Do Ravens Have a Pass Blocking Problem? Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens

Film Don't Lie Do Ravens Have a Pass Blocking Problem?

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Call me a doctor…

I need a doctor, doctor…

To bring me back to life.

Just a great track from Dr. Dre. Alright, but on the real, we’re here to diagnose the Ravens’ pass protection, which received some critique, including my own, after the game on Sunday.

It’s interesting to note that John Harbaugh addressed this in his presser yesterday.

So what did I think after re-watching? Well, I do actually have to agree with Harbaugh. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. However, there are some very notable issues that have been present two weeks in a row. We’re going to take a look at them.

The interesting thing to note is that it really doesn’t come down to just one or two guys getting blown up constantly (think back to those Gino Gradkowski days…and shudder). Instead, it’s a variety of factors that create a storm of issues. Let’s get into it.

Communication Errors

One thing that stood out from last week is that I saw a few incidents where pass protection broke down because the assignment looked like it was missed. Well, we have a few incidents again this week.

This was the first sack Lamar Jackson took on Sunday and there are a few things going on that suggest it was a communication error and not just a failed block by Orlando Brown Jr. With so much going on I had to tag in my partner-in-crime when it comes to film, Mr. Michael Crawford (@abukari) who shared some of his thoughts that are in the below analysis of this play.

To begin, the play looks like a counter play action bootleg, which you can tell from the RB footwork (fake to his right, back to his left) and from Tyre Phillips pulling to kick out #59.

The key here is to force the defense to go to the side of the run fake, but you see J.J. Watt, who is lined up head-up on Brown as the 6-technique, go outside and attack the C gap.

Brown pushes him with both hands as he goes C gap and then lets him go and sits back looking for someone else. However, that allows Watt to run freely. Now, based on the fact that he pushed Watt off, it doesn’t look as though he just lost the block and Watt went past him; he didn’t even try and recovered and instead looked left, which looked to me like he was executing the play fake.

However, if you look at Patrick Ricard, who was lined up as an H-back behind Brown, he goes out after the OLB #57 and begins to block him.

So what happened? Well, to me it looks like Brown was passing Watt off to Ricard, but there was a communication error as Ricard went straight at 57 and wasn’t there to pick up the handoff from Brown. As a result, Watt has a free rushing lane and Lamar has no where to go and not enough time to clear the ball.

This play results in a failed 3rd down, but it did lead to Mark Ingram’s 30-yard wildcat TD scamper. However, it shows another example of poor communication.

First off, J.K. Dobbins doesn’t seem to know where he’s supposed to be. Now this isn’t a major issue, but when Lamar is directing him pre-snap, he’s spending less time looking at the defense, so it’s not ideal.  

Secondly, we’ll give Houston credit, as they blitz Hargraeves who is manned up on Mark Andrews and his timing is very good. That’s just a well-designed delayed blitz.

The error I see here is Matt Skura immediately slide protecting left despite having a defender in his right side A gap. It ended up being a five-man rush against five-man protection, but due to a delayed blitz and Skura slide left it means he’s blocking no one and there’s a blitzing DB running free.

This isn’t necessarily a big mental lapse, but it does show poor slide protection. That said, Houston deserves credit for their execution.

Luckily Lamar Jackson is Lamar Jackson and makes him miss and still gets off a pass, and completes it. Houdini at his finest.

Lamar Jackson “Feeling” Pressure

First off, we’re going to take a look at Jackson, who started the game looking a little shaky. My colleague @Yoshi5052 compared it to the 1st Pittsburgh Steelers game in 2019 where he just didn’t quite look like he was trusting his offensive line. After the pressure he was under in Week 1 against the Browns, that’s not necessarily unreasonable.

This was Watt’s second sack of the day and it comes against Brown. However, when assigning blame, you have to look at what caused the sack.

This play is a simple four-man rush against a five-man protection. Brown is out on an island as Phillips stays inside as he has a 4-technique lined up on his outside pre-snap who cuts A-gap.

Brown actually does a great job of pushing Watt out of the back of the pocket which opens up a massive lane between Phillips and Brown (Phillips moved inside with his rusher and Brown went outside, which widens that B gap). Watt ends up bending the edge at the back of the pocket and Lamar doesn’t see that massive hole in the B-gap (note: he looks to be reading left at the start of his progression). Because he doesn’t see that gap open, he doesn’t step up in the pocket.

It can be tough to feel the pressure when you’re reading the opposite side of the field (that is, after all, why the LT protects the ‘blindside’ of right handed QBs).

So is there a positive? Well you’re darn right there is! Look at how Jackson rebounds after taking this sack:

The Ravens go to an empty set (that’s a bold strategy, cotton, let’s see if it pays off for them). Houston answers by showing blitz, and I must say, rushing seven (which  they show pre-snap) after getting a sack is usually a smart idea. However, the 3T and ILB drop into coverage and instead four blitzers come from the right side against a five-man protection, where they don’t have support from the TE or RB.

Brown Jr. makes the correct read and takes the most dangerous man (always block inside-outside) and lets Watt go free.

