Lance Zierlein

The Smash Mouth

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On the Ravens Run Game

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dear David Wilson,

I don’t know if you saw Brandon Jacobs and the way he was running en route to his 22 carries for 106 yards and two-touchdown performance, but that is the way that you are supposed to run. Sometimes you have to go out there and take the yards rather than wait for them to be given to you.

Your friend,

Lance Zierlein

Don’t mind me. I just needed to get that open letter to David Wilson in there. Jacobs looked like the Jacobs of old, trucking Bears defenders and running with a purpose. While it was in a losing effort, Jacobs' game helped to reinforce the idea that a running game isn’t just on offensive linemen … running backs have to maximize their carries as well.

Today we will acknowledge a rookie tight end who is sticking his nose in and doing dirty work in the running game, we praise a pair of tackles who were supposed to be overwhelmed this season, and we take a closer look at the problems surrounding the Baltimore Ravens offensive line.

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $300,000 Fantasy Football league for Week 7. It's $25 to join and first prize is $25,000. Starts Sunday at 1pm ET. Here's the link.

Moving the Sticks

* Two Seattle Seahawks who caught my eye in last week's Titans-Seahawks game were rookie tight end Luke Wilson and right guard J.R. Sweezy. Wilson is doing a solid job as a blocker in the run game both on the line of scrimmage and on the move. Blocking by tight ends is very underrated when it comes to run game success. Sweezy seemed to get mad at Titans DT Jurrell Casey at one point during the second quarter and from that point on, he stepped his game up.

* The Oakland Raiders gave up 10 sacks to the Kansas City Chiefs and obviously, that isn’t acceptable. However, I do have to point out a couple of things. For one, Terrelle Pryor could have easily avoided at least two of those sacks on blitzes if he had dumped the ball off to open crossing routes. For whatever reason, Pryor froze when he saw pressure coming. Secondly, by the end of that game, you had backups in at both RG and RT who have no business getting NFL snaps right now.

* While I’m not trying to minimize the importance of Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt’s quick-hit San Diego Chargers passing game, I do have to point out that King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker are having much better seasons as pass protectors than most anyone expected. Fluker has some physical limitations against speed rushers, but he’s been able to hang in and Philip Rivers has shown terrific pocket presence and awareness, which have helped to keep him clean as well.

* Now on the Buffalo Bills, former Pittsburgh Steelers grinder Doug Legursky replaced LG Colin Brown due to Brown’s ineffectiveness against the Bengals. Legursky did a nice job on double teams with center Eric Wood and helped to open holes on the left side of the line for the Bills' backs. Legursky isn’t a long-term solution, but he will do for now since Brown has been cut.

* The Detroit Lions run defense has been abysmal over the last four games and a big part of that problem has been the uneven play of Nick Fairley. While I admire Fairley’s desire to tough it out and play hurt, I’m not sure he’s doing his team any favors. Look for the Bengals to feast on the Lions' run defense this week.

What has happened to the Ravens offensive line?

Frustration over the run game struggles by the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Rice are boiling over for both Ravens fans and fantasy owners. So I decided to take a close look at their offensive line against the Packers. After breaking down the Green Bay game, I went and looked at coaches tape for two of their previous games as well.

* There is no question that the Ravens are better off with Eugene Monroe starting at left tackle in place of Bryant McKinnie, but that one move won’t solve the problems in Baltimore.

Left Tackle: Monroe and McKinnie -- Monroe instantly upgrades the pass protection, but he might be able to give the run game a boost as well since he moves better than McKinnie and might allow for more consistency with back-side blocks and with getting outside as a lead blocker on play-side pitch plays.

Left Guard: Kelechi Osemele -- Osemele doesn’t look right to me. Not only is he not playing like he did last year, but he isn’t moving normally. Osemele is playing way too high in the run game and he continues to miss his targets on the second level, which is unlike him. I’m not sure that he’s healthy. Something is off with Osemele.

Center: Gino Gradkowski -- The loss of Matt Birk has really hurt this unit. Gradkowski is a pretty good athlete, but his lack of size and strength is a big part of the problem right now from what I’ve seen on tape. When the Ravens try to run their zone plays, Gradkowski gets pushed into the backfield way too often and he doesn’t have enough strength to be effective when the Ravens run their power.

Right Guard: Marshall Yanda -- Yanda hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this year either. Yanda has been okay, but has fallen off of too many blocks, and both he and Osemele are allowing defenders to get inside of them too easily on slants during run plays. I think Yanda will be fine and his problem is that he’s sandwiched between two linemen who give up way too much penetration.

Right Tackle: Michael Oher -- I don’t know if it is any big secret that the Ravens would love to get better than Oher at right tackle, but that isn’t happening this year. Oher has been okay in pass protection, but his high pad level allows defenders to get up under him and control him too frequently. Tackles can stalemate defenders and still “win” in the running game, but that isn’t happening nearly enough with Oher.

Ray Rice vs Bernard Pierce Comparison

* All data provided by STATS Ice

 CarriesYPCYds After ContactBroken TacklesQuality Rush%Stuff%
Pierce 73 2.8 147 8 30.1 31.5
Rice 71 2.8 98 0 35.2 28.2

The offensive line has been atrocious, as you can see from the outrageously high Stuff % (gains of 0 or negative yards) of the running backs. However, I also want to point out that Ray Rice has no broken tackles and Bernard Pierce has gained more yards after contact than Rice. Rice isn’t maximizing his run opportunities (not that there is much room to run), and I’m also seeing a lack of patience at times when I watch endzone tape on some of his runs.

Run Direction Tendency/Success

Run Type Yards% of Overall
Off Left End   20 4.6%
Off Left Tackle   83 19%
Off Left Guard   128 29.4%
Middle   83 19%
Off Right Guard   35 8%
Off Right Tackle   19 4.4%
Off Right End   72 16.5%
Kneel to Kill Clock   -4 0.9%
Totals   436 100%


Run Type Quality RushQuality Rush%
Off Left End   5 45.5%
Off Left Tackle   13 61.9%
Off Left Guard   12 36.4%
Middle   9 36%
Off Right Guard   5 16.1%
Off Right Tackle   3 12.5%
Off Right End   4 40%
Kneel to Kill Clock   0 0%
Totals   51 32.1%

As you can see, the Ravens are an absolute and complete disaster when they try to run right. Only 12.4% of their rushing yards have come over right guard and right tackle, while 48.4% have come over left guard and left tackle. The problem with this revelation is two-fold. The most basic takeaway is that you suck running right. What defensive coordinators may be taking away is a tendency to run left, which makes their job of stopping your running game that much easier.

Hammer-head fullback Vonta Leach is getting blown up before he even gets to his targets by defenders who come crashing into the backfield before the play has even fully developed. And I haven’t even mentioned the shaky blocking by tight end Ed Dickson. Well, now I have.

Lance Zierlein is sports talk show host on KMBE 790 AM in Houston, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @lancezierlein.
Email :Lance Zierlein

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