Video breakdown: Bernard Pierce’s first NFL score

PierceTD 003

I give Cam Cameron a lot of crap. He’s been on my bad side for the better part of his tenure in Baltimore. However, I have to give him credit when he earns it, and Sunday in Cleveland he did.

Ravens fans were clamoring for the team to get back to basics on offense, and to pound the running game, and that’s exactly what they did. Fifteen of the team’s first 22 plays from scrimmage were runs, and those 22 plays resulted in 141 yards of offense and two touchdowns.

Of course, following the team’s first two scoring drives, they went into an extended funk. Blame abounds for the miserable display that the offense put on in the second and third quarters, and there will be plenty written about that in the coming days.

However, I want to focus on the positive for now.

Let’s take a look at Bernard Pierce’s first NFL touchdown, which came on a play that was set up beautifully by Cameron and the offense earlier in the same drive.

Facing 2nd-and-1 at the Browns’ 46-yard line, the Ravens came out in an I-formation, one tight end, with Ray Rice lined up behind Vonta Leach. Ed Dickson came in motion across the formation to the right, where Anquan Boldin was also lined up. Torrey Smith was on the left.

On the play, Joe Flacco handed quickly to Leach, who ran right up the gut for the first down. However, far from having nothing to do, Ray Rice faked to his left as if he were receiving a pitch.

Browns safety T.J. Ward (43) crashes inside, as does defensive end Juqua Parker (95). Nobody on the Browns “stays home” on the play, as they ignore the pitch action to Rice. Only linebacker James-Michael Johnson (50, unseen) pays Rice any attention, shadowing him to the left as Leach carries up the middle.

Now, fast forward to later in the drive. The Ravens have moved to Cleveland’s 12-yard line, facing 3rd-and-1. It would seem the perfect time to again let Leach pound it up inside for the first down.

Indeed, the formation suggests that is exactly what the Ravens have in mind.

The formation is nearly identical, all the way down to Dickson again coming in motion to the right. The wide receivers have flipped positions, with Boldin at the bottom of the screen and Smith at the top. In addition, Rice is out of the game now, having run the ball on first and second down. Pierce is in his place.

Flacco takes the snap and fakes the handoff to Leach. This time, though, he pitches to his running back instead. Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker (92) bites hard to the inside on the fake, opening the left side for Pierce. Michael Oher engages his defender a yard or two downfield, while Boldin locks on at the bottom of the screen.

Oher is unable to hold his block though, as rookie linebacker Johnson (50 – remember, the only guy who respected the pitch action earlier), diagnoses the play, shakes Oher, and appears to have Pierce in his sights. However, notice that Boldin is still giving Sheldon Brown all he can handle and more.

At this point, whether it is a function of them underestimating his speed or simply poor technique, Pierce becomes the beneficiary of some poor pursuit angles by Cleveland defenders. Johnson, who had appeared to at least have the inside track to force Pierce out of bounds, gets left in the dust, and actually runs himself right out of the play.

Fortunately for him, defensive back Usama Young (28) looks to have a bead on Pierce.

Or not. Young also takes a terrible angle, and Pierce is able to elude him all the way to the goalline. Young whiffs just as Pierce sneaks inside the pylon for his first NFL touchdown.

Congratulations, Bernard.

This was a wonderful example of an offense using one play to set up another later on. In fact, it was downright Madden-esque. Who among us who plays the most popular NFL video game hasn’t used the FB dive to set up the fake FB dive/pitch?

Maybe Cam spent the bye week playing video games?

The only thing I would point out is that the Ravens need to be careful that they aren’t tipping their hand on plays like this based on where Boldin is lined up. The veteran is a better, more physical blocker than Torrey Smith at this point. Savvy defenders may notice that plays like this always go to #81′s side, unless the Ravens sufficiently mix things up.

Anyway, WOO HOO, touchdowns!

You can watch the entire play at http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2012110405/2012/REG9/ravens@browns.

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