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30 Oct 2014

Word of Muth: Osemele's Breakout Season

by Ben Muth

The Ravens took on the Bengals for the second time this season this past Sunday, and once again Baltimore came out on the short end of things. I didn't watch this game live, but watching it back a couple of days later I was surprised how well most of Baltimore's offense played. The Ravens moved the ball well for most of the game and were only held in check by a goal-line stand in the first quarter and back-to-back interceptions in the second half. If Joe Flacco had just given them a C+ performance at quarterback, Baltimore probably would have won pretty comfortably.

Still, we're going to focus on the positive from Baltimore's offense, and that's the play of the offensive line. I thought the Ravens' line really controlled the Bengals' front seven throughout the game. I don't think they physically dominated Cincinnati (with one notable, awesome exception) as much they just consistently out-executed them. Baltimore held up in the passing game and out-leveraged and covered them up in the running game. It was an impressive performance.

This Ravens line actually reminds a lot of the Saints line I covered a couple of years ago. They both had experienced centers who were brought in in free agency (Jeremy Zuttah and Brian De La Puente) playing the best football of their careers. New Orleans was plugging in Zach Strief as an unheralded, first-time starter at right tackle who surprised a lot of people; Baltimore has Rick Wagner playing well. Both teams had a solid left tackles (Eugene Monroe and Jermon Bushrod) who seem to be overrated by most general fans and underrated by people who get upset about the "Pro-Bowl Caliber" left tackle label and knock them too much as a result. And of course the big thing is that both units had two ass-kickers at the guard positions.

New Orleans had Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. Evans was a little bit older and many people considered him the best guard in football going into the season I covered (2011). Nicks was an emerging star who surpassed Evans and every other guard during that season to be the best interior lineman in the game. I think something similar may be happening in Baltimore, and that is not meant as a slight at all against Marshal Yanda, who is a tremendous player. It's just that Kelechi Osemele is having a huge breakout season.

I mentioned earlier that Baltimore didn't really physically dominate Cincinnati with one notable exception. That one notable exception was when Osemele absolutely buried a defensive end on Baltimore's second touchdown. The Bengals had a linebacker walked up on the edge and the end reduced down to a 4I (inside shade of the offensive tackle), so technically it was a combo block with Eugene Monroe, but it was basically all Osemele.

I mean, what do you even say about something like that? Left guard Osemele (72) actually overshoots his man a hair at the snap, and it looks like he's going to lose his balance, but he just runs his feet and starts driving the defender 6 yards back and then into the ground. That's a gosh-dang football play right there by Osemele (also a nice reach block by Zuttah at center).

In fact, in the words of Dan Le Betard ... GIVE IT TO ME AGAIN!!!!!!

From this angle, you can really appreciate how much vertical push Osemele gets before burying him. That part where he slides across the defender's crushed body and broken soul is called "surfing" and it's literally the best feeling in world*, particularly when your team scores a touchdown on the play too.

(* Teammates who have actually scored touchdowns inform me that those are more fun, but what do those idiots know?)

That was the clear highlight play of the game from Baltimore's line, but you can play great without doing something as physically overpowering as pancaking someone. Baltimore's first touchdown run was actually a better example of how Baltimore found success for most of the game, and it was their other outstanding guard who made the key block.

Once again, it's an outside zone play (this time with a slice concept on the backside). Because Baltimore is bringing the tight end behind the line of scrimmage as a backside blocker, each offensive line combo has to push to a linebacker further than they would on a typical strong-side outside zone. That means the center is working to a linebacker (55) who is lined up over the left tackle.

Reaching a shaded nose tackle with no help from the center is a big ask, particularly inside the 10-yard line. But right guard Yanda (73) does a great job of getting flat down the line of scrimmage and just hustling his ass off to make the block. Again, he's not knocking Devon Still (75)'s dick in the dirt, but this is a great block that's on par with what Osemele did above. The slice block by the tight end is really good as well.

Before we go, I did want to point out a little schematic wrinkle that I've always found mildly interesting, like when you find out the reason the manhole covers are round. It has to do with half-slide protection vs. double A-gap pressure looks.

I know we've covered it 1,000 times but half-slide protection is a scheme where half the line is in man protection, and half is in a zone scheme. So if the right side of the line is in man, the right guard would have the defensive tackle lined up over top of him and the right tackle would have the defensive end just to his outside. The center and the left side of line have the gap immediately to their left. The back has any blitzer to the man side of the line (if two blitzers come to that side, the quarterback is hot, and sometimes the running back has to track to the slide side, but we don't have to get into all that). Anyway, here's what the protection looks like when the defense shows double A-gap pressure.

Now, that may seem like a screw-up from right guard Marshal Yanda (73), but he's actually doing the right thing. Because there's a 'backer who poses an immediate threat to the A gap away from which the center is moving, Yanda has to squeeze down and pick up the defender closest to the quarterback. The general rule of thumb is that if the linebacker breaks a down lineman's heels, you should squeeze. That leaves the running back on a defensive tackle who outweighs him by 100 pounds. It doesn't go great for the running back. But the Bengals would show the same look vs the same protection later and Baltimore would pick it up much better.

Same defensive look from Cincy, same protection call for Baltimore, but this time Yanda stays with the defensive tackle. Think about what changed for Baltimore that might explain why Yanda is blocking it differently. This wasn't an in-game adjustment by Baltimore's coaching staff. And Yanda didn't just screw up one of the two times and force the back to adjust off of him.

You'll notice that Flacco is under center in the first GIF, and in shotgun in the second. The quarterback being a few yards behind the line of scrimmage gives the back time to step up and meet a blitzing linebacker, no matter what gap he is in. I was always thought it was pretty nifty that someone realized you could get a better matchup in protection just due to the quarterback alignment.

In fact, back before every team went from the shotgun in just about all obvious passing situations, you used to see quarterbacks check themselves back into the gun before the snap against double A-gap looks. Now, though, the only time most teams are under center is in situations where you want to at least show the threat of a run. Probably smarter football, but I personally always liked when the quarterback would come out from under center, as that usually got the defense to try to rile up the crowd. But I guess we must lose something in the name of progress.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 30 Oct 2014

8 comments, Last at 31 Oct 2014, 12:28pm by atworkforu


by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 10/30/2014 - 5:18pm

Outstanding as always. A question for Ben; on the play when Yanda blocked inside out on the linebacker in the A-gap, should the ravens have changed to a different protection and which one?

by tuluse :: Thu, 10/30/2014 - 10:39pm

Alternatively, should the right tackle have taken the defensive takcle and left the end for the running back?

by dryheat :: Fri, 10/31/2014 - 11:15am

I think he was trying to, but realized he couldn't get there in time, so he threw an arm up to try to slow him up for the RB. The RB's first steps looked to take him towards the edge rusher.

by tuluse :: Fri, 10/31/2014 - 12:23pm

He looks indecisive to me. His first step is straight back not his left to get the DT.

by dryheat :: Fri, 10/31/2014 - 11:12am

I also want to add kudos, especially for the break down of the man-slide.

by Jerry :: Fri, 10/31/2014 - 3:58am

Thanks for adding the players' numbers in the text, Ben. It really does help.

by atworkforu :: Fri, 10/31/2014 - 12:21pm


by atworkforu :: Fri, 10/31/2014 - 12:28pm

The first man/slide gif (not that it's going to get called with any frequency) is pretty clearly an illegal chop block. RT (71) engages the DL (halfassedly, but he definitely does it). Luckly the RB (29) whiffs, but that's a play with the potential for serious injury.