Certain plays define not only what a team can do well, but their willingness to play their strength directly against another team’s strength. Such a play occurred Sunday night with the Ravens at the Steelers 2-yard line on 3rd and goal (Q1, 8:19).
The Ravens lined up in a Jumbo set with Chris Chester (outside) and Haloti Ngata (inside) at LTE. Todd Heap was at RTE and in a 3-point stance. McClain and McGahee were in the backfield. While play action can be effective from this formation, the Ravens basically told the Steelers “We’re going to run this ball and you can’t stop us.”
The Ravens have run a number of plays from such a formation over the past 2 seasons and they commonly will run McGahee off tackle to Ngata’s side, allowing him to find a hole. I think of it as sort of a mini stretch play with the tight formation at the goal line. To combat it, the Steelers lined up with 5 down linemen (including Woodley), 4 linebackers, and 2 safeties. The Ravens typically play 4 DTs, 2 DEs, 2 LBs, and 3 S in such situations.
With the Ravens stacked on the left side, the Steelers shaded 3 of their 4 LBs from over center to the offensive left side. Ngata and Gaither were the keys. They initially doubled Keisel driving him backwards onto his butt in the end zone, then each peeled off and made a 2nd block! Gaither, with Keisel still sitting at his feet, pushed Fox backwards. Ngata turned left and pancaked Farrior (I can’t recall another 2-pancake play for a lineman this season) in the end zone. Collinsworth credited Chester, who made a nice takedown of Harrison, but it was 2 blocking 3 at the point of attack that created the opening for McGahee. Timmons, the other LB on the left was taken out by McClain. Heap also made 2 nice blocks (Woodley and Clark) on the right side. Even though Yanda fell while pulling, McGahee had a big hole.
There are 3 separate angles played on the broadcast and they are a pleasure to watch.
In retrospect, I think Harbaugh had already decided the Ravens would go for it on 4th down and Cam was able to treat the situation as a two-down opportunity. With the Steelers having gone 3 and out on their first series, it made sense that the Ravens would have been willing to settle for leaving Dixon backed up inside the 2-yard line had both attempts failed. What they got, however, was a statement play.
If you are interested to see how my scoring system works, please check out the following link:
The Ravens ran 68 plays from scrimmage, excluding 1 kneel.
Gaither: Unlike the Indianapolis game, Jared had lots of help to his left versus the Steelers. The Ravens used a huge number of set blockers in this game and ran with a lineman to Gaither’s left on 21 of 68 plays. He had his only significant lapse as a pass blocker (OT, 12:02) when he gave up early on Flacco’s long pass to Clayton and allowed Harrison to knock down Flacco. He was otherwise not party to any of the sacks or penetrations and owned Brent Keisel in the running game. Keisel had a QH and a FR on a sack. He also beat Grubbs to tackle Rice for a 1-yard loss (Q1, 4:14), but he was otherwise invisible vs. the run recording just 1 other tackle despite the fact that he was in the game for every snap. Gaither registered 3 pancakes and only 1 block in level 2 that I recorded, but he frequently pushed his opponent several yards past the LoS. Scoring: 66 blocks, 1 missed, 1 QH, 63 points (.93 per play).
Grubbs: In addition to Keisel’s penetration above, Ben was beaten for a QH by Keisel on the Ravens 4th offensive play (Q1, 11:25). The play went to Clayton for 20 yards, but that’s no excuse. He pulled successfully on all 6 of his attempts and registered 4 blocks in level 2 as well as 3 pancakes. Scoring: 64 blocks, 1 missed, 1.5 penetrations, 1 QH, 58 points (.85 per play).
Birk: Matt had a very solid game, primarily vs. Casey Hampton. Hampton’s aggregate contributions at NT are not very good any more, but he’s still a contributor to the Steelers run defense. Birk freed Rice (Q1, 10:04) for a 19-yard gain with a fine level 2 block and later helped finish the drive by holding the middle against Hampton on McGahee’s TD run (described above). Scoring: 67 blocks, 1 missed, 67 points, (.99 per play).
Yanda: Yanda returned to the lineup at right guard despite the fact that Chris Chester was introduced with the offense. He was rusty at times, allowing an unnecessary QH on a screen pass (Q4, 15:00) when he released early to block after the reception. The pass fell incomplete. I also charged him with half of the sack/strip by Farrior (Q4, 0:25) that preceeded Cundiff’s regulation-ending, 56-yard attempt. It’s true that Rice should have picked up Farrior, but Yanda was helping Birk on a double and left the lane unattended. He found a block on 4 of his 5 pulls with his only miss coming on the 3rd and goal play described in the opening. On that play, he tripped over the Chester/Harrison pile with his arms extended. It was fortunate that did not result in an injury, but also a little funny to watch in slow motion. It was a solid return and he didn’t look overmatched in the run game the way Chester did in his last few games there. Scoring: 63 blocks, 3 missed, 1 QH, 1/2 sack, 57 points (.84 per play).
Oher: Michael was the one lineman who played poorly versus the pass. He was beaten by Woodley (Q3, 11:56) which flushed Flacco. Kirschke cleaned up, but that sack was all on Oher. Just 6 plays later, he and Heap allowed Woodley to drop Flacco despite the fact that the Steelers rushed just 3 men and the Ravens kept Heap in. Oher was charged with 2 penalties, but neither affected his scoring. He was charged with an illegal formation penalty when Mason failed to line up on the LoS. He was also charged with a holding penalty that was declined on a play where I charged him for the sack. Oher’s highlight block of the game came on Rice’s 1st down conversion (OT, 8:44). On 3rd and 2, the Ravens wanted 1 more first down to shorten the kick for Cundiff. Oher first pinned Kirschke, then fell backwards and got just enough of Timmons (who was bolting free into the backfield) to allow Rice to cut left for 5 yards. Rice would run once more for 6 yards prior to the kneel and kick. Oher’s block resulted in a kick that was perhaps 9-11 yards shorter and well centered. His unbalanced play on the left side, much of which was pass protection, was rock solid. I have him scored for 3 pancakes and 1 block in level 2. Scoring: 64 blocks, 2 missed, 1.5 sacks, 55 points (.81 per play).
Chester: Chris was used frequently and effectively as the 6th lineman. I have him for just 1 missed block (OT, 10:05) when he found himself without an opponent in easy reach, but did not attempt to move into the 2nd level to find one. Scoring: 17 blocks, 1 missed, 17 points (.94 per play).
Ngata: Haloti was inserted for 2 plays, but was eligible for both. He went out for a pass on the first play before helping grade the road on McGahee’s TD. It’s nice to see the Ravens get back to this formation, particularly after failing to score a TD in 3 cracks from inside the 2 vs. the Colts. Ngata is one heck of an asset at TE and I’d like to see the Ravens expand his use to additional short-yardage situations.