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New Wideouts Shine in Week 1 Win

Michael Crabtree taps his toes on a TD catch vs. Buffalo.
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Game Changers – Week 1

There are plays in every football game that impact who wins and who loses. They can occur on offense, defense or special teams. Sometimes it’s a play everyone sees, like a long touchdown run or pass, a sack, or turnover. Other times it’s a play that goes unnoticed. It could be a key block on offense or a defender who doesn’t make the tackle himself but executes his assignment, allowing a teammate to make the play.

With that introduction out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the game-changing players and plays that stood out to me in the Ravens’ 47-3 win over the Bills on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

John Brown 7-yard TD

Q1, 1:37, 3-7-BUF7

Brown is aligned as the #2 receiver on the offense’s left-side. (I count receivers from outside-in, i.e. the receiver closest to the sideline is #1, the next receiver inside of him is #2 and the next receiver inside of him is #3.)

It’s hard to be sure without the all-22 camera angle, but this appears to be a middle of the field (MOF) coverage. That means there is only one safety in the MOF. Why does that matter? Because one of the keys to this play in my opinion was Michael Crabtree’s route (#3 WR). Crabtree stems his route directly at the safety then crosses his face in the end zone, holding him in the MOF.

Another key to the play is the reaction of the slot defender Taron Johnson (#24). Watch his helmet as Brown stems his route outside Johnson’s right shoulder. His eyes are outside, watching Snead’s route.

I think he’s anticipating a slant/corner route combination, with Brown running the corner and Snead running the slant. By the time Johnson realizes Snead isn’t running a slant and will not threaten him, it’s too late. Brown gets behind Johnson, breaks to the post and is open in the back of the end zone for an easy TD catch.

Michael Crabtree 12-yard TD

Q2, 0:17, 2-2-BUF12

Crabtree is aligned as the #1 receiver on the offense’s left-side. Joe Flacco recognizes that Crabtree is 1-on-1 outside vs. CB Gaines. The Bills appear to be in a split field coverage (two safeties back). This could mean that Gaines has help over the top but the post-snap reaction of SS Micah Hyde (#23) tells a different story. Hyde stays near the left hash and doesn’t gain much depth from his pre-snap alignment (about 10 yards of the ball).

This is a trust throw to Crabtree. Flacco gets the ball up quickly and puts a lot of air under it. The ball placement is towards the back of the end zone. Releasing this ball as early as he did shows the trust Flacco has in Crabtree to beat the CB.

Crabtree stems vertically at Gaines who initiates first contact but Crabtree works to clear the CB’s hands off his frame. Notice the subtle rip move Crabtree uses with his right hand just as the ball arrives. He rips up and through the CB’s upfield hand allowing him to stack the CB (get his body directly in front of the CB’s body). Now the only way the CB can make a play on the ball is to go through Crabtree’s body, most likely drawing a penalty.

Crabtree allows the ball to come down instead of attacking it at its highest point but I think this is intentional in this situation. Extending his arms and hands up to attack this ball would give the CB a bigger target. By late-stacking the CB and keeping his hands lower, Crabtree is able to use his body to shield the CB and present a smaller target at the catch point.

Crabtree’s footwork is a masterful display of spatial awareness and body control. He’s actually able to tap his feet in bounds 3 times.

  1. Kicks his right leg up high allowing him to drag his left leg and tap that foot in bounds first.
  2. As the right leg comes down, he’s able to tap his right foot in.
  3. He finishes with an extra tap using his left foot as he falls to the ground.

Willie Snead IV 13-yard TD

Q3, 12:33, 1-13-BUF13

Even if you’re a casual football fan, you’ve probably heard the term “RPO.” If you haven’t, RPO stands for Run-Pass Option. The QB has the option to give the ball to a ball carrier, keep it himself and run or keep it and throw a pass. We could go down a rabbit hole in terms of pre-snap vs post-snap RPOs, which defenders to key, blocking schemes and many other variables, but I’ll try to keep this concise.

This appears to be a post-snap RPO where Flacco is reading a 2nd level defender, Bills rookie MLB Tremaine Edmunds.

But before I discuss that, I believe another key to this play was the leverage of FS Rafael Bush (#20). The Bills appear to be playing Quarters coverage where four secondary defenders (both CBs, FS & SS) are covering a ¼ of the field. That leaves 3 defenders to cover the underneath zones. Bush is the curl/flat defender to his side of the ball.

Now back to MLB Edmunds. He has run and pass responsibilities, so he has to react to the run action he sees in the backfield. It may not look like much, but those shuffle steps he takes to his left create open space between him and Bush. Because Bush was playing outside leverage on Snead, that open space is even more pronounced. Even as a rookie, Edmunds is already one of the more athletic ILBs in the league. That said, even a special athlete can’t cover ground quickly enough to squeeze the space created by this play design versus this coverage.

Lastly, let’s not forget the effort Snead shows after the catch. He catches the ball around the 6- or 7-yard line then runs through contact from three defenders to finish the play in the end zone.

Look for that word “finish” to be a recurring theme with this year’s Ravens team. If they can finish plays, finish drives and finish games, in all three phases, this season has an opportunity to be special.

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