Ravens Effectively Neutralize Von Miller photo: Associated Press

Game Changers Ravens Effectively Neutralize Von Miller

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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.

Coming into Week 3, Broncos LB Von Miller was tied for the league lead with 4 sacks. By the time the final whistle sounded, the Ravens’ offensive line, backs and tight ends had limited Miller to 0 sacks, 0 QB hits and only 2 tackles. How did they do it? They used a variety of formation, play design and blocking concepts to make Miller think about what he was seeing instead of reacting immediately.

15-Yard completion to John Brown

Q1, 0:12, 2-8-BLT26

The Ravens come out in a shotgun, 2×2 set with 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE & 3 WRs). Before the snap, Willie Snead motions from left to right, changing the formation to 3×1, with 4 receivers (including RB Alex Collins) having the ability to release into routes on the right side of the field.

At the snap, the Ravens move the pocket towards the right sideline and use 3 players to slow down Miller (58). First, Snead chips Miller before releasing into his route. After Snead releases into his route, Collins takes over blocking Miller with RG Marshal Yanda as a back-up.

Another key to this play was the route combination between Michael Crabtree and Brown. CB Chris Harris (25) is playing tight man coverage on Brown but CB Bradley Roby (29) is playing off-man coverage on Crabtree. The Ravens use a rub/pick concept but execute it further downfield as opposed to at the line of scrimmage (LoS). Because of Roby’s initial off-coverage depth, a rub at the LoS would’ve been more difficult to execute.

Instead, Crabtree first stems vertically at Roby until he reduces his cushion. With Roby’s cushion eliminated, Brown is now able to use Crabtree to rub Harris off more effectively.

44-yard completion to John Brown

Q2, 7:00, 1-10-BLT28

The Ravens come out in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). Brown, Snead & Nick Boyle are aligned in a trips bunch look on the right side. At the snap, Boyle crosses the formation as if he’s going to block the back-side defender (Miller) on an inside zone run play. Flacco extends the ball and fakes a hand-off to Collins.

[Related: Game Changers – John Brown Looking Like a True #1 WR]

This run action causes Miller to hesitate for just a moment before he recognizes this a pass play. Once Miller knows it’s a pass, he’s able to shove Boyle back and work inside him towards Flacco. But Miller’s momentary hesitation, caused by the play-action design, gave Flacco just enough time to get the ball out and complete it 44 yards downfield to John Brown.

The tight splits by Brown and Snead forced the Broncos CBs to play off, guarding against a rub/pick concept. If you give Brown a free release off the line of scrimmage and 7-8 yards to accelerate, he’s going to run by most CBs in the league. Timed speed doesn’t always translate to play speed, but here it does.

CB Isaac Yiadom (41) ran a 4.52 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine, while Brown ran a 4.34. Brown also does a nice job with his release, using a plant step and a subtle head fake to sell an inside route before working back outside towards the sideline.

8-yard screen pass to Alex Collins

Q2, 9:09, 2-10-DEN20

The Ravens are in 20 personnel (2 backs, 0 TEs, 3 WRs) with FB/DL Patrick Ricard in an off-set I alignment to the right. This play is a RB screen pass designed to use Miller’s aggressiveness against him.

Flacco takes the snap from under center and gives a token hand-off fake towards Collins. Miller is unblocked and starts to rush towards Flacco, disregarding Collins. What looks like a free run at Flacco is actually a well executed middle-screen to Collins. Brown & Snead run clear out routes on the right to lift the CBs to that side. Ricard runs a flat route to widen the play-side LB. LG Lewis & RT Hurst are able to come off their blocks and release downfield to block for Collins in the middle of the field. Collins can be dangerous in the open field and uses a nice cut to make Harris miss.

3-yard loss by Alex Collins

Q4, 8:35, 2-10-BLT34

The Ravens are in an empty (no RBs in the backfield) 3×2 formation on this 2nd down play. What’s unique about this particular empty set is who the Ravens line up as the #2 receiver on the left (2nd receiver closes to the left sideline): LG Alex Lewis.

The Broncos initially have 2 defenders to matchup with the 3 receivers on the left side, but Miller moves out towards Lewis to even out those numbers just before the snap.

Collins and WR Chris Moore are the 2 receivers on the right side. Flacco targets Collins, who was lined up in the slot and had a favorable matchup with LB Josey Jewell (47). Jewell does a good job closing space to Collins, dropping his weight and keeping his feet under his shoulders. Those things put him in a balanced position with the ability to move quickly in any direction and he’s able to tackle Collins in the open field for a three-yard loss.

It’s not the result the Ravens wanted, but it was good process. The formation did two things:

  1. It eliminated Miller as a pass rusher; and
  2. It created a favorable matchup for the offense with Collins in open space vs a LB.

It didn’t happen here, but I’d put my money on Collins to make a LB miss in space more times than not.

Overall, I thought the Ravens displayed a well designed and executed game plan vs the Broncos. Cleary, they put a lot of preparation into how they wanted to handle Miller. Forcing any player, even a great one, to think instead of react, slows them down. In addition to some of the concepts I described above, Joe Flacco was also instrumental in slowing down the Broncos pass rush. He rarely held the ball, delivered it on time and got it out of his hands in rhythm most of the game.

I also want to acknowledge how well the offensive line held up when blocking Miller (or Chubb, Ray, Barrett, etc) 1-on-1. It wasn’t always perfect, but things rarely are in the trenches. Those guys took some criticism after the Bengals game and I thought they responded well against the Broncos.

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