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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gap Responsibilities: An Illustration

A phrase that you might hear parroted ad-nauseum is "gap responsibilities."  What is exactly meant by this?  So that 4th and 29 readers might not be in the dark (the way some media pundits are but pretend not to be), I thought I'd take what was taught to me, by a recently employed NFL Offensive Coordinator and D-1 NCAA Offensive Coordinator, and pass it on, using examples from the last Ravens game.

The explanations will be beneath the photos (after the jump).

Was Reed's Hit Legal?

Any Ravens fan worth his ilk will agree that the NFL is picking on Ed Reed.  With the pressures from outside of the sport pointing to the head injuries, the NFL has taken a hard line on old schoolers that assassinate receivers in the secondary.  Ed Reed is one of those.  Yet, he has appeared to alter his game somewhat as of late.  He certainly has a great respect for his peers and is never out to injure someone.  He might want to deliver a warning or repercussion for invading his turf.  This practice has him in the magnifying glass of league officials.

On Sunday the 23rd of December, 2012, Reed was flagged for a personal foul hit on a defenseless receiver, hitting around the head and neck area.  Yet, when replaying this moment, I have wondered if it was worth the penalty and the 55,000 dollar fine.  Let's take a look after the jump.

FACT CHECK: Enemy Scouting Report vs. NY Giants

Now, THAT was the Ravens we know and love.  From the first moment of play, we showed 'em who's boss. How did the Enemy Scouting Report fare for the best played game of the season?  Let's find out.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Enemy Scouting Report: L-Men

I watched every defensive snap from the Giants' loss to Atlanta last week from two angles of Coaches Film, as well as every defensive snap from their previous away game, vs. Washington, and have come up with a strategy that could help us to win this crucial late-season battle.

Media outlets are parroting the thought that the Giants are "hoppin' mad" after getting destroyed 34-0 in ATL last Sunday.  How many times have you seen the citation of the stat that they were 7-7 after 14 weeks last year and went on a tear to win the super Bowl?  To that I say, SO WHAT.  They are going to have to come into what still stands as one of the toughest venues in the league and face a hostile crowd, a hostile and desperate team, while not at full strength or momentum.  Obviously, we cannot give the game away again, but the following is a list of chinks in the armor of the defending World Champs' defense, that could make this game the corrective lens for our stumbling season.

1.) The Giants make corrections from game-to-game, but not so much IN-game.  In viewing the Redskins' improbable win against this team, I noted two weeks ago that the Giants gave up the edge on rushing plays by the pound.  Against the Falcons, they did not give up the edge almost at all.  What they DID give up was...

2.) The Giants showed considerable weaknesses in rushes between-the-tackles. Atlanta is not known as a rushing team nor a great blocking team, but they continually attacked the middle to a lot of success.
  This happened throughout the game, and a better attack that the Ravens represent with Rice should completely exploit this weakness.  Specifically, Chase Blackburn at MLB was showing a consistent wrong choice on attacking the holes.  Yet, I believe Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell will correct this chasm, so....

3.) Attack the edges with Rice counter action at the outset.  Rice is the best rusher the Giants have faced in a while, and I think that he could have an early long run if we outguess them here.  This is not the Super Bowl Giant team...they tackle well, but they have clear weaknesses.  We have a large advantage with our top offensive player.  Let's use him.

4.) Attack the defense with reverses.  The Giants showed almost no discipline vs. Atlanta with the Power-I, Flanker reverse fake that teams like running so much to freeze the LBs on inside runs.  They collapsed on the run and left the fake to the wind.  The Falcons wisely took them up on this oversight and ran a reverse with Julio Jones which got them inside of the 5 yard line, net of 19 yards.  The backside DB was taken out by a pulling guard.  We should use this as an alternative to getting Smith and Jones the ball, not WR screens, which the Giants defend very well.  Yet, in the flat.....

5.) The Giants don't defend the FB flat valve well.  Vonta Leach should have a big day if we give him opportunities.  Because again, a less talented FB (#42 Cox and #44 Snell)  for the Falcons was wide open in the flat on pass plays.

  Obviously if it is Ray Rice they will pay attention, but I think Leach could save a dfew drives in this way.  I know it is normal for teams to give up the flat in the zone, and to pursue check-down passes hard to limit the gain, but these plays netted over 10 yards a pop.  They seemed to get home less when pursuing the flats.  Another weakness in pass coverage....

6.) Boldin should destroy the nickel worse than Harry Douglas did.  Again, I sense a theme here...we have a better player at a position that the Giants had a hard time handling last week.  #83 Douglas led the team in receiving yards.  He simply had a ton of wide-open, big plays that were underplayed by their nickel.

 ' Quan feasts on these kinds of players consistently.  We need to look for him early and often.

7.)Yes, the Manning brothers consulted--I would with my brother, and sleep well afterwards--but we can do some consulting of our own.  Both the Head Coach Smith and the D. Coordinator Mike Nolan are former Ravens.  Surely there is a connection there that would enable us to have a conversation or two about this team and what worked  so well on defense. Part of the simple answer is that they got turnovers throughout the game.  Also, us beating the Giants would help the Falcons in that the late-season juggernaut that so many have talked about could be grounded for good.

