Word of Muth: Ravens Crush Panthers

Word of Muth: Ravens Crush Panthers
Word of Muth: Ravens Crush Panthers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

If I'm the offensive line coach for Baltimore, I'm happy with how all five guys played up front last Sunday against the Panthers. Sure, some played better than others, but all played well and overall the unit was very strong, if not outright dominant. This is particularly true for the two guards, Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. In the Week 1 loss to Cincinnati I thought Yanda was just OK and a bit disappointing given his reputation. I'm happy to say that I thought he played great this week. He generated consistent movement on down defensive linemen in the running game, was strong at the second level, and held up very well in pass protection. It was the type of performance that has made Yanda a consistent fixture in Hawaii.

Even more encouraging than Yanda's return to form might be Osemele's play early this year. Osemele started off at tackle as a rookie in 2012 and struggled at that position. Late in the year he was moved to guard and thrived. He was a big part of the Ravens' Super Bowl run, which led a lot of people to predict a very bright future. Last year, however, Osemele took a step back from his late 2012 play (like every Baltimore offensive lineman). So far in 2014, Osemele has been better than ever, and might be playing as well as any guard in the league. He has been fantastic in pass protection and has used his quickness to consistently out-leverage defenders in the running game. If he keeps up this type of play he could be an All-Pro in two or three years. The only reason I say two or three years is that it typically takes a few years for the media to catch on to new interior linemen who weren't first-round picks.

The guards may be the stars up front, but right tackle Rick Wagner also played very well. This is Wagner's first year as a starter and he seems like he could be a fixture on the right side for years to come. The thing I'm most encouraged by is that he has a real feel for run blocking on the edge. A lot of times young tackles struggle with when to keep reaching for a hook and when to let the defensive end stay outside and just try to widen the hole as much as possible. Wagner has a knack for making the right decision depending on how a defensive end is playing him. It also helps that he looks just flat-out strong out there. Take this Justin Forsett touchdown run from the second quarter. It's just a simple inside zone play, but it's blocked up great.

Since it's an inside zone, Wagner has an easy read with the defensive end. He wants to widen him from the snap, but Wagner executes the technique perfectly. He steps wide and peeks his head outside the DE to threaten the defender's gap. When he does that, the DE's immediate reaction will be to jump outside (to keep his gap). When he does, watch how heavy Wagner is with that backhand to shove him out wide. Wagner clubs the DE with the left hand and then gathers him up and continues to run his feet. Textbook form on that play.

Also, take a look at the combo block between Marshall Yanda at right guard and the center Jeremy Zuttah. Yanda steps with his outside foot first, away from the center, so he can drive back into the nose tackle with a little more oomph. Because the nose is lined up so tight to Zuttah, Yanda knows the center won't need a ton of help. He just wants give the NT a little bump to slow him down before climbing to the second level. He loses his block at the second level but gets enough of the linebacker to spring Forsett.

The last thing worth pointing out is that the left tackle for Baltimore, undrafted rookie James Hurst, goes the wrong way. He must have heard the play call wrong and thought it was coming to the left. Look at how confused he looks as he waddles down field, like a lost penguin. I know that feeling and it's terrible, but it usually doesn't get erased immediately with a touchdown. This will probably get laughed off in the meeting room as some harmless fun and I should point out that Hurst actually played pretty well all things considered. (More about him below.)

There won't be much chuckling in the Carolina defensive line room. That three-technique DT (Star Lotulelei) goes unblocked and doesn't come particularly close to making a tackle on an inside zone play. It was one of a couple rough plays for the second-year defensive tackle from Utah.

Later in the game, the Panthers were starting to get more aggressive to try to stop the run. In the GIF below, they bring some pressure off the edge and slant the weak side of the defensive line. The Ravens are running outside zone away from it so they have them out-leveraged a bit. Still, Lotulelei has to (HAS TO) get across Osemele's face on this play. Short of that, he has to shove the guard into the hole and collapse it.

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What can't happen is that he can't stay reached and held off on the backside. It cuts the defense in half and leaves a huge hole right down the middle. I will say that it's a great job (and impressive strength) by Osemele to be able to wheel back and throw breaks on to hold Lotulelei back.

You may also want to check out Jeremy Zuttah on this play, because his feet are really good. When you're uncovered on outside zone and working playside, you want to make a decision on your third step. Are you going to stay on a defensive lineman or climb to a linebacker? Here, you see Zuttah get three feet in the ground and shove the defensive tackle's hip right on his third step before climbing to the second level. His feet and hands are perfectly in synch, and as a result he's able to widen the hole at the line of scrimmage and still have time to climb and cover up the linebacker. Really nice job.

It wasn't just the offensive linemen who got Baltimore's running game going early, it was the backs and tight ends too. I thought Forsett did a nice job being patient and picking his way through holes. I also thought that fullback Kyle Juszczyk played well overall, even if he did commit one of my biggest pet peeves in the first quarter.

I love cut blocks. I think they're a vital part of keeping defenders honest and a very effective tool in both the running and passing game. That being said, I have no idea why anyone would throw a cut block in the hole. Because the above play is the best-case scenario, you chop the defender down (awesome) but now there's two 230-plus-pound men lying in the middle of the hole (inconvenient). I see someone try this about once a game, and it works about three times a season.

Before we go I did want to touch on James Hurst again. Hurst has been forced into the lineup by an injury that will keep Eugene Monroe out for about a month. When I look at young, backup offensive linemen who are thrown into lineups, I mainly just look at two things. Is the team going out of their way to protect him from a scheme standpoint? And is the guy able to just hold his own out there?

