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Film breakdown: What to expect from Don “Wink” Martindale’s Giants defense

Nick Falato takes a deep dive into what Martindale did with the Baltimore Ravens

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The construction of the New York Giants coaching staff isn’t quite complete, but Big Blue has signed former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale to a three-year contract to fill that role on Brian Daboll’s coaching staff.

Martindale is from the Buddy Ryan coaching tree. He was known as the Blitzing Mullett in Baltimore. He creates organized chaos with exotic pressure looks to manipulate offensive protection schemes. In certain situations, Martindale employs unique personnel packages, like his RACECAR package (four outside linebackers), to help dictate what the offense can do.

The philosophy is aggressive, and he employs a lot of man coverage on the back end. According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore predominantly ran Cover 3 in 2021, but it was only negligibly more than Cover 1. If we look back further, the Ravens ran Cover 1 more than any other coverage - so why was there a difference in 2021?

Injuries at the cornerback position decimated the 2021 Ravens. Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, and Marcus Peters were all injured at some point in the season, with Peters never playing a down.

These injuries were challenging for Martindale’s defense to overcome since they are so man-coverage reliant. The cornerback personnel specifically needs to be able to execute in order to blitz and run man coverage effectively. By the end of the year, the Ravens signed players off the street to play significant snaps at cornerback. It was an untenable situation for a Cover 1 defense. Here’s the Ravens Cover 1 percentage by down in 2021:

  • First down: 23.3 percent
  • Second down: 21.1 percent
  • Third: 30.7 percent
  • Fourth: 22.2 percent

The Ravens Cover 0 percentage (a coverage with no safety help and 6+ man pressure) was at 14.4 percent on third down and 38.9 percent on fourth down.

Baltimore ranked sixth in blitz percentage in 2021 - they blitzed on 31.1 percent of their defensive plays. For reference, the Giants ranked 16th with a 25 percent blitz rate, albeit New York rarely brought as many full-out, Cover 0 blitzes.

The down 2021 season was a disappointment, but not one that generally causes a firing. Sure, the Ravens finished 18th in points per game and 24th in yards allowed per game. They were the worst pass defense and ranked 28th in DVOA (defensive adjusted value over average) - not great!

However, in the three years with Wink Martindale as the defensive coordinator, the Ravens finished second, third, and first in points per game from 2018 to 2020. The Ravens were first, third, and sixth in yards allowed per game in that same time frame. The firing of Martindale went beyond the X’s and O’s on the field.

I have no inside information, but reports from Baltimore suggest there was a chasm between Martindale and head coach John Harbaugh. Martindale was entering the final year of his contract, and there may have been organizational disagreements due to that as well. Either way, he’s now with the Giants.

Let’s dive into some of Martindale’s exotic pressure looks that have become synonymous with the aggressive play-caller.

Manipulating protection

Wink Martindale uses a variety of tactics to pressure the quarterback. He’s adept at disguising his intentions and creating communication issues for the offensive line, which leads to a free rusher at the quarterback. It’s is a core principle of Martindale’s defense.

Martindale crowds the line of scrimmage on this third-and-5 situation, early in a Ravens’ beatdown of the Los Angeles Chargers. Numbers 21 and 50 have to be accounted for in the Chargers’ protection until they bail right before the snap. The Ravens are in a double-mug look with both second-level defenders aligned in the A-Gap; this forces the interior offensive line to account for both players. Look to the right of the offensive formation:

There are three potential rushers to the left and four to the right - there’s a lot of quick communication necessary to block this effecively, even with six-man protection. Both the ones bail into zone and work underneath routes while the other five rushers attack quarterback Justin Herbert.

Chargers’ center Corey Linsley protects the A-Gap to his left, anticipating a rush from Justin Houston (50), who would occupy Rashawn Slater (70), which would leave Odafe Oweh (99) against guard Matt Feiler (71). Unfortunately for the Chargers, it’s a simulated pressure with Houston and Brandon Stephens (21) bailing and with three Ravens rushers against guard Michael Schofield III (72) and Storm Norton (74). Running back Austin Ekeler (30) initially thought he was protecting the A-Gap against Stephens; then, he attempted to flare into the flat before ultimately realizing that DeShuan Elliott (32) would sack Herbert.

Martindale does an excellent job creating free rushers with deceptive pre-snap alignments that put offensive protection packages in a bind. Here’s another five-man pressure in a third-and-6 situation against the Vikings.

