When players enter the NFL from the collegiate ranks the biggest adjustment for them, bar none, is the speed of the game. Clearly for any astute fan of the NFL, that’s no revelation.
A distant second in the list of adjustments is the cerebral part of the NFL.
Understanding a new playbook and grasping new terminology that might seem like a foreign language, takes time. It also slows a player down in an already fast-paced new world.
League coordinators will also challenge opponents with new looks and wrinkles, the intent of which is to make players think, slow them down and in doing so, they open up opportunities. Coordinators lock in on these situations. They are the equivalent of lions targeting gazelles with the slight limp in the Serengeti.
Unfortunately for the Ravens it looks as though their own coaching staff has slowed down the offensive line by force-feeding the zone-blocking scheme. They appear to be thinking too much and in doing so they aren’t attacking as forcefully or with purpose.
Take Marshal Yanda for example.
Here’s a player who has been a rock steady performer throughout his career and is recognized throughout the league as one of the best offensive guards in the game – except for this season.
Maybe it’s that he is being asked to make line calls. You see how animated he is pre-snap. Could it be that the cerebral load of the game passed on to him now that an inexperienced second-year player has replaced the heady Matt Birk, is slowing him down?
Too many times this season we’ve seen either Yanda or Gino Gradkowski on different pages. Sometimes they disengage from a defender to pick up the wrong guy or both remain engaged with the same defender and allow another to run unabated to Joe Flacco or a running back as if they had an EZ Pass.
In this image we see Gradkowski and Yanda converging on Browns DT Phil Taylor. Gradkowski disengages to get the Mike linebacker (see below) Craig Robertson allowing Taylor to easily move past Yanda to drop Ray Rice for a 2-yard loss.
In pass protection we see Gradkowski and Yanda doubling up on the NT while Monroe and Shipley double-team the DE. Consequently the blitzing linebacker and nickel back force the Ravens into a losing numbers game.
Ray Rice picks up the backer but Yanda is caught napping allowing the nickel to run unabated to Flacco for a sack.
The Ravens coaching staff is making this harder than it has to be. The Ravens have very capable blockers who are scrappers and fighters. Their football DNA is that of an assassin, an attacker who wants to handle his assignment and beat his man.
In the play above you see the offensive line mano-a-mano and it’s no surprise that this was the team’s best-designed run of the day that went for 7 yards. If Bernard Pierce had confidence in his line, he might hit the hole harder and break the tackle of the safety creeping into the box.
We’ve seen such runs in the past.
We could see them again if the coaching staff would simply allow the offensive line to play to their strengths and not be forced to conform to a league-wide trend for the sake of conformity.
Can we please stop trying to justify a new coach’s salary?