John Harbaugh has been consistently successful and treats most information as classified. The success of Bill Belichick and others would be strong evidence that this is the correct strategy.
It’s also strong evidence that you can’t take any forward-looking comments at face value.
He’s not in the business of giving a frank evaluation of his players which might allow opponents to exploit weaknesses. It’s not his job to reveal the nature and seriousness of injuries beyond the degree required under the rules. And it’s certainly not his responsibility to explain what his team plans to do against the next opponent.
The line switch was handled well and the results were terrific. I can’t be sure if this had been planned for several weeks, but I’d say the poor play of Williams cemented the choice and the injury to Jah Reid may have been just an excuse. Whatever the truth, we can’t be sure Harbaugh’s explanation will be it.
The injury to Reid’s toe forced a shuffle of the offensive line, which many had called for all season. Bryant McKinnie played LT after an unimpressive 66 snaps versus Cincinnati, Michael Oher moved back to RT, and Kelechi Osemele played his first NFL game at LG and was outstanding. Flacco was sacked just once in 24 drop backs and that occurred on a naked bootleg. The line as a whole otherwise allowed just 7 pressures, half of a QH, and was penalized just once for 5 yards. The Ravens rushed for 175 yards on 29 carries (6.0 YPC) which included just 1 run for a loss. Despite a relatively low snap count, that led to excellent scores.
The Ravens had just 53 offensive snaps (excluding the final 3 kneels):
McKinnie: Bryant did a good job pass blocking Dwight Freeney, who he held to 1 pressure on a spin move (Q3, 8:33) on Flacco’s 20-yard TD to Pitta. I charged him with another half pressure (shared with Oher) when he failed to block anyone and allowed Hughes a free run from the left side. What stood out for McKinnie was run-blocking effort. The Ravens’ first offensive play (Q1, 13:12) is a good example. He pinned Antonio Johnson to Osemele, then turned and pushed weak side linebacker Jerrell Freeman several times. For the game, he would accumulate 5 blocks in level 2, which is a complete change from the McKinnie of a year ago. While still a good pass rusher, Freeney is an undersized DE known for running himself out of position versus the run. McKinnie did a good job of allowing that, then controlling Freeney’s ability to reenter the play. A good example occurred on Pierce’s 6-yard run (Q1, 0:14). Scoring: 53 plays, 48 blocks, 3 missed, 1.5 pressures, 45 points (.85 per play). That’s a B+ with an adjustment for Robert Mathis and Freeney.
Osemele: Of the moves in the offensive line shuffle, moving an occasionally-brilliant RT to LG was the most concerning. After 1 game against what was admittedly pedestrian competition, it’s clear the tools are there for KO to have an outstanding career. He thoroughly dominated his matchups inside and moved the DTs with solo blocks on a number of occasions. Here is the list of run blocks where I don’t think my system is fully valuing his effort:
- (Q1, 12:05) Drove Lawrence Guy to the inside to create the hole for Rice’s 4-yard run
- (Q1, 11:34) Moved to L2 and blocked Pat Angerer
- (Q1, 11:02) Maintained a L2 block on Angerer for 2-3 seconds on Rice’s fumble
- (Q1, 3:41) Maintained a play-long block on Antonio Johnson that pushed him several yards away from Rice’s run left
- (Q1, 0:14) Drove back Guy several yards as Pierce ran left for 6 yards
- (Q2, 15;00) Drove back Guy 4 yards where he eventually got partial tackle credit on Pierce’s 5-yard conversion
- (Q2, 13:49) Drove Guy 3 yards back before slipping off. Guy maintained his feet and took down Pierce for a gain of 5.
- (Q2, 12:30) Dropped NT Tevaseu with an outstanding cut block on Pierce’s 18-yard run right
- (Q2, 2:18) Pinned Matthews for McKinnie, then moved to L2 and cut down Fokou on Rice’s run right
- (Q2, 0:55) Pancaked Tevaseu inside. Combined with McKinnie’s pancake of Guy, this left Leach with some uncluttered space to overpower Angerer at the goal line for the Ravens’ first TD.
- (Q3, 0:44) Pushed across the formation with a L2 block on Freeman on Rice run right
- (Q4, 14:27) Kicked out Guy 6-8 yards to clear space for Rice’s 18-yard run which would end with a fumble.
- (Q4, 9:59) Drove Guy several yards on Rice run left for no gain.
