The AFC Championship game can be broken down into 3 distinct phases for the Ravens:
Phase 1: Through the first drive of the 2nd half (the game’s first 35 minutes), the Ravens ran their typical offense with lots of runs, 13 2-back sets among 33 plays (1 had Pitta motioned into the backfield), play action, and 7 points, and 155 yards in 6 modest possessions. The Ravens were fortunate to trail just 13-7 and got a fresh opportunity following Wes Welker’s dropped conversion attempt (Q3, 10:03).
Phase 2: The Ravens went to the no-huddle from the shotgun (the game’s next 13 minutes) and drove for 3 consecutive TDs of 87, 63, and 47 yards to take a 28-13 lead. On those 24 plays, Flacco completed 14 of 18 passes for 145 yards (plus a 15-yard pass interference drawn by Tandon Doss) with 3 TDs, 0 INT, and no sacks (8.1 YPP). The Ravens lined up without Vonta Leach on any of these plays and only twice did Pitta motion to the backfield to one side of Flacco in the shotgun. The Pats were unable to handle the pace with a secondary missing two starters (Talib and Chung).
Leading 28-13 after the Patriots’ failed 4th and 4 (Q4, 8:35), the Ravens lined up in the shotgun for one more drive that went 3 and out for -1 yard. Those 3 plays didn’t look like the same offense in more than one way. Flacco took a sack where he might have unloaded the ball and Phil Simms was upset that the he was not letting the play clock run down before the snap, but the Ravens were clearly trying to generate a first down or two with some safe passes, not attacking the middle of the field as they had on the previous three drives. The Pats weren’t buying it.
Phase 3: The Ravens ran out the clock with a 9-run drive that included 2 conversions on 3rd and 1 followed by a pair of kneels after Williams’ interception. The 27 yards on 9 carries on that first drive might not seem like much, but with the Patriots lined up to stop the run, the Ravens ran the ball down their throats for consecutive first downs. Leach was reinserted for all of these plays except one where the Ravens used three TEs. After Williams intercepted Brady’s last end-zone heave, the Ravens went into the victory formation for the last two snaps.
The Ravens’ starting linemen played all 69 snaps (excluding the 2 kneels).
McKinnie: Bryant had a solid run-blocking game with some push and 8 blocks in level 2, but allowed 4 pressure events to the pass rush of Rob Ninkovich. He was bulled by Ninkovich who then slipped off inside for a 4-yard sack (Q2, 3:10). He allowed a pressure when he gave too much ground to Ninkovich (Q4, 11:54). He again gave up too much ground on the 2nd sack of Flacco (Q4, 8:27) which forced Flacco up in the pocket. He shared that sack with Osemele. Scoring: 61 blocks, 4 missed, 2 pressures, 1.5 sacks, 48 points (.70 per play). With an adjustment for the quality of his run blocking that’s a C.
Osemele: Kelechi made 3 of 4 pulls, but was too slow to pick up Brandon Spikes’ run blitz (Q3, 13:31), which allowed Rice to be dropped for a loss of 2. He made 4 blocks in level 2 and had 1 pancake. He shared Ninkovich’s 2nd sack with McKinnie when he was bulled by Deaderick to help flush the pocket (Q4, 11:54). Scoring: 61 blocks, 4 missed, .5 penetrations, .5 pressures, .5 QH, .5 sack, 54.5 points (.79 per play). With an adjustment for some time opposite Wilfork, that’s a B-.
Birk: Matt had solid personal push and made 9 of 9 blocks successfully in level 2. His blocking highlight was a level 2 drive on Spikes (Q1, 2:40) which led Pierce’s 11-yard run. His only negative event was a QH shared with Osemele (Q4, 7:44) when each lineman failed to move off a double team to block the blitzing Spikes. Scoring: 66 blocks, 2 missed, 1/2 QH, 64.5 points (.93 per play). That’s a B+, but I’d increase to an A based on his effective push and mobility blocking.
Yanda: He was again consistent and outstanding with no pass-blocking events allowed. He was driven back by Wilfork to blow up Pierce’s run right (Q2, 4:14). Marshal connected on all 3 pulls, had 2 blocks in level 2, and had 1 pancake. Scoring: 66 blocks, 2 missed, 1.25 penetrations, 62.5 points (.91 per play). A, particularly with much of his success coming against Wilfork.
Oher: Michael had a difficult run-blocking game with an assortment of missed blocks, but was generally effective in pass protection versus Cunningham and Scott. He allowed a single full pressure to Cunningham who bulled him on Flacco’s incomplete pass to Smith (Q3, 13:05). On the TD pass to Pitta (Q3, 6:14), he appeared to get a hold of Scott’s arm and despite being beat to the inside, he did not allow Scott to impede the throw. Scoring: 58 blocks, 8 missed, .75 penetrations, 1 pressure, 54.5 points (.79 per play). B-, with a slight adjustment for opposition quality.