Lets Watt go free? But I thought you said he took the most dangerous man? Well yes, even though it is Watt you have to block that inside guy who has a shorter distance to the QB. Brown takes the right man and now it’s on Lamar to see that and get the ball out before Watt gets there.

Lamar does just that, while taking contact, and it goes for a completion.

Why is this so impressive? Well, I would think after just getting sacked for the 2nd time this game by the same player, you’d be a little hesitant seeing him come free, but this is the mental fortitude and the progression of Lamar thus far in his career.

He does it again here as the MIKE LB blitzes. The ball gets batted on this play, but it’s the same concept. Houston has numbers by using a blitz from the second level (this time a LB, not a DB) and that means it’s on the QB to get the ball out. It’s just a great answer by Jackson.

Individual Efforts

So there’s so good and bad so far, but we do need to look at individual efforts where guys got beat. As I mentioned, we had several guys getting beat and not just one liability.

This is another play action pass, that actually looks like it’s going to work, but what happens? Well, Skura gets absolutely bull rushed off the line and the pocket collapses.

You’ll see Nick Boyle begin blocking #59 before releasing and running a route. I believe that’s the checkdown route and it appears like it’s going to be a completion. However, Lamar has no pocket to step up into because the 1-technique to Skura’s left drives him eight yards into the pocket.

I’d be interested to see how the pressure is assigned here by some of the graders around the community. Technically 59 gets the pressure and forces the throwaway, but if you look at the responsibilities on the play, it’s really the pressure for 96 (1-technqiue) that pressures this play.

This was a bad look for Skura and he’s really struggled with his anchor after returning from a remarkable recovery. A good friend of mine, @Dennard13, mentioned he’s seen defenders lining up to his left in the A gap often, which is interesting because it was his left knee that was injured last year. Something to keep an eye on.

This was just poor execution by Phillips, who made a similar mistake last week with a double team being in the wrong spot.

Pre-snap he has 41 showing blitz and you can see Phillips note that as he pops his head up, but he has a 0T #94 attacking the left side A-gap. Given 41 doesn’t come this calls for a double team between Phillips and Skura.

The issue Phillips has is that he gets too inside 94 on the double team, so as 94 crosses his body, he doesn’t use quick feet to cut off the rushing lane. He also had a poor anchor as you can see once 94 engages him he pushes him back further.

This is a situation where Phillips really needs to use the quick feet we talked about last week, drop his anchor and cut that guy off to maintain the pocket.

It should be noted that the twist they used by bringing Watt all the way to the right side A-gap (and taking Skura off the double team) is a really nice defense play call.

Here we have another chaotic play with the Texans using some deception, dropping guys at the LOS on the left side, but attacking the right side (note the trend of attacking the right side where rookie RG Phillips is? Hmm).

One of the first issues is that Phillips gets confused and ends up blocking…well, no one, so that’s not good (I guess this could have fit under communication errors too).

However, that issue is compounded by Dobbins…also…blocking…no one. Dobbins stays in as part of the six-man protection, but over pursues his protection lane on the right side. 41 has a pretty free shot at Lamar. Just very poor execution by both rookies here.

However, We end on a Positive!

As always, we end on a positive note because there certainly were examples of great protection that shows the upside of this unit.

This was one of my favorite plays. It’s five-man protection against a five-man rush. It’s read well by everyone on the OL, they stick their man and Lamar stands tall in the pocket after climbing and finds Andrews for a 29-yard gain.

We do have an incompletion now and this is actually the throw Lamar said he wanted back as he could have stapled one into the corner of the end zone for Hollywood.

Yes, it’s only a three-man rush, but everyone executes and in particular you can see the quick feet and reading after Houston showed blitz at the line (which we saw above they struggled with, so it’s good to see a positive sign on this one – if they do come, the guys looked ready to take their men).

Here we have a play action power to the right where Bradley Bozeman pulls and seals Watt. It’s not a pretty block, but I really liked Bozeman’s ability to seal and get in Watt’s way, especially because he’s changing direction from the way he pulled. Bozeman has been a very bright light and there’s almost no complaints about the left side of this OL.

In Summary

I presented some ups and downs, but the good news is a lot of this does look fixable. Communication errors are always the first to be fixed, especially as OL builds chemistry and let’s be real, these guys lost their leader in Marshal Yanda.

There are certainly some concerns around Skura and Phillips, but time will have to tell there.

Thanks for joining the pass pro doctor (okay, that’s cheesy, don’t ever let me call myself that again).

Do you have something to add? You know where to find me @ColeJacksonRSR

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About Cole Jackson

Cole Jackson has been an avid follower of the Baltimore Ravens for over a decade. Born and raised in Brockville, Ontario, Canada, Cole’s love for the Ravens was born and bred in following the playing style of Ray Lewis, which he tried to emulate in his own football career, (ultimately failing to do so). Cole graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in Criminology before becoming a Policy Analyst with the federal government. Cole’s football career now involves being a columnist for RSR, yelling at others who are beating him in Madden and being a regular on the RSR forum where he is known as GreatWhiteNorthRaven. Cole has a knack for the team-building aspects of the Ravens, which includes player scouting, free agency and the draft. More from Cole Jackson

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