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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

THE ANSWER: Flacco's Overtime INsight


It's the only name that truly defines the play.

It was an answer to team prayer.
It was an answer to the critics.
It was an answer to the 35.3 million viewers who were asking, "Can they do it?"
It was an answer to the battle cry of #52.

The 70 yard stunner from the gunner, Flacco, that tied the game with 31 seconds left and effectively sent it into overtime, is indelibly etched in not only the minds of Ravens fans, but also in the minds of football fans in general.  Here is a breakdown of the many different factors that made The Answer a true miracle.

Let's start with the basic setup: 3rd and 3 on our own 29, the clock is running with :43 left in the game, Ravens down 35-28, Dierdorf is whining about something "else" that we are doing horribly wrong.

 Funny thing is, at the outset, this is the same formation and look as the play which was great enough to be the namesake of this blog.  It appears that this play was unscripted, and the receivers, including Rice, were to simply find open spots in the  zone.  This is the eventual route combination that they ran.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

FACT CHECK: Wildcard Weekend

What a game!

We were part of history.  Not just humdrum, run-of-the-mill history, but wtinessing the final home game of the greatest defensive player in NFL history.  Did you almost fall off the recliner when Lewis bobbled that interception?  I did.  That was a fun game to watch.

Well, it's time to revisit my WildCard edition of Enemy Scouting Report.  I'll grade myself, as usual, but your feedback is more than welcome either here or in the forum.

1.) Andrew Luck is nothing short of interception prone.  We saw this, didn't we? There was the interception that sealed the game that he threw to Cary Williams off of a ricochet--by the way, no way does Williams not return that for a touchdown if he had just 'set (Luck) up,' or juked him.  Heck, he could've just kept sprinting.  Watch the replay, he was moving much more fast than Luck.

 Ray Lewis gave him the business on the sideline, about not making it!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Enemy Scouting Report: WildCard vs. Indianapolis

In lieu of the heightened stakes of the playoffs, I have watched every offensive snap for Indianapolis, from two different angles of coaches film, from their last 4 road games of the season: @New England, @Detroit, @Houston, and @Kansas City.  I have cross-referenced all of my notes and come up with common tendencies that bode well for the Ravens, which are delineated in the form of action points below.

Chuck Pagano was my favorite Ravens coach besides Coach Harbaugh. I touted him for the Defensive Coordinator job before he had a shot at it (when  he was coaching the secondary), specifically because of his days at UNC, and his "coaches DNA" so to speak.  I still think we should have paid him to stay.  Now that he is returning, with a successful team, and more importantly in good health, I initally found myself uber-concerned. Even though his team is not as well composed as ours, they had a cause to play for and had proven that they could do it.

The ultimate trump card came in the form of #52.  Ray Lewis' announcement that he is going to retire is the bonding agent and nitrous additive that this team needed right now.  Not to mention his actual return.  It will propel us forward.  It will be a re-focusing point in battle.  Those who question his timing do not understand the man nor the impact he has on his sprinting-after-him-into-war teammates.

Every team is clearly a different team on the road, so I chose to only watch Indy in their last half of road contests.  Some of the things I saw on tape surprised me, in a good way for the Purple and Black.  I'll elaborate below.  In order to enjoy a healthy win in this first playoff game, the Ravens need to know that...

1.) Andrew Luck is nothing short of interception prone.  He threw 18 INTs on the season, multiple ones that I observed on film, and there were 7 more that were dropped (most in the NFL).  I guess the upside of the man is that he has a gun, is fairly mobile, and fearless.  Yet, that last trait for a rookie can very easily translate into wreckless.  We should remain close on the line to his receivers and be aggressive, especially early, looking for opportunities to jump his passes.  Why is this safe?  Because...

2.) Luck doesn't pump fake, but he is disciplined at looking off coverages.  I don't recall seeing one pump fake in these games, and that translates into no stop and go patterns.  He likes seams and fades, and he throws his most accurate passes in rhythm and early into the dropback.  He is dangerously accurate when a receiver gets behind coverage, but his throwing motion can be keyed on for an INT.  Keep an eye for pressure (that would cause him to reload and effectively be a pump fake).  The final ingredient to forcing his passes...

3.) Luck definitely, absolutely struggles with throwing late passes under heavy pressure.  This may be the top reason for his interceptions.  The teams, interestingly enough, didn't bring much blitz pressure, but generated pressure with four, and would force Luck out of comfort in the pocket.  He then--and I mean over the course of SEVEN WEEKS, not just a game or two--will try to force a pass downfield instead of taking a sack.  This happened in every game, time and time again   There is no way that Ed Reed and Cary Williams will not have multiple chances at balls on Sunday.  Yet, we must beware....