8.)  We stopped a tougher pass rush last week.  When I say stopped, I mean that the line only allowed one sack for the most part of the game.  Two sacks were allowed on the last drive of the game, with under 1 minute left.  Dumervil's came then.  That is NOT dominance by him.  Admittedly, there must be a balance between Flacco's timing in releasing passes and the line's ability to protect him.  Sure, he was pressured a number of times, but what NFL QB is not, short of Brady?  They all have pressure.  Not all of them hold the ball as long.  And the two edge rushers in Denver only got one garbage-time sack between them.  Some were mentioning the super-strong front four of the Giants, but it's entirely possible that our retooled line will protect Joe long enough to get the ball away.  Plus, they have a very serious threat in Rice that will slow them down.

9.)  Protect!  The!  Ball!.......JOE!!!  Joe might have learned his lesson last week.  admitting his fault was a huge step of leadership.  He must not turn the ball over this week, and I believe he will not.  He can look to those wide open flats late in the pass routes, he can run (which he has slowed down on doing this year), or he can throw it out of the stadium.  Ball security must be his top goal this game.  I know it's a lot to consider...that's why he gets paid the big bucks.

10.) Outsmart them in our use of Rice.  But definitely center around him.  Run him between the tackles, throw to him in the flat, throw screen passes to him out of the backfield (which worked for the Falcons), have him run wheel routes.  Run counters and counter treys towards the edge.  If we don't have a self-destructive beginning of the game again, we should be able to get him into a rhythm against this unmotivated, porous defense living on recent glory.

11.) Don't believe the media hype!!  NO TEAM IN NFL HISTORY has ever had a 30-point shutout loss this late in the season and gone on to win the Super Bowl.  EVER!!  New England, in 2001, lost to the Bills in week ONE, 31-0.  And then they only lost once more.  The only late loss close to this were the '78 Steelers, who lost 35-7 in November back in 1978. But they were 9-2 at the time.  Not struggling like the Giants.  These pundits are talking like the Giants will automatically go into invinco-mode because their feelings were hurt last week.    In reality, this loss for them is dooming.   We are not battling phantoms out there--this is a real, live, bad team that we WILL put down!

12.)  Eli Manning hates noise.  Give him all he can handle.

Even with our injuries and issues, we stand as not only the better team than the Giants, but we are more talented.  It's time to show it.  BEAT THE WORLD CHAMPS!!!

FACT CHECK: Enemy Scouting Report vs. Broncos

A lot of things went wrong last week vs. the Broncos.  Did my observations?  Let's grade:

1.)  Peyton likes to go deep early in hostile road games.  First play: deep pass attempt.  Plus 8.

2.) The Broncos are struggling in the red zone on the road. We stopped them two out of four times.   Minus 4 out of 8 pts.

3.) Play to take away deep passes and do not respect the run.  It seems that we were focused on the pass, but we did not try to take away the deep pass, rather we gambled on them and got beat badly.  Knowshon had a good game, but I don't think it would have been enough without the deep balls they got.

4.)BALTIMORE HAS THE TOP RED ZONE DEFENSE IN THE NFL!  We were 50% in the redzone, and held them to a couple of FGs instead of TDs.  We needed to be better.  Minus 4 out of 8 pts.

5.) Blitz Denver when they are in the single setback formation, and disregard the play-action.
Denver played true to form out of the single setback.  They did try some stretch plays; it seems the blitzes would have worked.

6.) Ravens' secondary is more athletic than Denver's receivers. So jam them at the line. We did jam the receivers and saw some success in this strategy.

7.) Peyton likes to attack good defenses by utilizing a least expected weapon.  Manning decided to go to his second leading receiver a lot, Decker.  He was not least expected.  Minus 8 pts.

8.) Peyton has demonstrated a loss of deep arm strength. Peyton went deep a number of times, but we did not bait him.  We did square up at the line with the receivers, but we got beat downfield and he delivered.  The plan was to bait him.  Minus 4 out of 8 pts.

9.) Denver is soft.  Their pass rush did not kill us at all.  We killed ourselves.  The only roughneck out there was Decker the WR, who had his way with our DBs.

10.) Don't employ the no-huddle offense except for 2-minute situations.  This was working early on, but we got so far behind that it was rendered moot.

11.) Bring back crossing patterns and the short passing game.  We did not do this.  It seems that it would have worked.

12.) No dumb penalties.  We got two needless 15-yard personal fouls.

13.) Ravens Nation needs to be worthy of a 7-nation army.  We were in it early.  Peyton didn't get rid of the fans, a 98-yard interception for TD did, which was our fault.

GRADE: 88%.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Enemy Scouting Report: NOT Peyton's Place

I watched every offensive snap from the Broncos last game from two different perspectives of Coaches Film, as well as the 2009 Ravens home matchup vs. 9-0 Indianapolis with Peyton Manning at the helm, along with a few select plays from the 2009 Playoffs matchup @ Indy (Peyton quarterbacking), and have come up with points of strategy that I believe would enable us to BEAT Denver.

