FILMSTUDY: The Trouble with Tackles

Filmstudy FILMSTUDY: The Trouble with Tackles

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The first preseason game always has some drama associated with the debuts of new acquisitions, draft picks, and coaches.  The Ravens have several legitimate positional struggles in progress.  We’ve put the lockout behind us and enjoyed a whirlwind offseason with daily re-education on cap constraints.  The game itself is almost always an unmemorable letdown.

Last night might be different, however, because the Ravens suffered through a game featuring both missed tackles on defense and poor tackle play on offense.  We’ll have to hope tackling form returns and that’s a reasonable expectation given the Ravens’ history.  However, Oher, Cousins, and Reid split the snaps at the OT spots and all played poorly on the very day that Jared Gaither signed with the Chiefs. 

Although it’s only a microcosm of the poor play (and I’d rather review Lee Evans video anyway), let’s take a look at the 6 sacks allowed to the Eagles Thursday night:

1.     (Q1, 6:14)  Formation: 401 (4 WR, 0 TE, 1 RB), pass rush 4/0 (4 rush, no drops to zone coverage).  Justin Babin (93) initially drove back Cousins then spun inside and Cousins fell to the ground.  Flacco was flushed from the pocket.  On the offensive left side (OLS), Cole got Oher off balance just in time to disengage and take down Flacco by the ankles.  Had Oher maintained his block, I’d normally charge the entire sack to Cousins for allowing the flush, but Oher was about to be beaten as well, so they share this one.  Grubbs blocked Jenkins for the expected time after allowing a vicious QH on the opening pass to Pitta.  Scoring: Cousins -3, Oher -3.

2.     (Q2, 10:21)  Formation: 401, pass rush 4/0.  Oher was beaten inside by Darryl Tapp (55).  Oddly, he got Oher off balance such that Michael spun to the outside as Tapp moved past him to the inside.  Many of you can probably recall Glenn Ressler’s amazing spin block in Super Bowl V.  While I’m sure it happens occasionally, I can’t recall another.  Scoring:  Oher -6.

3.     (Q2, 1:02)  Formation: 401, pass rush 6/0.  The Ravens had switched to their 2nd OL with Cousins at LT, Boren at LG, Mattison still at C, Bond at RG, and Reid at RT.  The Eagles’ blitz turned into a jailbreak.  Cousins barely touched Tapp who blew by him to the outside and was first to Taylor for the sack.  Reid was beaten inside, Mattison was pancaked by Favorite and Brady Bond. Vandervelde fell to the ground in front of him only to get up and apply pressure.  Only Allen (Rolle) and Justin Boren (Clayton) threw effective blocks.  Scoring:  Cousins -6, Bond 0, Reid 0, and Mattison 0 (a 0 is the scoring for a missed block in my system, but they are not charged with a portion of the sack).

4.     (Q3, 6:05)  Formation: 311, pass rush 4/0.  Cousins was bulled in Taylor by Te’o-Nesheim.  As Taylor stepped out of the pocked he was gobbled up by Landri.  All of the other linemen maintained pocket integrity as Landri moved off laterally for the sack.  Scoring:  Cousins -6.

5.     (Q4, 4:10)  Formation: 311, pass rush 6/0.  The 3rd offensive line grouping of the night was in with Cousins still at LT, joined by Boren LG, Barnes C, Madison RG, Reid RT.  The Eagles rushed 6 with only Rolle coming delayed.  Cousins gave ground in the pocket to Te’o-Nesheim (52).  Boren attempted to help, but 52 penetrated between them for the sack.  Stupar was bulled just to the back side of the pocket, constraining the space.  Berry looked to find a block in the middle and allowed Hunt to further collapse the pocket.  Scoring: Cousins -3, Boren -1, Stupar -1, Berry -1.

6.     (Q4, 3:32)  Formation: 311, pass rush 4/0.  Madison was beaten outside by Favorite who applied the front-side pressure.  Cousins was beaten by Hunt who drilled Taylor from behind.  Scoring:  Cousins -3, Madison -3.

A few notes on the sacks:

·         The Ravens allowed 4 sacks to a simple 4-man rush.  It might take an average team perhaps 80 4-man rushes (that’s about 4 games’ worth) to accumulate 4 sacks.

·         The Ravens used the split backfield shotgun a number of times and did not allow any sacks with that formation, nor in fact, with any 2-back formations.

·         One of the announcers called the first sack on Flacco a coverage sack, but I don’t see it that way.  Each of those plays had the initial pressure develop and pocket break down within 3 seconds.

