TALE OF THE TAPE: Coaches’ Commitment to McClain Hurting Ravens

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The Baltimore Ravens have made many head-scratching decisions during their 3-5 start to the 2013 season. For a team that won the Super Bowl just eight short months ago, it appears that the coaching staff that made all the right decisions to start the 2013 calendar year is making all the wrong ones at the end of it.

Headlining the surprising moves is the commitment to Juan Castillo as the leader of Baltimore’s zone blocking scheme, which seems to have many fans screaming for a switch back to solely a man-blocking scheme.

On the defensive side, perhaps the biggest question mark has been the reinsertion of veteran inside linebacker Jameel McClain to the starting lineup.

After missing the first six games of the season while recovering from a neck/spine injury suffered last December, McClain was immediately penciled in as a starter the first week he came back. He has started the past two games, taking valuable snaps away from Arthur Brown and Josh Bynes.

One question: Why? McClain has been a favorite of the Ravens coaching staff throughout his time in Baltimore, despite his suspect on-field play.

The Ravens didn’t draft Brown just to let him have a minimal role – at least they shouldn’t have. And while Bynes is the team’s most valuable run-stopping inside linebacker, he was only on the field for nine snaps on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (he missed the previous game due to a finger injury).

In comparison, McClain played 47 snaps, and Brown only 14.

McClain’s struggles – particularly in run defense but also in coverage – were evident last season pre-injury. So far through two games this year, nothing has changed.

Brown and Bynes deserve to be on the field over McClain, both because they are not only better than McClain, but also since they should be more in the team’s future plans than McClain.

Let’s take a look at why McClain is the third-best of the bunch.

As noted, McClain’s struggles on the field stem from run defense issues, particularly regarding decisiveness and ability to shed blocks.

Against the Steelers, McClain is lined up on the side of the line where the run play is designed to go.

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Two running lanes develop, with the lane to the outside of the tackle being the more desirable one at this point. With two run lanes developing, McClain can do two things – choose a lane and commit or stay between the two and pounce at the perfect time.

McClain does neither, and he ends up getting sealed by the tackle, allowing Bell to cut back inside for a large gain.

A linebacker who stays patient in the run game and waits between two lanes isn’t a problem for a defense. That is something Brown has shown the ability to do well, while also being able to time to play perfectly and identify the run lane.

If McClain is just going to get sealed off anyway, he might as well commit to one run lane, giving him at least some chance of making an impact on the play.

McClain’s poor athletic ability also comes into play on these occasions, as he doesn’t have the aggressive athleticism needed to attack a lane and make an inherent impact in the run game.

No explosiveness in run defense leads to little impact.

Bynes, on the other hand, can commit to a play and go full speed, making an impact.

On this play, Bynes is lined up as an outside linebacker on the left side of the defense.

He immediately diagnoses the run play to the left side, and there isn’t a second of hesitation on Bynes’ part, as he commits to the running back as the handoff unfolds.

Bynes displays impressive closing speed, making his way across the backfield and to the running back just as the back gets to the line of scrimmage, preventing any gain.

Is McClain capable of making a play likes this?

Let’s take a look at another poor run play on McClain’s part.

McClain is again lined up on the weak side of the defense.

On this play, only one running lane seemingly develops for Bell, and at the point of development, McClain needs to read, react and close in before getting sealed off.

Instead, the right guard is able to easily gain a firm block of McClain, sealing him to the left, and opening up two running lanes for Bell.

Had McClain attacked the initial hole as a committed, fast defender, the play would have been stopped for no gain.

Instead, McClain’s combination of indecisiveness and lack of speed doomed him, making him a non-factor.

As for Brown, his ability to remain patient and react in run defense is profiled here.

But let’s take a look at what else Brown brings to the table.

Against the Browns on Sunday, Brown starts lined up as a stand-up linebacker along the defensive front.

After a quick pass rush, Brown retreats and identifies the crossing route being run by wide receiver Davone Bess.

Brown backpedals in enough time to get in front of Bess and seal any route besides one toward the sideline.

Just as this happens, quarterback Jason Campbell takes off downfield, and Brown makes the correct decision, committing to Campbell.

Brown eventually trips up Campbell for what would have been a third-down stop, were Haloti Ngata not flagged for a ridiculous personal foul.

If this play doesn’t scream “get this man on the field more,” of Brown, I’m not sure what does.

