This weekend’s Ravens-Broncos game will feature two of the greatest football players of all time in Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis. It’s also a rematch of a Week 15 matchup, one that was won by the Broncos, 34-17. That game, however, only featured one of these all-time greats—Ray Lewis was forced to miss the contest with an injury. This Saturday, Lewis will be on the field for the Divisional Round Playoff game. The big question is how much of a difference will he make.
In that Week 15 game, Knowshon Moreno ran for 118 yards on 22 carries. As a result, and to counter Denver’s running success, the Ravens moved a safety down closer to the line of scrimmage. This does help the run game defense, but, as you can probably figure out, it simultaneously hurts a team’s pass defense; the D’s corners are left on an island with less help.
Can Ray Lewis be the Hall of Fame player of his youth? Can his presence allow the Ravens to keep both safeties back in deep coverage? We won’t know until Saturday, but for now, lets take a closer look at how the Broncos attacked a Lewis-less Ravens linebacking core.
The Broncos primary weapon was using the run game to set up the play-action pass. Initially, both plays look the same to the defense. In this video clip, at the 0:33 mark, we see the run play. This is an “inside zone” scheme used by the Broncos. In the picture below, you can see the base alignments of the Broncos and Ravens.
On an inside zone, the concept is to get as much vertical movement on the down lineman away from the line of scrimmage. To do this, an offense usually tries to get an initial double-team on the down lineman, with one of those offensive lineman sliding off late to pick up that pairs linebacker depending on which gap the linebacker chooses to attack.
Picture 2 (below) shows the right guard and right Tackle (in the red circle) working together to block the defensive lineman and the linebacker.
In Picture 3 you can see the TE and wing working to their pair.
Picture 4 shows the two defedenrs that the center and left guard will be trying to take out.
The running back is usually given a landmark, or initial aiming point to where the hole may open. On an inside zone, this is usually somewhere on the framework of the guard. This is more of a downhill, one-cut run that was almost perfected by the Broncos of old, when John Elway was handing the ball to Terrell Davis. On this particular play, all thee pairs of adjacent offensive players “get fit” on the down lineman and linebackers. Moreno attacks the aiming point, makes a cut, hits the hole and is at safety-level before he ever gets touched. Advantage: Offense.
Later in the game, the Broncos lined up in the same formation, and got basically the same alignment from the defense. The initial thrust of the play appears to be the inside zone. Manning pulls the ball from Moreno while Eric Decker runs a deep route on the outside. With the success of the run play, the safety to the side of the deep route creeps up just enough to enable Manning to get the ball over the top of the coverage. Decker beats the man-to-man coverage of the cornerback, a perfect ball is thrown and six more points are put on the scoreboard.
The big question for Saturday is will the presence of Ray Lewis make a difference in the playoff game. If the addition of Lewis can shut down or at least limit the Broncos’ running game, then the Ravens’ playmaking safeties can stay deep and focus on shutting down the passing game of one of the best QBs of all time. If not, Saturday may be the last time we ever see Ray Lewis in a Ravens uniform on a football field.
Charlie Means is the wide receivers coach for the Denison (TX) High School football team and the author of TDdaily’s Coach’s Playbook series. Follow him on Twitter @coach_means.