·         By player, the total sacks allowed were:  Cousins 3.5, Oher 1.5, Madison 0.5, with Boren, Stupar, and Berry each charged with 1/6 of a sack.  The middle of the line actually held up reasonably well.  The tackles were the issue.  More specifically, Cousins only gave up half a sack on the right side and Reid none, so the Ravens LT position gave up 4.5 sacks to the Eagles.  It’s my contention the Ravens don’t have a tackle problem, they have a left tackle problem.  Trying to solve that problem by acquiring additional right tackles is like trying to solve a weak starting rotation by acquiring more relievers.

·         For all practical purposes, the team is committed to Oher at LT for 2011, but it would still be scary to enter the season without a serviceable LT backup.

·         I’ve heard a number of folks suggest that the Ravens would be best suited to move Yanda back to RT, because it will be easier to find a guard than a tackle at this date.  Yanda is the team’s best lineman and that would be a shame, but is anyone considering the possibility that moving him to LT might actually optimize the line’s play?  Yanda’s ability to be effective there is the biggest concern, but there are 3 preseason games remaining where the Ravens should be concerned about getting any of their QB’s hurt.  Effective or not, I think it’s likely Yanda would be the team’s best emergency option at LT.

As in past years, I have given a number of Ravens a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on the 2011 Ravens changed based on their performance Thursday.  I didn’t waste time rating starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment.  The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities in 2011, in positional battles, or have other questions for this season.

Allen (0):  He didn’t make my notes, which is probably good given the nature of the game.  I like his size and would expect he’d be given an honorary Purple Heart (sent to IR) at the end of camp at the worst.

Barnes (-2):  He entered for the final 2 drives for Mattison and double clutched a snap late to cost the Ravens 5 yards.  Taylor was also sacked twice while he was in the game.

Bartholomew (-1):  The UDFA did not enter the game until (Q4, 2:41) .  This does not bode well given the team’s depth needs at the center position.

Berry (-2):  He missed a block that contributed to a sack (Q4, 4:11) and dropped the late pass in the end zone.  With the reemergence of Parmele and acquisition of Williams, the backfield looks crowded.   He’s a candidate for the practice squad.

Boren (0):  He had some troubles like the rest of the offensive line, but I really liked the way he maintained his blocking stance while taking multiple shots to the face and head from Thornton (Q2, 7:05).  Thornton was called for illegal hands to the face after Boren’s helmet was knocked off.

Cody (-1):  He had a good long stint in the game, but simply not enough positive results.  His best play may have been his stacking of the line with Jones (Q1, 8:52) which allowed JJ to take down McCoy for a loss of 1 on 1st and goal from the 2.

Cousins (-3):  He started at RT, moved to LT when Oher and the other starters departed (Q2, 8:06) and played the remainder of the game there.  Let’s review some of the results other than the sacks listed above:

·         He had a false start when the Ravens were going for it on 4th and 1 (Q2, 5:34)

·         After Tapp’s 2nd sack (Q2, 1:02), he was beaten for a pressure on the very next play (Q2, 0:52).  Taylor was flushed, scrambled left, and threw complete to Anthony Allen for a short gain along the sideline.  What made it worse was that Tapp beat Cousins once outside then inside on the next play.

·         He made 2 nice blocks (Q4, 3:49) which allowed Taylor to reset the pocket on the left side and throw middle for Berry’s end-zone drop.

I did not go back to see how he contributed to Parmele’s runs, but several of those were to the left. 

Divens (0):  Lamar is in his 4th season and has yet to record his first career tackle.  With the departure of Gregg and injury to McKinney he should have a chance to play some snaps this season. 

Doss (0):  He held onto the football and ran a nice slant with a little YAC, but he’s not the answer to the Ravens lack of WR speed.  I liked his block on Parmele’s 15-yard run (Q3, 5:24)

Drew (0):  He doesn’t show up in my notes and wasn’t among the 13 Ravens targeted for a pass, yet he started the game.  With the tackles all taking a step backwards in this game, the need for a TE that can block seems even more significant.

Ellerbe (0):  I like some of the big hits (Q1, 3:22 and Q2, 13:53).  He made a decent open-field tackle (Q1, 1:57), but also missed a tackle in the backfield (Q2, 11:06).   It’s difficult to see who made progress in the ILB competition this week.

Gooden (0):  He was very late in coverage (Q2, 2:48) on Kafka’s 10-yard completion to Lee.  Just 2 plays later (Q2, 2:00), his cross blitz created the pressure that caused Kafka to throw a woefully underthrown ball for Pollard’s interception.  It’s still difficult to find contributions from Tavares in the run game.

Jones, Arthur (+1):  Redding’s depth chart demotion did not materialize on Thursday as he was in the starting lineup.  Jones penetrated regularly, but didn’t make a tackle (he had several chances).  When the tackling is corrected it looks like he’ll be a solid player.

