Breaking down the Baltimore Ravens new secondary rotation


Oct 19, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens cornerback Dominique Franks (32) celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Once a point of major concern, the Baltimore Ravens secondary has seemingly evolved into an above-average unit. What the heck happened?

So much has changed, starting most of all with personnel. Will Hill is now available after a six-week suspension, Lardarius Webb looks as healthy as ever, Dominique Franks is back and Terrence Brooks has emerged as a legitimate option.

I took a look at the film to see how the Ravens use each player, so let’s take a look at each player’s role in the secondary’s new rotation.

Cornerbacks: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Dominique Franks

The Ravens have been reduced to a three-man rotation at cornerback, which has been extremely effective.

In a defense constantly full of moving pieces, the cornerback rotation is actually pretty consistent now that Franks and Webb are back.

Basically, the rotation is this: Webb and Smith are the starters and play every snap. In nickel situations, Webb slides to the slot, while Franks and Smith are on the outside. The Ravens only deviated from this pattern once that I noticed on a play in which Webb moved to safety and Will Hill played corner. That was clearly intended to confuse the Falcons, though, and is not a major part of the Ravens’ plans.

Safeties: Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Will Hill, Terrence Brooks

This is where things got interesting, as safeties were constantly moving on and off the field Sunday against the Falcons. The early season tendency to play multiple safeties seems to be gone, as the Ravens stuck with two on every rep I saw.

Stewart and Brooks garnered the majority of the reps, with Brooks playing 46 and Stewart playing 45.

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Brooks was used predominantly in deep coverage, especially in passing situations. He occasionally moved into the box to cover a tight end, and he also proved capable of covering receivers in a pinch. His best usage, though, is as a deep safety, where he can use his range and instincts to help make up for any cornerbacks’ mistakes. He played predominantly with Hill or Stewart.

Stewart was the wildcard of the group, handling deep safety duties in addition to regularly being moved into the box. Stewart is probably at his best closer to the line of scrimmage, especially when paired with Brooks. He has developed into a consistent tackler and is one of the Ravens’ better players at defending screen passes. In deep coverage, Stewart did not get beaten for a big play, but his lack of range keeps him from being as active as Brooks.

Hill played a lot of reps with both Brooks and Elam, seemingly playing more of a strong safety role closer to the line of scrimmage. Very rarely did Hill cover a deep zone, but rather he played a lot of man and shallow zone coverage. He also played some deep safety in a Cover-2 look, with only a few reps being spent in deep coverage in a Cover-1 or Cover-3 look.

Finally, Elam, who received his fewest reps of the season against the Falcons, is used primarily in running situations as an in-the-box safety.  There were very few instances of Elam being on the field in an obvious passing situation, and he was mostly in the box in those situations. Elam did occasionally play deep coverage, especially when paired with Will Hill. He was most often paired with Stewart or Hill.

Going forward, Hill’s reps should continue to increase as he grows more comfortable in the defense. Those extra reps will probably come at the expense of Stewart, who is a sound player but not a playmaker. Hill can be both a consistent defender and big-time playmaker, which should give him the edge. Brooks, meanwhile, has more or less established himself as the team’s best deep safety, which should help him continue to carve out a major role.

The new safety rotation was a big hit in its first action. Ravens’ fans can only hope Dean Pees continues to get the most out of his unorthodox but talented personnel.