Za’Darius Smith’s Coming Out Party Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens

Game Changers Za’Darius Smith’s Coming Out Party

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Game Changers – Week 6

There are plays in every football game that impacts 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.

The Ravens tied a franchise record with 11 sacks against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. They also forced the Titans to punt on all nine of their offensive possessions on the way to a 21-0 shutout. The sacks resulted from a combination of good coverage, winning 1-on-1 matchups, schemed pressure, miscommunication/assignment breakdowns by Titans OL, RB & TEs, and a QB who was shell shocked.

In a dominating defensive performance full of game changers, let’s take a look at a man who went for the sack hat trick, Za’Darius Smith.

Smith sacks Marcus Mariota for a 7-yard loss

Q1, 11:25, 3rd & 12 at the BLT43

Through the first five games of this season, Ravens DC Don ‘Wink’ Martindale has shown his affinity for zone pressure (a 4-5 man pass rush with zone coverage behind it). This game was no different. One of the things that has stood out to me about Wink’s pressure concepts is how often he allows C.J. Mosley to rush. I’ve always thought of Mosley as one more of the more effective pass rushers from the inside linebacker position in the league, so I’m happy to see him get these opportunities.

I thought this game was an excellent illustration of how the front end and back end of a defense work together. Pass rush helps coverage and coverage helps pass rush. The coverage on this play forces Mariota to pump fake and hold the ball, and an extra second can be the difference between a completion and a sack.

Mosley rushes the A gap (between the C and LG). Notice how the C Ben Jones has his left hand extended to “feel” for a rusher in that gap but he’s looking to his left in case he needs to help his RG Josh Kline. Mosley does such a good job attacking the Jones’ left shoulder that even though RB Dion Lewis comes to help on the block, Jones ultimately has to turn his attention towards Mosley and away from helping Kline. This leaves Smith 1-on-1 with Kline.

Smith’s bull rush starts to walk Kline back and once he gets his shoulders turned, Smith rips inside to take Mariota down for a 7 yard loss.

Smith forced fumble and sack on Mariota for 7-yard loss

Q2, 7:52, 3rd & 13 at the BLT40

Smith’s second sack comes off a zone pressure with an overload concept. The Ravens show six potential rushers with Mosley and Anthony Levine Sr. showing double A gap pressure. At the snap, the Ravens rush four from the offense’s left side: CB Tavon Young, OLB Tim Williams, Smith and Mosley. One of the keys to this sack is a miscommunication between LG Quinton Spain and RB Lewis.

Young rushes outside LT Taylor Lewan. Williams rushes over Lewan. Smith rushes over Spain. Mosley rushes over C Jones. This creates the overload look, i.e. four rushers to one side for three blockers to handle. But when you add in RB Lewis, the numbers even out, four blockers to pick up four rushers.

Lewis has his eyes in the A gap (right of the C) because of the threat that Levine Sr. might rush that gap – but Levine drops into coverage.

So how does this lead to Smith’s forced fumble/sack? Watch the action on the left side. Smith crosses the face of LG Spain and you can see the Spain’s helmet looking to the left at Williams. He’s looking that way because WR Tajae Sharpe chip blocks Williams inside and it looks like he might be able to rush the B gap between Lewan and Spain.

So Spain lets Smith go inside because he’s expecting help from RB Lewis. But Lewis, who by now knows Levine isn’t a threat to rush, is also looking at Williams. This leaves Smith unblocked with a clean shot at Mariota. He alertly knocks the ball out of Mariota’s hand, Mariota has to dive on the ball and Smith is credited with a sack.

How do I know there was a miscommunication between Spain and Lewis? I don’t know for sure, but that clip shows the two of them talking immediately after the play. Call it a hunch.

Smith sacks Mariota for a 4-yard loss

Q4, 4:11, 3rd & 11 at the TEN10

Another zone pressure. This time the Titans make the jobs of the Ravens’ six coverage defenders a little easier by only releasing three receivers into pass routes. There is a 4th potential receiver, TE Anthony Frisker (86), but he gets tied up with Smith at the line of scrimmage and doesn’t release until it’s too late. Advantage Ravens.

Despite the pre-snap look of seven potential rushers, this is only four man rush. Jefferson, Henry & Mosley rush over the RG, C and LG respectively. Suggs rushes over RT Jack Conklin. Judon and Williams drop into underneath zone coverage. Smith slides outside over Frisker from his pre-snap 3-technique alignment (aligned over the outside shoulder of a guard) but doesn’t actually add to the rush.

Jefferson draws the attention of the RG and C, forcing the LG to help on Henry. This leaves Mosley with a free run at Mariota. But instead of charging directly at Mariota, Mosley feels RB Lewis leaking out and momentarily engages him. He then refocuses on Mariota and is able to force him out of the pocket.

You can see the moment Mariota drops his eyes and decides to scramble. Mariota’s tendency to drop his eyes and look to escape as opposed to keeping his vision downfield to look for a potential receiver was a consistent theme throughout the game.

As Mariota fled the inside pressure, he essentially ran into Smith who clothes-lined Mariota for his third sack of the game.

I’d say a sack hat trick deserves a sack dance, don’t you?

For more GAME CHANGERS, click here.

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