As we approach the final week of the season, the Ravens have clinched the AFC North crown and are playoff-bound for the fifth straight year (the league’s longest current streak). Ravens fans are all feeling better about our prospects than we were just 10 days ago. The difference between the two Manning brother games couldn’t have been greater. In week 15, the Ravens were dominated on both offense and defense in a horrific, 34-17 undressing. But last Sunday the Ravens, as they are wont to do, rebounded spectacularly.
We noticed a few things that contributed to the Ravens’ success this past week. One was the awful play of Giants CB Corey Webster (-2.2 Pass Grade from ProFootballFocus, his third worst game of the season). Flacco picked on Webster relentlessly, resulting in 8 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown (to Torrey Smith).
Something else is also worth mentioning: the Ravens simply executed better. The Ravens offense didn’t change dramatically, they simply hit on more of the same plays that they’ve been missing on in past weeks. The Raven defense came up with several crucial tipped/batted passes. As much as we want to contribute this win to fresh, new schemes (certainly a factor), the Ravens also simply had some big plays fall their way this week. Here are a few examples of schemes that worked against a struggling Giants team:
Situation: 2Q 11:22 2nd and 8 at BAL 25
The Ravens come out in bunch formation to the right (pictured in the inset) with Ed Dickson in the front, Torrey Smith nearest to the sideline, and Vonta Leach tight to the formation. Tight bunch sets are useful for many reasons. The offense can run both towards and away from the bunch to supply additional blockers, or the receivers can run routes off of each other causing the defense to adjust the way they defend the pass (if a defense plays strict man coverage, a defender will likely lose his man when the receiver breaks the bunch).
Anquan Boldin is the "X" receiver on the near side of the image. He is aligned in a reduced or "nasty" split, meaning he is set inside of the numbers, close to the formation. This alignment provides a few additional yards to drag across the field and eventually catch the pass near the far sideline.
Before the snap Vonta Leach motions to the backfield, and the Ravens end up in a "Strong I" formation that is generally used to run the football.
At the snap Marshal Yanda and Vonta Leach begin to block as if the playcall is "Counter Weak", where Ray Rice will nod to the strong side (right side) of the formation then follow his blockers to the weak side (left). This blocking scheme is designed to sell the play as a run. Ed Dickson (#84) is blocking down on the LDE in this image, also to sell the run fake. Ray Rice never gets the ball, and he is forced to pass block as Flacco immediately faces pressure. Yanda and Leach pass block as well.
Dickson, Smith, and Boldin break into their routes and provide Flacco a three-level threat on the wide (right) side of the field. This route combination is a variant of the "Spot" concept that utilizes a Corner/Curl/Flat combo; a beautiful analysis of this scheme, written by Matt Bowen, can be found here (here).
This particular play calls for Boldin to drag across the formation and serve as the curl route (the middle of the three levels). Flacco rolls out as part of the play design to reduce the length of the throws.
Flacco makes a strong throw on the run, and Boldin is able to bring the pass in for a 12 yard gain and a first down near the sideline.
Situation: 2Q 1:15 2nd and 5 at NYG 27
Defensive Playcall: Man-Free
Offensive Playcall: Shallow/Follow Concept
As they near the end of the half, the Ravens hurry to the line with their 11 personnel (one RB, one TE). Joe Flacco is in the shotgun and Ray Rice is the lone back, lined up to Flacco’s left. The Giants scramble to get their coverage called, and they settle on Man-Free with MLB #93 Blackburn blitzing the weak-side A-gap. This image is taken right before the snap and you can see that SS #31 Hill is out of position in his man coverage against TE #88 Dennis Pitta. However, the matchup that benefits the Ravens most is LB #59 Boley in man coverage against Ray Rice. In open space, Ray Rice should (and did) dominate any linebacker in single coverage.
At the snap the two outside receivers and Anquan Boldin (in the far slot) run vertical routes designed as decoys. The near-side TE, Pitta, runs a shallow crossing route to clear space for Ray Rice’s angle route behind him. As noted in the previous slide, the matchup of Boley on Rice (circled in orange) spells disaster for the Giants.
