Melvin Ingram is one Chargers player the Patriots cannot ignore
Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White takes a closer look at what happens when you don’t sell out to stop Melvin Ingram. It’s been damn near impossible for me not to pull for Melvin Ingram ever since I first saw him kicking ass at South Carolina. There he was, undersized for a defensive end, playing all over the defensive line with reckless abandon. He was never the biggest, strongest, or fastest guy on the field, but he just knew how to play football. He was constantly making plays. He was an absolute dog on the field, and I never saw him back down from any challenge, no matter who was issuing it. He hustled his ass off and played with good technique. Cats damn near twice his size could not handle him. That, in general, is exactly my kind of football player. I always thought he was going to be fantastic in the NFL, but after he tore his ACL the spring after his rookie season and then hurt his hip in September the following year forcing him to injured reserve, I worried that injuries would end up derailing his career. Thankfully, he displayed that same work ethic in the training room. While it took a little longer than I thought it would, Ingram he has overcome those injuries and blossomed into the game wrecker I always imagined he could be. Although he has touched double digits sacks twice now, he still doesn’t have the gaudy sack numbers that a lot of people look for from top edge rushers. Ingram’s film will always speak louder than his stats, and when you watch it you see a guy who balls week in and week out. Joey Bosa gets the big headlines, and rightfully so, but I look at Ingram as the glue to that defense. He was a huge reason why the Chargers were able to hold up so well while Bosa was out with an injury for the first half of this season. Having said all that, it seems clear to me after watching the film that the Baltimore Ravens, for some odd reason, didn’t seem to see Ingram as the kind of player they would have to account for. They certainly didn’t appear to game plan to try to stop him from making plays. Worse than that, much of the offensive game plan seemed predicated on being able to fool Ingram into getting out of position, then exploiting his mistakes. I ... don’t get it. Ingram just is not that guy. Not only does he usually play with great discipline, the guy just seems to have great instincts when it comes to sniffing out plays. Not only did Ingram end up making a bunch of big plays against the Ravens, almost every time they tried him, he made them look stupid. For this column I want to focus on four big plays Ingram made on Sunday that really had a major impact on the outcome of the game. You will note that on three of the four, Baltimore could have elected to treat him differently and show him more attention, yet they chose not to. It was a curious approach to say the least, and now Baltimore will have the whole offseason to second guess themselves. Let’s begin. Ingram got the party started early in the game. With 9:39 on the clock in the first quarter, the Ravens were facing a second-and-24 from their own 14-yard line. This was after Jackson was unable to handle the shotgun snap on the first play of the drive and Ingram had damn near recovered that fumble. The Ravens tried to come back with what I’m sure they thought was a safe play just to try to get a few yards and make third down a little more manageable. I have to say, the play design itself was actually pretty cool, except for that whole not working and ending in disaster part. Kenneth Dixon was lined up behind Jackson in a pistol formation (I HATE the pistol formation, but that’s a discussion for another day) and the tight end, rookie Mark Andrews, kept motioning back and forth across the formation. By the time the ball was snapped, Andrews was in motion behind left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and he was meant to be a lead blocker for Dixon on a running play. The offensive line, save right rookie right tackle Orlando Brown, were blocking like it was a fullback, or in this case tight end, lead and Andrews was supposed to fit between the center, Matt Skura, and right guard, Marshall Yanda, to get up on a linebacker which in this case was Chargers safety Adrian Phillips. Brown would normally be blocking the defensive end/edge rusher lined up on his outside shoulder. Instead, he went up to the second level to block another player who was lined up at linebacker depth, Chargers safety Jahleel Addae. After handing off the ball, Jackson reversed out as if he still had it, and I believe at least, the Ravens thought that action by Jackson would be enough to hold the left defensive end/edge rusher lined up on Brown’s outside shoulder and keep them from crashing down hard inside and making the tackle on Dixon. The only problem with the play is that the edge rusher they decided not to block just so happened to be Ingram. Fucking mistake! Not only was Ingram not fooled by Jackson’s reverse out, Ingram actually came screaming down inside at the intersection of where Jackson was handing the ball off to Dixon. Ingram made it to that spot just in time to stick his hand in and poke the ball out of Dixon’s clutches as Ingram was running past him. The resulting fumble was recovered by Phillips before Dixon could jump on it. The Chargers would eventually convert that turnover into a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead that they would never relinquish. I will say that a bunch of defensive ends/edge rushers, good ones, would have definitely bitten on that Jackson reverse out fake. The prospect of getting a free sack in the playoffs would have just been too inviting for them to pass up! But Ingram is definitely not those guys, and, frankly, I’m surprised the Ravens seemed to think he was. Moving along. Fast forward to early in the third quarter and by this time the Chargers held a 12-0 lead that felt like it might as well have been 30. The Ravens were trying desperately to get back into the game, but they just couldn’t seem to get anything going with their offense. At that point they were once again facing another third-and-long on their own side of the 50, and the prospects for converting were not good at all. They needed a spark in the worst way, but Ingram was not in the mood to let them have one. This time Ingram ended up lined up on Ravens left guard James Hurst right before the snap as the right three-technique, though he was still standing up like a linebacker. Let me point out real quick in case you didn’t actually watch the game that Hurst was already having a very, very bad day. He had already given up one sack to Bosa earlier in the game and another to Justin Jones on the play immediately preceding the one I’m about to talk about. Well, Ingram was able to make his day even worse. On the snap, Ingram took three hard steps upfield as if he was going to try to run around Hurst to the outside. Hurst sat appropriately to try to stay with him upfield and Ingram then stuck his hand out like he was going to try a cross chop move. Hurst, apparently determined not