Commitment to the Run

Filmstudy Commitment to the Run

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Coming off a 20-0 win where the Ravens ran the ball on 42 of 60 (70%) offensive snaps, it’s easy (and probably misleading) to cite the team’s commitment to the run.

Conditions in this game were optimal for the run. Let’s review some of the reasons (0 to 10 significance of the item in parenthesis):

Vontaze Burfict, one of the best Bengals run defenders missed the game due to a suspension (4).

— The Bengals have long been a team that prefers to rush 4 and drop 7 versus Flacco (3).

— Flacco was returning from his injury for his first action. Whether due to health or inactivity, there was an obvious desire to rely less on him (7).

— The Ravens had some early success running the ball and throwing off play action (3).

— The Ravens had a big lead by halftime and wanted to minimize the chance of costly turnovers (8).

— The Ravens were able to run effectively when they most wanted to, which encouraged them to continue doing so (6).

— Running provided a means to shorten the game with that big lead (10).

The best explanation of this concept and the relativizations I made above is that “Teams run because they win, they don’t win because they run.” All of the Ravens run success in the game netted them just 3 points on their long 3rd-quarter drive. They won the game because they built the lead with defense and the TD pass to Jeremy Maclin. They closed it out by grinding out some first downs on the ground and maintaining their defensive dominance.

It’s a formula that only works under optimal conditions, so don’t be surprised when the Ravens have a game they revert to a low percentage of runs because they are playing from behind.

Judging Flacco’s Performance

Joe has played for great defensive teams for much of his career and has been effective adapting to the need for his arm. On Sunday, he dropped back just 18 times, going 9 for 17 for 121 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. The offensive line provided Flacco an above average opportunity set for his throws, generating Ample Time and Space (ATS) on 10 of 18 pass plays.

I have data for Flacco going back to 2010 during which time Joe has averaged approximately 8.1 net yards per drop back with ATS and 4.1 net without ATS. The idea was to create a simple statistic that would approximate how he performed relative to the opportunity set he was provided.

Here are Joe’s results against the Bengals by ATS:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 8.34.38 PM

Summarizing relative to expectation:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 8.34.47 PM

Here are the Bengals pass rushes by number and ATS result:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 8.34.58 PM

The 1 sack and 2 QHs were solid, but unspectacular totals for 18 pass plays.

Some general observations:

–The Bengals used limited variation of pressure, in part because the combination of game situation and down/distance rarely forced the Ravens to pass.

–The one time the Bengals rushed 7, Flacco audibled to hit Maclin on the 48-yard pick play that put the Ravens up 10-0 (Q2, 2:00). That play deserves special mention, because Ben Watson earned his game check on it. Ben crossed near the corner covering Maclin, Darqueze Dennard, but resisted the urge to block or shoulder him, which might have drawn a flag. As he crossed in front of Dennard, the man covering Watson, George Iloka, put his arm out and slowed Dennard to free Maclin. I’ve never seen a rub/pick play executed any better.

–The Ravens ran a number of draw plays which allowed some space to develop as the Ravens line maintained their blocks.

–The Ravens made use of pulls frequently, both the standard long pulls and 1-gap pulls we’ve been discussing this preseason.

–Rookie Carl Lawson from Auburn gave the Ravens trouble rushing vs. Ronnie Stanley on the blind side. He was one of the top pass rushers in this draft and looks like the real deal. Those 2 players will meet many times.

–The injury to Danny Woodhead is a serious detriment to the offense. The Ravens will need to find a player who can both pass block and provide some elusiveness as a receiver.

–The average yards per play without ATS is skewed by the only big play, Maclin’s TD.

–I can’t recall another game, including his 4-for-10 performance in the 2009 Wild Card game at New England, where Joe didn’t take any deep shots.  His longest pass traveled approximately 17 yards and fell incomplete to Maclin (Q2, 15:00)

–So, summarizing in words…the Ravens produced a solid passing game result without throwing the ball down the field even after considering the above-average conditions Flacco had to operate.

OL Scoring Mechanics

For those of you who are new to my OL grading methods, let’s hit a few points.

I mentioned Ample Time and Space (ATS) above. Boiled down to its simplest form, the QB is assumed to have ATS if he has 3 full seconds and enough room to step into his throw in a 120-degree arc centered on the intended receiver.

Pro Football Focus differs in their method of scoring pass rush events and will charge multiple pressures/QHs/sacks on the same play, but always 1 or 0 to any given player. I divide out each event to those I think are responsible. Both systems have their merits. I guess I should simply say that if you don’t like fractions, you probably won’t like my work.

This year I have made a slight adjustment to the grading standard at center and guard, where it seemed the grading may have been slightly too harsh. That’s a remnant of the fact the grading systems were developed with 3 outstanding interior linemen Marshal Yanda, Ben Grubbs, and Matt Birk, playing on the inside. In terms of adjusted points per play, here is the new scale:

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 8.41.47 PM

The new passing level is .04 lower at center and .03 lower at guard (grading for tackles is unaffected). Over the course of a typical game, that might equate to 1 pressure or 3 missed blocks (at center).

I like to deal with whole grades, so I only give a + or a – if the lineman is in the top or bottom point within a grade level.

I provide the quarter and time references here so you can review the events on NFL Game Pass, a service I highly recommend. If you are a PSL owner, you get it for free. If not, you can purchase the top package, including all games back to 2011 and coaches film for approximately $100 per season.