The Ravens have seven players on the line of scrimmage, with four of them from the nose to the right of the offensive formation. Baltimore runs Cover 1 with Odafe Oweh as the only defender rushing the passer on the left side. Look at the Vikings’ left tackle and guard at the snap - there’s no one to engage. Tyus Bowser (54) sticks to Tyler Conklin (83), and Tavon Young (25) does a great job working over Conklin’s release to stay in phase on K.J. Osbourn (17).

The left side of the Vikings’ five-man protection initially blocked space, leaving a 4-on-3 matchup in favor of Martindale’s defense to the right side of the line of scrimmage. Calais Campbell (93) engages the center, Chris Board (49) attacks the inside shoulder of the guard, and Houston angles inside as well to ensure safety Chuck Clark (36) has an unabated rush at Kirk Cousins (8). Creating free rushers, wreaking havoc, and earning immediate pressure on opposing quarterbacks are aspects of Martindale’s scheme that I appreciate.

Watch this five-man pressure comes against Carson Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts.

Right before the snap, Oweh stays at linebacker depth but drops over the outside shoulder of the right tackle (5-technique). This forced slide protection to the right side and 3-on-2 matchup to the left. Matt Pryor (69) must account for Stephens’ initial steps into the backfield, but the defensive back sticks to Jonathan Taylor (28) on the route. On the right side, both the guard and tackle are occupied by a 3-technique and wide rusher, but no one accounts for the blitzing nickel back. Wentz doesn’t see Young, and it’s an easy sack on third down.

Cover 0

One aggressive way to create free rushers is to run Cover 0. The coverage is man up with everyone else blitzing, so no safety help over the top. According to PFF, the Ravens ran Cover-0 8 percent of the time last season. Here’s one successful call against Joe Burrow and the Bengals:

The Bengals run a smash concept out of empty to the two receiver side with Marlon Humphrey (44) over Ja’Marr Chase (1) in the slot. The pass rush flushes Burrow; Humphrey plays over the top and stays square to Chase until he commits to the flag. With his butt to the sideline, Elliott reads Burrow, drops off the smash, and sinks underneath the number two receivers (Chase) flag. Humphrey comes away with the interception. Here’s what it looked like from Burrow’s view:

Martindale loves to crowd the line of scrimmage and frequently brings safeties into the box (Stephens). He is double mugging the A-Gap to occupy the interior linemen, which forces the right tackle to block down on the 3-technique, leaving Bowser as a free rusher. The Ravens also align in this double A-Gap look and drop into coverage; this also occupies those linemen enough time to create a free rusher outside. Five-man protections are risky to run in this defensive look.

Board gets a free rush off the edge in this Cover 0 look with Josh Bynes (56) going through the B-gap as Houston and Elliott rush wide - to force the tackle wide and draw the attention of Ekeler - with Brandon Williams (98), the 1-technique, stabbing the guard hard with his outside arm, and attacking through the outside shoulder. The B-Gap becomes open and is an easy alley into the pocket. This isn’t overly difficult to produce with seven-man blitzes, but opening and attacking the B-Gap is a common theme in Martindale’s pressure package.

Attack the B-Gap

This is a six-man pressure against the Cleveland Browns, who were running a screen away from the blitz in this first-and-10 situation.

The screen’s structure has the offensive line slide in the opposite direction. Still, I love how Martindale aligns Board in the A-Gap and has him engage the inside portion of Joel Bitonio (75) while sending Houston wide against Jedrick Wills Jr. (71). What does this do? You guessed it! The B-Gap becomes wide open with two unblocked rushers. It’s disguised well - there’s no indication that Geno Stone (26), who is aligned over Austin Hooper (81), is going to pressure. Still, he works underneath Houston’s wide rush to enter an open B-Gap against a screen that failed to materialize. Here it is from the sideline angle:

The extreme pressure had to get home on this play, or it could have gone for a touchdown to Kareem Hunt (27). Here is another example of Martindale attacking the B-Gap:

This is a completion to Tyler Conklin (83) over the middle of the field, but we can see how Martindale creates a wide-open rushing lane in the B-Gap.

Minnesota is in single back 11-personnel with an inline-Y. The Ravens align their SAM, Tyus Bowser, over the top of Conklin. At the snap, the 1-technique and 3-technique both slant inside; this occupies three Ravens blockers - all the interior linemen. Both Bowser and the nickel blitz, isolating tackle Brian O’Neil (75) in a two vs. one situation. O’Neil takes the wide rusher, expecting the guard to take Bowser, but the inside slanting 2-technique has the guard’s attention. Now there’s a wide-open B-Gap with Bowser blitzing unabated. Unfortunately for Martindale, Bynes overplays Conklin’s release and gets beat inside. The result wasn’t ideal; nevertheless, a creative pressure package.

