Another Win Prevented

The prevent defense. The name sends chills down the spins of fans, coaches and players alike. Anybody but the opposing offense loves to see the defense utilized to "prevent" a loss from unfurling.

As it has in the past, the prevent or soft zone scheme, reared its ugly head in a crushing Ravens' defeat against Cleveland that essentially ended their season.


The Browns had 92 yards to cover, with no timeouts left to call, yet they marched down the field as if they owned the Ravens' defense the entire game.


In fact, the Ravens' defense was only burned twice for touchdown scores the entire game, yet that was enough to seal Baltimore's fate.

The Ravens' lack of pass rush on those two drives was paramount. The Ravens, who can't generate much of a pass rush installing just four down lineman, laid back and rushed just three d-lineman, including linebacker Peter Boulware, who was easily double teamed off the edge.


The other two rushers were Kelly Gregg, who can be singled up by any decent center, and Anthony Weaver, who doesn't have the quickness or the motor to get around the corner consistently.


Couch sat back, as did his receivers, and welcomed the soft zone coverage with open arms.


"They were trying to drop into zones and trying to rush them, but we have so many guys that can get open, create separation, that it makes it a lot easier on the quarterback," Cleveland receiver Kevin Johnson said.


No kidding. Give any quarterback in the league eons to throw the ball, and find receivers open down the field, with or without his timeouts, and he'll pick you apart.


The Raven defenders know this from past experience.

Denver, the defense played soft and stopped rushing the Broncos in the second half after blitzing and harassing them successfully during the first half of the game. Thanks to having a 31-point lead, the Ravens ultimately had enough of a cushion to win, but the Broncos' offense scored 23 points in the second half, making the game interesting until the last drop.

Against this same Browns' team earlier in the season, the Ravens nearly blew a 23-0 lead by letting quarterback Kelly Holcomb dice them up and down the field to cut the lead down by five points with one last John Elway drive to go. Fortunately for the Ravens, Holcomb threw a pick to end the comeback and
Baltimore survived.


However, these games didn't need to come so close to slipping away.

It would have been nice to see how Tim Couch would have fared against a reasonably sound pass rush on that final drive because quite frankly, when the Ravens released the hounds and got after Tim Couch during 50 minutes of yesterday's game, he panicked.


Couch had happy feet, and was off the mark on most of his intermediate throws. There was even one moment in the game when Couch had a free play thanks to a Ravens' off-side penalty, and instead of heaving the ball down field, he chucked the ball out of bounds.


Yeah, Couch was definitely rattled. He may not have been as flustered yesterday as he was back in October, when the Ravens sacked the Browns' signal caller mercilessly and knocked him out of the game with a concussion, but he was shook.


But in a mere two minutes, poof, the intimidation factor and the game itself, flew right out of the window.


This scene hasn't just happened to the Ravens this season, it has happened to countless teams before, in the great history of the unpreventable zone defense.


Last season, the Jaguars lost a myriad of close games at the end because their defense couldn't seal the deal against teams looking to score on the last drive.


If you remember, the Ravens won two of those comeback games against Jacksonville, one of which was won by Elvis Grbac with seconds remaining.


Again, for some reason, defensive coordinators that have dictated the tempo against offenses the entire game, go into a shell and call off the dogs.


You would think that by deploying eight defenders into coverage, windows get closed off for the quarterback to see, receivers get blanket by underneath coverage, and usually, quarterbacks force the issue and make a mistake.

The players have to make the plays though, and if they don't, offenses that were as cold as a December morning, get hot and shred the leaky coverage by chunking up 10-15 yards down the middle of the field, where the safeties split the field to defend the deep ball.

Couch killed the Ravens with those throws yesterday, as he whizzed passes past the linebackers and in front of the safeties, into the hands of his receivers, who easily curled into the seams.


Nolan trusted his players to tackle well underneath the umbrella coverage, and they didn't do so.


He's been burned by this defense before, going back to his days as a coordinator in Washington. If had a better front four to unleash on Couch, the story could have a turned a different way. But the Ravens don't have Tampa Bay's line or the Dolphins' line, for that matter. When utilizing a 3-4 front, the linebackers are the base of your pass rush first, and should stay so unless you have defensive tackles that can collapse the pocket.


Don't get me wrong, Nolan has done a masterful coaching job this season, getting the most out a defense with just two starters remaining from the 2000 Super Bowl team. However, he needs to get out of his prevent affinity if this defense is to once again become a dominant unit in the next couple of years.


That goes for you other defensive coordinators out there too. Just say no to the prevent defense.

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