Offensive Line Scoring

The Ravens ran 60 scored snaps versus the Bengals (excludes accepted penalties which result in no play).

Stanley: Ronnie had a solid effort that was a notch below the Pro Bowl expectations of Ravens fans. Lawson bulled him for a pressure (Q1, 6:16). Lawson drove him across the pocket for the initial flush which resulted in the sack by Atkins (Q2, 8:07; I gave Stanley half the charge for the sack). Finally, Lawson pushed by Stanley’s left shoulder for pressure on Flacco’s interception (Q3, 14:12). To offset a mediocre pass blocking performance, Stanley blocked well on run plays. He had 6 blocks in level 2, pulled successfully on his only assignment, and had 2 highlights, the better of which was an 8-yard push of Lawson in support of West’s 10-yard run left (Q2, 5:03).

Scoring: 60 plays, 53 blocks, 4 missed, 2 pressures, 1/2 sack, 1 false start, 43 points (.72 per play). With adjustment for quality of competition and highlights, that’s a C+. He had an extraordinary trend line after returning from injury last season. Let’s hope he does just that again.

Hurst: James delivered a solid overall effort with some underlying scoring components that varied greatly. He was beaten by Atkins for a sack (half charge) when Flacco was initially moved off his spot by Stanley blocking Lawson across the pocket (Q2, 8:07). James was also beaten by Billings for a dangerous-looking penetration that hit the pulling Yanda (Q4, 4:33). Hurst was asked to pull 10 times and converted just 6 of those including a shared penetration (Q4, 14:22) when he missed his cut block of Rey as Allen was taken down for a loss of 3. He had 6 blocks in level 2, delivered 2 pancakes (both on pulls), and had 4 total highlight blocks. The best of those was a cut of Rey in space that enabled West to reach the edge (Q1, 1:34).

Scoring: 60 plays, 52 blocks, 4 missed, 2 (1 + 2 x ½) penetrations, ½ sack, 1 false start, 42 points (.70 per play). That’s a C with adjustment for highlights and opponent at guard. Were he to deliver a performance like this at guard in each of the 16 games, Ravens fans should be thrilled.

Jensen: Ryan’s holding penalties doomed his score in this game, but there were some things to like about his performance. First, the flags:

–(Q1, 7:59) Jensen pancaked Vigil who penetrated through the left B gap. It didn’t look like much in terms of a hold and West had already beaten Vigil to the edge when it was called.

–(Q2, 0:19) Jensen was out front nicely and his pancake of Rey (assisted by a handful of jersey) sprung Allen for a 14-yard screen gain. Good call and the play may have cost Tucker a chance at the NFL FG distance record.

–(Q4, 4:26) Ryan rag-dolled NT Sims to the ground as Allen ran off LG. One of the worst things a lineman can do is take a hold while his man sacks the QB. This was an obvious hold, but Jensen again got his money’s worth by flattening his opponent. The other good thing about these holds is that none came as a result of getting beat by a pass rusher. These were all judgment issues we have to hope are correctable.

Other than the holds (which is a little like saying “other than this gaping chest wound”), Ryan played well, including 6 blocks in level 2, 2 pancakes, and 2 highlights. He connected on 1 of 2 pulls. Most importantly, he didn’t surrender ground that imperiled any of the many pulling linemen behind him. He accumulated 7 missed blocks, primarily due to an inability to find blocks in level 2 (5 instances, including 2 slips).

Scoring: 60 plays, 51 blocks, 7 missed, ½ pressure, 1/3 QH, 3 offensive holding, 31 points (.52 per play). That’s an F at center. Without the holding penalties, he’d have graded out a B with adjustment. That’s not an excuse for the holds, but a measure of the value of correction.

Yanda: Marshal showed no sign of decline or impact from the shoulder injury which limited him to a handful of preseason snaps. His only negative event was a partial QH (2/3 to him, 1/3 to Jensen) when Atkins beat him inside (Q2, 8:53). He had 5 blocks in level 2, delivered 3 pancakes, pulled successfully on 7 of 8 attempts, and had 2 highlights.

Scoring: 60 plays, 56 blocks, 3 missed, 2/3 QH, 54 points (.90 per play). With adjustment, that’s an A. Another day at the office.

Howard: Austin continues to look slow, but it’s difficult to argue with the aggregate result. When avoiding fouls and minimizing pass rush events, he reminds me of Willie Anderson in his lone year as a Raven (2008). Howard was beaten outside by Dunlap for a hard QH (Q3, 1:12) on which the Bengals DE seemed to walk around Austin. He otherwise allowed just a single shared pressure as a pass blocker. Howard led the team in level 2 blocks with 8 despite a poor conversion ratio (8/13). It’s not a matter of effort, but he’s simply too slow to impact the back side of run plays and did not attempt a cut block, a common resort for tackles behind the play.

Scoring: 60 plays, 51 blocks, 6 missed, ½ penetration, ½ pressure, 1 QH, 46 points (.77 per play). That’s a solid B with adjustment, primarily for facing Dunlap. I’m happy with the result, but unconvinced Howard can duplicate the grade against a better speed rusher.

If you’re interesting in seeing scoring trends for the players this season, these charts will be updated weekly.

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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. More from Ken McKusick


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