Saturday, December 25, 2010

Covering your backside

Jingle Bells! Jingle Bells! I hate Christmas. But in the spirit of generosity, giving and good will, I've taken time out from the nauseating, overly commercial spectacle that is Christmas and finally finished my article for the "Most Improved Analyst From a Major Network" award, otherwise known as the MIAFMN. And the winner is....... Michael Lombardi, of the NFL Network. I know. WTF? But it's true. My knock on him is that previously he's always tried to write articles from the perspective of an analyst, a commentator, a journalist or one of many other persona's that just doesn't fit, trying to do things he's not really well accustomed to. But as you can see in this article, when Lombardi sits down and writes from his experience as a former front office personnel guy, he makes a lot of sense. These articles tend to be a bit more cold and detached. There's no hype or gimmicks. He just tells the truth straight from the hip, as if he was briefing an owner on the current state of the NFL. The results are excellent and it offers an interesting perspective. But of course, nothing and nobody can be perfect. That applies to Lombardi as much as the rest of us. Just check out this video. Admittedly Lombardi places some blame on the Ravens protection scheme as a whole, but putting the pressure largely on Joe Falcco is wrong in my opinion. Particularly the criticism that Flacco didn't find his hot route quick enough is well off the mark. To demonstrate, I'll try and use some diagrams. Which now explains why it's taken so long to produce this article. Through the wonders of the "Print Screen" function and some dicking about with files, Jpeg's and God knows what else, I can now finally do some interesting diagrammatic analysis. It should be noted that all the images are screen captures taken from the NFL Networks "Playbook" show and there has been no editing afterwards of the images. So anyway, here we go. The problem with the play in question is that the Steelers have six men at the Line Of Scrimmage, ready to blitz, with a middle linebacker possibly making a 7th rusher. The Ravens obviously have their 5 linemen and they also have a tight end to the right and running back Ray Rice in the backfield. That's seven men to potentially pick up seven. Except the Ravens are using a 6 man protection, involving the lineman and the RB. The tight end is going to release. In the event of a heavy blitz, the Ravens are largely relying on the "hot" principle to pick up one of the blitzers. Now as you can see in the image below, Troy Polamalu is coming from the back side and eventually it will be him who makes the sack.
The "hot" route in this protection is to the tight end to the right. The Tight end is responsible for reading the defender over him. If that guy blitzes, then he breaks off his route and runs quickly into the flat. The quarterback is responsible for reading the linebacker, recognizing the blitz and then throwing the ball quickly to that man, as demonstrated in the next image.
As you can clearly see in the next picture, both the quarterback and the tight end make the right read. They see the blitz, the tight end breaks off into the flat and the quarterback Joe Flacco can clearly be seen starring right at his receiver, looking to the throw the ball quickly. If you watch the video again and look at Flacco's head, he never takes his eyes off that side of the field, first reading the defender and then looking for the throw to the tight end.
Unfortunately there is a problem. Troy Polamalu is about to come free on Flacco's blindside. The blitzer to the right (our left) is accounted for by the "hot"route. The four rushing defenders up the middle are being blocked. So who is accounting for Polamalu, who you can see ringed on (our) right of the picture below?
The answer is of course; nobody. And this is where the problem comes in. Lombardi is blaming Flacco for not seeing Polamalu and thus getting the ball out quickly, but I'm not sure that is Flacco's responsibility. If you look at the picture above you can see the running back is headed to the his right (our left) and by comparison to the picture below you can see that the back ends up picking up the blitz that was already accounted for by the "hot" route. This poses a problem. We have one blitzer being picked up by two people, a case of "double accounting" you might say. This is how Polamalu ends up coming free and I'm inclined to blame the back for this. It's obvious that the "hot" route has one of the blizters covered, so I imagine the back was supposed to go to his left (our right) and pick up Polamalu. Except the back goes the wrong way and as you can see in the picture below, the end result is Flacco trying to give Polamalu an unintended piggy back, which lead to a game changing fumble.
So what have we learnt? Hopefully, that Michael Lombardi is best utilized not analyzing plays on Playbook, but cutting through the layers of bureaucratic and politically correct crap that often surrounds NFL teams and their interactions with the media, and of course the media's own guilt when it comes to shovelling bullshit. And we've also learnt that the Ravens have serious protection issues, mainly involving their backs. Maybe one of the reasons for their offensive success last week against New Orleans stems from the fact that they used Ray Rice much more as a receiver in the passing game where he excels, and relied on him much less for protection purposes. I'll be back later to recap the Saturday night game and give you my picks for Sunday, but until then, Merry Christmas everyone. Bah Humbug

No comments: