Ravens All-22: How The Screen Game Can Take Pressure Off the Offensive Line

Posted on August 30, 2014 by Chris Worthington

This season we are honored to welcome Dan Bryden and Chris Worthington to the Purple Reign team. Dan and Chris are two of the best Ravens film analysts in Baltimore and they'll be showcasing their work here each and every week. We highly recommend checking out their new website, Ravens All-22, for even more film study on the Ravens with amazing detail and unmatched expertise.

If one were to ask The Dude how the Ravens' offensive line has played so far this preseason, he might say "ah, you know, strikes and gutters, ups and downs."

After all, the re-tooled O-line has shown improvement compared to last season... but that's also not saying very much. I do think that the run blocking has improved substantially, but unfortunately the pass blocking hasn't shown nearly as much promise.

On an individual level, Ricky Wagner is still making his way through the learning curve, and Eugene Monroe is playing well below expectation right now. Even Kelechi Osemele has made his share of mistakes. And then there's the issue of running backs trying to pass block, which hasn't been a pretty sight.

All told, the Ravens' pass blocking has looked rough this summer... and I don't anticipate them finding a miraculous fix before the start of the regular season, either.

No Single Player is Responsible for the Pass Blocking Woes

The most troubling development so far is that the team's pass blocking struggles can't be pinned on a single player. In fact, almost everyone (except perhaps Yanda) has struggled at times this preseason. Below I've highlighted a number of plays where the blocking broke down versus Dallas and Washington.

Now, it's impossible to know the exact blocking call on any given play. And it's made even more difficult in the preseason because the All-22 film isn't available. That being said, in each of these instances, you can clearly see that something has gone wrong.

BAL v. DAL  Q1 3:25

This play appeared to be man blocking, and Kelechi Osemele likely blew his assignment. Monroe is left reaching for the pass rusher's jersey, though Flacco has already begun to bail out of the pocket.

BAL v. DAL  Q2 9:03

A missed assignment - possibly by the RB - leads to unabated pressure up the middle, forcing Flacco out of the pocket.

BAL v. DAL  Q2 3:43

Both tackles have failed on this play. Monroe loses badly to the edge rusher and is now blatantly holding him, while Wagner looks like he may have misread his assignment

WSH v. BAL  Q1 14:55

RB Bernard Pierce is responsible for the blitzing linebacker, but he whiffs badly on his block attempt, leaving Flacco little time to get rid of the ball. He did, however, complete this particular pass to Kyle Juszczyk.

As you can see, the line has had trouble blocking for Flacco - and no single player is at fault, either. For instance, it would be understandable if Wagner was struggling and the rest of the group was suffering as a result. But problems persist across the line.

Of course, it's not all bad news on the passing front. Joe Flacco has had a pretty efficient preseason despite the line's subpar blocking.

But as good as he's been, the offense can't thrive for a whole season like this. Heck, the first game against Cincinnati will be a brutal test. So what can the Ravens do going forward to help their struggling offensive line?

Get the Screen Game Going

In Houston, Gary Kubiak often used running back screens and wide receiver screens (when the defensive was playing off coverage). Given the playmakers the Ravens have at the offensive skill positions, it's likely that he'll continue leaning on the screen game in Baltimore.

Now, some fans may recall the Ravens running a bunch of extremely unsuccessful screens in recent years. But as Dan noted in the article linked above, the Ravens' screen game employed a confusing and ill-conceived blocking scheme under previous offensive coordinators. That should change going forward.

So far this preseason, the Ravens have used a few tunnel screens, and neither was particularly successful. But it's the thought that counts here. Getting the ball to Steve Smith and Marlon Brown (or Torrey or Rice or whoever) in space will start paying dividends for this team as long as they don't abandon this strategy.

Check out these two tunnel screens, and look for similar plays once the season gets under way:

WSH v. BAL Q1 1:04

A screen pass to Steve Smith. The Ravens are in their Ace personnel (1RB, 1TE), and they'll ask Jacoby Jones and Dennis Pitta to block for Smith. Jacoby fails to lock up his defender and the slot corner is able to trip Smith after a minimal gain.

 WSH v. BAL Q2 1:08

A screen pass to Marlon Brown. The Ravens are once again using Ace personnel (1RB, 1TE), but this time they go with an empty backfield. Flacco motions RB Justin Forsett to the play side pre-snap as an additional blocker. A promising play, but Pitta ends up whiffing as he tries to block the cornerback and Brown is tackled for essentially no gain.
Now, tunnel screens are all fine and good, but the team will need to diversify its screen game to give Flacco some easy completions and take pressure off the offensive line.

Below is a short video breaking down a RB middle screen that the Cowboys ran against Baltimore in preseason week 2. This play went for a gain of 30+ yards and could be easily replicated by the Ravens. A simple, well-blocked screen with some window dressing to create space:

If the Ravens get creative with their screen game, it should help take pressure off of the offensive line early in the season while the unit is still learning to play together. Luckily, Kubiak is a very smart offensive coordinator who knows how to get the most out of his personnel. I predict that we'll see more (successful) screens in the next few weeks than we ever did in previous years under Jim Caldwell and Cam Cameron.

next up:

Ravens Cut Five Players; More Roster Moves Coming

August 29, 2014

The team begins the process of trimming down to the 53-man roster


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