Ravens align in an ODD front with a nose and two 4i-techniques (an EAGLE front). Martindale stacks Patrick Queen (6) behind the nose and delay blitzes him through the B-Gap. The nose and blitz side 4i-technique slant inside, while Pernell McPhee (90) takes a wide-angle to give Queen space through the B-Gap.

Simulated pressure

Simulated pressure is when a defense sends a “non-traditional” rusher to get after the quarterback while dropping two or more defenders who initially appeared, pre-snap, like they were blitzing. It’s similar to a fire zone blitz; only fire zone typically brings five rushers.

Martindale loves to run simulated pressure, and we see it against Minnesota on the play above. Board (49) and Stephens (21) bail at the snap while the nickel back - who appeared to be in press coverage pre-snap - blitzes off the edge, creating a 2-on-1 against O’Neil (75).

There are five potential rushers from the center over to Conklin on the offense’s left side. That will occupy a lot of attention from the offense’s protection. At the snap, two of them bail to depth, while Houston watches Conklin and Alexander Mattison (25), who went towards the pre-snap threat of five potential rushers. However, on the other side of the formation, Oweh (4i-technique) squares up the guard while Bowser attacks the inside of O’Neil; the tackle then realizes the blitz and expects help from the guard, but he has his hands filled with Oweh. By the time the center realizes the pressure look, O’Neil is forced to kick outside, and the guard is still engaged with Oweh, leaving Bowser as a free-rusher through the B-Gap. This is a seven-man protection created a 2-on-1 opportunity by rushing four players - scheme!

Burrow quickly processed this simulated pressure and threw hot to Chase. Both Queen and Bowser drop off the left side of the line of scrimmage into coverage; Martindale shifted Anthony Levine Sr. (41) into the A-Gap to occupy the center and force a three vs. two against Akeem Adenji (77) and Isaiah Price (75). Clark runs right into the wide-open B-Gap, but Burrow quickly gets rid of the football.

Coffeehouse/occupy

Deception is a pillar of Martindale’s defense. Disguising intentions in not just the pre-snap phase, but the initial post-snap phase, as well. We all remember the Kawika Mitchell Play, as I call it, in Super Bowl XLII:

Mitchell parted the seas of the strong-side A-Gap by faking a coverage assignment, which gives the guard and center the impression that he’s not a threat. Once the guard and center look for work, Mitchell comes on the delayed blitz - the coffeehouse.

There are coffeehouse stunts and coffeehouse blitzes; it’s another way to manipulate the protection with disguise in the initial post-snap portion of a play.

Here we see a coffeehouse blitz/stunt used to target the B-Gap against Pittsburgh. The Ravens are double-mugging the A-Gaps; at the snap, Board pivots backward to show a possible coverage responsibility, but that’s just to confuse the protection of Pittsburgh. Board waits for Calais Campbell to cross the guard’s face and then runs into the B-Gap along with Kevin Seymour (38). Benny Snell (24) gets out-schemed two vs. one and doesn’t stop either. Board is blitzing, but it can also be classified as a T/LB stunt in a coffeehouse fashion.

This is a little different; the Ravens run Cover 1 with the Bengals in a split-back formation. At the snap, it appears like the Ravens are sending everyone; Bowser and Stephens both sell blitzing intentions. Stephens presence occupies three blockers against two actual rushers, while Stephens transitions off the blitz and contains outside while watching the running back. The deception of Stephens and Bowser working together here forces a protection breakdown in the A-Gap. Bowser forces Jonah Williams (73) up the pass-rushing arc, making Quinton Spain (67) focus on Oweh. C.J. Uzomah (87) gets enough of Board, but Burrow is forced to flush and throw the ball prematurely because he flees in the direction of Oweh, who is working that way. Here’s the sideline angle:

Here’s another blitz that isn’t quite a coffeehouse, but it uses initial “blitzing” paths to occupy the attention of offensive linemen, creating a 2-on-1 opportunity on the other side of the line. Queen blitzes directly at the center, the 1-technique releases into the B-Gap, and Oweh initially comes off the edge on the outside, drawing the attention of the tackle. Every lineman had a defender to block - then Bynes heads into the A-Gap.

Oweh and Bowser sink to coverage, rendering two blockers in the protection ineffective. This is important because the A-Gap blitz puts C.J. Ham (30) in a position to find Bynes, but there’s a communication issue. The guard Justin Ellis (71) ran through the B-Gap after seeing the A-Gap penetration. Ham cannot locate Ellis, and Cousins is forced to throw the football away.

These three plays aren’t exactly the same, but they are similar concepts. Force the offense to either account for rushers that don’t actually blitz or deceive the protection with coffeehouse movement to create free rushing lanes - wreak havoc!

Stunts

Martindale is known for his prowess in bringing pressure, but he’s more than just a blitzing wizard. Some quarterbacks in the NFL shouldn’t be blitzed too often - they’ll make you pay. Other situations don’t have to dictate bringing pressure if a team can’t effectively block a four-man stunt (looks at the 2021 Giants).

Clark and Board bail off the line of scrimmage with Campbell penetrating the A-Gap - to occupy the guard and center - while Oweh loops around the center, who gets enough of the rookie. However, Bowser is able to win around the edge and get enough of Dalton to force this incompletion that was initially ruled a fumble.

Here’s another stunt against the Bears with Campbell and Houston slanting inside to allow Oweh to loop around. The line blocks it well, other than the Larry Borom (75) on Tyus Bowser. David Montgomery (32) does an excellent job watching the movement and positioning himself in front of Oweh. Unfortunately for the Bears, Bowser gets his inside arm into Borom’s chest and backs the tackle up with excellent play strength while grabbing Borom’s outside hand for control and pressing through the tackle’s outside shoulder.

There’s some pressure on Matt Stafford (9), but just appreciate Campbell as the penetrator here; he de-cleats the guard and separates from the offensive line. He’s a free agent in 2022.

Coverage

We discussed a lot of the exotic pressure looks and how Martindale can construct a deceptive pass rush, but what happens on the backend? The Ravens ran most of their plays in the middle of the field closed (MOFC) looks. This is the breakdown of specific coverage call percentages in 2021:

  • Cover 0: 8 percent
  • Cover 1: 24 percent
  • Cover 2: 6.9 percent
  • 2-Man: 2.4 percent
  • Cover 3: 29.5 percent
  • Quarters: 9.6 percent
  • Cover 6: 13.6 percent
  • Bracket: 0.5 percent

The breakdown is not in-depth; there are plenty of principles within each coverage that adds variation against specific offensive personnel/alignments.

Patrick Graham ran Cover 3 (MOFC) 37.5 percent of the time - the Giants were a much more zone-based team than Baltimore under Martindale. However, Graham didn’t only run spot drop zone coverage. There were plenty of match principles within Patrick Graham’s scheme. He used STUMP and STUBBIE to the three-receiver sides of a 3x1 set, with Bradberry (typically) playing MEG (man everywhere he goes) on the backside - or some variation of that.

The secondary had to be in unison with Graham, a cohesive and communicative unit. It’s similar with Martindale, albeit he runs a lot of true Cover 1 (Giants ran that 15.1 percent of the time).

Here’s the sideline angle of the last pressure in the coffeehouse/occupy section. It’s a first-and-10; Vikings are in 21 personnel. The Ravens are in a Cover 3 look with pressure. Since Martindale sent five, and Dalvin Cook (33) is a three to the field out of the backfield, the Ravens find themselves in a difficult position with Oweh dropping to middle hook.

Elliott is the apex defender, and he has flat responsibility. He stays square and reacts well, flowing laterally outside once Cook heads to the flat. This puts Humphrey (field cornerback) in a precarious situation against the eventual smash concept. He has to midpoint the one and two and sink underneath the seven route from Justin Jefferson (18) because that’s the one type of route the safety can’t locate. Coincidentally, Elliott pacing Cook to the flat coincided with Adam Theilen’s curl route on the numbers.

This play is a small indication of the importance of defender’s leverage when extra bodies blitz and the defense isn’t in zone coverage. On the play below, you’ll see a pattern match, 2-read coverage.

It’s a first-and-10 play, and it looks like the Ravens are in some sort of palms coverage. The safeties are reading the routes, and the defenders are matching upon the receiver’s route distribution. Baltimore wasn’t known for its 2-high, middle-of-the-field open (MOFO) looks, so I’ll assume the Vikings had an assumption that the Ravens were in a match look. An Achilles heel to palms or quarters coverage is the scissors concept with a deep flag and post crossing each other, which is what we see at the top of the screen.

