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

Word of Muth: Group Effort

Word of Muth: Group Effort
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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.


12 comments, Last at 07 Dec 2014, 4:14am

2 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

Yanda does a good job handing off his block, then picking up the stunt from Corey Liuget in the third GIF. It looks like he only gets pushed back a couple of yards from the LOS.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

Made an account after 3 years here to say that Ben's articles are just awesome. Other sites try to analyze line play all the time, but they eventually just rely on sacks and pancakes to define success. I feel like I learn more from just reading these articles and watching his GIFs about line play than I ever got playing TE in high school and semi-pro.

Also, that Yanda triple made me have to change my pants. Those are the kinds of plays I hope to see Kyle Long making in the near future.

4 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

Congratulations on a good decision. There are plenty of reasons to get an FO account. But yours is the best yet.

And, yes, Muth remains the best non-statistical feature at FO. He may even be the best thing period. The bit explaining Freeney's spin move is crystal clear and compelling.

8 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

I think the major difference is, the statistical stuff is basically an attempt to do a better, more accurate, and more useful job of describing the same things that traditional football reporting has always tried to do. Word of Muth is the only column I know of that even tries to discuss the intricacies of line play. I've learned more about the OL's functioning in the few years Ben's had his column here than in the previous 30+ years of being a football fan.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

I remember the young Freeney making Ogden (admittedly in the last years of his career) just look stupid bad. He would get under Ogden and spin and he was so quick it was like he was shot out of a cannon. Then a few plays later Ogden tried to anticipate the inside move and Freeney would be around him on the outside. That is the aspect of his game he has lost to some degree.

6 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

I enjoy the articles, but was it defined that only a few clubs would be discussed? I went back through the archives to check and this is the third article on the Ravens since the season began.

Not griping. Just curious.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

Ben picks three teams each year to cover and follow throughout the year, so he can monitor how players develop as individuals and as a unit:


9 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

So when Ben says, "the best I covered", he means the best of the three? I keep hearing the announcers talk about the Cowboy line, not that there's any correlation between that and bestness.

10 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

Ben, believe me, we Colts fans miss Freeney already and have for a while now. He was too expensive when the team rebuilt (and got injured his first year at SD, kind of supporting the "aging overpriced star" view--Jeez I am happy that did not end his career), so we know the business side of things took him to SD (Colts didn't even make him a lowball offer, IIRC. facepalm). But we still love us some Freeney. Even when he doesn't get sack stats, he's incredibly disruptive in the backfield.

11 Re: Word of Muth: Group Effort

Don't like the Ravens. And IMO Yanda can be really dirty at times. For me, watching Yanda is like listening to Wagner. I appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship in his work, but at the same time feel a little unwashed for it. That particular play is a museum piece tho. A true work of art.