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If there’s a Dr. Blitz in the NFL, it’s got to be Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Don (Wink) Martindale.
For the third straight season, his Ravens have blitzed — that is, sent at least one extra defender to attack the quarterback — more than any other team.
Baltimore blitzed 39.6% of the time in 2018, 54.9% in 2019, then topped the league again this past season by bringing extra pressure on 44.1% of plays, according to pro-football-reference.com.
On Saturday night in Buffalo, you can expect Dr. Blitz to send blitzers at Bills quarterback Josh Allen over and over and over again. The two teams meet in the first of two weekend AFC divisional playoff matchups.
Allen is a completely different passer this season, improving year-over-year as perhaps no other NFL QB has in modern times, if not ever. He went from a too-often mistake-prone, uncertain, sub-60%-completion guy in his first two pro seasons to a worthy MVP candidate in Year 3, completing 69.2% of his throws for 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 107.2 passer rating.
Elite in every way.
The thing is, when the Ravens and Bills last met 13 months ago — in a 24-17 Baltimore win at Bills Stadium — Martindale blitzed the ever-lovin’ snot out of Allen — a hard-to-believe 31 times on his 46 drop-backs.
Martindale kept on blitzing Allen because it was working. Allen finished just 17-of-39 (44%) for 146 yards and one touchdown — and the Ravens sacked him six times, pressured him 14 times, forced 10 bad throws (27% of the time) and allowed Allen to squirt free on scrambles only once, for seven yards.
Following that game Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said: “I think sometimes that’s a misconception that we blitz all the time. But today we definitely, DEFINITELY blitzed a lot.”
In blitzing 44% of the time this season, the Ravens also led the league in quarterback knockdowns (71), but ranked only 14th in sacks (39) and tied for 14th in hurries (14).
On Tuesday this week, Allen said there are lessons to be learned from that Dec. 8, 2019 game.
“I’ve already watched it and it’s a tough watch,” Allen said. “I didn’t play particularly well in that game. A couple of bone-headed mistakes. They got after us, and this is a team that if they get momentum on their side, they’re scary. They’ve got quite a few big-name players over there, and they play their scheme extremely well.
“This is one of those games where you’ve got to capitalize on your opportunities to score, one — and, two, you’ve got to hold onto the ball and not make any mistakes and not give them any easy ones.”
A big reason Allen is so improved this season is the addition not only of wide receiver Stefon Diggs — named a first-team all-pro last week after leading the NFL in both receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) — but also increasingly impactful rookie wideout Gabriel Davis, who caught 35 passes 599 yards on the season, with five of his seven touchdowns coming over the last two months.
Allen said he understands the night-and-day difference between the defence of the team the Bills defeated last Saturday in the AFC wild-card round — the Indianapolis Colts, the second-least-frequent blitzers in the league (17.1%) — and the Ravens.
“Our protection plan, has got to be spot-on” Allen said. “I’ve got to be smart with the football and put (everybody) in the right position for our guys to make the most of their opportunities.
“So we’ve got to be ready for everything they can throw at us, and stick to our rules and try to execute our game plan.”
Expect Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to call more quick-throw pass plays than usual on Saturday night.
Does Martindale ever let up on the blitz pedal? Yes — against teams whose QB throws so soon after receiving the snap that no blitz could ever get ‘home’ in time, thereby rendering blitzing a waste of time.
“You have to call your defences accordingly,” Martindale said last month. “I know everybody loves to see the pressures, and I love calling pressures, but we’re just making the calls that are going to help us win the game.”
So, can the Ravens afford to blitz Allen as much as a year ago? Probably not. Martindale practically admitted as much this week.
“It’s a chess match. You’ve got to pick your spots,” he said. “And it’s a chess match on their side, as well, when they’re looking at us. That’s why I always look forward to these types of games. So, it’ll be interesting to see.
“But he knows that there’s going to be pressure — that’s for sure. That’s who we are. That’s what we’ve done.”
Does Martindale cozy to his reputation as a Dr. Blitz of sorts?
“Yes, I like it,” he said this week. “You’ve got to be known for something, don’t ya.”
ALLEN A BLITZ-BEATER
Baltimore isn’t the first blitz-happy team the Buffalo Bills have faced this season.
As it happens, they twice faced the second-blitzingest team, Miami (40.6%), as well as No. 3 Pittsburgh (40.3%), No. 4 Arizona (39.3%) and No. 6 New York Jets (38.4%) twice.
Buffalo would have been 6-0 in those games if it weren’t for the fluke “Hail Murray” touchdown the Cardinals scored in the final seconds to eke out victory.
Over those six games, Allen completed 67% of his throws for 13 touchdowns, against four interceptions, and an average of 297 pass yards per outing. Pretty impressive. And he was sacked only eight times, or 1.3 per game.
What’s more, according to Next Gen Stats, against the blitz Allen threw 15 TDs on the season (second most in the NFL) and just two interceptions, for a 7.5-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio (fourth best in the league). Also, Allen evaded blitz pressure 22.5% of the time, second best in the NFL.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021