A warning: If you are kneeling at the Peyton Manning throne, this is not the post for you.  I am not in agreement with all the sentiment out there that the man is unbeatable and that we shouldn't even try.  Hold on a second.  The Broncos have only beaten ONE winning team this year, and that was that juggernaut 6-5 Tampa Bay team, who is now 6-7.  The 2009 matchup was very interesting to watch.  The team around Manning was better, yet they could only muster a 17-15 victory, one where we picked Manning twice and gave them an INT in the red zone.  They were 9-0.  NINE AND O!!  We had a much maligned d-backfield including Frank Walker, Fabian Washington, D. Foxworth, and D. Landry at Safety.  We had Mattison as Defensive Coordinator, and he used to like soft coverages.  Peyton had stronger receivers--by far--and he had a stronger running game, plus the team experience of having won the previous years' Super Bowl.  We were 5-4 and struggling.  We had not scored an offensive TD in the first half in FIVE GAMES.  Yet, we went blow-for-blow with that younger, stronger Manning and really should have won the game.  So don't tell me that we should lie down to this PRETENDER called Denver.  Au contraire-- WE WILL RISE UP!!!!


1.)  Peyton likes to go deep early in hostile road games.  He did it last Thursday against the Raiders.  He did it three years ago against us, in Baltimore.  He did it earlier this season vs. Atlanta and vs. New England on the road.  He will try to do it Sunday.  It must be his strategy to shock and awe.  We must stay on top and disallow this.

2.) The Broncos are struggling in the red zone on the road.  We scored 55 points on Oakland.  The Broncos struggled mightily to convert from within 25 yards out. Twice Manning was sacked, and had to settle for FGs; once the Raiders' much maligned defense put up a goal line stand and held them to a FG.
   Granted, Manning and co. scored 37 on them at home earlier in the season, yet this ailment seemed to be a repeated trend in that last game.  Coming all 1662 miles to a very loud, strong, playoff-like environment  to face a team desperate for a win, will not be an easy task for these boys.  We can look to continue this trend as long as we.....

3.) Play to take away deep passes and do not respect the run.  Without McGahee, their run game is pedestrian, and while Knowshon Moreno is good, he cannot carry them against us.  Nor will they want him to.  Every time Denver lines up in the single setback look, they intend to either run or play-action a run.  Their 20th-ranked rushing offense is simply not good enough at this point, considering that the man who earned them that much (and not 32nd) is out.  If we shut down deep gains, they will have to mitigate our redzone defense in order to score touchdowns.  Oh, by the way...

4.)BALTIMORE HAS THE TOP RED ZONE DEFENSE IN THE NFL!  Do you see where I'm going with this?  It could be called an aggressive bend-but-don't-break take, but I think we can blitz Peyton and we can get him to throw interceptionS.  What I consider to be a less talented D on a less talented Ravens team held him to 17 points on a better team with a better offense, 3 years ago.  We can do it again.  With this in mind, there are a couple of key strategies that I would employ:

5.) Blitz Denver when they are in the single setback formation, and disregard the play-action.   In other words, put a target on Manning's back and do not alter it for the potential run.  I even think there should be a drill in practice this week of running full speed at a dummy but not roughing it, according to the coach's call ("Live!" or "Gone!" in reference to the ball, a second before impact.)   Peyton Manning does not run stretch plays with this team, like he excelled at with Indy, he runs simple handoffs and fake handoffs.

  I believe their pass protection is vulnerable, especially at the edges, to a blitz against the single-setback formation.  If we do this, though, we have to be extremely disciplined with our gap responsibilities in order to snuff out draws and actual runs.

6.) Ravens' secondary is more athletic than Denver's receivers. So jam them at the line. Their go-to guy is Demaryius Thomas, who is gifted but not the most disciplined route runner, and from there it drops off--Eric Decker is a hardhat-and-lunchpail type who is very smart, and Brandon Stokley--are you kidding me?  The last time I saw him was roasting the Giants for US in the 2000 Super Bowl.  He didn't have one catch vs. the Raiders.  Yet, he played with Peyton at Indy.  So did Jacob Tamme -- little known fact -- and that brings to light the next point.

7.) Peyton likes to attack good defenses by utilizing a least expected weapon.  Do you remember Santi, the TE, back in 2009?  He had not caught a pass ALL SEASON until Peyton made him his top target against us.  We were not expecting it. I'm wondering if it will be Tamme this time.  He seems ripe.

  I believe that Peyton will target one of their TEs in this way, especially with the uncertainty at linebacker that the Ravens have right now.  He will go to him over and over again.  Is this because...?

8.) Peyton has demonstrated a loss of deep arm strength.  I was surprised to uncover this when I watched him, but his deep passes were lacking.  We should challenge the receivers at the line, spy Thomas who is a legit deep threat, and bait Peyton.  He will underthrow Thomas.

9.) Denver is soft.  That's right, I said it.  They have wilted when playing real comp, and have limped through some of their wins vs. divisional opponents.  We need to bring smashmouth back to B-more, and keep pummeling them until the clock shows double zeros.  In order to do this...

10.) Don't employ the no-huddle offense except for 2-minute situations.  We don't need to.  We can keep Peyton off the field, and with the new emphasis on Ray Rice that I think we will see, it will be best to methodically gash Denver into submission.  They have an all-pro linebacker, yes; but they don't have nor face a fullback like Vonta, ever.  I think that a Rice-centric running attack will pay great dividends against this overrated defense.  We cannot turn the ball over, and he usually doesn't.  I'm actually all for Flacco being freed to run the no-huddle, but we simply don't need it this game.  What we do need, is to...

