Is the Ravens Rushing Game Back?

The 2013 Ravens run game has been criticized heavily by the local and national media, and rightly so.  Throughout the John Harbaugh era, the offense has been predicated on running the ball effectively to set up intermediate-to-deep shots down the field to speedy receivers.  The Ravens’ inability to run has handcuffed the entire offense and placed the Ravens at 30th in Total Yards per Game (and 29th in Football Outsiders’ Offensive DVOA).

This past Sunday, the Ravens finally got their rushing attack back on track against the Bears with an explosion (in relative terms) of 154 rushing yards on 38 attempts (4.05 YPC).  Are the Bears that bad? Did the Ravens change schemes? Was it entirely due to the weather?  I took a look at the Coaches Film to find the answers.

Discuss this piece and others at our Message Board.

In the games leading up to the Bears matchup, the Ravens relied on their Zone Blocking Scheme to open up holes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.  They have struggled with this approach as I detailed several weeks ago.  Fans have been clamoring for the team to use more “man” or “power” blocking schemes that rely less on sorting out combination blocks after the snap.  The Ravens did change their scheme and had success:

powerzone

Take away the 47 yard rush, the zone blocking average was 1.38YPC

For the first time all season, the Ravens designed more “Power” rushes than zone rushes. In addition, the Ravens also had success running from Shotgun/Pistol:

shotpistol

These numbers are interesting, but how did the Ravens succeed? 

“Power O” vs. Cover-2

powero1

The field conditions got worse and worse through the duration of this game.  Running laterally was not yielding substantial yardage as the backs continued to slip after planting into the mud.  Instead, the Ravens focused on a Power scheme.  The above play is referred to as “Power O” (O=Offensive Lineman) which asks each lineman to block down (wall off the playside) while the backside guard (Yanda here) pulls to the playside and attacks the SAM linebacker.

From a numbers standpoint, the Ravens have an advantage which stems from their use of shotgun and 3WRs.  With only two second level players (arrows) to account for, it’s a good situational play call.

powero2

With the entire OL blocking down and Yanda pulling to the strong-side, Pierce takes a “counter” cut and begins to attack the playside.  The two linebackers (arrows) are scraping toward the play. By design, they are both accounted for (by LT and RG).

As a consequence of using shotgun, the Bears’ Safety (top left of the image) is bailing in coverage.  He is now a tertiary defender.

powero3

Yanda (RG) kicks out the SAM linebacker beautifully giving Pierce a crevice to run through.  Pierce would have only the Safety to beat if Monroe (LT) hadn’t tripped before reaching the WILL linebacker.  The WILL makes the tackle after a respectable gain of 7 yards.

“Inside Trap” vs. Cover 2

trap1

The Ravens utilized Yanda as a “Trap” blocker on a number of occasions.  This is an inside run that allowed Rice to get up field quickly while keeping his feet underneath of him.

The play calls for Shipley (LG) to leave his defender unblocked intentionally.  This allows Shipley to work to the second level while Yanda (RG) “Trap” blocks on the first level.  Everyone else works to block out (away from the inside) to give Rice the largest chasm possible.

trap2

Eugene Monroe (LT) pushes to the second level instantly.  I’d prefer him to block outward first (on Peppers). He may have screwed his assignment up as Dallas Clark (#87) appears to be working toward the same linebacker.

The rest of the OL is blocking well and using force off the snap instead of dancing laterally in the zone scheme.  “Power” blocking fits the current personnel much better than zone blocking.

trap3

As would be expected, Julius Peppers squeezes down along the line of scrimmage to stop this run for a 3 yard gain.  This play was one block away from an explosive run and exemplifies the effectiveness of the Power scheme.

“Lead Strong” vs. Cover-1

lead1

This play uses man blocking but doesn’t involve a pulling guard.  Instead, the lead blocker is FB Vonta Leach.  The play was originally meant to hit the 2-hole (the play is also called “32 Lead”) where Gradkowski (C), Monroe (LT), and Leach (FB) are responsible for the three inside linebackers. All other lineman block out.  This play used an additional lineman, Ricky Wagner (EO=Eligible OL) on the line of scrimmage.

lead2

Before the snap, the four Bears defensive lineman were aligned in an “Over” front (shifted to the strong side) but they all slanted to the weak side once the ball was snapped.  In unison, the linebackers scraped hard to the play side.  The gaps had changed substantially but the play was not completely derailed.

The slanting defensive lineman made the Offensive Line’s “down” blocks easy.  FB Leach reroutes toward the SAM backer while Oher (RT) and Wagner (EO) wall off the C gap.

lead3

The downside to the slanting defense was that Gradkowski (C) had no chance to make it to the MIKE linebacker (seen chasing above).  Therefore, once Pierce got the the hole, he had a linebacker in his face.  Pierce flexibly ran away from this linebacker through a new crease created by Leach and Wagner (EO).

A hard-nosed “Power” running play combined with on-the-fly adjustments led to an 8 yard pick-up.

The Bears’ Approach

The Ravens return to rushing the ball wasn’t entirely based on their own doing.  I mentioned earlier this week on Lance Rinker’s radio show that the Bears played a lot of two-deep coverages (Cover-2, Tampa-2) while allotting a coverage player to each Ravens receiver.  This often left 6 or 7 players to play the run.

The Bears also like to use four-man fronts.  Although it has strengths, using 4-men on the line of scrimmage creates gap problems if they are consistently being pushed away (and trapped).  Additionally, they liked to rush from the outside which left Gino Gradkowski a lot of freedom to get to the second level on “Draw” plays from shotgun.

Should the Zone Blocking Scheme go away?

I don’t think the Ravens should stop using the zone blocking scheme altogether.  They have had some spot success with it including the first rush of the game for 47 yards (broken down by Matt Vensel).  Sprinkling zone plays throughout the game play (particularly using shotgun) can stretch the defense out and force them to play from sideline to sideline.  I ultimately think the Ravens should use a 3:1 Power-to-Zone ratio.

Can the Ravens keep it going?

The Jets have a formidable run defense (ranked #1 in Rushing DVOA at -35.9%) with studs like Muhammed Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison amongst the top defensive lineman in the league.  The Jets will bring a very stout Front Seven to Baltimore on Sunday and with Rex Ryan’s complex blitz schemes, the Ravens will have their hands full.

As a writer, I have to admit when I’ve been scooped.  Don’t miss a well-done piece by Shehan Peiris who takes a similar approach.

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About the author


Dan Bryden   

Ravens Analyst

Dan played high school football at Wilde Lake and graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Psychology. Dan is currently a Maryland Terp working on his PhD degree in Neuroscience. He has experience writing published scientific material as well as blogging for SBNation via Baltimore Beatdown. Beginning in the 2012 season, Dan has been writing about the Ravens focusing on the X’s and O’s of the game of football with heavy use of overhead (All-22) film analysis. The Columbia, MD native currently lives in Silver Spring.


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