The biggest stories in the running-game world last week revolved around two rushing offenses that were left for dead early in the season -- Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
Truth be told, Baltimore’s running game is basically on life support, but they were able to feed off of the Bears' pathetic rush defense and Ray Rice showed that he still has plenty left in the tank if he can just get some room to operate. Tampa’s running game has surged in a big way and Bobby Rainey did his fair share to maximize his carries with good vision and his ability to make people miss.
Today we will take a look inside some of the longer runs of the weekend with the how and why they happened. We’ll also look at the pass protection struggles of the right tackles around the league.
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Moving the Sticks
* The Atlanta Falcons took heat and then gained credit for their wheeling and dealing in landing Julio Jones. Do you know who fans and analysts won’t be giving GM Thomas Dimitroff credit for drafting? Peter Konz. Konz has played guard and center for the Falcons and he isn’t playing particularly well at either position. Konz doesn’t move guys in the running game and struggles in pass protection. Looks like a second-round miss by Dimitroff.
* Bengals RT Andre Smith really struggled against Browns OLB Jabaal Sheard last weekend. Sheard not only gave Smith problems around the edge, but did a tremendous job of using his hands to defeat the punch of Smith.
* The Green Bay Packers have struggled to run the ball since Aaron Rodgers went down. The Packers have failed to hit 100 yards rushing over their previous two games and have averaged 3.3 and 2.8 ypc. The Eagles used stunting linebackers to help keep the Packers from getting to their second-level blocks, while the Giants disguised coverages and used plenty of single-high safety looks while keeping a safety near the line of scrimmage. The bottom line, however, is that the Packers just got whipped by guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and former Packer Cullen Jenkins.
* The San Diego Chargers ran left last week against the Dolphins and found success behind massive rookie D.J. Fluker, who moved from right to left tackle in place of injured King Dunlap. Fluker had issues in pass protection, which is going to happen since he’s so slow out of his stance. His life will be a living nightmare on Sunday against Tamba Hali if Philip Rivers doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly.
* On the Pittsburgh Steelers, I just don’t see the talent needed from Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams to consider either guy as a future starter at tackle on a good offensive line. Sure, you can get by with them, but the Steelers have been getting by for way too long and have to keep working to get better players up front.
* The New Orleans Saints' interior line had a strong Week 11 game against San Francisco as they provided the push necessary every time that Sean Payton called on them in short yardage.
Inside Big Runs From Week 11
Chris Ogbonnaya, CLE / 1st Quarter, 43-yard gain (vs. Bengals)
The Browns were in 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs) out of the I-formation and ran an outside zone play right toward the tight end side with a wide receiver coming around the backfield as a handoff decoy to hold the backside contain. Bengals DT Brandon Thompson shot the inside against RG Shawn Lauvao and got into the backfield quickly, causing Ogbonnaya to make his backside cut earlier than expected. The Bengals were reading their keys and flowing with the direction of the ball and the backside defenders didn’t even seem to see Ogbonnaya run right past them on the way to a 43-yard gain.
Chris Ivory, NYJ / 4th Quarter, 69-yard gain (vs. Bills)
The Jets were in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) with Geno Smith taking the snap under center and Ivory behind him. The Jets ran Stephen Hill in motion and, like the Browns, used the receiver as a handoff decoy to freeze the backside defender, who happened to be a safety blitzing off the left edge. The Jets ran an inside zone play starting right toward the strong side but then Ivory cut it way back over the backside B-gap and found tons of room with the safety contain occupied by the handoff decoy and with the Bills' defensive front over-committed.
Ray Rice, BAL / 1st Quarter, 47-yard gain (vs. Bears)
The Ravens were operating out of a Pistol formation with 11 personnel, and the tight end lined up on the left on the line of scrimmage. They ran their stretch play toward the strong side (left) with just a slightly wider track than some teams run their outside zone. Julius Peppers got his shoulders turned and didn’t stay square to the line of scrimmage, which allowed LT Eugene Monroe to easily run him out of the play. Left guard A.Q. Shipley got up the second level on the linebacker and pushed him toward the sideline while center Gino Gradkowski used proper technique to wall off the Bears' nose tackle. On most long runs, there is a breakdown on the defensive side and such was the case here as the Bears' safeties took bad angles to Rice on the play. Oh yeah, Marshal Yanda may have held a little bit on his backside block, but those things happen.