11.) Bring back crossing patterns and the short passing game.  It was enlightening, watching the 2009 game vs. Peyton and Indy.  On offense, we almost looked better.  I tried to figure out why, and I did: because we threw many more short-to-intermediate routes to our receivers, who were open.  The reason, I believe, is because we did not have a receiver who could legitimately stretch the field.  Afterward, Cameron seemed to have gotten spoiled at the mere possibility of the speed of Torrey Smith and also Jacoby Jones.  He just had them run fly patterns most of the time.  Now that he is gone, I'm sure that Coach Caldwell--ironically, the coach of Indy in 2009--will want to re-emphasize having those speedsters run far more underneath routes.  We can move the ball on this team, we need to use the clock, our physicality, and our very deep talent to do it.

12.) No dumb penalties.  The other thing going against the Raiders last Thursday were the vast majority of the ref's calls.  Wow.  So, we have to be prepared to beat the refs if we must.  This means winning despite Peyton seemingly getting all of the calls.  I'm not saying it will happen, I'm saying let's not give them any reason.  Men need to watch their hand placement when they have a shot at Peyton, guys need to tackle with their heads up, fellas need to know where the boundary is and when the play is over--no late hits.

13.) Ravens Nation needs to be worthy of a 7-nation army.  It was clear in 2009 that Peyton had a regard for our home venue.  He will attempt to get it quiet, early. People want the players to be resilient, now WE need to be.  Not a quiet mouth, not a filled seat on big plays. Continually assaulting the Broncos offense with noise no matter what the happenstance.  Singing the song at every big play.  This will be a large contributor to a winning formula.  It really is.

If anyone can tell me why I should be afraid of a lesser team surrounding Peyton, when he barely eeked out a win against us with a greater team against a lesser Ravens team, I will shut up.  But they cannot, and I will not.  Peyton is a great competitor, but he is not perfect.  His teammates do not know what intensity is.  They are not prepared for the environment that they will enter on Sunday, and I believe  they will not at all be prepared for the team they face.

It's time to end the streak.

This is NOT Peyton's place.

A final note: I have a lot of respect for Peyton Manning and personally, I like the guy.  I admit to lobbying the message boards for us to consider signing him in the offseason of 2011.  I agree with Rice that he is the Comeback Player of the Year.  So please do not confuse this post for hating him.  We've all been blessed to watch his career, either rooting for him or against him.  It has been fun.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Overtime Oversight

At 4th and 29, I will aim to be a positive source concerning all things Ravens football.  I have too much respect for athletes to berate them for something that I could not and can not pull off myself.  I will point out weaknesses that I can see in our opponents, and positively promote areas where I believe that we can excel.

With the recent firing of Cam Cameron, offensive coordinator, I have read from a number of sources about the sentiment that players now have no excuses and will have to step up.  This has especially been said of Joe Flacco.  And while I am in strong support of Coach Harbaugh's decision to release Cameron, I will admit that Flacco has his own challenges that were not the direct fault of Cameron.  One that stuck out in this last game was the final pass attempt of overtime, where Joe had the infamous "phantom 360" while looking for a defender.  On this play, we could have at least gotten the first down, and at most scored a touchdown, had Joe remained true to his "Joe Cool" moniker and looked downfield instead of locking in on the idea of running.

I apologize for the quality of these photos; Coaches Film does not tend to major in quality.

Here is the initial look: one safety over the top, a man look, strong safety approaching the line.  3rd down and 6 from the 32.

Once Joe gave a false cadence, the defense totally revealed their intentions.  They must've been tired.  The corner scooted in to blitz alongside the strong safety, who had run up to the line; the inside backer prepared to slide out to cover the slot.  Joe saw this and helped the line make the blocking adjustments.

Now, THIS is Cam Cameron's fault: after max-protecting for this formation, the patterns for the play were completely vanilla and no one was remotely open.  The arrows represent their patterns.  I do not understand why an all-fly is a supposed answer on a 3rd and 6.  Was Pitta's hook supposed to come open?

This next pic is the part where Joe did not have his best reaction.  He avoided the rush and did the 360.  At that point, he locked in on the idea of running and focused on trying to fake the linebacker, 17 yards downfield but closing on a beeline, out.  I wonder if Joe realized where the line of scrimmage was at this point.  He was still far behind it, and could have  continued to think throw.

This is the point where two Ravens became wide open.  Joe is the starred player.  Notice how he had a lot of space between him and any defender.  The rear pursuit had just come off block a split second earlier.  Joe could have reset himself to throw.  Ray Rice peeled off of his block to Joe's left and had about 20 yards between him and a defender.  Who knows what he could have turned this reception into if Joe had flipped it his way; at least a first down.  The more compelling development was Anquan Boldin's adjustment.  He began crossing the field, in his trail the safety and linebacker.  He had a good two steps on them, raised his hand to call for it, but Joe was tunnel-visioned.  Had Joe set himself about a half second before this photo, his look would have fooled the underneath corner, Joe would have stepped into delivering a strike to Boldin, and Q could very well have taken it to the house.  I see him getting at least 20 more yards here--at the very least.

