The Ravens have begun their first winning streak of this 2013 season. They had success in all three aspects of the game en route to a 30-9 victory. I took a look at some interesting plays throughout.
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Daryl Smith Pick-Six
Prior to this play, the game had been deadlocked in a battle of teams who refused to take chances. This interception by Daryl Smith opened the scoring flood gates.
The Texans come out in their 12 personnel using the Pistol formation with Ben Tate behind Matt Schaub. TEs Daniels and Graham join WR Hopkins in a Trips Bunch to the left. The playcall is “Flat-7″ (Hopkins: Flat, Graham: Corner) with a “Follow” element (Daniels: Texas route). Safeties Ihedigbo and Elam are showing a 2-high look as their depth is >10 yards deep. “Flat-7″ makes for a nice Cover-2 beater and since Schaub can assume Dumervil (#58) won’t be playing man coverage on a tight-end, the pre-snap phase appears to favor the Texans.
At the snap the defense rotates into “Cover-3 Sky” (Safety force). ‘M’ here marks Daryl Smith, the MIKE backer. He is taught to remain in his hook/curl zone and match the first inside release.
Schaub has a tendency to key on his pre-snap read and in this image, stares at Daniels breaking on his Texas route. Daryl Smith first appears to carry #88 Garrett Graham up the seam (that is, his momentum has him leaning upfield) but Smith is keying on the inside break of Daniels.
A great read and break on the ball combine with a throw too far to the inside allows Smith to intercept Schaub and take it the other way for six.
Defending the Zone Blocking Scheme
Many fans were surprised that the Ravens won by 21 points. What was not surprising was the effectiveness of the zone running game Houston leans on each week. The Ravens surely didn’t have a repeat of last year’s Week 7 debacle where they allowed 181 rushing yards on 37 attempts for 4.9 YPC and certainly Sunday’s game did not allow the Texans to rush upwards of 40 times. But the Ravens still allowed 90 rushing yards on 21 carries for 4.3 YPC. The Ravens still struggle at times with the zone blocking scheme even with the deep and talented front seven of 2013.
CBS graced us with a beautiful replay of an Inside Zone running play that allows me to talk a bit of strategy.
This Inside Zone play comes out of the two-back I formation with Arian Foster dotting the I. The Ravens are in their base 3-4.
The ball carrier’s goal in Inside Zone is the B gap (between guard and tackle). The offensive lineman turn in unison to their left in order to spread out the defense and provide cut-back lanes. By rule the Left Tackle man-blocks his assignment #90 McPhee. The Left Guard and Center combo-block #96 Marcus Spears (meaning Spears needs to be controlled before one of them get up to the second level to attack a linebacker). Lastly, the Right Guard and Right Tackle are charged with cutting off the backside defenders.
In the above image, the entire defense begins to flow with the O-Line except #96 Spears.
Spears was a step slow getting out of his stance and he has been pinned to the backside by the Left Guard and Center. This is bad news for the Ravens as the Left Guard can reach the second level to block #51 Daryl Smith while being confident that Spears can no longer impact the play.
On the backside, the Right Guard is beginning his cut block (below the knee) on #93 Tyson which will eliminate him as well.
Foster is now being escorted into the B-gap by FB Greg Jones who takes on #56 Bynes. The Left Guard has reached Daryl Smith. The Ravens entire Front Seven is accounted for by six blockers.
#90 McPhee does his part by 2-gapping the Left Tackle but the savvy Foster stretches McPhee nearer to the sideline before cutting into the open hole. This is patient running executed perfectly.
Fortunately for the Ravens, the backside only held their blocks momentarily and with McPhee and Ihedigbo (right-most Ravens above) forcing Foster back to the inside, the run is stopped for a 6 yard gain.
Trouble with the zone-blocking scheme starts up front. This is where gap integrity impacts the ultimate success of a run play. The defensive front primarily needs to work to not get reach-blocked toward the sideline. If they can do this, penetration is the second priority.
Minimizing the Watt Effect
The last time the Ravens met the Texans, star DE J.J. Watt accrued 4 tackles, 2 batted passes, and 2 hurries of Flacco. This Sunday, the Ravens offensive gameplan was extremely simple in the first few drives in part because they were creating blocking schemes specifically to minimize Watt.
The above play was the second play of the Ravens first drive. At first viewing, this play appeared to be your average power run play (everyone block down while the backside guard pulls to the play-side). However, these schemes generally leave the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS) intentionally unblocked before the pulling guard arrives to kick him out. This wasn’t the case here. Osemele pulled to the playside and sought out Watt specifically. The Ravens wasted no time trying to deter Watt from his usual dominance.
This playcall involved a double-team on J.J. Watt. The Ravens were so concerned with Watt that they decided before the snap to slide the protection to the right (Watt’s side) and leave RB Pierce to block one of the league’s best blitzing LBs Brian Cushing. The ultimate result was a missed reception to Dallas Clark (#87).
Instead of a standard O-line double-team, the Ravens opted to chip Watt with a running back on this play. At the snap, Pierce locked his gaze on Watt and chipped him on his way to the flat to catch a Flacco pass. This was clearly part of the playcall.
After being stifled on the offense’s right side, Watt shifted to the other side of the line to try his hand at facing the lesser of the two Raven guards, Kelechi Osemele. Watt was met with a combined 689 pounds worth of double-team between McKinnie and Osemele. Even with good positioning from these two O-lineman, McKinnie still resorted to (and was flagged for) holding onto Watt’s face-mask.
This scheme was my favorite. TE Ed Dickson motioned from his plus-split alignment to an H-back position. By design the Ravens left Watt unblocked and Watt was met with a nasty cut block from Dickson which eliminated him from the play.
The Ravens brought their swing tackle Ricky Wagner into the game to add extra beef to the blocking scheme. Wagner and McKinnie double-team J.J. Watt and reduce him to one knee.
Despite clear game-planning, Watt still led his team with 6 tackles and added 3 assisted tackles and a sack for good measure. It’s rare that a gameplan clearly and obviously attempts to eliminate one specific player but in this instance it was warranted.