Dixon’s Spark Shows Up at the Right Time

Game Changers Dixon’s Spark Shows Up at the Right Time

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Game Changers ~ Week 14

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.

The Ravens fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime (27-24) last Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. As a fan, I was disappointed with the outcome of the game, but man was it entertaining to watch! I could write about how much the Ravens’ defense pressured Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes, the great throws he made, the plays (with his legs and his arm) Lamar Jackson made, or how the Ravens continue to run the ball well.

The Ravens ran for 198 yards, just missing four consecutive games of at least 200 yards rushing. Kenneth Dixon’s rushing numbers were not eye-popping: Eight carries for 59 yards and 1 TD (he also added a catch for 21 yards). But as you know by now, this series isn’t only about numbers.

Let’s take look at some of the attributes that make Dixon such an effective runner.

Dixon 3-Yard TD Run

Q2, 14:22, 1st & 3 at KC3

Dixon is aligned behind Jackson, who’s in the pistol formation. The Ravens are in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE) with both TEs aligned on the right side of the formation. WR Willie Snead runs jet sweep action from the slot on the left side and becomes a puller along with LG James Hurst. This is a counter play the Ravens ran with different combinations of pullers (G-WR, G-TE, G-T) several times in the game.

As Dixon approaches the line, watch his head and feet. He subtly looks inside at the crease between RT Orlando Brown Jr and RG Marshal Yanda while also altering his stride as if he’s going to make a cut inside towards that crease. Those kinds of subtle details influence 1st & 2nd level defenders and also allow blocks to develop.

Although this is a short-yardage run, you can also see Dixon showing patience to the hole then bursting through the hole. That burst enables him to generate enough momentum to fall forward into the end zone after the tackle attempt from Chiefs S Ron Parker (38).

Dixon 9-Yard Run

Q3, 8:41, 2nd & 8 at BLT39

The Ravens are running a similar counter play but this time the pullers are LG Hurst and TE Maxx Williams. I chose this clip down to focus on Dixon’s vision, patience and contact balance.

As the clip pauses, where do you think Dixon will go? It looks like he has a path to his right, outside Williams’ block on OLB Dee Ford (55) or maybe to his left, in the crease between LT Ronnie Stanley and C Matt Skura. I think you could make plausible arguments for either but Dixon chooses a path where there doesn’t appear to be one.

That’s because Dixon has the vision, patience and football IQ to understand that a hole will develop where one currently doesn’t exist. But he also has the physical ability to marry this contextual understanding to his movements. After taking the hand-off, Dixon comes to nearly a complete stop (Le’Veon Bell-style; remember him?) allowing him to set up the level 2 blocks of Brown Jr. and Hurst. Then he accelerates through the crease, cuts to his right and runs through contact from CB Kendall Fuller (23). Fuller doesn’t hit Dixon head on – instead he comes from an angle and hits Dixon at waist level. But the fact that Fuller slides off like water off a duck’s back is still a testament to Dixon’s ability to maintain his balance through contact. It also supports the old run game adage that ‘you block safeties and make corners tackle.’

Dixon 8-yard Run

Q3, 8:02, 1st & 10 at BLT48

You guessed it, another counter play. This time I slowed the clip down to highlight Dixon’s ability to layer cuts together. This is a difficult skill, especially when the cuts occur close together spatially and in a confined area.

After receiving the handoff and taking a counter-step, Dixon’s 1st cut is inside the block of pulling LG Hurst on LB Anthony Hitchens (53). It’s after this cut that Dixon’s vision, footwork and body control all come together. Chiefs safety Parker is unblocked and 1-on-1 with Dixon in the hole. As Dixon nears Parker, he shortens his stride (chops his feet), plants on his outside foot and uses a spinning jump cut to allude Parker. As Dixon comes out of his spin, he bounces off LB Reggie Ragland (59) and into S Daniel Sorensen (49). He continues driving his legs forcing two Chiefs defenders to bring him down.

Right on Time

Kenneth Dixon not only displays an understand of timing in his running style, but his emergence may also be right on time in the bigger picture. Gus Edwards‘ down-hill style has been a nice complement to Lamar Jackson’s ability to get to the edge of defenses. Ty Montgomery gives the Ravens a versatile option on 3rd down particularly with his WR pedigree. But in my opinion, Dixon has the most diverse skill set of all the Ravens backs. He possesses a combination of vision, patience, football IQ, balance, power and pass-catching ability that could give the Ravens an added dimension on offense as they make the final push for a playoff berth.

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