffs. All three games will be excluded this week.

Let's get to it. All times listed as Eastern.

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals—Sunday, 8:15 p.m.

Key Player: BAL Front Seven

There isn't a team that plays Joe Burrow quite like the Ravens. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has had his number all year. Two of the Bengals' bottom-five performances in passing DVOA have come against the Ravens, the most recent meeting being even worse than the first. The Flock are the Jungle Cats' worst nightmare.

Simulated pressures and creepers play a big role in disrupting Burrow. Those are ways to send "blitzes" without actually sending extra bodies. Sim pressures will load the line of scrimmage before the snap and give the appearance of a blitz, then drop all but four players off the line of scrimmage. Creepers, by contrast, look like base defense before the snap, but then a second-level defender comes on a blitz while one of the standard pass-rushers drops off the line of scrimmage.

This clip from the first half of the Week 18 matchup is an example of a creeper. The Ravens show a standard defensive alignment with four line-of-scrimmage players, but they shuffle things around at the snap. Linebacker Patrick Queen (6) fires off on a blitz from the left side, while the edge from the opposite side, Tyus Bowser (54), drops off to become a hook player in coverage. All the movement makes Burrow uncomfortable sorting out the picture after coming off of Ja'Marr Chase as his first read, prompting him to check down right in front of Roquan Smith for a miniscule gain.

Now the Ravens are running a simulated pressure on third-and-10. Seven bodies are on the line of scrimmage, with the three extra being both linebackers and safety Chuck Clark. At the snap, all the "extra" bodies pop off into Tampa-2 zone assignments, leaving just the base four pass-rushers. Clark runs the pole and takes away the seam route, while the combination of cornerback Daryl Worley's reroute and Smith's underneath zone take away the curl route to Chase. Burrow is again forced to check down, Smith pounces on it for an easy tackle, and the Bengals offense walks off the field.

Having success with those kinds of faux pressure calls will be critical for the Ravens. Few defensive play-callers have been as deadly with them as Macdonald all season long, and it has been especially true whenever he has faced Burrow and the Bengals.