The fact that the Baltimore Ravens have the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL isn’t just a product of a solid group of running backs. Having one of the league’s best run-blocking units and simply one of the best overall offensive lines in the NFL largely contributes to a strong run game.
With two games to go in the regular season, the Ravens are sixth in the NFL with an average of 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.
Their final total in 2013? 3.1 yards per carry, good enough for dead last in the NFL. That final total from last season would be the worst in the league again this season, as the Arizona Cardinals are currently last in the league with 3.3 yards per carry.
What allowed the Ravens to go nearly from worst to first in the rushing department? Having a career revival from running back Justin Forsett helps, but the improved play from every offensive line position (expect for Eugene Monroe) has been the main reason.
[RELATED: Tale of the Tape: A Different Eugene Monroe]
One lineman who has particularly stepped up his play has been right guard Marshal Yanda. He wasn’t “bad” in 2013 per se, but he also wasn’t, well, Marshal Yanda. After a medicore 2013 campaign, Yanda is back to being one of the league’s most imposing run blockers, proving himself as the anchor of Baltimore’s run game.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Baltimore rush attack is averaging 6.9 yards per carry when running between the right guard and right tackle, the best average of any run lane for the Ravens.
It’s no coincidence that those 6.9 yards per carry are largely a result of the stellar play from Yanda. At the ripe age of 30, Yanda has been as good as ever in 2014, and will be a valuable piece to the offense during the team’s final two-game run at the postseason.
How has Yanda been a difference maker for the run game this season? Let’s take a look.
One of Yanda’s best traits is his ability to execute multiple blocks on the same run play.
Here, Yanda gives help up front by blocking the defensive lineman to start off.
After supplying the initial block at the first line of defense, Yanda frees himself and works upfield to locate a linebacker at the second level.
Yanda engages with the linebacker and gets enough of a hold in order to turn the defender away from the run play, allowing the running back Forsett to run off Yanda’s left side.
The ability of Yanda to supply two blocks on the same play ultimately allowed Forsett to work past the defensive line and get to the second level. Yanda’s athleticism in confined areas is what makes him such a dominant blocker.
While having the footwork and speed to get to the second level in time is necessary, sometimes simple pure strength is enough to execute a block.
Here, Yanda is engaged with the defensive lineman, who has the inside pursuit of the running back.
The defender gains leverage and acquires an inside path to the running back, however Yanda’s strength is enough to neutralize his disadvantage in positioning.
Yanda’s continuous effort through the duration of the play allows him to hold onto the defensive lineman just long enough to keep him out of Forsett’s way. By the time Yanda loses positioning, Forsett has already made his way past the defensive lineman and out of harm’s way.
Had this been just any normal right guard, the end result would probably be a loss of yards on the play as the defensive lineman would have easily made his way into the backfield soon after the running back received the handoff.
However, Yanda’s elite strength allowed him to fend off the defender just long enough in order for his running back to slip past the line.
Noting Yanda’s pure strength is nice, but that isn’t necessarily providing anything new; everyone knows just how strong Yanda is. To understand how good Yanda has been this season, they key is looking more in depth at how often he shows off his ability to get to the second level of defense and open up a run lane for his running back.
Against the San Diego Chargers, Yanda works outside to the right to provide an initial block on the defensive lineman.
On the stretch run play, just one block by Yanda wouldn’t be enough as there is no fullback in the backfield to help block in the second level. That leaves Yanda as one of the linemen with the duty of finding a linebacker upfield to block, and he does just that.
The block by Yanda protects Forsett’s left as he progresses through the run lane, allowing the running back to sift through the defense unscathed and ultimately bounce to the outside for a considerable gain.
Having an improved Yanda is just one of the many reasons for the success of Baltimore’s rush attack this season. The veteran right guard has made things easy for Forsett and the rest of the backfield when running to the right side.
Yanda’s elite play has helped catapult the Ravens run offense to one of the best in the NFL, and is a major reason why the team is primed to earn a postseason berth.