 Perhaps one thing that Cameron's departure will do is free Joe to make decisions on the fly in situations like these.  Perhaps he felt too restrained and would be ridiculed for making bad decisions or non-Cameron decisions.  Now that he is free and will have the true support of the coaching staff to do his thing, we'll look to Joe to be more creative in these instances and deliver a great play.  He has it in him.  Now he will be free to let it out.

FACT CHECK: Enemy Scouting Report vs Redskins

For every prognosis, there is a diagnosis.  Every week I will return to the previous week's Enemy Scouting Report and bluntly report on whether there was accuracy in my claims or not.  You are welcome to chime in as well, it will be helpful to hear if I have overlooked anything.


Fact Check: The Redskins ran one end around out of the pistol, which was not a play action-schemed reverse but a quick WR cutting against the grain of the play from scrimmage and taking the ball the other way.  The Redskins ran often out of the pistol, but stayed true to form by running stretch plays.  They hit underneath crossing patterns to much success early.  They capitalized on the skinny post, especially on the last drive of regulation for them.

Fact Check:  We did a better job than NY did of protecting the edge.  Early on, we allowed cutbacks to gobble us, but we adjusted well and stymied the run game.

Fact Check: His scrambles were harassed, and by my count, he only play-actioned the stretch run  in order to run the naked, ONE time all game, and he was promptly met by a DB.  He did not hurt us with the bootleg.

Fact Check: Griffin withdrew from the game in the 4th quarter and has a level one LCL strain.  We hit him and hobbled him.  He did not fumble on any hits, mainly because he slid down after short scrambles  or went out of bounds.

Fact Check: Griffin was sacked three times and had two intentional grounding penalties called against him.  Two of the sacks could be called "coverage sacks," and Griffin scrambled out of the pocket on a few occasions because he was not finding anyone downfield.  In my opinion, he stayed true to form as a rhythm passer and did not dissect our defense.

Fact Check: In this odd phenomenon, Griffin continued to struggle with throws outside the numbers.  I recall at least four incompletions in this way.

Fact Check: Morris registered one of the longest runs from scrimmage against the Ravens all season (29 yards) , in the first quarter.  After that quarter, he became a non-factor in the game.  He was not allowed to get to the edge and found congestion in the stretch lanes.  He lost 1 fumble.  He did register 122 yards, but 61 of those--50%--were in quarter one, alone.  13 more were in quarter two.  (minus 5%)

Fact Check: Especially in Quarter one, Morris was breaking high tackles and proving hard to bring down due to poor tackling.  He stayed true to this form.

Fact Check: We did not run a cover-2 shell look until injuries forced us to in the final drive of regulation.  A hobbled rookie starter and his rookie backup drove down the field on this look, using the skinny post to the left middle just like in previous games, to exploit it.

Fact Check: Wilson had one pass defensed and one solo tackle.  He was beaten deep by Torrey Smith once, but the pass was underthrown.  D'angelo Hall was victimized twice by Anquan Boldin for touchdowns.  Ray Rice had the longest run from scrimmage for the Ravens all season against this defense.  Flacco had three touchdown passes.  The defense was not stout, to say the least.

Grade: 95%.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Enemy Scouting Report: R.G. THROUGH.

I have watched coaches film of every offensive snap of the Washington Redskins in their last game, and their last non-divisional home game (L vs. Panthers), from two different angles, and have come up with some points that could lead to our victory.

R.G. III is a media darling, but in what you will learn is a theme of this particular blog, media hype is the wrong thing to listen to.  Film shows him to be very beatable.  He is not as strong as Michael Vick, but perhaps as fast.  He is fragile when hit.  He has covered weaknesses in his throwing game.  The list below gives my thoughts on how R.G. III can be R.G. Through when we get after him.

1.) THE PISTOL OFFENSE HAS SOME DEFINITE KEYS.  DON'T LET IT INTIMIDATE YOU.  When they are in the pistol it is very readable what they are going to do.  Know who would be great at this?  #52.  We look forward to his return against Denver, God willing.  Washington rarely reverses out of the pistol, although they motion the wideout often, against the grain of the play.  When the WR is set behind Griffin, he is usually looking to trail on an option.  When Griffin hands off to Alfred Morris, their best play is a tray sweep, which they sealed off the edge multiple times against the Giants but not in the loss to the Panthers.  This is why....


 Do not pursue down the line, STAY HOME.  Because turning Morris back inside is problematic for him and for the scheme.  He sometimes is able to slip in the gap just inside the edge, but our pursuit of this game tends to be superlative.  Stuffing the edge kills their scheme.  It must be paramount.  If the play is flowing the other way trust your teammates to do their job.  This is because....

3.) R.G. III DOES HIS MOST DAMAGE RUNNING THE NAKED BOOTLEG.  The Redskins were torching the undisciplined Giants with this play because of their stretch runs killing the edges.

 Griffin had a 46 yard run!  That is totally unacceptable. Notice how the outside rusher was totally gunning for the RB in the picture above...sucked in. Everybody seems to think that he will automatically get this kind of yardage against us, but we historically do well against scrambling QBs; it's the pocket aces that hurt us badly.  If the opposite edge keys Griffin first at all times, he will see zero success with this play, and could possibly even benefit us, in that....