to get beat yet again, sat down hard AF on that cross chop move and tried to put all of his weight into his punch in an effort to stop Ingram’s speed rush before it got really got started. It was at that very moment that Hurst was, in fact, beaten again. See, Ingram was never actually going to try to run around Hurst in the first place. He was just setting Hurst up for a nasty spin move that came with the quickness off that third hard step. With Hurst sitting down so hard on the cross chop, he actually made it a lot easier for Ingram to use his momentum against him. When Ingram pirouetted inside, Hurst’s feet were stuck in the turf. That allowed Ingram a free run to the quarterback. Maybe the coldest thing about that play was that Ingram sold his speed rush so well that the running back, Ty Montgomery, who was coming to help Hurst with a chip block on Ingram, ended up chipping Hurst in his ribs instead. I admit I rewound this play at least fifty times and that collision never stops being funny to me. Sorry not sorry. Ingram beat Hurst so cleanly that he got to Jackson before most of the Baltimore receivers had even made it 11 yards downfield. He ended up taking the supremely elusive Jackson down for a loss of nine yards which ended any threat of a spark on that drive. Ingram made another play later in the third quarter that once again exemplified how smart of a football player he is and how great his instincts are. That vaunted Ravens defense had forced a turnover of their own on the Charger’s ensuing drive, giving their offense the ball at the Chargers’ 21-yard line. After two plays, the Ravens wound up with a third-and-4 from the Chargers’ 15-yard line. If the Ravens could have somehow capitalized off that Chargers turnover with a touchdown to cap that drive, it would have completely changed the complexion of the game at that point. Four yards for a first down is usually a pretty manageable situation on offense, even one as dependent on the run as the Ravens. When I initially watched the play the Ravens chose to run I didn’t like it at all. Not one bit. It wasn’t just that they didn’t convert for a first down on that play, I actually thought it was a horrible play call by the OC as well. Having watched it a few times now, still don’t think it was nearly the best play they could have run in that situation, but the truth is it did have a decent chance of getting them at least four yards. But for the fact they ran it right at Melvin Ingram. Basically, the Ravens tried to run a quarterback counter with Jackson, with some window dressing to try to fool the Chargers’ defense, and Ingram specifically. On this particular play, the right side of the offensive line was supposed to block down inside, while the left guard, this time Bradley Bozeman who replaced the struggling Hurst, was supposed to pull to the right, outside of the right tackle, and bypass the defensive end/edge rusher to get up to the second level and block a linebacker. In lieu of actually blocking that defensive end/edge rusher, the Ravens had Jackson, lined up in shotgun, fake a handoff to rookie running back Gus Edwards, who was lined up to his left. Edwards was supposed to carry out a sweep fake laterally to the offense’s right side. That was supposed to, in theory at least, attract the attention of that unblocked defensive end/edge rusher and hold them upfield long enough that he couldn’t be a factor on Jackson’s run. If that unblocked defensive end/edge rusher would have cooperated, there was definitely going to be running lane there for Jackson to convert the first down, and with his running ability, maybe even score. The problem, just like before, was that the unblocked defensive end/edge rusher just so happened to be Ingram. I’m not quite sure who’s bright idea it was to keep trying Ingram like that, but it would be an understatement to say that they picked the wrong guy. Ingram barely even paid attention to Edwards’ sweep fake, instead he came screaming down inside again, blowing up Jackson and tackling him right at the line of scrimmage. What initially looked to me like a give up play by the Ravens, was actually just a shitty play design. Had they run it at someone else or actually had Bozeman block Ingram, the play probably would have netted a first down. Instead, the Ravens decided not to block one of the best players on the field. Ingram once again made them pay for it. But, Ingram still wasn’t finished. The Ravens had finally put points on the board early in the fourth quarter, but they still found themselves down down 20-3, facing another third-and-11. Just like before, that didn’t work out well for them at all. Ingram wasn’t actually lined up as the right three-tech at first this time, but he eased up to that position from linebacker depth just before the ball was snapped. With his teammates Isaac Rochell lined up on the center and Uchenna Nwosu lined up on the left tackle, that left Ingram one-on-one with Bozeman. Dixon was in the backfield to that side, and in he was actually in position to help out Bozeman with a chip on Ingram at first, but for whatever reason, Dixon only momentarily checked for a blitz, then continued right on his merry way out on his route. Bozeman had no chance. Ingram came off the ball and took two steps inside like he was going to try to beat Bozeman into the A gap, but he made sure to start his rush while he still was quite a ways away from Bozeman. When Bozeman stepped down hard to try to guard against an inside move, that distance allowed Ingram to plant with his inside foot and step back outside and around Bozeman without really having to engage him. To finish Bozeman off, Ingram hit him with a real cross chop with his inside hand on Bozeman’s outside forearm, and that was pretty much all she wrote. All Bozeman could do was turn around and look on helplessly as Ingram took Jackson down again, just as Jackson was finishing his drop back. The only real difference in the outcome of this play and the earlier sack was this time Jackson went down for a loss of eight yards instead of nine. And once again the Ravens were forced to punt. What all these plays collectively point to is the fact that the Ravens screwed up big time in not game planning for Ingram. And he made them pay for that oversight, dearly. Baltimore’s approach to handling Ingram certainly wasn’t the only problem on offense Sunday, but it definitely turned out to be a major one. Ingram ended the day with two sacks, a caused fumble, and later a fumble recovery to, for all intents and purposes, end the game, along with five other tackles. That is one helluva game no matter when it happens, but especially when someone pulls it off in the playoffs. Melvin Ingram was all over the field on Sunday and his production not only helped the Chargers to avenge their loss from a few weeks ago and get them to the next round of the playoffs, it also easily earned him my Hoss Of The Week honors for the Wild Card Round. The Patriots would do well to learn from the Ravens’ mistake and send some extra attention his way this weekend, or I may well be talking about him again next week. I’m just saying.