Adam Theilen runs the post, and Conklin runs the flag, but the Ravens pass the routes off so well between Humphrey and Stephens. Cousins attempts to throw with anticipation at around Theilen’s break, but Stephens gets underneath the post and forces an incompletion. The coverage relies on trust and communication - this was a good example of that in the red zone.

The Ravens run quarters on first-and-10 in the red zone against the Bengals in the play above. Burrow has his offense in empty and the Ravens send four on the rush - nothing exotic. The Bengals run three vertical routes from the three-receiver side, with Uzomah bending his route in between the seam. This is a great way to isolate one deep fourth coverage player against two vertical wide receivers, Tyler Boyd (83) and Tee Higgins (85). Seymore does a very good job gaining depth and mid-pointing Boyd and Higgins route. The four-man pressure gets home, and Cover-4 worked here for the Ravens in the red zone.

Martindale’s reputation as an overly aggressive defensive coordinator is apt, but the chaos generated through his philosophy is controlled. The Ravens beat the Kansas City Chiefs 36-35 in wWeek 2 of the 2021 season. The Ravens rarely brought five-man pressure packages; one time they did resulted in a long Byron Pringle touchdown. Martindale knew the risk of blitzing Patrick Mahomes and tailored his defensive pressure to match his opponent.

According to PFF, the Ravens ran Cover 1 just 6.1 percent of the snaps against the Chiefs while never bringing a full-out Cover 0 blitz. Baltimore ran the most Cover 6 of the season, with a 38.8 percent rate, and they ran Cover 2 8.2 percent of the time (fifth-most in the league). One of my favorite adjustments made by Martindale came on a third-and-12 at midfield:

Travis Kelce (87) had made a 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown earlier. Martindale adjusted and used OLB Odafe Oweh to chip Kelce at the line of scrimmage in a quasi drop eight situation - at least initially. I preface that because after Oweh jams Kelce, he spies Mahomes in the pocket and contains the creative quarterback with only a three-man rush applying pressure. Baltimore drops to depth, removing the big-play ability, and Oweh finds his way to an escaping Mahomes. Oweh hits the quarterback, and Mahomes throws the interception to Tavon Young.

Martindale adjusted his game plan frequently; he made halftime adjustments, curtailed his approach to his opponent, and was very creative with the employment of his personnel. The Ravens used every able body defender in their defense - there were roles for everyone.

I also didn’t see Martindale stunt once against the Chiefs. The rather vanilla approach in terms of generating pressure is wise; a stunt can create free rushers and manipulate protections, but it also forces the defense to lose contain and maintain gap integrity - that’s not something you want to do against Mahomes. That is another subtle adjustment I appreciated in his game plan against Kansas City.

Concerns

I am very intrigued with the hiring of Martindale, but is there any cause for concern? Firstly, and most importantly, in order to effectively run Martindale’s system, the personnel has to be capable of executing man coverage assignments. The Ravens lost three starting cornerbacks in 2021, and their depth wasn’t consistent with their ability in man. There are instances throughout Ravens’ film where the personnel was flat-out beat in one-on-one situations. Martindale’s system cannot be maximized without the right pieces in place. The scheme needs the right personnel, and that’s coverage cornerbacks that excel in man coverage and who are good in press alignments.

Another area of concern that frustrated some who cover the Ravens was the lack of development from the Ravens’ young inside linebackers, specifically Patrick Queen, but Malik Harrison is grouped into that as well. Harrison was shot in the calf during the 2021 season in Cleveland, which hindered his development, so that’s one reason why his trajectory as a player was stifled. However, Queen’s rare athletic traits were never fully leveraged, so his potential wasn’t actualized. He’s still a raw player who doesn’t exactly know how to play linebacker, despite having two years under his belt. Some have criticized Martindale for the lack of development, although blame could also be assigned to Harbaugh or even 2021 inside linebacker coach Rob Ryan.

Final thoughts

Martindale isn’t dull. He’s going to bring pressure in various ways while disguising his concepts to cause protection issues for the offense. Despite his reputation, he’s adaptable to his opponent, yet his defense still dictates the setting for the offense.

Martindale employs an assortment of different personnel packages, uses simulated pressure to create confusion, and he takes Rex Ryan’s term of controlled chaos and amplifies its effect. I’m excited to cover and break down his defense as it adjusts to the Giants’ personnel throughout the 2022 season.