Kindle (0):  He’s on the field and looks to be playing hard.  For an extended period, the Ravens had a defensive front of Kruger, Jones, McPhee, and Kindle.  All of those players should make the team and I’d guess at least 2 will provide significant contributions this season.

Kruger (+2):  We’ve been here before with Kruger and preseason excellence, but he had a legitimately terrific game.  He led the team with 5 tackles (5 times his 2010 total), including a sack, and drew a holding penalty on Austin Howard (Q3, 10:40).  His sack came on a nice inside move against Howard (Q1, 1:10).  His containment on Kafka’s rollout (Q3, 2:26) caused the Eagles’ QB to fire out of bounds.  He, like many other Ravens defenders must improve their tackling which cost him a sack (Q2, 15:00) when he again got free of Howard.  While I’m happy to see him play well, virtually all of his success came at the hands of a player who played just 4 games last year as a rookie.

Leach (0):  It wasn’t a lengthy or auspicious debut.  He missed a block on Tapp (Q1, 12:47) as part of the jailbreak that led to Rice being taken down for a loss of 6.  He had an effective lead block on Fokou which helped spring Rice for a 4-yard gain (Q1, 7:58).

Mattison (0):  He played all but the last 2 series, but I can’t say he played particularly well.  In a game where the line gives up 6 sacks (4 while he was in), the center has to take some blame.  Mattison was on the ground at least twice.

McClain (-1):  His pass coverage was good in terms of proximity to the receivers, but Celek out-positioned him for the game’s lone TD (Q1, 8:04) and he was unable to find a piece of the pass to Avant (Q1, 11:53).  He had penetration and a chance to take Brown down for a loss (Q2, 13:06), but missed and Ronnie picked up a yard for the 1st down.  The Ravens are now flush with young pass rushers (Kruger, Kindle, McPhee) with promise, so his chance to contribute occasionally with his hand in the turf has probably passed.

McPhee (+1):  His highlight was the sack/fumble which was returned by Webb for a TD and subsequently negated.  That didn’t make it any less impressive.  He also played the run effectively, pursuing Cooper for no gain (Q3, 10:40) and combining with Kindle to tackle Lewis for a gain of 1 (Q3, 8:29, the Gamebook gives him no official credit on that stop).  Lowlights included his neutral zone infraction (Q3, 11:32) and the fact that neither he nor Kindle sniffed out  Kafka’s screen to Lewis (Q2, 4:07) which went for a gain of 16.  It being a preseason game, I think the talented and athletic young Ravens backup defensive line benefitted from playing the Eagles’ #2 offensive line.  That’s OK, they were as fun to watch as anything on Thursday.

Nakamura (0):  Nice hit on Ronnie Brown (Q1, 0:35).  Unfortunately he also missed a tackle on Lewis (Q2, 4:48).  With Pagano’s apparent pass rush creativity (see below), Nakamura’s speed and versatility should make the Ravens defense very flexible with 6 or 7 DBs on the field.

Oher (-3):  He was playing against Trent Cole who is both one of the best pash-rushing and run-defending RDEs in the game.  Even with that allowance, Oher’s play was both bad and inconsistent.  Here are some of the notes I took:

·         (Q1, 15:00) Blocked Cole around the pocket as Flacco threw to Pitta on the first play.

·         (Q1, 14:26) Cole pushed Oher backwards and Michael did not reengage as Cole took down 27 for a gain of 1

·         (Q1, 13:55) Oher punished Cole with a block to, and perhaps past the whistle as Rice ran left for 2 yards.

·         (Q1, 12:45) Oher allowed Tapp in the backfield as Pitta crossed his face which contributed to Rice’s loss of 6.

·         (Q1, 11;57) Called for illegal formation, which was declined as the Ravens failed to convert on 3rd down

·         (Q1, 7:58) Kept Cole engaged as Rice ran left for 4 behind Leach

Michael shows flashes, he’s just not at all consistent and when the LT misses, the consequences are dire.  Cousins was awful, but he played the entire game.  Oher was every bit as bad on the 15 (!) snaps he played.  Does anyone find it a little ironic that both left tackles  played so poorly on the day Gaither was signed by the Chiefs?

Pagano (no grade):  If you wanted aggression, you got it.  Pagano called similar (if not mirror image) corner/safety blitzes:

·         (Q1, 1:57) Zbikowski and Webb both blitzed from LCB and safety on the offensive right side (ORS).  Young escaped and ran for 6 yards to convert a 3rd and 6.  Ayanbadejo was left to cover the short zone on the right side.

·         (Q3, 2:20) Chykie Brown blitzed from RCB along with safety Mana Silva from the OLS.  Linebacker Josh Bynes was left to cover the short zone vacated by Brown and Silva.  Kafka completed the pass deep middle to Jones for a gain of 18 on 3rd and 9 from the Eagles 3-yard line, But Brown did manage to hit Kafka (no QH recorded)

The results weren’t ideal, but I doubt the players will complain about scheme the way they did with Mattison.