The first part shows me what the coaching staff thinks they have. If they're bringing in an extra tackle on pass protection to help him, or always running away from him, it means they aren't very confident in the young player. I didn't see the Ravens going out of their way to accommodate Hurst, it seemed like they just ran their offense.

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That's from the first Steve Smith touchdown, which was a pass down the field, and Hurst is on an island on the left side. Hurst certainly acquits himself well on a hard inside stunt. That wasn't a one-time thing either. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak clearly thinks Hurst is an NFL-caliber tackle.

As far as holding his own, I think that's a good description of what Hurst did. I don't think Monroe has anything to worry about this year, but Hurst proved himself capable of playing if he has to. He got beat on a couple of running plays but pass-protected well throughout the game (the best thing he probably does is keep a nice base, as you can see from the play above). He probably had the worst game of any Ravens lineman, but that was more due to the quality of his teammates than his own issues. Considering he was an undrafted rookie making his first start, I'd have to say this first performance was very encouraging for his future.


12 comments, Last at 04 Oct 2014, 11:28pm

#1 by mehllageman56 // Oct 02, 2014 - 4:29pm

Great article as usual. Also sheds light on Carolina's surprising defensive problems.

Points: 0

#2 by ChrisS // Oct 02, 2014 - 5:00pm

On the first GIF, does Hurst go the wrong way or does Lotuleli blow by him so quickly that he can only wave at him and then he is just looking for someone to block?

Points: 0

#3 by KamMoye // Oct 02, 2014 - 5:46pm

Great article but pet peeve and not sure why this is so common in articles like these:

Identify the jersey number of the player you are discussing.

Points: 0

#4 by RoninX // Oct 02, 2014 - 7:02pm

I'll second the call for jersey numbers.

I'm trying hard to understand line play better, but as much as I'd like to I don't know every lineman on every AFC team and their position. I know that information is just a google search away (and that is what I used this time. Nice to meet you Jeremy Zuttah out of Rutgers!) but it would be nice to have it all in the article.

Again, love the series and keep up the good work!

Points: 0

#7 by LionInAZ // Oct 02, 2014 - 11:24pm

Well, it's not always possible to read jersey numbers on the gifs. It's better if you just figure out where the guards, tackles, and center are. Ben clearly identifies which position each guy plays t.

Points: 0

#5 by Thomas_beardown // Oct 02, 2014 - 7:43pm

The breakdown of Yanda in the first gif was particularly nice. The shove starting with the left arm is easy enough to see, but I would have totally missed the headfake to start the block off with which set it up.

I guess I have a question, what happens if the defensive lineman realizes what's going on and doesn't fall for the head fake, instead fighting to the inside immediately? Is it up to the running back to just read this and run outside?

Points: 0

#6 by atworkforu // Oct 02, 2014 - 7:49pm

Great article but I think your analysis of the Panthers is a bit off. I'll just do the one that stuck out the most "Still, Lotulelei has to (HAS TO) get across Osemele's face on this play. Short of that, he has to shove the guard into the hole and collapse it."

See, if the Panthers wanted the DT(98) in the A gap, they should have aligned him there. Yeah he's on a slant which gives him a bit of momentum, but all the angles are with the guard(72) there. Lotulelei(98) still gets 5-6 yards of lateral movement towards collapsing that hole. That's a win in my book.

The problem is the Panthers defensive alignment. I don't know the down and distance or how that game had been going, but the fact is they have 7 in the box against pro-personnel (2 back-1 tight). They compound that fact with a weird formation that overloads the outsides and leaves a giant bubble in the middle. With both DT (98-92) shaded outside of their guards and a leading fullback, there are 4 blockers (G C G FB) vs 3 defenders (DT MLB DT) - and the offense has a ton of leverage for anything inside.

The MLB(59) is also a problem - he should know where his force is - the SS(41) to his left (screen right). He should be attacking the block with his left shoulder, keeping his right arm free. That would hopefully allow him to make a tackle if the RB(34) cuts to his left (LB(59) right). If the RB(34) cuts right, the SS(41) would be unblocked to make a play after a gain of 6-7, not 18. Basically if the D-line is slanting one way, the LBs need to take the opposite bias or else everything can get washed down.

Points: 0

#8 by Karl Cuba // Oct 03, 2014 - 8:36am

Star might have moved Osemele give yards but it's a stretch and the other DT has been driven out to the numbers, the gap between them is huge. If he'd squeezed the hole more then the runner would have been forced to cut back into the linebacker playing contain on the back side.

Points: 0

#9 by atworkforu // Oct 03, 2014 - 2:50pm

That's not how stretch (or one cut) running works. If Star had played even better and moved the guard (who had the angle on him) another 3-4 yards to the offensive right, then the back would have (or should have) stayed with the blocking of the fullback and center, and gotten a 5-6 yard gain.

The only way the back side backer should be making plays on stretch is if everybody playside gets blown up and there's no where to go.

Points: 0

#11 by Led // Oct 03, 2014 - 4:28pm

Really, really bad play by Kuechly(59) there. He over pursues and tries to go around the block rather than taking on the block. That's the dreaded "ole" defense. I hope he got an earful in the film room for that.

Points: 0

#12 by bubqr // Oct 04, 2014 - 11:28pm

While I think you are right regarding Kuechly poor play, and him attacking the wrong shoulder of Zuttah (considering he is, I think, responsible for the weakside A gap on this play), you can't call Lotulelei's play a win: He gets an initial 4 yards of movement, but then got completely stopped and turned around, and that can't happen on a zone play. he should be at least 2 yards further in the hole.

Points: 0

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