I will warn straight away that this will be a long post. I'm only going to cover the 1st team Oline as that is what we'll be seeing most of the season. Lets start with run blocking.
Our run blocking so far in pre-season has been very good. Against the Ravens defence including pro-bowlers like Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs, it was no different. This first play I'll breakdown is from our second drive. Grossman just missed a downfield pass, leaving us second and 10. Pressure is on a bit here, because we need to make it a manageable 3rd down situation or the offence has failed for two straight series, and Grossman gets replaced by Beck next series.
It's the famous Mike Shanahan stretch play. All the Olinemen moving together, the running back follows behind them and either makes 1 cut when he sees a hole, or follows the line until he gets outside and turns upfield. The key is to have a way to blocking off the backside zone, so nobody from that side can get over and make a play. In this particular instance, the TE Logan Paulsen has the responsibility to cut back and stop the backside from making a play on Hightower.
A few frames on, we can see that everyone bar Trent Williams has a good block. Williams didn't get off the snap as well as Terrance Cody did, and he's struggling to stop him. Paulsen's responsibility here would normally be to block number 93, Cory Redding, but he recognises Williams is struggling and helps him out. Kory Lichtensteiger and Will Montgomery are blocking Lewis, and Jammal Brown teams up with Chris Chester to block Ngata. That leaves Fred Davis to block Suggs on his own.
Paulsen makes a tremendous cut block on Cody, taking out Redding behind him as well. When you can take two out of three Dlineman out of the play, your going to make yards. When a TE takes two out of three Dlineman out of the play, allowing your Olineman to get to the next level and block linebackers, your going to get big yards. Trent Williams gets out and to the next level because of that block, and Chester does the same once Jammal Brown has gotten the better of Ngata.
I've circled in red terrific blocks by Fred Davis on Suggs, and Jammal Brown on Ngata. You would expect Ngata to get the better of just about any Olineman one-on-one and this time last year, Suggs would have walked past Davis. But on this play, they do a fantastic job to open up a hole for Hightower to run through. Chester gets a block on Jarret Johnson while Willams continues to get up-field.
Chester doesn't get a good block on Johnson. His pad level is too high, he needs to get lower to drive Johnon back. In the end, Johnson makes the tackle on Hightower, but Chester did enough to let Hightower get a first down first.
Another great run play was the Hightower TD run. If you've seen the pay of the week vote, you've already seen this play, but it was too good not to be in an Oline breakdown thread. Mike Sellers is the TE in motion, Logan Paulsen is in at TE as well. Moss and Austin at WR, and obviously Hightower in the backfield.
This play is blocked to absolute perfection. The key block is the one I've put in blue. Kory Lichtensteiger makes a brilliant cut block on the Dlineman. This not only takes that defender out of the play, but it allows Paulsen to block his man into Kory, so it cuts him as well. It also makes the Linebacker lined up over Paulsen's shoulder completely irrelevant because there's no way he can get past the pile of players caught up by the cut block. Will Montgomery shows fantastic jump off the snap to get off the ball and help Chris Chester to block the other Dlineman and push him towards the numbers. Mike Sellers plays a big role as well, chipping the DE/OLB, pushing him outside before getting to the second level. By getting the chip, Jammal Brown is then able to take over and push him wider. This combined with the double team block from Montgomery and Chester makes a huge hole between them and the place of the cut block for Hightower to run into.
You can see in the red circles that the cut block has taken out the back side, and the double team block that is just destroying the Dlineman and creating a huge hole. The one name I didn't mention in the last paragraph was Trent WIlliams. That's because this is his paragraph. I've circled his block in black as it was the key block at this point. Normally the Ravens would not allow a hole this large in their defence. On any normal play, Ray Lewis would have been there to fill the void and make the play. But Trent Williams does an amazing job getting out and just blowing him up. If you are at all skeptical of Williams, check out the highlight video of this play and just watch the block on Ray Lewis, and you'll see why we picked him.
Hightower see's the free defender from the right, so he makes his cut back to the left. Logan Paulsen, free after blocking his first man over the pile on the floor, shows great awareness and comes back to make a great block on the Linebacker. Trent continues to dominate Lewis.
Terrance Austin then comes in, and shows yet another string to his bow. He makes a key block to allow Hightower to get one-on-one with the outside defender (which you'll see in the next frame). Trent still dominating Lewis. He's blocked him to the ground at this point.
What I really like about this picture is we see the mean streak in Trent Williams. He finishes his block, making sure that Lewis is not getting back up to make a play. Austin does his part with that block, but from this point its all about Hightower. Brilliant Oline play, zone-blocking working to perfection.
Our last run blocking play is an example of some of the disadvantages of the zone-blocking scheme. It requires two key elements, zoning off the backside of the play, and everyone working in sync. If one man misses his block or screws up, the whole play is bust. Neither element happens in this play. It's second and 10, 5:37 left in the second quarter. Davis and Paulsen are in at TE on the left side of the line.