Phillips (0):  Based on his time of entry, he’s not in the discussion for the ILB competition.  He had a nice screen diagnosis and disruption (Q4, 15:00).  There wasn’t anything about his play that I’d point to as costing him expectation, but given that he is a core special teamer, it’s possible he could lose his spot because it appears the Ravens could now have good kickoff coverage with Billy Cundiff and 10 offensive linemen.

Pitta (+2):  Love the catch, hate the drop.  The Ravens played a mess of 302 (3 WR, 0 TE, 2 RB) with a split backfield in the shotgun.  If the play at tackle continues at the current level, that may have to be a staple.  Pitta had a nice block on Cole on the 21-yard pass to Rice (Q1, 13:23).

Pollard (+2):  Kafka was playing very scared and lofted up several flotation devices including Bernard’s INT, but Pollard certainly had the best game of the safeties.  He also produced the intentional grounding penalty by Young (Q2, 9:08) which was essentially a 16-yard sack.

Reid (-1):  He looked slow to me as a pass blocker.  He was bulled effectively by #78 (Q4, 10:59).  One of the funny things about this game was that the Eagles had a number of pairs of players wearing the same jersey numbers.  Per the Gamebook, number 78 was worn by either G/T Tupou or DT Collier who was listed as DNP.  Reid had a false start penalty (Q2, 1:02) that helped end a drive that had reached the Philly 38.  The Gamebook shows him with a 2nd false start (Q3, 4:25), but that was charged to fullback Ryan Mahaffey.  Reid ended up on the ground several times and it wasn’t always a bad thing.  He threw a nice cut block on a WR screen left to take Thornton out of the play.  However, on the same play Parmele was face masked (Q3, 4:39), Reid went down at the snap and it’s not apparent why it happened.  I was expecting lots of powerful, straight-ahead blocking, but he used his position effectively and baited the aforementioned #78 to run himself out of position on 2 separate running plays.

Smith, Torrey (-1):  He was targeted 3 times and did not catch any of them.  The announcers were on him for failing to finish his route on Taylor’s first INT.

Smith, Marcus (-1):  The drop hurt his chances and like Phillips, his special teams’ impact will be reduced by the 35-yard-line kickoffs.  This is his 4th season, so he doesn’t have a mess of future value relative to salary, so he might be in danger of losing his job to a younger player.

Taylor (+1):  I thought he did as well as could be expected in terms of running the 2-minute offense.  He also likes to throw while on the move and set up a secondary pocket.  That’s good when it works, but his 2nd INT came on a poor decision when rolling right.  I can’t recall the last time I saw a Raven QB escape the pocket left and make 2 good throws in 1 game, but Taylor did so with a short completion to Allen and the end-zone drop by Berry.  You saw the same thing I did in terms of his legs and that’s enough to believe that he’s an intriguing slash/wildcat option.  I still believe the Ravens will seek an experienced backup QB, but Taylor could be the “finish-the-game” QB who provides the offense some additional options.
Webb (0):  Good tackling.  His leaping pass rush (Q3, 10:15) forced Kafka to unload a weakly-thrown incomplete pass that Nakamura nearly intercepted.  I wasn’t happy with the amount of space he gave Hall (Q3, 9:33) on the rollout right that resulted in a completion to the 2-yard line.  Even in a blah game, Webb does some very athletic things.  His pickup of the negated fumble was pure playmaker.  There was no thought of falling on it or doing anything that might reduce the chance for a TD.

Williams, Cary (+1):  He’s playing hard and well.  He made several nice tackles and had a PD (Q2,9:02).  He played soft, allowing a catch by Hall (Q2, 5:18), but delivered a nice open-field stick to limit the gain to 6 yards.  Given his size, why doesn’t he press more?

Williams, LaQuan (+1):    Laquan had a big impact on the final drive.  Summarizing:

·         He failed to gather in the slant (Q4, 2:02) which would have resulted in a 1st down

·         He caught a slant for 20 yards (Q4, 1:47), as Taylor beat a 6-man blitz.  It appeared he had a lane for the TD, but he could not outrun the Eagles’ safety Adams.

·         He was flagged for a false start (Q4, 1:26)

·         He caught a 12-yard slant as Taylor beat an 8-man blitz (Q4, 1:25), he spun out of the tackle, but was chased down from behind by Rolle.  That was another place where a burst of speed would have resulted in a score.

·         He tipped a potential TD pass to Jones found himself out of bounds as he made the catch.

Zbikowski (-1):  Zibby didn’t do anything terrible, but both of his competitors outplayed him.


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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time.

If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas.

He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens.

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