- The line provided Ample Time and Space on 22 of 38 drop backs (58%). With ATS, Flacco was 13 of 22 for 180 yards, 0 TD/0 INT (8.2 YPP). That’s a little below average in terms of YPP (9.0), but for the 10th straight game did not include an interception.
- Without ATS, he was 8 of 14 for 60 yards (55 net) with 3 TD/0 INT and 2 sacks for 5 yards (3.4 YPP). On 5 previous occasions Joe had 2 TDs without ATS in a single game, but this was the first such game with 3 since the start of 2010. He didn’t have a gaudy YPP under either condition and finished with 31 fewer yards than expected for the mix of ATS opportunities. However, given the wind and 3/0 TD to turnover relationship, that’s still a very good game and an outstanding 2nd half.
- I’ve seen it said that Flacco just throws jump balls, but this was a game which demonstrated just how many good, low-risk decisions he makes. Both of the TDs to Boldin were thrown perfectly, particularly in terms of the position of the ball relative to the defenders.
- (Q4, 15:00): Flacco approached the LoS and checked off facing an 8-man front. The Pats rushed 7 with only Gregory dropping to cover. Boldin lined up slot right and slanted between the goalposts. Flacco lofted the ball high between the hash marks where Boldin alone had a chance to catch it. He pulled it down behind the trailing McCourty and Gregory who converged much too late to impact the play. Bernard Pierce threw the key pass block, picking up the blitzing Mayo who pressured Flacco through the right A gap.
- (Q4, 11:19): The Patriots were in a soft, cover-2 shell. With 2 receivers each right and left and Boldin slot right, Gregory, the safety on the right hash, bit on a shallow crossing route by Jacoby Jones from the left slot. Marquice Cole, the Patriots 5’10” backup CB, was left alone to cover Boldin. Flacco saw the mismatch and never made a secondary read. Cole turned to chase Boldin and Flacco delivered the ball high and directly over Cole’s helmet with his back turned between the right hash and numbers. It was about as undefensable a ball as can be thrown and at the perfect height for Boldin who went up easily and brought the ball in with a firm grip. Cole made a futile swipe at the ball, but Boldin was already rolling to protect it as he fell to the turf. The key pass block again came from a running back as Rice slowed down the blitzing Spikes who came through the left B gap. Spikes knocked Flacco down (QH) after the ball was released.
- The Ravens eliminated designed movement to the left. Flacco threw only once from outside the pocket, and that was on a naked boot to the right (Q1, 1:40) when his throw went incomplete to the crossing Dickson. He otherwise threw under pressure a number of times, but never on the run.
- Rob Ninkovich is an effective player. He registered both of New England’s sacks, but beyond that, he frequently jams a receiver (when one is available on his side) before trying to get pressure. Many pass rushers will do it occasionally, or linebackers do so when presented with an opportunity to blow up a screen or shallow cross within 5 yards of the LoS, but Ninkovich is a force in terms of blowing up bunch formations or slowing down TEs. Suggs does this occasionally, but it’s a potential contribution for a player like Upshaw who is a below-average pass rusher.
There has been much talk about the improvement in the new offensive line, but which position has benefitted most?
- McKinnie for Oher at LT: McKinnie has not been penalized, but has surrendered 1.5 sacks and 5.5 pressures in 3 games at LT. His aggregate score is .76 versus an above average set of defenders (Freeney, Dumervil, and Ninkovich). That’s a big upgrade vs. Oher’s aggregate .64 in the games he started at LT.
- Osemele for Reid at LG: Kelechi is still learning, but so was Jah Reid. Reid averaged .76 at LG which would grade out to a C- with a modest adjustment for the quality of opposition. In 3 games at LG, Osemele has averaged .84, but the system is not capturing how much push he’s getting on his run blocks. Osemele is also able to handle some technical aspects I have not frequently seen in a guard with as little seasoning. The play that impressed me most in this regard was Rice’s 2-yard conversion on 2nd and 2 at the NE 5 (Q3, 0:12) which immediately preceded Boldin’s first TD. Deaderick slid from inside to a 3 technique (just over Osemele’s left shoulder). Osemele turned inside to communicate something before the snap. At the snap, he pushed Deaderick hard to the outside and released to block Mayo in level 2. Meanwhile, Yanda pulled and neutralized Deaderick out of position in the backfield. Rice actually followed Oher’s block for the conversion, but it didn’t make Osemele’s handoff any less impressive.
- Oher for Osemele at RT: All season, Osemele had shown signs of brilliance at RT, but performed unevenly and without an apparent positive trend. His best game came in the opener versus Cincy (.96) and one of his worst games came in the meaningless finale versus those same Bengals (.43 in 29 snaps). In between he had some good games (home versus NE and Pit) juxtaposed with the implosion at KC (.36). His aggregate score was .72. Upon returning to RT, Oher has averaged .82 in 3 games that included an outstanding effort versus Von Miller.
If pressed, I’d say the most improved order is LG, LT, RT, but each of these moves was worth a full grade level or perhaps a little more individually. It is exceedingly rare a team finds that sort of improvement available on its own roster.