The design of the play is to let Davis take his block wide, and create a hole between him and Williams for Hightower to run into. Paulsen gets up-field to block a DB, Williams is one-one-one with Redding, Lichtensteiger is to chip Cody before going on to block Lewis. Montgomery's job is to take on the block of Cody after the chip from Kory. Chester is chipping Ngata before leaving him to Brown and getting up-field to the next level.
The three problems with this play are circled. Trent Williams got way too high on Redding, allowing Redding to get under him and drive him back and eventually push him to the ground. Montgomery is being driven back by Cody, his weight appears to be on his heels at this point, which gives Cody the opportunity to push him back. On top of this, we failed to zone off the back side. Suggs, circled in red, has a clear run at Hightower. Normally we would have a TE coming back across the line, or someone would have made a cut block, as we've seen in the two plays before.
The red circle highlights everything wrong with the play. Williams is on the floor behind Montgomery, who has been driven back by Cody. This closes any hole that was there for Hightower to run into (you can see with the red line where the play was designed to let him run. The only option now for Hightower is to cut back inside, but because we failed to zone off the backside, Suggs has a free run at him and makes the tackle. Luckily for us, this didn't happen, and hasn't happened, all that often this pre-season.
The first play I'll start with is our first drive. 3rd and 8 for Grossman. In on the play we have three WR's (Moss, Gaffney and Armstrong), one TE in Davis and one RB in Hightower. Davis motioned from the bunch formation to where he is in this picture.
This is a typical overload blitz. On the face of it, it looks like four down-lineman and a LB on the blitz. But its a disguise from the Ravens, who drop the left DE into coverage, rotate a safety to cover Armstrong, and send a DB on a blitz. It overloads Grossman's blind-side, which means he won't see the hit coming and can rush out the throw.
Williams takes on Ngata off the snap, while Chester is one-on-one with (I believe) Redding. It leaves Brown, Montgomery and Lichtensteiger with nothing to do. Just like how our cut blocks take people out of the play, an overload blitz can take Olineman out of the play. It also left three blitzers against a RB and a TE, which is clearly, never ideal. What should have happened in this play, is Lchtensteiger and Montgomery should have rotated over and taken Ngata off the snap, trusting Chester to block Redding, and Brown to block the other DE if he were to have blitzed. This would have left Williams on Suggs, Davis on the blitzing LB, and Hightower on the blitzing DB. That would have picked up all the pass rushers and given Grossman some time to throw. You can potentially put this down on Grossman for not reading the rotating Safety that dropped down over Armstrong. That's usually a big indicator of a DB blitz. If Grossman had picked up on that, perhaps the outcome would have been different.
The next play I want to look at is Beck's first play, a 33 yard pass to Armstrong down the sideline.
What we have here is a DB blitz, along with four down linemen, and Ray Lewis (once he realises its a pass play and Hightower is blocking). Beck is dropping back on a 5-step drop.
Williams does a good job of realising that the Corner blitz is coming, he delays the Dlineman enough to let Lichtensteiger pass his block to Montgomery and take up the vacant Dlineman. Williams then drops back and takes on the DB. Chester is doing a nice job one-on-one upfront, and Brown has control of his block, and gets some help from Hightower as well.
When Beck goes to throw, he has a clean pocket and nobody within a yard or two of him. Well executed play from the Oline.
To wrap up the Oline breakdown, we'll look at the Grossman TD pass to Moss. Again, if you've read the play of the week thread, you'll have seen this. But it was a nice example of a very clean pocket for Grossman to throw from, and lets us finish on a positive. Lets have a look:
We are lined up in a bunch formation, Hightwer in the backfield and Davis at TE on the far side of the picture. This is a pretty simple play as we only have 3 routes, and 7 blockers including Hightower. Moss is going to run straight to the back pylon, being the primary target, and in a 3rd and long situation, the only real target. Gaffney runs a quick out as a check-down or second option. Armstrong runs a 5 yard come-back route as the 3rd option, but the main design of that route is to occupy zones and/or defenders to allow the first two guys more chance of getting open.
The Ravens probably surprise us a bit by only sending a 4 man rush on 3rd and long. As you can see here, the Oline have no problem picking this up. Only Davis struggles with his block, but Hightower is on his way over to help out. Grossman has as clean a pocket as you could ask for.
Look at how clean Grossman's pocket is, he has the time to take aim and throw. Again, I know its only a 4 man rush, but we've rarely given the QB a clean pocket to throw from for the past few years.
Overall, this line is playing pretty well I feel. This was Trent Williams best game of pre-season so far, and the Line as a whole is playing so much better than it did in years gone by. There is still a lot to work on, particularly in pass protection, but I'm very encouraged by what we've seen from our run blocking. I felt the pass protection has also gotten better as pre-season has gone on, and as games go on, particularly against the Ravens. It seemed to start a bit rusty, but once beck came in and provided a bit of a spark with that throw, I thought it was solid for the most part.