Here, the ball is in the air to Rice and you can see that FS Hill (in blue) is in poor position to make the tackle due to his coverage responsibility.
Ray Rice uses his speed to make FS Hill and SS Stevie Brown both miss tackles en route to the endzone. This play is a classic West Coast staple, used to get the ball to speedy running backs out of the backfield. This play is nicely broken down by Chris Brown here. We’ve seen it before from Norv Turner and Cam Cameron, and we assume that this play was not newly implemented by Jim Caldwell. The success of the play is the result of matchup, execution, and the no-huddle pace that was prominent in the beginning of the season.
1Q 15:00 1st and 10 NYG 19
Situation: Offensive Playcall: Weak Iso Lead Play Action/ Hot Slant
Defensive Playcall: Fire Zone
On the first play of the game, the Giants come out with their 21 personnel (two RBs, one TE). The Ravens are in their base 3-4 alignment, initially showing a 2-man look (two deep safeties, man coverage underneath). Before the snap, CBs Williams and Graham back off of their men and FS Ed Reed jumps from his free safety depth to the line of scrimmage. The Ravens are overload blitzing the weak (defensive left) side of the formation and dropping DE Upshaw into coverage along with LBs Bynes and Ellerbe. This is a "Fire Zone" play call, which calls for three deep, three underneath zone coverage.
At the snap Manning the Younger fakes the handoff to Ahmad Bradshaw and lifts his head quickly to look for Hakeem Nicks slanting to the right (yellow arrow). Manning knows that pressure is coming and Nicks is his hot read. Ed Reed (in orange) will submarine Bradshaw, which would have effectively killed the run play. The Ravens that are dropping into the three underneath zones (in blue) are beginning to recover from the play action. Down-linemen don’t often drop into coverage, but Upshaw (far left circle) has curl/flat responsibility in this Fire Zone concept.
Eli is a smart quarterback and realizes the ball needs to come out fast. The slant route vs. off-coverage is a smart throw because CB Graham is playing with outside leverage. However, the ball is thrown to Nicks’ upfield shoulder and Graham makes a play to bat the pass down.
This play is a forced incompletion on first down, but it also demonstrates several things:
1) The Ravens’ confidence in their young secondary to make plays;
2) their aggressiveness in attacking the quarterback; and
3) the flexibility of the Ravens’ defensive personnel.
Strong Iso Lead vs. Cover 3
Situation: 1Q 0:03 1st and 10
Offensive Playcall: Strong Iso Lead
Defensive Playcall: Cover 3
The Giants don’t dress this up at all. They bring their 12 personnel on the field and run toward the two TE side (left in this case) through the C-Gap. LT #65 Will Beatty and LG #77 Kevin Boothe combo block Haloti Ngata at the point of attack while TE #86 Bear Pascoe will block ILB #59 Ellerbe. The blocking scheme is designed so that Will Beatty will double-team Ngata until Boothe has control of him, at which point Beatty will jump to the second level and block ILB Bynes.
Beatty leaves Ngata to block Ellerbe, but LG Kevin Boothe can’t handle Ngata alone. Ngata steps down the line and tackles Ahmad Bradshaw for a meager 2 yard gain. There is poor blocking on several fronts, and ultimately Ngata uses his size and strength to make a tackle in the run game.
Spot Right vs. Cover 2 Trap
Situation: 2Q 12:44 1st and 10
Offensive Playcall: Spot Right
Defensive Playcall: Cover 2 Trap
Two plays after the last play we drew up, Ngata came through again. The Giants want to attack downfield in the pass game using the Spot combination. This is a good playcall, but the routes take time to develop, leaving Eli in trouble if the pressure gets to him.
Credit needs to be given to Terrell Suggs for reaching the passer here as well. But #92 Haloti Ngata treats 2012 Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee like a practice squad player. Snee is given the unenviable responsibility of blocking Ngata one-on-one, and it does not go well. Snee is off balance due to a jab step and swim move from Ngata, and Snee eventually turns all the way around in an attempt to intercept Ngata before he can reach the quarterback. He is too late, though, and Ngata notches another beautiful solo sack.