Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Fun Night in Baltimore

Baltimore Ravens
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Let me just start out this column by stating how much fun I had watching the Ravens offense this week. Going from what the Jets did two weeks ago up front to this was quite the turnaround. It was a huge game against what had been a dominant defense, and Baltimore's offensive line (and Lamar Jackson) dominated New England early and then grounded out drives in the second half. It was an incredible performance.

Up front Baltimore was really good all night. They were tremendous in the passing game, probably even better than they were on running plays in fact, but we are going to focus on their ground game since I think that is where they won the contest. It was everything I love about running the football on display in prime time. They out-schemed New England at times and then they just straight up blocked them when they had to as well.

The last time I wrote about the Ravens I mentioned how I didn't think Marshal Yanda (right guard, 73) was the same player he had been a few years ago. I still think that's the case, but this play sure makes me look like I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, because this is as good as it gets. His first step isn't perfect (he doesn't false step, but he doesn't gain any ground either), but he does get it flat enough with it to open his hips. Then he just chases down the head up the nose tackle's (Danny Shelton, 71) play-side number. Notice how he turns to run at first and doesn't turn back into the block until he gets at least head-up with the defender. Then he fights back upfield to seal off the play. He hooks the nose here with only the absolute slightest of help from his center, and I am in awe.

It wasn't just Yanda that was good, of course -- you don't break 50-plus-yard runs because your right guard made a nice block. Left guard Bradley Bozeman (77) does a nice job of widening the 5-technique (Adam Butler, 70) to the play side (it's harder than it looks to widen the 5-tech that much). Matt Skura (68) in the middle does a nice job on the second level. And at right tackle, Orlando Brown (78) gets just enough of a cut block to make sure the back-side defensive end (Lawrence Guy, 93) can't chase the play down. He doesn't get him all the way down, but he throws through the play-side thigh pad, making the defender stop his feet and scramble over top. That's enough to help spring this play.

That was the best blocked play of the night for Baltimore (and maybe the best blocked play of the column all year), but the Ravens really did a nice job in the run game throughout the first half. They ran a wide variety of schemes, with most of them working.

via Gfycat

I LOVE this play design. This is essentially just weakside ISO where the quarterback is reading the play-side defensive end. What I love is that by arc releasing the tackle to the standup outside linebacker (Jamie Collins, 58), you make Lamar Jackson's read very easy. If Collins widens at all with that tackle, just give it like you have here. The hardest block on ISO usually belongs to the play-side tackle because it's hard to straight-up drive-block a guy one-on-one in the NFL with no angles, and you end up having to hold that block for a while. It's why lead draw is so much more popular than ISO, because you can pass set to help yourself out a little. But the Ravens have designed this play to take away the hardest block by reading that defender instead.

The left guard and center do a great job on the block you have to win on an ISO play: the play-side double-team to the backside linebacker (Elandon Roberts, 52). This is the easiest block on the play, but you still have to execute it, and Bozeman and Skura do it very well. Look at where Bozeman shoves the nose tackle before climbing -- he's not up high on the defender's shoulder pads, he gets his hands down low right on the nose tackle's hip for leverage. That allows him to easily move him over to Skura.

Also, kudos to tight end Nick Boyle (86) here. I like him being the lead blocker from across the formation because it gives him an angle. When you run ISO from the straight I, you're asking a lot from your fullback or H-back to meet a linebacker in the hole head-on. By offsetting him, you give him an angle to block the defender.

The scary thing is this play is so well-designed that giving up the dive here is actually preferable to the other choice. If the defensive end crashes down, then you get Lamar Jackson free on the edge with the other H-back (Hayden Hurst, 81) as a lead blocker. Have I mentioned how much I love this play against a 3-4 look?

via Gfycat

This looks like the exact same play, just run to the other side, but I'm not sure it is. I think this is a called keeper for Jackson. If you notice this time Boyle doesn't insert into the line, but instead pulls out wide. Now, he might be reading the defensive end just like Jackson is. If he is and they're seeing the same thing (the defensive end not widening with the offensive tackle at all), then this play is almost unfair against this look. I'd be curious to know if offensive coordinator Greg Roman has faith in both guys making the same read often enough to risk the occasional negative play of one guy misreading it.

Regardless of whether it was called or read, this is a touchdown if one of the two guys who try to block the backside linebacker actually gets it done. Yanda gets too involved with the nose tackle to come off on the scraping linebacker and Boyle's attempt to cut is just a bad idea. First, because he has the linebacker out-leveraged, if he just gets in the way a bit it would probably be an effective block. Second, this is a really good way to get a 15-yard high/low chop block penalty.

If either of those guys make that block, then Jackson can set up Hayden Hurst's block on the safety and he probably scores. Still, it was another big gain on the ground.

via Gfycat

This is just straight up speed option to the field, AKA a play that every EA Sports NCAA Football video game player has run since the original PlayStation was still in service. As someone who has thought a lot of the quarterback run stuff that was panned by certain NFL types since the late '90s, it was gratifying watching the Ravens carve up the premier NFL team (and the premiere defensive coaching mind) of the last 20 years with schemes that were ruled too simplistic or gimmicky to work on Sundays. Now, the Ravens probably don't want to run too much straight speed option, because if the defensive end (Kyle Van Noy, 53) reads it quickly enough he can get a real hard shot on your quarterback. But as a changeup? The scheme works.

Of course, the scheme only works when you block it, and once again Yanda is the stand-out. Look at him reach a 5-tech here. That's so good. Brown does a nice job at the second level, as does Patrick Ricard (42). Just a well-executed run play on a night full of them.


