Torrey Smith All-22: More Than Just a Deep Threat?
Ever since Torrey Smith’s breakout three-touchdown game against St. Louis in 2011, Ravens fans have been treated to the Flacco/Smith deep connection over and over. The Ravens have leaned on Torrey’s straight-line speed to take the top off of defenses including the very first play of 2012:
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To give plays like this a bit of context, I turned to ProFootballFocus. Torrey Smith trailed only Calvin Johnson in number of deep targets (>20y in the air) with 44 during the regular season. With an additional 16 deep targets in the playoffs, that equates to an average of 3 per game. In fact, throughout the entire 2012 season, a league-leading 46.9% of his total targets were >20 yards.
Smith caught 31.7% of these deep passes, which accounted for a tie for the league-lead with 7 deep touchdowns and third in the league in total yards on deep passes (606y).
Now that he’s done it on the biggest of stages, most NFL fans now know that Torrey Smith is a burner with big play ability. So in the absence of Anquan Boldin (and now Dennis Pitta) in 2013, how can the Ravens use Torrey’s speed to their advantage when defenses scheme for being tested vertically? As usual, I dug into the tape to find some answers:
With Joe Flacco having far more control of the offense under Jim Caldwell, he can audible to short passes to get the ball in Smith’s hands in space.
On 2nd and Long the Ravens are in a running formation. Safety Quintin Mikell is playing Smith with an 8-yard cushion and one step after the snap Flacco throws the quick screen.
Torrey now has the ball in space with only two would-be tacklers to account for. Smith cannot yet run the full route-tree efficiently so this allows him to be dangerous without running a standard route.
Smith excels in open space because of natural speed and body control. To take advantage of both of these traits, the Ravens have used a variant of Z Drive from the West Coast Playbook.
The Ravens have aligned Torrey Smith off the line of scrimmage allowing him to release with minimal deterrence. Bunch sets are notoriously difficult to defend because of the confusion immediately following the snap. A defensive adjustment to quell this confusion is the “Box” call (broken down by Matt Bowen here) which calls for defenders to play man coverage based on which direction the receivers release (left or right) rather than basing it on the pre-snap alignment. This defense is imperfect as severe mismatches can occur.
The Ravens have accomplished a) getting Torrey the ball in space and b) dictating the matchup of speedster vs. the 260lb linebacker Chris Gocong. This is a simple First Down.
This is a play that Ravens fans have seen numerous times but run under the correct blocking scheme, it can put one of a team’s best athletes in the open field.
Moments after the snap, Smith is already in motion toward the back-field.
After play-action to Ray Rice to keep the weak side Defensive End (#91) honest, Smith takes the hand off with TE Dennis Pitta in front of him. This particular blocking scheme keeps Torrey from the threat of losing yards as Pitta can block the Defensive End if he doesn’t bite. Provided the End crashes down, Pitta can release to block further downfield on the next man filling.
Mesh (image from football-defense.com) is another West Coast play designed to take advantage of underneath linebackers in coverage. In this particular example, Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta cross paths to “pick” defenders.
In this playcall there is always a designated “Under” and “Over” route. Torrey Smith is taught to run underneath the trajectory that Dennis Pitta takes in order to screen his defender.
Smith adjusts his route on the fly to keep high-end CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie from trailing him.
With DRC unable to keep his man-to-man assignment, the leftover defender is 240lb linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Take away the holding penalty on Matt Birk, this play successfully gains the First Down in the redzone.
I have been critical of Torrey Smith’s route-running ability since 2011. He has yet to perfect using his shoulders and hips to sell routes and doesn’t make quick, abrupt cuts. Many of these struggles can be blamed on the speed with which he runs his routes simply because it takes him longer to break his stride. Torrey Smith is far from being a complete receiver but his speed and sure hands have led him to being this year’s top receiving threat in Baltimore. I expect to see Caldwell using Smith in more interesting roles to accentuate his strengths as the current in-house receivers have yet to prove that they can fill the production left by the trading of Anquan Boldin.