The three-part play on Brown’s part is a prime example of his innate feel for the game and quick closing speed, as he is faster than McClain or Bynes.

Ideally Bynes and Brown should be splitting weak side linebacker duties, allowing Bynes to play the run and Brown the pass.

But instead, the coaching staff seems to be committed to McClain as a fulltime player, and it’s hard to understand why.

11 Raves on “TALE OF THE TAPE: Coaches’ Commitment to McClain Hurting Ravens

  1. Joe on said:

    It would be nice if you used tape of McClain from the Browns game. I’d chalk up some of the Steelers game to his first game back in 10 months. Not that I disagree with your assessment, but having fresher tape to point out McClain’s deficiencies would go farther to show that he belongs on ST.

    Also, FWIW, McClain got a rating from PFF of 1 for the Browns game, while Bynes got a 0.3 and Brown got a -0.5.

  2. Brandon on said:

    Interesting that none of your breakdowns feature McClain’s play from the Browns game…I thought he clearly looked a lot better against the Browns than Steelers.

  3. Brian on said:

    While I agree somewhat with your assessments, where is the film breakdowns on both Bynes and Brown. There must be a reason that McClain is getting the starts and the higher snap counts.

  4. Curtis Dickey on said:

    I think the biggest problem with Brown right now is that he hasn’t grasped the playbook fully and the coaches are scared he is going to make a big mental error. Its a Pro vs. Con situation and the coaching staff is choosing the more seasoned McClain. At this point, I think they should go with the more athletic, greener Brown.

    • Tyler on said:

      What big mental error can he make that could possibly doom this team? Any errors would serve as nothing but a learning experience. And if he doesn’t know the playbook, that’s unacceptable. Other guys learn the plays in a few weeks. He’s had like 8 months. But do you think the coaches are positive Elam won’t make any mistakes back there? No, and his mistakes could be much more costly than Brown’s. But the only way to let these new guys get experienced and confident is to let them play. Jameel should be Dsmith’s backup, since he knows the system and can call the plays, and that was his expected position until Daryl took off. Let Arthur get in and take snaps and learn next to Smith. He ain’t learnin’ a thing on the sidelines, and Ozzy didn’t move up in the draft for a special teamer. LET THE BOY PLAY!

  5. patrick on said:

    Okay, so you’ve shown us two of McClain’s worst plays and compared them to the best plays of Bynes and Brown. Sorry, but I will go with PFF and the Ravens coaching staff who look at all plays and are apparently in agreement before making a judgement about who has been playing better.

    Moreover, the plays which are meant to show McClain’s failures look more like well designed plays where the offense was able to achieve a numerical advantage at the point of attack and were able to account for McClain with a guard or a tackle, whereas the plays of Bynes/Brown are plays where they are the unblocked defender. You should compare the players in similar situations, show us how Bynes/Brown can shed blocks to make the tackle, or how McClain can’t make the tackle from the edge as the unblocked defender before making judgements.

  6. Bruce_Almty on said:

    All the commenters make good points; hard to understand how Arthur doesn’t see many more snaps and how Jameel comes of IR and coaches say he’s so much better than what they have that they start him b4 he’s in football shape.
    Coaching and OC and DC leave much to be desired this year…. very vanilla packages they run.

  7. Disgruntled on said:

    Honestly, this article is fundamentally misleading. It shows a tenuous (at best) understanding of linebacker play in the NFL, particularly in the 3-4.

    As Patrick said above, you can’t compare a play where McClain is blocked at the point of attack to a play where Bynes comes from the backside unblocked (which is by design, by the way). Better yet, Elam is mostly responsible for the run stop in that particular breakdown.

    Furthermore, in no way was Brown rushing the passer in the final breakdown. He does not see the crossing route and decide to break off his blitz and drop into coverage – rather, his role is to drop into a zone from the very beginning.

    Finally, there are plenty of run-stopping schemes built around patient, 2-gapping linebackers. They are taught to “stack and shed” the blocker then make a play on the running back, which is likely what McClain is doing (whether successfully or not) in both of your examples.

    • Kyle on said:

      Thank you for reading. I addressed McClain occupying two run lanes in the piece. I know that’s by design, seeing as they’ve used Brown in a similar role before. But if he can’t execute that responsibility, then there’s a problem, which is where I was going with the piece. Only point of the Bynes example was to show the athleticism that McClain doesn’t have; he’s a more dynamic player. Same with Brown.

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