FILMSTUDY: O-Line, a Tale of Two Games

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The Ravens faced 2 teams with similar pass rush game plans in the last 3 games.  In week 2, the Ravens were frustrated by Cincinnati’s effective 4-man pass rush and talented corners.  On Sunday, they faced a Pittsburgh team that also rushed 5+ infrequently, but failed to get either regular pressure from their front 7 or consistent coverage on the back end.

How did these games compare?

·         Cincinnati rushed 5+ on 11 of 40 drop backs (29 times they rushed exactly 4)

·         Pittsburgh rushed 5+ on 11 of 38 drop backs

When Flacco had what I judged as ample time and space to throw:

·         Cin:  6/13, 110 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT.  32.5% of passes thrown with ample time/space

·         Pit:  15/21, 188 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT.  55.2% of passes thrown with ample time/space

The big difference wasn’t in how Flacco threw with ample time/space, but how often he was free to do so.

When he did not have ample time/space to throw:

·         Cin:  11/26, 44 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT

·         Pit:  9/16, 69 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

As you can see, the big statistical difference showed when there was some pressure on Flacco or at least contraction of the pocket.

If there was ever a pair of games that clearly indicated the connection between coverage and pass rush, this was it.

Line scoring vs. the Steelers:

Oher:  Michael had a solid game as a blocker, but his score suffers from 2 penalties, each of which played a role in stalling a drive (Q1, 7:30) and (Q2, 0:25).  Many folks who watched the game would say Oher was jumping regularly.  One way to see for yourself is to rewatch the game and check using a DVR and the pause button.  When paused, the typical DVR will go frame-by-frame when you hit the FF button.  My current DVR has exactly 30 clicks per second.  I rewatched the last 2 drives and there were 4 times where Oher appeared to false start in real time.  Reviewing one click at a time, here is what I saw:

·         (Q4, 5:29) Oher moves simultaneously with the ball.  What makes this appear to be a false start was the fact that the quickest of Grubbs, Chester and Yanda moved 9 clicks later (.30 seconds).

·         (Q4, 4:12) Oher moved 7 clicks ahead of the ball (.23 seconds).  The fastest of LG, RG, RT moved 9 clicks after the ball (.53 seconds after Oher).  This was a mildly blatant false start, but I’m not surprised that the officials won’t call it if the ball is snapped fairly quickly.  It would be an interesting test (meaning I’m not going to do it, but have at it) to look at all of the false start penalties from a single weekend of games and determine how many occur when the ball is snapped soon thereafter.  I’d guess that is very few.

·         (Q4, 1:08) Oher beat the snap by 1 click (.03 seconds).  All but the other linemen didn’t move till 6 clicks (.2 seconds) after the ball.  I don’t think that one would ever be called.

·         (Q4, 0:42) Oher’s initial move is a slow lean backwards, so it’s difficult to say exactly where he starts moving from the perspective of the officials.  By my view, he beat the snap by 2 clicks (.07 seconds).  The LG, RG, and RT did not move until 5 clicks (.17 seconds) after the snap.

What’s the point of all this?   We have a fairly precise timing instrument available to us without requiring the use of a stopwatch.  This can be used for any number of analysis purposes.  Want to know how late the snap was in 2008 at Tennessee?  Want to know how long it takes Flacco to throw from a 3-step drop?  What’s the time necessary for a certain route to be run by a given receiver? All the answers are there if you have the game on your DVR.

Let’s consider what may seem like a bizarre hypothetical situation.  You are the offensive coordinator for a team that has a veteran center and a LT who could use the extra time to get set against a good pass rusher.  On pass plays where motion is completed pre-snap, would it make sense to have your LT essentially snap the ball by his first movement if the center could key off the LT’s movement to snap the ball?  Alternatively, your linemen could have a set of visual signals whereby any of the LT, LG, or Center could move a finger (if you can keep the other team from knowing a 3rd base coach’s signals, you can create a system for this as well) to set the snap for, say, .2 seconds.  The LT and C could miss by a little and the false start wouldn’t be called.  I’m not saying this is what the Ravens are doing, but it would be an interesting experiment.

Back to Oher…subjectively I’d say he had his best blocking game of the season with some quality run blocks and mostly successful pass blocking against a top-shelf opponent, but he didn’t score well due to the flags and shares in 2 penetrations (Q3, 8:26, shared pressure with Rice by Troy P) and (Q3, 2:10, Harrison pressure plays a part in interception).  Scoring: 58 blocks, 4 missed, 1.5 penetrations, 1 offensive holding, 1 false start, 46 points (.72 per play).  Based on his play this week, I’m hoping the Denver game is the one where he gets out of the .70’s.

Grubbs:  Ben had Keisel and Hampton as his primary assignments.  He and Birk did a reasonably good job with Hampton, but he was bull rushed for a pressure (Q2, 0:15) and was beaten outside by Timmons (Q4, 5:28) for another when Chester was simultaneously beaten on the opposite side.  He only pulled twice and made 1 of those.  He had 5 blocks in level 2.  Scoring:  56 blocks, 6 missed, 1.5 penetrations, 53 points (.83 per play).

Birk:  While it wasn’t Matt’s best score of the season, I’d say it was his best game.  He handled Hampton effectively in the running game (good examples are the Ravens 1st and 3rd offensive plays of the game Q1 12:56 and 11:47).  McGahee’s 9-yard TD run (Q2, 13:39) was credited (by Simms) to his juke of Farrior, but Birk pancaked Timmons to the right at the 3-yard line and Clark was also obstructed and ended up prostrate.  I charged him with ½ of Hampton’s sack/strip with Chester.  While Chester squared up and was bulled backwards, Birk passed up an opportunity to double Hampton.  Scoring:  62 blocks, 1 missed, ½ sack, 59 points (.92 per play).

