When the Ravens acquired Vonta Leach prior to the 2011 season, I wrote a piece analyzing the final game of the 2010 season when he led for Arian Foster who secured the AFC rushing title with a big game versus Jacksonville. You can find that article here:
This piece along with most that I write, is ideally read with access to NFL Rewind. That indexes the plays and allows you to skip quickly to any given (Quarter, Time) reference. By doing so, it’s possible to follow along with the comments I’m making and draw your own conclusions.
I’ve used a notation that includes (Quarter, Time), Down/Distance, Formation expressed in terms of the number of wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs in that order, and the backfield formation if there were 2 backs. In each case the backfield formation was either the standard “I” formation with Leach directly in front of the tailback or the offset I with Leach standing in front of the tailback and either left or right as they both face the line of scrimmage.
In bold, I have indicated whether or not Leach made a block, the opponent blocked, and a rating of 0-5 based on the scale at the bottom of the article.
Leach played 39 snaps (excluding 3 penalties) Sunday versus the Browns in what I think was his best run-blocking game so far this season. Here are my notes from the 28 running plays for which Leach was on the field:
- (Q1, 13:57) 1/10 Form: 122 (1 WR, 2 TE, 2 RB) OIL (offset I left, meaning Leach was left of Rice as they face the LoS). B24 3 (Leach blocked Sheldon Brown on the left side rated as a 3—see below for scale) as Rice ran left then cut back for 7 yards.
- (Q1, 12:51) 1/10 Form: 122 I (standard I formation). B50 2. Rice was stopped for no gain as Leach slipped off his block of Johnson, allowing the Browns LB to make the tackle.
- (Q1, 11:01) 1/10 Form: 212 OIR. B95 5. Leach led Rice right for a gain of 11, pushing Parker, who was handed off by Osemele, wide right of the hole. Leach sustained the block for an extra second and got and extra push from Parker after they disengaged.
- (Q1, 10:22) 1/10 Form: 212 I. B50 5. Vonta pancaked Johnson (50) to keep the way clean for Rice’s to bounce outside to the left for a 4-yard run.
- (Q1, 8:37) 1/8 Form: 212 OIL. B52 5. Leach led the way left and found D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns best linebacker, in level 2. He pushed him back once, then again into the end zone. Vonta then looked back to see Rice still following him and gave Jackson one more shove to ensure Rice had room to score from 8 yards out. Leach swung his arm in well-deserved celebration.
- (Q1, 6:31) 1/15 Form: 212 OIL. B50 5. Leach motioned back into the backfield and led left. He found Johnson again who took a step back with the first shove, then stepped back again as leach pursued him. Rice ran behind him for 9 yards. It wasn’t a particularly physical block, but it was effective.
- (Q1, 4:42) 1/10 Form: 401. B23 5, B43 5. In my favorite Leach play of the day, Vonta lined up as a receiver in a bunch right. He led right and pushed Haden spinning backwards. With no need to apply another shove to the Browns corner, he turned and pancaked TJ Ward who would have stopped Rice for fewer than the 9 yards he gained.
- (Q1, 4:05) 2/1 Form: 212 I. NB (No Block). Leach lined up in the I, took the handoff, didn’t see a hole he liked, and ran through Parker for a gain of 3 and a first down.
- (Q1, 3:00) 1/10 Form: 212 OIR. B56 5. Leach led right and had a lock on Maiava who dove to the ground to avoid the block. Rice ran right for 3 yards.
- (Q1, 2:18) 2/7 Form: 212 OIL. B43 5. This time Ward dove to avoid contact with Leach as he led left. Vonta fell on TJ and Rice followed for a gain of 5.
- (Q1, 1:47) 3/2 Form: 122 I. B56 4. Leach met and stood up Maiava in the left B gap. Pierce cut back to the middle for a gain of 3 to convert. After the play, Maiava clapped his hands one and saluted Leach with a low 5. Despite the fact that Vonta had stood him up, Maiava had controlled the gap, the first Brown to do so against Leach after 7 straight path-clearing blocks.
- (Q1, 0:45) 2/7 Form: 302 OIR. B52 5. Leach led left from the offset I right and pushed Jackson to one knee to the inside as Rice ran left for 6 yards.
- (Q1, 0:08) 3/1 Form: 212 I. NB (Fake Handoff). Flacco faked a handoff to Leach on a dive play in the middle and pitched wide left to Pierce who scampered 12 yards untouched for his first NFL TD. Boldin had an outstanding block on Brown and Pierce outraced Johnson who Oher missed. The fact that only 2 players had a shot at Pierce is a testament to the quality of the fake.
- (Q2, 9:14) 1/10 Form: 122 I. B24 5. Leach led left and pushed Brown several yards towards the sideline. Rice turned inside behind Yanda’s pull for a gain of 4. That was to be Leach’s only opportunity to run block in the 2nd quarter.
- (Q3, 14:56) 1/10 Form: 122 I. B24 5. Brown dove under the block of Leach and well out of the play as Rucker worked of Dickson’s block to take down Rice for no gain.
- (Q3, 2:35) 1/10 Form: 212 I. L2NB 0. Leach was obstructed on his path through the right A gap as Osemele pancaked Taylor blocking inside and Vonta was unable to find a block. Kitchen and Ward stopped Rice for no gain.
