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Playing Small Ball—Offensive Line Model and Notes vs. Colts 12/11/11

The Ravens returned to a style that has served them well versus overmatched opponents in the Harbaugh era, small ball.

Some examples:

• The Ravens took just 1 deep shot the entire game, a 35-yard pass intended for Smith (Q2, 1:12) where Lacey appeared to get away with pass interference.

• The Ravens have played very conservatively on 2nd and short (1 or 2 yards to go) of late. In the last 3 games they have had 9 such plays with 8 runs (Leach 4/4 first downs, Williams 2/2, Rice 1 for 2) and 1 pass (WR screen right to Torrey Smith for 3 yards).

Derrick Mason’s signature route as a Raven was the 10-yard hitch outside the numbers. It is ideal for Joe’s arm strength, he and Mason had a good understanding on timing, Derrick would run it 3-6 times per game, and other teams didn’t find a way to stop it. Prior to Sunday we had seen the route infrequently in 2011. Flacco completed 4 of 6 such passes on Sunday for 8, 12, 9, and 9 yards respectively, and it was good to see 2 apiece thrown to Boldin and Smith. All 6 attempts were thrown into coverage from Jacob Lacey. While neither ball was an interception risk, Lacey also recorded 2 similar PDs where he jarred the ball loose from Smith as he attempted a leaping grab.

• The Colts employed a 4-man pass rush on 28 of 33 pass plays (1 of 3, 2 of 5, 1 of 6, 1 of 7). Only once the entire day did the Colts drop a player from the line of scrimmage to cover (Mathis, Q3, 5:59). There was virtually no pre-snap movement (this wasn’t even a case where you could say a bad team was "going through the motions"). The Colts like to stunt Freeney and Mathis with reasonable frequency, but those are much easier to pick up when the linemen can be reasonably sure a delayed blitzer is not on the way.

• Depite the lack of numbers, the Ravens used eligible receivers as blockers with slightly greater frequency than they have for much of the year. On 33 pass plays they used 19 set blockers and threw 4 chips.

• If I had to pick something to criticize from this game, I’d say it’s disappointing to have a pair of 4th-quarter turnovers with such conservative play calling. Through Flacco’s interception (Q4, 13:35), the Ravens had run 55 plays and the Colts just 28! Had the Ravens not turned the ball over twice in the 4th, they had a chance for their fewest defensive snaps in team history (39 competitive vs. the Chiefs in the 2010 Wild Card game).

The Ravens had 70 offensive snaps.

McKinnie: It’s difficult to find positive things to say about McKinnie in the run game. He can seal a play to his side, but he at times seems indifferent to blocking and gives up too quickly. He missed 9 run blocks Sunday with by far the most common label "L2NB" (moved to level 2, but could not find a block). On the plus side, he made 4 blocks in level 2, including his contribution to Smith’s reverse (see below). He also threw the first cut block I can recall him throwing all season (Q4, 4:30). He was beaten inside by a slow spin move by Freeney (Q3, 11:13) for a sack. Scoring: 60 blocks, 9 missed, 1 sack, 54 points (.77 per play).

Grubbs: Ben was beaten for Freeney’s first sack (Q2, 1:03) when the Colts’ end crossed underneath the stunting Johnson. Grubbs gave ground and appeared to trip backwards over Birk. Grubbs also shared a QH with Birk (Q4, 13:35) when Mathews split the 2 linemen on Flacco’s interception. He played well as a run blocker with 8 blocks in level 2 and 3 pancakes. He pulled once successfully. Scoring: 65 blocks, 3 missed, ½ QH, 1 sack, 57.5 points (.82 per play).

Birk: Matt was party to 4 pass rushing events, which is unusually high for a center. He was driven back into Flacco by Johnson (Q1, 13:32). He was beaten to his right for a QH by Moala (Q1, 1:29). Brayton beat him for a pressure (Q2, 10:37). He finished off a forgettable day with a share of the QH (see above) on Flacco’s interception. He made 5 blocks in level 2. Aside from the fact that he left the game last week, I don’t have a reason to believe he was still hurting. Given center is where the Ravens have the least dropoff with the backup, I think Gurode would have played had there been a physical reason for Birk’s play. Scoring: 63 blocks, 3 missed, 2 pressures, 1.5 QH, 54.5 points (.78 per play).