18 comments, Last at 13 Nov 2019, 11:08am

1 Were the Patriots "exposed"

or did the Ravens simply perform at a level few other teams can?

The week before, Nick Chubb found a good number of holes in the Pats' D. But nothing like what the Ravens found.

Seems to me a lot of pundits are overreacting, thinking that any team can perform as well as the Ravens did on Sunday. I think that attitude doesn't give the Ravens enough credit.

2 In the second example, where…

In the second example, where Hurst meets the LB as 70 also converges, does the play work because 70 took a poor angle, or was that consistent with the design of Hurst's block?

9 The theory is that once the…

The theory is that once the DE widens initially, even if he closes down and doesn't get caught up in the h-back block that Ingram should be able to gain at least 4 yards by running hard and falling forward. It's tough for a big guy to change directions like that and Ingram is straight down hill. 

3 Gotta think the entire job…

Gotta think the entire job of the o line is made easier by the dynamism of Jackson. His abilities just breathe indecision on the entire defense.

I also wonder what will happen if they rematch because you know BB is going to study this and adjust to this style. Roman may need to get cute again the next time.

4 Oh, absolutely. Adrian…

Oh, absolutely. Adrian Peterson went for over 2000 yards in 2012, behind a line that had Charlie Freakin' Johnson starting 16 games, because Peterson's ability to score every time he rushed made defenses tentative. Jackson poses the same threat, which has the same effect, and he is behind a better o-line than what Peterson had.

7 Jackson is an insanely…

Jackson is an insanely talented runner. There have been QBs who are explosive if they get into space or out on the edge, but Jackson can navigate and burst through small spaces like no quarterback I've ever seen in the NFL. Combine this with option schemes that are designed to deceive the defense and good blockers, and they're capable of some pretty incredible things.

He also seems to be in complete control in a way that I hope helps sustain everything they're doing. Like, he's very decisive and has great sense of space - he doesn't get killed on the speed option play because he makes the right move at exactly the right time, and he doesn't seem to expose himself to many big hits. Often, when he gets tackled down the field he's still carrying a lot of momentum. He had a play a few weeks ago where he was kind of running out of bounds and then looped back around a defender to pick up the extra yards for the first down, and no one came close to touching him.

6 With the Ravens going all-in…

With the Ravens going all-in with this type of run offense, I love that we get to see players like Marshall Yanda make plays like this in an NFL game that show off just how good they are, and that we get to see it result in explosive plays down the field. Their linemen must be having as much fun as any position group in the league.

11 In The Chat That Shall Not…

In The Chat That Shall Not Be Named, I remarked in real time that what the Ravens were doing was so beautiful it almost made me weep. Looking at the highlights, I'm about to cry again, but more because my supposedly good run-blocking team is in such a shambles.

8 In the 3rd video, it looks…

In the 3rd video, it looks like 53 (the playside OLB Van Noy) does more than 54 (the backside ILB) to save the touchdown by preventing Jackson from setting up Hurst's (81) block on the safety. The RT widened 53 at the line of scrimmage to give Jackson a huge hole, but then 53 got downfield in a hurry to get back into the play.

10 There has only been one…

There has only been one valid reason to swear off, as a general rule, the college speed option in the NFL, and that has been, as Ben notes, it exposes your qb to excessive violence. In the caveman days it was worse, because d-coordinators would tell defensive ends that it didn't matter how quickly it was read, the defensive end should put his helmet squarely into the qb's chin, at maximum velocity. Trading a (only) possible 15 yard penalty for a qb knocked unconcious was, if you'll excuse the expression, a no-brainer.

We're more civilized now (no snark intended) so defensive ends or linebackers actually have to pretend to be making a legitimate attempt at tackling a ball carrier, but it still presents an outsized risk, especially for a highly talented player, so you can't use it too often, and it better be a qb who is really good at avoiding full contact. Sometimes even otherwise good runners lack that skill set.

14 Last year's Wild Card game

The Chargers played 7 DBs on literally every snap except one, and there was a lot of talk they had "solved" Lamar once they got to play him a second time. How does that thinking jive with what Ben has shown here? It feels like if a team came out vs this 3 TE offense with 7 DBs, the Ravens might simply run the ball between the tackles all day.

15 The college game is a useful…

The college game is a useful reference place for how exotic schemes match up. You can do a lot with 7 DBs, depending on who your DBs are. Iowa State basically runs a dime as base defense, often using 3 down linemen and a MLB.


Against someone like Jackson, the idea is to take away inside runs entirely (and marginalize Ingram) and make everything go to the edge. You can either pass defense passively using blanket coverage, or bring disguised pressure using DBs from the edges.

16 What makes me curious is how…

What makes me curious is how much more productive Baltimore was against NE than defenses like Seattle and Cincy. Did Baltimore just play better last Sunday? Did NE's approach create extra opportunities?  Something else entirely?

18 I also love the second play

For the record, I also really like the second play, and I Think the read part is briliant. However, I would love to see it against a stacked box Before being completly sold on it being this awesome.

It takes some guesswork here based on when they eventually come into shot, but the left corner isn't even in the Picture until at least 1½ seconds post-snap and it sure looks like the single high safety is lined up at least 15 yards of the ball.

Essentially, the way it looks, NE is trying to stop the run out of a formation with TE, 2xH-back, RB and a running QB with just their base 3 DL, 4 LB and one in the box safety. If you can't get a good run result in this situation, it might be time to abandon the run…