4.) R.G. III IS FRAGILE AND WILL DROP THE BALL IF HIT IN SPACE.  Meaning, if he is not on the ground.  He is not bulked up and not a naturally stocky athlete like a Vick.  He dropped the ball for a TD vs. the Giants.  We should look to hit him hard and often when he has the ball tucked in.  We could even put him out of the game like Atlanta did.  He is a liability in this way.

5.) R.G. III IS MORE OF A RHYTHM PASSER THAN A DISSECTOR.  He tends to lock in to receivers.  He throws an accurate ball downfield, but his passes are based on play-action rhythm and timing. In a broken down play, he rarely makes it work (from my observation) with a pass.  He is not so good at throwing on the run, surprisingly.  If his rhythm can be broken from downfield coverage as well as pressure up front, his success plummets.

6.) R.G. III LOVES THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD.  His #1 timing play is the play action skinny post to his left, which is a timing play, which he completed multiple times against the Giants.  Lots of his passes are right down the middle.  Amazingly enough, he not only shies away from throwing outside the numbers, but he is not good at it.

These misfires were largely on Griffin--his fault.  Now I can more appreciate when they say how well Flacco throws the sideline outs.  We should shade inside and dare him to throw that post.  We should jump outside routes early, because he is not much of a pump-and-go guy.  He is about timing.

7.)  ALFRED MORRIS IS AVERAGE.  The Redskins scheme is pretty novel.  It is a typical Shanahan scheme which allows average RBs to flourish.  Yet, he doesn't explode into holes, he doesn't pick his way through the middle, he doesn't have awesome speed, he doesn't break ankles.  The guy just runs the stretch runs to the edge, follows his block, and capitalizes.  If we turn him back inside, he will not get 100 yards, easily.

8.) ALFRED MORRIS NEEDS TO BE TACKLED LOW.  He is like a poor man's Ray Rice, built slightly taller but with that low center.  He is hard to knock off by just hitting high.  He must be tackled low.  Solid tackling on him early will discourage the Redskins coaches.

9.) GIANTS' COVER-2 SHELL GOT DESTROYED.  Yet, the Panthers' man looks with dedicated SS help towards the box was successful enough to win.  The cover-2 was allowing the skinny post to be open all the time, since the corners were in a zone.  We should bump them at the line, shade inside, and force Griffin to earn his living outside of the numbers.  We should also free up Reed to trick this young QB.  His low interceptions on the season are due to rhythm and not expert reading.

10.) EXPLOIT THEIR DEFENSE, ESPECIALLY FORMER RAVEN J. WILSON.  They have a hobbled d-backfield, a questionable linebacking corps.  Wilson could be their #1 if Hall cannot go, and at the very least they will have a rookie going against Q in the slot.  Will teams never learn?!?!  Q destroys these rooks routinely.  I hope they do not learn.  Oh, and Wilson was raving on about the Redskins being his true boyhood team when they signed him.  He is a short piece of toast, waiting to be BURNT.

I love it when the media goes against us.  They love the hot team and the Big News Now.  We are a better team than Washington, with a better QB, better defense, better players.  This game is immensely important to us.  They are upstarts who don't necessarily have great confidence.  Let's shatter it early with some deep bombs against that ragged backfield--thrown deep and accurately, Joe--and suffocate their edge dogged point-of-attack pursuit.  Let's expose their gimmick O and keep it moving.  We're that good.

SLIDE (!!) with 5.

Before we put the Steeler loss behind us, I want to take a look at something that not only has plagued us in that contest, but has been brewing all season.

Flacco's pocket presence.

I am no expert, and I do not know all of the ins and outs of coaching a quarterback.  But it seems that there is an obvious area of slippage that stands out in Flacco's play.  Flacco does not step up into the pocket as he has in years past.  My best guess is that he has been coached by QB coach Jim Caldwell, who coached the position for Peyton Manning for years, to trust the pocket and to focus downfield.  Here's the problem: Peyton is a lighting fast reader of defense who has run a pro-style offense forever.  Flacc ran the no-huddle spread in college and does not necessarily have the reps at eyes-downfield, lateral movement, feel-for-pressure that this mindset requires.  Instead, he has previously been sufficient to step into holes in the pass rush and go from there.  I think that he should return to that scheme for the remainder of the season.  Look at these examples that hurt the momentum:

The yellow bubble represents the lane that opened up in the pass rush.  If Flacco could have stepped up into this hole, he would have been able to set his feet and make a solid pass.    He could have even run for the first.  Instead, he settled in his drop, and...

...the defender got through immediately in front of him while being pinned by Yanda, throwing off Flacco's focus and footwork.  This caused the easy pass to Smith to go high.  Punt.

Here again, if Flacco would take the time to step up into the pocket opening, he makes a better pass and has  an option to run.  Since he stood pat...

...the defenders were able to squeeze pressure on him and throw his focus and footwork off.  This was another high ball that would have been a nice completion.

