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

Word of Muth: Ravens' Mixed Bag

Ron Stanley
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

It took overtime against a third-string quarterback, but the Ravens defeated the Steelers this past Sunday to take control of the AFC North. It wasn't a very pretty game for Baltimore -- they turned it over too much and couldn't run the ball -- but in the end it was a road win within the division. You can't have too many of those.

From an offensive standpoint, there weren't a lot of bright spots for Baltimore. Lamar Jackson played what was probably his worst game of the year. They couldn't generate explosive plays in the run or pass game. And the offensive line didn't seem to be on the same page in the run game, particularly on the second level. The only real bright spot for Baltimore in my opinion was the play of their left tackle.

I was really impressed with Ronnie Stanley (79) throughout the game. He played well, but the thing I really took away was how smooth and quick his feet were in the pass game. Look at how smooth he is getting out to a wide standup rusher. He can't even see the rusher at first because he has to look for the ball to be snapped, but it doesn't matter because his pass set is perfect. He gets great width without turning his shoulders. It's a really flat set for how wide the rusher is, but Stanley can do it because it's so quick. I don't love his punch -- too much helmet -- but his feet are good enough that it doesn't really matter what his upper body looks like. Plus, he does extend after contact.

Stanley was so good in pass pro that even the one sack Bud Dupree got was just another play where Stanley stoned him.

Man that's pretty. It's like he's gliding out to Dupree, but still has enough power to hold his ground when they do engage. Stanley's feet are moving so quickly, but he never brings his feet together. I could watch this guy pass-set all day. His hands are better here too. He gets taken out by a defensive end coming from the other side, but before that this a textbook rep.

As good as Stanley was on the edge, the Ravens' overall pass protection was just OK. That's because their interior offensive line struggled quite a bit up front with the Steelers defensive line.

That's Marshal Yanda at right guard getting beat quick. Yanda wasn't terrible on Sunday but he has fallen off a good deal from his prime. When I wrote about the Ravens a few years back, Yanda was probably the best offensive lineman in the sport and as good of a player as I've ever covered in this column. Now he looks like just a guy out there. His footwork here is fine, he just can't change direction. He looks really unathletic. This was probably his worst play of the game, but it's clear he just can't move laterally like he used to.

The bigger problem than getting beat clean, though, was Baltimore's inability to really hold a firm depth of the pocket. Cameron Heyward in particular consistently pushed the Ravens offensive line back into Lamar Jackson's lap to make him uncomfortable and the offensive tackles' jobs harder.

This is a grown man play by Heyward (97). He walks center Matt Skura (68) right back into Jackson and brings the quarterback down while still being "blocked." Skura isn't necessarily doing anything wrong technically. He has a good base, he tries to reset his hands and drop his hips when he feels himself giving ground, but he just can't stop Heyward's charge. The only coaching point that's applicable might be "weight room."

Now, it's possible that left guard Bradley Bozeman (77) could've offered some help here, but I think it would've been tough. In general, guards are taught to look outside on plays like this since edge guys are far more likely to get to the quarterback than a nose tackle. In this case, particularly with how well Stanley controlled Dupree, it's easy to say Bozeman needs to help out inside, but it's hard to break years of coaching.

Before we go, I want to point out a play that really made me smile. There were just so many perfect things about it, that I had to break it down.

Tight end Nick Boyle (86) is putting on a holding master class here. I think his plan was to matador Stephon Tuitt (91) here off the snap, and that would be enough for Jackson to get outside on the boot. But Tuitt slants out right into the tight end and rocks him a bit. Boyle was already in matador mode, so he just kind of wrangles Tuitt down with obvious hold/tackle. But just in case the ref missed it, Boyle made sure to stare right at the ref and hold his hands up in the air, which is the universal sign for "I just held the crap out of this guy, please tell me you didn't see it." And then he stands up and holds his arms out in the universal signal of "you're not going to call that are you?!" Just a hilarious play.

Like I said in the open, the Ravens are in first place in their division, but an offense that got out of the gates strong in Weeks 1 and 2 has certainly slowed recently. They're going to have to get it back on track if they want to make any kind of run in the playoffs.

Comments

13 comments, Last at 16 Nov 2019, 1:47am

1 column

Missed your column last week, Ben.

2 I'd like to see yanda get…

I'd like to see yanda get some HOF love. He reminds me of how criminally underrated Justin Smith was for years until the arrival of Jim harbaugh thrusted him into the limelight.

3 LOL

The only coaching point that's applicable might be "weight room."

Great column, as always

4 Oh my goodness - what the…

Oh my goodness - what the heck was Lamar Jackson doing on the Dupree sack? He's got huge wide open spaces to run if he cuts to the right of Stanley (or to *his* right, but okay, he didn't look there). But instead he tries to... cut *behind* him? And okay, he screws that up... but there's *still* wide open field straight ahead of him, with his line walling off the defenders that way... and instead *now* he heads to the right?

Definitely not a running back playing quarterback, because that's some *bad* running there.

5 Oh, My

"I could watch this guy pass-set all day." God bless ya', Ben.

