Young Defenders Big in Wild Card Loss Baltimore Ravens/Shawn Hubbard

Game Changers Young Defenders Big in Wild Card Loss

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Game Changers – Wild Card Round

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.

Before I get into this week’s breakdown, I’d like to thank some people.

Thank you Tony Lombardi for giving me an opportunity to write this piece for Russell Street Report this season. You came up with the concept and I hope it has lived up to your vision of what it could be.

Thank you Derek Arnold for editing and publishing this article on the website each week. You figuratively and literally made sure I dotted my ‘I’s’ and crossed my ‘T’s.”

Thank you to each person who read and/or commented on this series. There’s a lot of football related content out there and the thought of you taking valuable time out of your schedule to read my work is humbling.

So, about that game last Sunday.

Obviously I’m disappointed that the season has come to end. I’ve tried to use this space in a positive way so I’m not going to bash the offense here. That said, I did post some of my thoughts as to why the offense struggled in a thread on my Twitter feed:

Despite the outcome of the game, I believe there were positives to take away on offense and defense. The defense played well, holding the Chargers to 2.7 yards per rush (89 total rush yards and 1 TD) and 4.7 yards per pass (154 total net pass yards and 0 TD). I want to focus on two defensive players who made plays on Sunday and will be key parts of the Ravens defense next season.

Patrick Onwuasor

Onwuasor sacks Rivers for 6-yard loss

Q2, 7:27, 1st & 10 at BLT45

Onwuasor walks up in the B gap showing rush. He’s flanked by Michael Pierce lined up at nose, shaded on the outside shoulder of C Mike Pouncey, and Za’darius Smith lined up outside LT Russell Okung. From this pre-snap alignment, either LG Dan Feeny, RB Austin Ekeler or TE Virgil Green has to account for Onwuasor if he rushes.

At the snap, Feeny slides over to block Pierce and Okung blocks Smith. This opens up a rush lane for Onwuasor. Green looks inside from his right wing alignment (outside RT Sam Tevi) but is too far away to reach Onwuasor. Ekeler crosses Rivers’ face (left to right) to complete his run fake and isn’t able to react to Onwuasor’s rush in time.

Onwuasor tackles Gordon for a 4-yard loss

Q3, 7:55, 2nd & 2 at LAC33

The Chargers run what looks to be a pin-n-pull run concept to the left side of the formation, but there had to be a breakdown in the blocking assignments. The Ravens have Brandon Williams in a 0 technique on C Pouncey, Onwuasor is aligned in a 2-technique on LG Feeny and Brent Urban is in a 4-technique on LT Okung. Remember, even numbered defensive line techniques (e.g. 0, 2, 4) mean the defender is head-up on the offensive blocker as opposed to shaded to a side.

At the snap, the LG pulls to the left to kick out Smith. The LT tries to reach block Urban and the TE works to kick out FS Eric Weddle. This looks like solid execution, but there’s just one problem: the C also pulls left, leaving no one to block Onwuasor. Pouncey looks back inside, realizes Onwuasor is unblocked, but it’s too late to do anything about it.

Onwuasor forced fumble on Green

Q3, 10:37, 2nd & 9 at the LAC22

I saved Peanut’s best for last. He shows off his mental processing and competitive toughness on this play.

Let’s focus on the right side of the offensive formation. WR Travis Benjamin is aligned outside the numbers. TE Green is on the line of scrimmage and RB Ekeler is in the backfield off-set to the right side of Rivers. At the snap, Benjamin runs a go route, Green runs a stick route (“stick” your foot in the ground at a set depth and snap your body around to face the QB) and Ekeler swings out to the flat. This is a classic WCO triangle read. If you were to draw lines and connect each of the three routes it would form a triangle like this:

As soon as Rivers sees Onwuasor run to the flat, he knows the stick route to Green will be open because SS Tony Jefferson is in off coverage. Green makes the catch and fights for extra yards as Jefferson comes up to tackle him. While Green is trying to break Jefferson’s tackle, Onwuasor pursues to the ball from behind and punches it out.

C.J. Mosley scoops the ball up and returns it 12 yards to the LAC 21 yard line. What I’m calling the “Peanut Punch part 2” gave the Ravens their 1st possession in Chargers territory of the game. I had to add the “part 2” in deference to Charles “Peanut” Tillman, who had 44 career forced fumbles with the Chicago Bears. Much respect to the man who created the original “Peanut Punch.”

Matthew Judon

Judon chases down Benjamin for a 1-yard loss

Q1, 11:08, 3rd & 2 at LAC 31

Judon is aligned outside RT Tevi. I don’t have anything from a schematic standpoint to break down here, but I wanted to illustrate what an athletic play it was by Judon. He takes one step back with the vertical releases by the #1 & #2 WRs, then expands to the Benjamin’s flat route. Judon takes a good angle to where Benjamin wants to go but you have to appreciate this athleticism from a man that was listed at 6’3” 275 lbs (NFL combine measurements) and ran a 4.73 40-yard dash. Benjamin was listed at 5’9” 172 lbs and ran a 4.36 40. Benjamin may have slowed down bit from when he entered the league in 2012 but he can still fly.

Judon tackles Gordon for 2-yard loss

Q2, 14:14, 1st & 10 at LAC10

This is another play where I want to highlight technique more than scheme. Judon is aligned on the outside shoulder of Green, who is known as one of the better blocking TEs in the league. As the clip slows down, pay attention to Judon’s outside arm.

Did you see it? After he engages with Green, he’s able to free his outside arm and re-leverage his hand. This gives him the improved hand placement he needs to defeat Green’s block, maintain his square relationship to the line of scrimmage, and keep his outside arm free to aid in making a tackle.

Judon’s pressure forces a throw away

Q3, 3:43, 2nd & 9 from LAC41

The Ravens run a double T-E stunt on this 2nd down play. Judon and Smith are the defensive ends (E) and Williams and Urban are the defensive tackles (T). The defensive tackles cross the face of the guards to attack their outside shoulders, in an effort to ‘pick’ the guards while the defensive ends loop inside them.

RG Michael Schofield recovers just enough to shove Judon off his path to Rivers (with an assist from RB Gordon). But despite the shove, Judon got deep enough into the backfield to move Rivers off his spot. Rivers scrambles out of the pocket to his right only to see Smith bearing down on him, so he throws the ball out of bounds to avoid taking a sack.

It will be interesting to see what the Ravens decide to do in the offseason with some of their veteran defenders (e.g. Mosley, Suggs, Weddle, Jimmy Smith) but Onwuasor and Judon are part of a group of young vets who should play important roles on the defense next season.

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