On this pass, albeit hard to see because of the graphics, Flacco needed to react early to the break in protection by #99 Keisel (straight red arrow) to his left.  He had two very good options. One would be to push up toward his right in the gaping hole that appeared in the rush.  This would have bought him something but would be a moving option because of pressure.  The other would have been to side shuffle Keisel, whom Flacc wound up escaping, to his left, setting up a recovery by Oher.  Had he done this, he had some great options on that side of the field on this play.  Pierce was a concession by the D, and a busted coverage left Q wide open down the left sideline.  Look at this shot again without the colors to see the wide open spaces--

C'mon now.  Notice Q up top turning the corner on a linebacker in coverage.  He was wide.  The play wound up being that interception that Flacco threw into triple coverage because he didn't see the safety staying home, sliding with him over the top of the play.  He relied too heavily on his safety valve, Pitta, instead of properly reading the play.  He was as frustrated as Ravens Nation, I'm sure.

This was a three-man rush.  #96 Ziggy Hood had taken a crazy-wide angle and was beating protection IF facing a statue as QB.  Joe had the chance to aggressively attack the right half of the field, wide open in the rush, and this would have allowed for Osemele to recover and bought him time.  I've seen him do this in the past.
(Sidenote: notice the statline at the bottom.  I will address this in another post, but I championed drafting Russell Wilson in the 2012 offseason, as a backup, and was ridiculed.  Perhaps I'm not looking so ridiculous now as he has a higher QB rating, more TDs, and less INTs than our guy. )

Instead, he waited too long, and then kind of tripped as he tried to maneuver, which was too late because Hood was within striking distance.  This play was a sack and it never should have been.

I am not a Flacco hater.  I "Ride with 5."  Yet, if my novice eyes can see this small readjustment that seemingly could help a lot of scenarios in his game, perhaps Coach Caldwell can, too.  It makes all the sense in the world to stick to a paradigm, if the paradigm works.  If it is not working, and the previous one had more success, is it not more sensible to press the reset button?  Let 'im be more free to find his space back there.  Our line is too patchwork to just let Joe stand and stare downfield.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Block by 81

Ok, time to do a little housecleaning.

For the first 24 hours of this blog being live, that might be an overstatement.

But, some people have questioned legalities in The Play. They wonder about the spot and re-spot of Ray's progress. They wonder of the legality of Anquan Boldin's shattering block.  They wonder and wonder again.

We cannot do much about the spot.  I just know that they reviewed it for a very long time, they re-spotted and re-measured.  To continue to argue is to simply say that the refs were flat out cheating.  Can't sign on to that one.  What I can do is demonstrate here that Q's block was not only legal, but laser-precise and in very good sportsmanship.

First of all, the NFL told NBC Sports that the block has been reviewed, post-contest. They did not find it illegal and did not issue a fine for that play.  So, again, that is the definitive answer.

Perhaps I can help your visceral need to see how clean it was.

First the rule: Rule 3 Section 3 of the NFL Rule Book (emphasis mine) says,

Blocking is the act of obstructing or impeding an opponent by contacting him with a part of the blocker’s body.
A Block in the Back is a block that is delivered from behind an opponent above his waist. It is not a block in the back:
 (a)   if the opponent turns away from the blocker, or
 (b)   if both of the blocker’s hands are on the opponent’s side.

Therefore, it is legal to hit someone from the side.  Remember, crackback blocks are not illegal, but hitting the head or neck is, and hitting low is.  

Anquan Boldin beelined for #32 Eric Weddle as Rice progressed up the field.  Look at the first shot as he prepared for impact.  Shoulders primed, head tucked away and not leading, hands basically folded.  Weddle is not in front of Boldin; look at his feet. Feet placement is everything.  If he was in front of Boldin's feet, it definitely would be a block in the back.  But he wasn't.  He is perfectly set up for a side block.

Now, look at the millisecond of impact: head tucked away from the defender, arms in, leg established IN FRONT of Weddle's leg.  This is textbook stuff, here.  Q is showing his veteran knowledge of the game.  

As we get a closer angle, we see that Weddle's legs are clearly facing forward, and Q's leg is clearly in front of one and in the space between them.  That positioning could not be gained from behind.  If you watch the play in motion, you will see that Weddle slightly turned his upper body towards Rice, hence the rule.  He's kind of sandwiched here.  This bump caused Rice to lose his balance--or I think he would have shook Chargers CB Cason and scored.  Again I say, it is not a block in the back if the player turns his back in the course of action.  It's a block in the back if the block is from behind.  

Perhaps what I would see as the best piece of evidence is the direction that Weddle falls after the block.  Look at him here.  He is falling backwards--hard!!  Not crumpled and twisted, just de-cleated and clean.  Boldin's momentum sent him that way, along with his own trajectory, all that spells a legal play.  A block in the back would have sent him down forward, right?  Unless he had grabbed onto Rice or something and been spun, but Boldin's impact was first and more prevalent.  It caused Weddle to bump Rice, but foiled his attempt to stop Rice by pre-empting a grab.  Now, it's possible that a block in the back could have made him spin fully around, but then Q's placement would be very different--upfield and on the ground, instead of downfield from Weddle.

Finally, to put any thoughts of helmet-to-helmet to rest, look at this close-up of Q right at the point of contact.  Hands up, head away, right on the side of the player.  Fully legal, fully effective, and an amazing piece of the success of The Play.  