6 Skura

That looked like what some of the DT's have done to Bradbury this season.
It's interesting when you compare a Rugby Union scrum and the front rowers to the interior offensive linemen. Both sets of front rowers can be massive and strong, but the ability to get "under" your opponent means his power is going up and yours is going straight ahead. So when the DT gets the right leverage and hence under the C's pads you can see how they get driven backwards.
Coaches preach getting the scrum engagement perfect because without it your bind is weaker, your power is off, and your scrum loses control. Older props have an advantage due to the muscle memory of a) working with other forwards and b) packing scrums against good players and learning how to engage properly. Even Quinton Nelson has his moments and we know how good he is.
When Moss started playing I recall thinking how his physical traits helped him overcome his technique. Additionally the Vikes were able to design lots of plays that got him into one on one situations while playing at speed. You don't get that luxury with a lineman. Also if a lineman makes an error its a sack, a RB blasts through or gets stuffed. If a WR has a technique error he does't get the ball thrown at him, so the margin for error is lower.

7 O lineman

Have been musing on the idea that tackles are more important than interior linemen. We all know the arguments but has this assumption starting to weaken?
I understand that QB's say that pressure right in their face is the hardest to manage, from Sage Rosenfeld I think.
Also given the importance of 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 plays and the finding that teams should go for it more and run, then does this mean the interior line is more important?
Working backwards if you make more short yardage plays then you keep the ball and keep moving. That gives you more first downs so you have more opportunities to pass. If you can move the ball off the A and B gaps then RPO and straight up plays are more successful.
If you get a lead as we know then you can run and with an effective interior line plus using all four downs then the percentages swing in your favour to retain possession and run out the clock.

Looking at the Pats they appear to be able move the ball, score, and up to now have somewhat unheralded RB's. So has the O line and importantly the interior line been more responsible for that success than people think?

Comparing the NFL to Rugby Union if your scrum is going backwards or is really struggling to hold its own, then that affects everything a team wants to do both in attack and defence. Having a stable scrum allows you to draw a breadth, keep to your strategy, and hopefully execute tactically.

Looking at the Vikes they seem to epitomise this point. The interior o line struggles with power runs and pass blocking. Hence less 1st downs and scoring. The offence can't get a lead so both the running game is affected as well as the defence.

Lastly if a rugby scrum is weak it affects the morale of the whole team as you start to feel that as a team you can't get anything going i.e. everytime you need to have a good scrum both in attack or defence you can't and then everything else collapses. Is this a reasonable comparison to the interior o line and its importance?

9 I think the View stems from…

In reply to by Willsy

I think the View stems from the fact that it's much easier to help interior linemen w double teams and scheme than an exterior linemen who's more on an island. 

 

We could also argue that most of the pure pass-rushers are on the edge and that it's rarer to find an Aaron Donald doing what he's doing vs near Khalil Mack's.

10 I'm far from an expert on…

In reply to by Willsy

I'm far from an expert on this topic, so speaking solely as an observer of the game:

a) I think pressure up the middle is easier for more QBs to deal with than pressure from the blind side, as it's easier to spot, the QB may have time to slide one way or the other, and even it results in a sack, it's less likely to be a strip sack.

b) Your point about being able to consistently convert short yardage is a good one, but I question whether any OL these days is sufficiently strong to consistently gain 1 or 2 yards in a heavy set?  Players are just so big these days, if the defence stacks the line, good luck.  I think there's a reason why we see so many spread sets on 3rd and short.  In any event, if you do have an advantage, I think you can run behind wherever your strength is, whether it's up the middle or to either side.  

12 A few comments as someone…

In reply to by Willsy

A few comments as someone who has played both codes... 

In the interior, most of the time 3 should beat 2.  And as another commenter mentioned, the failure mode for interior vs exterior rushes is worse.  An interior rush usually results in an incomplete pass.  A failure on an exterior rush is more likely to be a sack, fumble, or interception.

The disparity in pay might be due in part to the rareness of the athletes.  It's not that hard to find guys who go 6'2", a bit over 300lbs.  If they aren't the greatest you try and cover them up with the guard next to them.  Worst case, you just hold all game and know the ref isn't going to call it in the interior.  It's vanishingly hard to find someone who can catch an edge rusher, absorb their blow, and extend them off their body.

The Pats have gotten great line play without paying a premium for years due to exceptional line coaching.  Note that they lost their perfect season, not due to the helmet catch, but due to the fact that they were getting wrecked by edge rushers and Bill, GOAT that he is, didn't ever adjust and keep TE and RB in to help them.

You are right in that a strong line, including the interior can be a great morale booster for a team.  There's nothing like running the ball 5-6 times in a row, and watching the defense start to snipe at each other as you grind it down the field.  Sure a quick strike is great, but 10 phases of tight ball, each one picking up significant meters really will wear out your opponent.  I think modern analytics is great, but I think it needs to find a way to capture the fact that your hogs really like a chance to punch the other team in the face as opposed to absorbing blows all the time.

The interior line play on both sides is important, but it can be controlled for.  Front row play is very difficult to control for, as the RWC final showed when England lost their prop a couple mins into the match.  It's obviously not ideal, but you can substitute quick screens and bubble screens for your run game.  You can keep your QB in shotgun, and either roll him out or keep your route concepts quick.  All of these adjustments come with a cost and give an advantage to the defense, but they can be schemed for.

Edge pressure is harder to scheme for.  Eligible receivers need to stay out of routes.  Route concepts need to be drastically shortened.  And it's much more likely to result in game changing plays.

13 TE holding

I think Boyle was trying to say he was being held to prevent him from going out on his route. He's not right, but it's at least an argument that can be made.