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.
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?
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.
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.