Yanda: Marshal turned in another pass-blocking game without an event, but was beaten for a penetration by Mathis who stopped Williams for a loss of 2 (Q3, 2:05). He pulled successfully on 3 of 4 attempts and had 6 blocks in level 2. Scoring: 63 blocks, 4 missed, 1 penetration, 63 points (.90 per play).

Oher: Michael again drew a tough assignment in Mathis who was on the field for 27 pass rush snaps. Of those, Oher’s worst mistake was being beaten outside for a QH (Q4, 13:39). As a run blocker he was beaten inside by Kavell Conner for a penetration and 2-yard loss for Rice that foiled the Ravens on 4th and 1. Scoring: 65 blocks, 3 missed, 1 penetration, 1 QH, 60 points (.86 per play).

Reid: Reid had 4 snaps in jumbo formations and made all of his blocks. He had 2 pancakes (Q1, 6:38 and Q4, 9:58).

Other Offensive Notes:

• Flacco had ATS on 19 of his 33 pass attempts (58%). With ATS, he completed 15 of 19 passes for 165 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT (8.7 YPP). That’s what I would typically expect with ATS, but the high completion percentage helped convert more 3rd downs which maintained the Ravens big edge in plays from scrimmage (70 to 55).

• Without ATS, Joe completed 8 of 12 for 62 yards (47 net), 1 TD/ 1 INT with 2 sacks for -15 (3.4 YPP).

Vonta Leach had another fine game and the Ravens have been effective working in his touches the past 3 weeks. Beginning with the Thanksgiving gave versus the 49ers he had 10 consecutive touches (7 runs, 3 passes) which generated a first down. That streak came to an end with his last carry on Sunday (Q4, 4:08). However, his 6-yard run (Q2, 14:08) was the longest of his career. He had several highlight blocks including a drilling of Angerer on Rice’s 19-yard run (Q3, 5:32). Leach was called for a false start (Q3, 6:15). It was the first time he has been penalized in more than 1,100 snaps (2009, week 6, at Cincinnati).

Dennis Pitta’s false start (Q1, 1:44) was his 5th flag of the season and helped stall the Ravens 2nd drive. Only Flacco and Oher (6 and 7 penalties respectively) have been penalized more.

Tyrod Taylor entered for another snap (Q3, 4:30). He lined up wide left with a bunch formation right. Flacco threw complete to Rice who was in motion to the right at the snap. Dickson missed his block on Wheeler who made the tackle for no gain.

• Downfield blocking by receivers was otherwise solid. In addition to his block on Smith’s reverse (see below), Boldin drove Rucker back 10+ yards on Rice’s TD run (Q2, 10:12). Dickson had a similar block on Lacey on the same play. Smith had a good block on Rice’s 7-yard run right (Q3, 8:07). Dickson appeared to get away with a hold on Wheeler on that play.

• Lacey was targeted 10 times with 7 completions, including the first TD. That’s not good for a normal day, but rookie Chris Rucker got his first start at RCB and was targeted just 3 times.

• Smith’s reverse was well sold by all the other offensive players as a run right with Leach leading Rice. McKinnie effectively sealed Wheeler and Boldin maintained a block on Rucker for several seconds as Smith ran left for 16 yards.

• Flacco had 3 encouraging improvisations that resulted in big plays. He completed a 17-yard pass to Smith after drifting right from the pocket to extend the play (Q2, 12:03). Joe escaped the pocket left and threw off balance to Evans who caught the ball falling out of bounds (Q3, 5:59). He showed good awareness of the LoS and seemed to bait a rush from Rucker as well as containment attempts from 2 others as he threw across his body to Pitta in the middle of the end zone. Smith was also in position for the TD pass to Pitta. These were 3 plays from Sunday I think have the greatest predictive significance for the Ravens. He’s been on the same page with Pitta, Rice, and Boldin before, but it’s good to see Smith fighting for position after his route is done.

For additional material on this game and other archived content, please visit:

http://www.ravens24x7.com/columnists/Ken-McKusick/articles

The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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