- (Q4, 2:10) Drove Freeman almost to the left sideline before shoving him hard at the whistle
- (Q4, 2:03) Pancaked Angerer in L2
Those are 15 of the Ravens’ 29 running plays. The Ravens had remarkably limited success running to his side, but that wasn’t a function of him. As a pass blocker, Osemele shared a QH by Matthews when he was beaten outside. On that play, Antoine Bethea had a free run from the offensive right side (ORS) that forced Flacco to absorb the hit from Matthews. He registered 10 level 2 blocks and 4 pancakes. Scoring: 53 snaps, 50 blocks, 2 missed, 1/2 QH, 48.5 points (.92 per play). That would be an A without adjustment, but this is a case where he deserved a significant positive upgrade for run-blocking quality. A+, which is only the 2nd I have assigned this season (Yanda, week 4 vs. Cleveland).
Birk: Matt deserves some credit for stabilizing the line play, but he had some personal difficulties with pass protection. He shared Redding’s pressure with Yanda (Q2, 11:28). He was bulled by Johnson for a pressure (the All-22 may show a QH, Q2, 9:07) on Flacco’s long incomplete for Boldin. He was driven backwards by Fokou (who came delayed) as Flacco left the pocket to his left and threw incomplete for Doss on the sideline (Q3, 12:36). He made all 4 of his blocks in level 2. Scoring: 53 snaps, 50 blocks, 2.5 pressures, 45 points (.85 per play). That’s a C which can’t be adjusted upwards due to the lack of quality of the Colts’ interior DL.
Yanda: Marshal wasn’t perfect, but his errors are generally small. He didn’t get help from Brik, but was beaten inside by Redding for a shared pressure (Q2, 11:28). He drove Guy backwards for several yards on Pierce’s 18-yard run right (Q2, 12:30). He sealed Johnson on Rice’s 18-yard run/fumble (Q4, 14:27). Yanda accumulated 8 level 2 blocks and was 5-for-5 on pulls. Scoring: 53 snaps, 49 blocks, 3 missed, 1/2 pressure, 48 points (.91 per play). A-, but I can’t give him an upgrade since the Colts’ interior defensive line is so awful. In 15 games, he has not been party to a single sack.
Oher: Oher’s move to RT resulted in only a marginal improvement to his own level of play. Mathis beat him outside with an underneath speed rush (Q2, 1:14) for a pressure. Oher was subsequently beaten by Mathis’ spin move (Q3, 12:43) for pressure. Of his 6 misses, 5 came on run blocks. Scoring: 53 snaps, 44 blocks, 6 missed, 2.5 pressures, 1 false start, 36 points (.68 per play). That’s a D+, but I’d upgrade him to a C for having to face Mathis and Freeney for most of the game.
- Flacco had Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 10 of 24 dropbacks. With ATS, Flacco was 7 of 10 for 175 yards, 1 TD/0 INT (17.5 YPP). In fairness, the efforts of Anquan Boldin probably resulted in 68 yards Joe would not normally expect from the same set of throws. Nonetheless, it was Joe’s best ever performance with ATS in 53 games scored since the start of 2010 (Dallas 15.3 YPP in week 6). After beginning the season with ATS interceptions in 4 of his first 5 games, Joe has now gone 8 games (126 throws) without an ATS pick.
- Without ATS, he was 5 of 13 for 107 yards (94 net) with 1 TD/0 INT and 1 sack for 13 yards (6.7 YPP). The performance was 123 yards better than would have been expected by his season norms for with and without ATS.
- Bernard Pierce was again outstanding and is the best backup the Ravens have had since McClain, Rice, and McGahee drove the overachieving 2008 team. What strikes me is how much success he is having with his individual efforts on the outside. PFF shows him with 21 missed tackles induced in just 108 carries. Only CJ Spiller, Isaac Redman, and LaRod Stephens-Howling have a better rate of missed tackles induced in as many or more carries. Only Spiller and Adrian Peterson have more than his 3.5 yards after contact in as many or more carries.
- Boldin displayed the ability that has kept him in the NFL after his speed is gone. He adjusted to the football as well as you will see and combined his own strength to haul in several balls. The over-the-head grab (Q3, 9:04) involved both the body control to make space on the sideline by maneuvering Vaughn to the inside and hand-eye coordination to haul in a ball in an unusual position. It was a perfect throw, but a great catch that reminded me of Caspar’s catch versus the Colts in the 1977 double-overtime game.
- Turnovers. Points are points, but neither of Rice’s fumbles led to points as both occurred deep in Indianapolis territory. Each did, however, reduce the Ravens’ total offensive output.
The Ravens’ offense was so efficient that they actually lost the snap-count battle 87-53. That sort of a difference will rarely result in a win, but the Ravens gained 444 yards (8.4 YPPA) vs. 419 (4.8 YPPA) for the Colts.