Chester:  Chris found a block on all 6 of his pulls and had 3 blocks in level 2.  He was driven backwards by Hampton for the Steelers’ lone sack (Q2, 9:20), but he made up for it in part by recovering Flacco’s fumble.  He made 4 blocks in level 2.  Scoring:  57 blocks, 5 missed, ½ penetration, ½ sack, 53 points (.83 per play).

Yanda:  I don’t recall Marshal ever playing as well at RT, particularly since his primary assignment was Woodley.  He had some quality run blocks, but his only pass-blocking mistake was a shared pressure on a blitz designed to overload the right side (Q4, 4:12).  Woodley slid right between Yanda and Chester to pick up a double team as Polamalu and Timmons sprinted by to Yanda’s right.  Rice, who tried a cut block, got the other half of the pressure.  Despite the pressure, Flacco completed his pass to Heap to set the Ravens up with 1st and goal at the 8-yard line.  Scoring:  58 blocks, 54 missed, 1 pressure, 57 points (.89 per play).

Other offensive notes:

·         Prior to his late-game heroics, TJH again displayed poor hands.  Specifically (Q1, 6:26), he dropped a pass that would have shortened Cundiff’s missed FG by approximately 8 yards.  It was good to see him make 2 sure-handed plays on the final drive.

·         The Ravens used a 6-man line for 2 plays (2 yards) and 11 times lined up unbalanced left (42 yards).

·         The Ravens handled Woodley and Harrison effectively which can often bring assertions about which offensive tackle “had help”.  The Ravens had 38 pass plays and thus 190 eligible receivers excluding Flacco.  Of those, 28 were held in to set block and 8 chipped.  I’ll explain briefly how I score set and chip blocks.  A set block occurs when the eligible receiver makes no attempt to go out for a pass, but guards a space to block, even if he does not make an actual block.  A chip block occurs when an eligible receiver initiates contact with a defensive player before going out for a pass.  Slot and outside receivers (as determined by position at the snap) are never scored as chip or set blockers.  By player, here are the set/chip blocks by direction:

o    Heap:  9 set blocks (3 left, 6 right), 2 chip blocks (2 right)

o    Rice:   8 set blocks (4 left, 4 right), 4 chip blocks (1 left, 1 middle, 2 right)

o    McGahee:  6 set (2 left, 1 middle, 3 right), 1 chip (1 right)

o    McClain:  2 set (1 left, 1 right), 1 chip (1 right)

o    Cousins:  2 set (2 right)

o    Dickson:  1 set (1 left)

o    Total:  28 set (11 left, 1 middle, 16 right), 8 chip (1 left, 1 middle, 6 right)

Given the 11 unbalanced left formations, I’d say the additional blockers were split fairly evenly right and left.

·         The positioning on the game-winning play caught my eye in particular.  The Ravens lined up with 3 wide (Mason, Boldin, Houshmandzadeh).  The backfield was split beside Flacco with Rice to his left and Heap to his right.  Before the snap it appeared Heap was watching Polamalu.  At the snap he moved across the pocket to pick him up directly as Rice also moved left to obstruct Timmons.  The Steelers would rush 5.  Timmons was slowed far to the left by Rice, Heap picked up Polamalu, Harrison bounced off the double from Oher and Grubbs to Grubbs alone, then to Birk and Grubbs.  Tony Eason delayed and was obstructed by Harrison’s rush.  The 5th rusher was Smith who was held off by Yanda.  Woodley dropped to cover.  I looked back for other similar plays, since Heap often lines up as one of 2 split backs in the shotgun, but I didn’t see a case where I could tell that he had a personal responsibility to block Polamalu.  In any case, whether by design or personal choice, Heap’s contribution as a blocker was the key.

·         Looking a little further, the Steelers rushed exactly 5 in that situation while dropping 2 (Farrior, Woodley) with limited cover skills.  Lebeau’s decision to rush his best cover player was certainly a gamble, but given that he had decided that was appropriate, I’m surprised he decided to drop Woodley to cover rather than add significantly more pressure.Woodley ended up perhaps 12 yards in front of the spot where the TD was caught.  Had Flacco had time to scan the field he would have seen Mason had also beaten Ike Taylor’s single coverage down the left sideline.  Boldin, in the center of the field, drew 3 of the 6 pass defenders.        

·         As I’m sure many of you will, I’ll watch that game-winning drive many more times.  Most of the great games in Ravens history have a point from which I like to start watching the game if I’m doing so purely for enjoyment.  Some of those spots include:

o    Rouen dropping back to punt with the score 41-24

o    Down 23-17 after Perry Phenix’s interception return for a TD

o    As Lamont Jordan rolls right to pass

o    As the Ravens get the ball back after TO’s TD cut their lead to 2 in 2008

o    From the beginning of the 2nd half, down 23-7

o    And we can now add: Immediately following the Ravens failure on 4th and goal from the 2 with 2:40 to play

·         What’s funny about this game is that much of the drama came on the Steelers’ possession with the penalties, defensive substitutions, dueling timeouts, and the run/pass dilemma near their own goal line.  While the Ravens drive will always be fun to watch, by itself it was over too quickly for much drama to build.

This entry was posted in Filmstudy by Ken McKusick. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ken McKusick

Ken McKusick
Ken comes to us via area message boards where he has consistently posted some of the most insightful and memorable posts that you'll find anywhere.  Known as "Filmstudy", Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports who grew up about 1 mile from Memorial Stadium.  He attended...more

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