Bobby Rainey, TB / 2nd Quarter, 43-yard gain (vs. Falcons)
Tampa come out in 21 personnel with twin receivers right, a tight end on the left and an I-formation. Tampa runs a lead play into the A-gap between the center and right guard. The center and left guard double team the Falcons' nose tackle while the right side of Tampa’s line (Davin Joseph and Demar Dotson) execute kickout blocks on their men. From there, FB Erik Lorig leads into the hole and squares up Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon while LB Paul Worrilow gets caught behind the double team on the nose tackle and doesn’t even factor into the play whatsoever. The key to this play going the distance was the inability (or even unwillingness) of the Falcons' cornerbacks to fight through blocks and compete to make the tackle.
These were four examples of long runs from last weekend with scheme creating the run along with favorable defensive alignments. The Ravens did a great job of executing their blocks while the Bears' safeties misplayed it and turned what should have been a 16-yard run into a 47-yard run. Bobby Rainey actually made two outstanding cuts to go along with his great burst to help him gain 43 en route to a touchdown. Tampa blocked the play exactly as they were supposed to, but the poor effort of the Falcons' defense contributed to that big play and to a huge game for Rainey.
Right Tackle Problems
In scanning the stats for most sacks allowed by tackles, the high number of right tackles on the list immediately jumped out at me. I decided to isolate all tackles who had allowed six sacks or more and take a look at how many pressures they allowed as well as their total penalty yardage.
* Data provided by STATS ICE
Mitchell Schwartz, CLE
Paul McQuistan, SEA
Eric Winston, ARZ
Tyson Clabo, MIA
Eric Fisher, KC
Derek Newton, HOU
Lane Johnson, PHI
Doug Free, DAL
Jonathan Martin*, MIA
Charles Brown, NO
Anthony Davis, SF
Don Barclay, GB
Kelvin Beachum**, PIT
Will Beatty, NYG
Michael Oher, BAL
* = Jonathan Martin allowed 1 sack at RT and 5.5 at LT.
** = Kelvin Beachum allowed 5 sacks at LT and 1 at guard.
The Right Tackle Takeaway
* Mitchell Schwartz allowed six of his nine sacks within the first five games of the season while allowing three over his last five. Schwartz is limited physically, but he is showing signs of improvement in his second season.
* Rookie right tackles Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson have both struggled with their protection at times, but Fisher is the guy who worries me a little more than Johnson. I came out of the draft a little concerned about Johnson’s core strength and I’m still keeping an eye on it, but Johnson has elite feet.
Fisher looks like the little brother who is getting pushed around by the big brother on the playground. Fisher has talent, but he isn’t playing with consistent technique and obviously lacks confidence right now. I remember watching Eric Winston as a rookie in Houston and he had some of the same issues early on before figuring things out in his second season. I’m hoping the same thing happens for Fisher.
* Jonathan Martin simply lacked the necessary physical tools to be a consistent pass protector in the NFL. I really don’t think that will change even if he ends up on another team.
* Eric Winston has physical limitations as a pass rusher and the Cardinals knew that when they brought him in. The upside for Winston is that he’s still a capable run blocker and he’s a great veteran to have working with younger players. With that said, his sacks allowed have become an issue as he’s gotten older and he will have to fight off a younger tackle next year in camp.
* Anthony Davis is vastly overrated in my opinion and he’s not as good a pass protector as you would like for the money that the 49ers are paying him. Speaking of overrated, I know that Michael Oher’s life story is compelling, but his blocking is not. The Ravens can’t wait to find his replacement.
* Doug Free, Don Barclay, Derek Newton, and Tyson Clabo will likely all be replaced in 2014.