by Ben Muth
The Ravens offensive line has been the best unit I've covered this year, and by a pretty wide margin. They don't have any real weak spots, and their interior line (particularly the two guards) is as good as any in the NFL.
Against San Diego on Sunday, they certainly didn't do anything to change my opinion as a whole, but they did struggle a bit more than usual against the Chargers.
Eugene Monroe (left tackle, No. 60) had the worst game of anyone up front, and it might have been his worst game of the season. He was matched up with Dwight Freeney most of the game, and Freeney definitely got the better of him.
Really, this game served as a reminder for me about how awesome Dwight Freeney and his spin move really are.
The Freeney spin move is up there with Deacon Jones' head slap, Reggie White's club, and John Randle's jab/swim on the Mount Rushmore of signature pass rush moves. The thing Freeney doesn't get enough credit for is that his move is actually two moves. It's not just a spin, it's a chop/spin.
Look at Freeney's inside arm right before he starts to spin. He raises it above his shoulder, reaches through to Monroe's upfield shoulder, and chops down violently. This accomplishes a couple of things. First by reaching through, it gives Freeney a head start on his spin (his shoulders are already partially turned). It also keeps Monroe's hands off him during the spin, and by knocking the tackle's hands down violently it forces Monroe forward and off balance. Here it is again on another play.
He doesn't get Monroe's hands as solidly this time, but it still works. As far as stopping this move, well, it's really tough. There's a reason Freeney gets 10 sacks a year, every time he's healthy. Monroe is drifting outside too much, and really, Freeney can't beat you around the edge like he used to. You'd like to see Monroe be way more conscious of the spin and make Freeney beat him up the field and around the bend. Also, Monroe could have flashed his hands more often (meaning, show them quickly and then pull them away) then he did. But Freeney is really good about picking up on when guys are playing too soft and waiting for the spin.
Here, Monroe is sitting back and waiting for Freeney to make a move before punching (so he can't get his hands knocked down). Finally Monroe gently lays his hands out there when Freeney gets so close that he has to do something. Freeney just walks him straight back into the quarterback. Again, I think the way to play Freeney now is just underset him and prepare to sit physically on any move inside. Make him show he can run the hoop to the outside.
Of course, it's real easy to talk about how to block a guy five days after a game has taken place and you're watching the GIFs on a loop. Monroe had a rough game, but it wasn't because of terrible technique or anything (it wasn't great technique either). It was just an all-time great pass rusher having a good day. I know I for one am going to miss Freeney when he hangs them up.
Moving on, the last time I wrote about the Ravens I mentioned how impressed I have been with Kelechi Osemele this year, and how he might be on his way to being the best guard in the league. A few Ravens fans pointed out to me on Twitter that he's not even the best guard on his team. This is probably true. I just like watching Osemele more because his highlights are physically dominating and generally awesome. But Marshal Yanda is still the better player week in and week out.
The best way I can put it is that Osemele dominates his man, while Yanda allows your offensive line to dominate a front seven. Take this long run by Justin Forsett from Sunday as an example.
This is an outside zone play where I'd argue that Yanda (right guard, No. 73) made all three of the keys blocks to spring the run. It starts with a great takeoff; he's aiming right at the down lineman's hip off the snap. When he sees color in the hole (notice how the defensive lineman's ass is hanging off the offensive tackle's block), he shoves it completely onto the right tackle.
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Then he gets vertical to find his linebacker, but on his way up to the second level he sees the nose tackle is starting to come off the center. So, he slows down just a bit and leans into the nose to allow Jeremy Zuttah to regain control of the block. Notice Yanda doesn't turn his shoulders into the block, he just kind of rocks into it and uses it to spring to his linebacker. He actually barely even touches his own guy, but gets just enough to allow Forsett to get to the sideline.
That's a truly great play by a great player. If a skill player -- say Rob Gronkowski (who is great and deserves all the praise he gets) -- ever blocked three guys on the same play the announcers would have a stroke. Here all the announcers said was "Yanda, out in front." Learn to catch passes kids, it's the only way you'll ever get praised for blocking.
Compare that Yanda play to this play from Osemele (left guard, No. 72).
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Both are outside zone plays, and both end up with the guard responsible for blocking the play-side inside linebacker, but that is where the similarities end. Osemele barely touches the slanting defensive tackle and really hangs the center Zuttah out to dry. Osemele blocks the hell out of the linebacker on the second level (driving him out of the screen), but the play gets blown up for a loss because Zuttah can't get to the defensive tackle with so little help.
I'm not saying Osemele can't combo block; there are 100 examples throughout the year where he does a great job. It's just that this type of leakage is far more common oh his side than it is on Yanda's. I think there are times when the Iowa State product gets a little too locked in on who his man is and not what the entirety of the scheme is. It's something he needs to improve on as he continues to grow as a player.