4.)  Luck is more mobile than publicized.  He can flat out beat d-linemen to the corner. He will run at the drop of a hat.  Those rushing must be prepared for this and protect the edge.  Even though his late, pressured passes are not successful, he will pick up crucial yards in crucial times with his legs.  This is not his favorite m.o., because judging by his gameplay....

5.) Luck is a system QB, not a dissector like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.  At this early stage of his career, anyways.  His likes to release early, he throws a lot of crossing patterns, short flats, curls.  If the shorts are covered well, it forces him to stage two, which he is not that good at yet.  Add the noise of Ravens Nation and the gamesmanship of a Ray Lewis-led defense, along with the rather successful rush schemes of Coordinator Pees, and it adds up not-so-good for the rookie.  How did they win and see so much success this season?....

6.) Indianapolis pulled out wins vs. losing teams because they are better coached, but they generally got trounced by good teams.  The last time they won against a playoff-qualifier, before Houston, was TWELVE WEEKS AGO, vs. Green Bay (who was 2-2) in week 5.  They beat Minnesota in week 4.  **Note: for the purposes of 4th and 29's evaluation of opponent strength, in weeks 1-4 an opponent is considered a winner if they were playoff qualifiers the year before.  In the subsequent weeks, they are considered on the merit of this season's record and finally playoff qualification this year.  Therefore, out of 16 games, Indianapolis played a grand total of THREE winning teams, losing to New England 59-24, losing to Houston on the road 29-17, and beating Houston last week at home 28-16.  That means they won two games versus winners...all season long.  Compare this with Baltimore: TEN games versus winners, in all the games but one (Houston), 4 wins, with depleted roster and all.  One loss played with backups and still played closely (Bengals, week 17).  The  Ravens have been in adverse situations and prevailed.  Indianapolis is very well coached but simply has not seen the heat that we have.  That will be reflected on the field this week.

7.) The rushing game is very inconsistent and takes a large amount of negative gain plays.  We do have to tackle with surety.  Yet, neither of Indy's backs are game breakers, they like to run a lot of double TE sets that are unbalanced and then dial up treys/counter treys.  This is because...

8.) The Indianapolis offense is simplified and a test in gap integrity.  They do not have the ability to run consistently out of multiple wide sets, so they normally have 2 TEs and the WRs stacked and then motioning one across the formation.  They will disguise this basic set and shift into it.  The reason for this is because they want to force the defense to fit the run scheme on the fly, to misidentify the gaps, and then to spring a RB into a hole.  In the film I studied, the Patriots fit them well, the Texans fit them well, the Lions were horrific at this, and the Chiefs did well.  Ray Lewis is fooled by NO offense.  The run will not beat us.  What about the passing game out of this scheme? ...

9.) Out of the Double TE set, Luck will look to throw a tonnage of screens, including a quick pass to the WR if the Safety is irrelevant (back and within the hashmarks) and there is 1-on-1 coverage to the WIDE side of the field.  This appeared to be a recognition thing about 50%, and a called thing 50%.  Hard to tell.  He doesn't audible much.  Ponder this: Perhaps this is what Flacco would have looked like with a less dysfunctional Offensive Coordinator early in his career.  Corners will have to initially key off of receivers split wide to recognize these plays.  They are easy to read and represent about 25% of the plays.  Really!  This is a supplement to the running game, because...

10.) The Indy o-line is not strong at all.  They are constantly manhandled up the middle.  They are not good straight-on blockers.  It seems that lots of disguised pressure early on will destroy this team.  Run blitzes work.  Pass blitzes work.  Pressure forces turnovers.  This is what I forsee for this game, if the Ravens go this route.

11.) Luck's favorite target is Reggie Wayne, and then TE Anthony Hill #83.  Hill is average, but competitive and can catch.  Wayne is more of a possession receiver now who majors in curls, underneath patterns, and sideline toeing.  They do not have a deep threat to speak of, but have little speedsters who will exploit busted coverage.

12.) Pagano will try and pressure Flacco, but Indy simply doesn't have enough talent on the back end to stop us.  Zbikowski will try to capitalize on this pressure but he cannot keep up with Smith nor Jones.  And they will not be able to stop the run unless they flood the box, which would be a dire mistake at home vs. us.  While these coaches are doing a great job, the team simply isn't up to snuff this year.

13.) Do not allow Indy to goad us into personal fouls.  I don't think they will be bad sports out there, but it could be a strategy.  We must not keep them in the game with brainless penalties.  Let them talk all they want to, let's kill them in the trenches and then on the scoreboard.

14.) PLAY FOR RAY!!!  EVERYONE.  Defense, Offense, Special Teams.  Coaches.  Ravens Nation.  Let's get the momentum started, destroy this inferior team, and deliver a stark message to whomever we face next: WE HAVE A PURPOSE.

Looking forward to it.