It's plays like this that make Boldin perhaps my favorite Raven of all.  The guy is money and the ultimate team player.

Had he not made this block, Weddle tackles Rice for sure, because he had some pretty good momentum.  Maybe we don't make the first, maybe we don't win the game.  Maybe you're not reading this blog.

Yet he did, we did, and you are.

The Play lives on!

The Play, Shot-by-shot

Let's break down The Play.

Eventually, someone needs to coin a nickname for the annals that this play is sure to go down in.

I have my theory on why it worked.  We know that Flacco was not running a designed play; he checked down.  The Ravens came out in the Shotgun, 3-wide look where Pitta was standing in the left TE slot, flanked by Boldin, who did a ditty motion (back and forth) to help Flacc read the D.  Rice remained in the backfield (perfectly obscured by Flacc in this shot.).  Yes, I call him "Flacc" sometimes.  Flacc attack, baby. Ride with 5!!

The wideouts all ran basic fly patterns, while Pitta ran a loose in-and-up.  As you see, the Chargers were in a nickel, with four down linemen and two backers.  They were placing a lot of trust in the linemen to generate pressure and also demonstrated confidence in their athletic-if-not-over-the-hill linebackers.

Rice stayed in for a good four beats to help with protection and then circled to the line of scrimmage.  He was a "gimme" for the D, a concession.  Yet, perhaps they should have strategized on how to actually stop him in a long to-go situation.  As you can see here, the nearest defender was about 26 yards away from Rice when he jumped a bit to bring in the pass.  (Math wizards will understand why Gilchrist, at the bottom of the picture, is not closer.)

 How often do you see this?  An offensive player receives the ball with 26 yards between him and the downfield pursuit.  Forget about the backer Shaun Phillips trying to chase him from behind, north/south speed is why the RBs and WRs and CBs make the bucks.  The only time we see anything like this is on a punt of kickoff return, right?  Well, get this: Ray Rice averaged 53.5 yards per kick return in High School.  He was too valuable at Rutgers for them to allow him anywhere near a kick or punt.  So he has a little knowledge of how to work it.  My theory is that he worked this like a kick return.

 Now the defense, for sure taught by their well-bloodlined coach J. Pagano to hawk the ball, all took direct pursuit angles to the ball.  No one was thinking in terms of a kick return, where players run straight down the field and stay in their lane until within a predetermined radius of the ballcarrier.  Who can blame them?  The only exception was #38 Marcus Gilchrist, running the Nickel , who is denoted by the curved red arrow.  His momentum from his disciplined downfield shuffle had him swinging backwards instead of being able to diametrically change his direction.  Watch the defenders collapse down their pursuit lanes:

Do you see how they are moving along direct lines towards Rice?  No contain at all, and why should there be?  I did alter the red arrow because the camera on this Coach's Film zooms in.  I think, at this point, the Gridiron Radar in Rice's brain was finalizing its' plan of attack.

 Make a sharp cut left, once they've been suckered in, and hit the tremendous amount of open space there.  The purple zone represents almost 2/3 of the width of the field, as you can see.  Again, notice how far along the pursuit arrows the defenders are.  Straight at 'im.  Perhaps Ray had gotten a pointer from his buddy Jacoby.

 Fully collapsed to the point of contact, the defense has put itself in a dangerous position: 7 out of 11 players are squeezed into a 10-yard wide tube directly downfield from Rice.  2 out of 11 are poor pursuit and out of the play.  I counted the one who is behind Ray in the tube; he pursued but is not really a threat.  That leaves one man, CB Antoine Cason, to aggressively stop Rice.

As Rice's cut has worked perfectly and magically, taking out the first three defenders (thanks Gilchrist), an interesting and truly unsung aspect of the play begins to unfold: the precise, thunderous, quintessential block by Anquan Boldin.  While the other wideouts try to steer clear of messing the play up, Boldin reacts like a missile locked on the infrared sig as he spots S Eric Weddle moving rather quickly across the field towards Rice.  It is truly amazing how exact Q's angle was, how he and Rice were very much synched up in tactics, and how clean his block was.  I will examine that last point in my next post.  This was a clean and legal block that enabled Rice to finish the play.

Boldin wipes.  Him.  OUT.  The collision alters Rice's path, and he loses sure footing.  Notice Quentin Jammer, immediately "above" Rice in this photo, who has wisely cut across the field to stop him.  Cason is not attacking at this point, he is frozen in his boots.  Look at all of the space Boldin created with his stonewall.  Lots of  players are coached against blocking against the grain of a free runner (block downfield, not upfield), but this was teamwork at its' best.

And Ray bashes into the defenders for the first down.  I tried hard to freeze the screen right when his knees hit the ground.  It is impossible to really tell, but the ball is well over the 34 here.  Well over it.

Viola, we now have it: a masterful display of will and determination by Rice and his teammates.  Watch the video again and look at the reactions of the players on the sidelines surrounding Coach Harbaugh.  Talk about fired up!!

Thus, I say, a season is pivoted.  We're already good.  This play, this game, showed us that we are exceptional.  Too many mental hurdles--no, mountains--were overcome in getting this victory to just see it as normal.  The Ravens are special in 2012.  We'll see how special soon.

Houston, you have a problem.