That honor belongs to the resurgence of the running game. Ray Rice and the Ravens had their most successful rushing performance of the season, and it was the result of a total team effort.
Here is a breakdown of the most important factors that jump-started Baltimore's rushing attack against the Bears.
Ray Rice showed great burst and vision, looking much better at finding the running lanes and exploding through creases. He started the game off with a bang, breaking his first carry of the day for a 47-yard gain.
He’s running a stretch play off the left tackle (dotted arrow), but he makes the correct read and cuts back behind left guard A.Q. Shipley. With no penetration by the defensive line and the Ravens reaching the second level with their blocks, Rice surges through the lane and blows by defenders to pick up 47 yards.
Additionally, he showed patience and looked much better at making cuts and keeping his pads low to pick up extra yards.
On this seven-yard gain, he reads the defense and makes two quick jump-cuts to avoid oncoming defenders.
Rice received a lot of criticism over the past few weeks, but he bounced back in spectacular fashion. He didn't look old, slow or injured against Chicago. He just looked like the Ray Rice we've come to know and love.
He deserves a lot of credit for the rushing success, but he wasn’t alone in an improved performance. He was the biggest beneficiary of improved offensive line play.
According to the analysts at ProFootballFocus, last week was Baltimore’s best run-blocking performance of 2013 by a wide margin.
It’s an obvious point to make, but the offensive line just blocked much better than we’ve seen this season. Each player did a great job of winning their individual battles, finishing blocks and getting to the second level. For the first time all season, the O-line won the battle in the trenches, and we frequently saw Bears players knocked on their backsides.
The dominance of the line was on full display for Rice’s touchdown on the opening drive. Baltimore was lined up in a jumbo formation on the 1-yard line, with seven linemen and a fullback.
The right side of the line (light blue) sealed off the running lane and two linemen (A.Q. Shipley and Rick Wagner, circled in green) pulled from the backside to clear the path for Ray Rice to stroll into the end zone.
It wasn’t the play call but the execution that was noticeable. As Rice jogged in without a scratch, there were four Bears who had been blocked to the ground.
Baltimore had success by mixing up their running plays and blocking schemes. They still used mostly zone runs, but they mixed it up by calling a number of power plays and trap plays.
As it did on Rice's touchdown run, the Ravens O-line pulled backside linemen several more times in the game. For example, Bernard Pierce picks up seven yards on this play when Marshal Yanda pulls to become his lead blocker.
On this trap play, Michael Oher (pink) and Yanda (blue) leave defensive linemen unblocked and get to the second level.
Corey Wootton (circled in red) thinks he has a free run at Rice, but A.Q. Shipley (green) pulls around and stuffs him, allowing Rice to cut between Shipley and Yanda for a six-yard gain.
Another wrinkle that the Ravens added was the use of the draw play. They’ve used draw plays throughout the season, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has generally reserved them for 3rd-and-long situations.
Toward the end of regulation, Baltimore used a couple of draw plays on first down to surprise the defense and the results were excellent.
On this draw play, Gino Gradkowski and Ed Dickson release and make second-level blocks on the linebackers, which gives Rice ample room to pick up 13 yards.
The execution was tremendous for most of the game, but the diverse play-calling kept the Bears off-balance.
An important factor to consider when looking at the rushing production from this game was the state of Chicago’s defense. They are the second-worst run defense in the league, allowing 134 rushing yards per game.
In addition, they were missing a number of defensive starters, including Lance Briggs, Henry Melton and Charles Tillman.
It was definitely a good sign that the offensive line was able to force the issue last week, but it came against one of the weakest defensive lines in the league.
We’ll see this weekend how dramatic the improvements are, as Baltimore hosts the New York Jets and the best run defense in the league. It’s unreasonable to expect a repeat performance against such a great defensive unit, but some of the improvements should be visible.
|New York Jets vs. Chicago Bears: Run Defense|
|Team||PFF Run Defense Grade||NFL Rank|
|New York Jets||+80.9||1|
|PFF refers to ProFootballFocus.com|
In Week 12, we’ll get an idea of whether there is hope for the ground game or whether their Week 11 performance was just a mirage.