- (Q3, 2:00) 2/9 Form: 122 I. B56 5. Maiva penetrated and dove at Leach’s legs. Vonta fell on top of the LB as Taylor avoided the cut block from Osemele to take down Rice for no gain. The pile up caused by Maiava turned the play back inside, so despite being pancaked, I’d say Kaluka accomplished his objective on that play.
- (Q4, 14:49) 1/10 Form: 212 I. B56 4. Leach led right and effectively stuck Maiava to the outside, but Jackson followed to close the gap and Rice was forced to bounce back left where Sheard took him down for no gain.
- (Q4, 8:14) 1/10 Form: 212 OIR. NB 0. Leach was unable to move to L2, then turned too late to block Maiava who cut in from the ORS. Pierce ran against the grain of the zone blocking for a gain of 2.
- (Q4, 6:52) 2/7 Form 302 I. B53 5. Leach led left and kicked out Robertson (53) with a jarring hit that drove him back several yards to spring Rice for a gain of 10. Robertson was able to hustle back and assist on the tackle, but I scored this a 5 because of the initial movement to clear the hole.
- (Q4, 6:16) 1/10 Form: 401 I. B23 5. Leach again lined up as a receiver in a bunch right formation. He led right and encountered Haden who dove out of the play to avoid contact. Rice picked up another good block from Osemele and ran right for 10 yards.
- (Q4, 5:58) 1/10 Form: 212 OIL. L2NB 0. Leach led left into L2, but was unable to find a block. Parker held the left edge effectively to blow up the play as Pierce was taken down for a loss of 2.
- (Q4, 3:50) 1/15 Form: 122 OIL. B56 5. Leach motioned 2 hops to his right into the offset I before the snap and led right with a pancake of Maiava. Rice ran right for 3 yards.
- (Q4, 3:07) 2/1 Form: 122 I. B22 5. Leach led left, kicking out Ward with a sustained block for 10 yards or so. Ward was unhappy with the fact that Leach blocked to the whistle and shoved him after the play which prompted a brief scuffle. Rice ran left for 2 yards behind Yanda’s pull.
- (Q4, 2:09) 1/10 Form: 122 I. NB. Leach took the handoff and ran up the middle for 5 yards on first down. That’s the 2nd longest run of his career.
- (Q4, 2:00) 2/5 Form: 122 I. B28 0. Leach led left and whiffed on Usama Young as Rice ran middle for 3 yards.
- (Q4, 1:16) 3/2 Form: 122 I. B50 3. Leach led middle to block Johnson who was stood up, but left standing as Leach was tripped up by Rice from behind.
- (Q4, 0:36) 4/1 Form: 122 I. NB. Flacco ran a QB sneak for 2 yards to convert the game-ending 1st down.
For the scoring of blocks, I used the following very rough guideline:
5: Maneuvered his opponent out of the play with a jarring hit, pancake, drive blocking, or position
4: Neutralized his opponent in place
3: Solid hit, but opponent was able to adjust back into the play
2: The most accurate definition would probably be “less than 3 and more than 1”
1: Some contact, but block was ineffective
0: Missed block or failed to find a block
NB: Did not attempt a block.
Scoring: 28 Run blocking plays (4 unscored, 24 scored, 91 points, 3.8 per play). He had 15 blocks I scored a 5 (16 if you count the 2 he had on 1 play) and 4 misses.
When I write something, I have to balance two needs. I want to make a list for the folks that have video and want to see examples of what I’m describing. I also assume many folks will simply read to see if their perceptions are similar to what I have written. I’m not going to ascribe some great meaning to this scoring system. Subjectively, he had an outstanding game and this scoring method identifies a number of punishing blocks. So why do I attach scores? I like to use some metric each time I review something new so I compare on an internally consistent basis. Since I’ve scored the blocks, it’s my view that the system/scores may as well be transparent.
- Leach doesn’t chip. He looks for an unoccupied defender to hit center mass.
- He is decisive in moving to the next level and conserves his momentum by avoiding sharp turns as he advances. Sometimes that means he’ll move into the 2nd level and fail to find a block, but his lack of hesitation means the blocks he hits on are effective.
- Leach lined up 7 times as a receiver including 2 of the plays described above, but he was not targeted for a pass.
- He is used on a limited set of down-and-distance situations. He is inserted primarily on 1st down and short-yardage situations of any other down. The Ravens ran just 5 times with Leach in otherwise, all of which were 2nd down with between 5 and 9 yards to go.
- Vonta played 64% (39 of 61) of the snaps versus the Browns, but has only played 41% (using PFF snap counts, which are calculated slightly differently) for the season. As much as the Ravens would like to run an effective no-huddle offense, I think the defensive injury situation and the fact that they are consistently losing the snap-count battle will force the Ravens to attempt more game shortening as the season progresses. Increased use of Leach alone can shorten a game by 5-10 snaps.
- I recall from the Sound FX broadcast of last season’s Thanksgiving game versus the 49ers that Harbaugh chided Rice for not following Leach. In this game, both he and Pierce read and used Leach’s lead blocks well.
- If you are looking for a way in which Leach impacts the no-huddle offense, it would be the available packages on 1st down. A major advantage of running the no huddle is the ability to keep the defense tired by preventing them from substituting easily. However, if the offense substitutes, the defense is also allowed time to do so. If the Ravens wanted to insert Leach on 1st down following a successful 3rd and 6 conversion, say, they would allow the defense to substitute.