It is well known that the Baltimore Ravens offense struggled greatly this year, ranking 29th in yards per game. Perhaps the worst aspect of the offense was the run game, however, which ranked 30th in the NFL with 83 yards per game. While both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce suffered down years, most of their struggles came from the inept offensive line.
With Matt Birk's retirement, Kelechi Osemele's injury, Marshal Yanda's struggles from shoulder surgery, Michael Oher's overal ineffectiveness, and Bryant McKinnie's play that was so atrocious the Ravens made an in-season trade to replace him, it was a year to forget on the offensive line.
Gino Gradkowski, the replacement to Matt Birk, was one of the worst. The Ravens brought in a replacement for him, however, acquired Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Zuttah is a big offensive center (6-4, 308 lbs) with experience blocking for Ray Rice from their days together at Rutgers University.
To see how Zuttah's addition will impact Ray Rice and the run game, I broke down some film on Zuttah.
This first play is a basic run up the center of the defense. This was taken out of the Ravens play book last year, but Zuttah, who is at center here, is able to use his leverage and stick up the defensive lineman.
Doug Martin is able to get pass the nose tackle and hit the next level of the defense.
The next play is basic zone blocking run, with all of the offensive lineman stepping down and taking the man to their left.
This allows Doug Martin to survey the play, let it develop, and make the proper cut and go. This is very similar to the cut-and-go style of Bernard Pierce.
A natural wall develops....
Zuttah is able to pancake his man after driving him back 3 yards, effectively spring Martin loose into the open field.
This is draw of my favorite plays I watched:
Zuttah and the left guard are responsible for a double team to the linebacker. As the linebacker moves, both Zuttah and the guard keep their eyes on him with their hands on the defensive tackle. Depending on which side the linebacker moves towards, the appropriate lineman will leave the double team and take out the linebacker.
Here they are moving towards the linebacker...
Zuttah peals off and take out the Vikings linebacker.
When all is said and done, Zuttah and the left guard have accounted for three defensive players, leaving Martin a wide open field as he cuts by them.
This play is an example of Zuttah at guard, a position he can play as well as center. Here, he will be pulling around the tackle and tight end, who will both be blocking down, and then cut up field inside of the kick-out block.
The full back is responsible for the outer-most man in the box aka the kick-out man in this play.
Zuttah does a great job cutting up field and looking inside, at which point he engages a linebacker while the fullback takes on the kick-out man.
Zuttah stays with his man, and thus creates a lot of open space for Doug Martin.
This last play is another example of a zone blocking scheme, something that the Ravens will see more of with the retainment of Juan Castillo and addition of Gary Kubiak.
Zuttah steps to the left, along with the offensive line, and take on his responsibility.
The Redskins defensive tackle is not a match for Zuttah, and is overpowered...
Afterwords, Zuttah is able to stay on his feet and continue running downfield with Martin as an example of his overall athleticism.
Overall, the Ravens are getting a very good run blocker. One of his strengths is his versatility, as I watched him at center, guard, and tackle. He excels in a zone blocking scheme (like what is expected out of Kubiak) but can also fit in man blocking schemes and can pull-block very well for a player that is not naturally a guard. He is, above all else, and impressive athlete that generally uses his leverage well, but can get caught off guard sometimes.
Despite a down year last year, a return to a zone blocking scheme should pay huge dividends for Zuttah.