Rahim 'The Dream' Moore has put his catastrophic error from last year's season-ending playoff loss behind him, but still uses it for motivation. Moore said on Monday that he’d picked up some things that he wants to focus on in his play, including improving his angles and route recognition.
His hit on Dallas Clark in the third quarter of the opener against Baltimore showed just how aggressive and effective Moore can become. Peyton Manning’s constant efforts to improve has created a special kind of energy that’s rubbed off on the entire locker room. This is a team that doesn’t care about who starts: they just care about winning.
Moore and the other safeties have internalized that. The ferocity of Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton (who added a hit and a hurry to his punt block) playing alongside him hasn’t hurt. This is a very tough group of defensive backs.
Rahim’s biggest play of the opener came with 9:30 left in the third quarter and Denver leading by 28-17. The Ravens were facing a 3rd-and-7 on their own 22-yard line and needed a good drive to get back in the game. According to Brian Billick, NFL teams average only about an 18% success rate at converting third downs with at least six yards to gain, so this was a tough down for them.
Denver placed only five defenders in the box - three defensive linemen were up front, with Shaun Phillips out on the offensive right.
Naturally, passing downfield is the common approach from such a down and distance. You’ll occasionally see a screen pass or draw play, but the Ravens took the conventional approach and attempted a pass to veteran tight end Dallas Clark up the hashmark for the 1st down.
Moore was ready for the play, and you could see it from the snap. He later said (emphasis mine),
I just read the quarterback and through film study I knew what they were going to run. (The hit) felt great, man. All I could think about was how I let people down last year, and all my anger and my hard work just went into everything.
It showed, sending the ball flying up into the air before Clark could get a grip on it.
To start the play, former Bronco Brandon Stokley goes in motion to his right, then comes back to the offensive left, with Clark on the offensive left edge of the line.
Robert Ayers is on the wide right defensive end, Malik Jackson is at the nose guard, and Derek Wolfe is at the LDE.
You can see Moore at the top right in the first image and the defensive spread of the Broncos' front in the second shot. Chris Harris is responsible for Stokley, just outside of the frame next to Clark.
Stokley cuts up the outside, while Clark just runs a simple route - straight up the hashmarks and just past the first-down marker, at which point he turns slightly back to see and catch Joe Flacco’s pass.
Unfortunately for him, Rahim channels his inner Steve Atwater at that very moment. Releasing forward just after Clark starts his route, Rahim comes flying downhill from the secondary and slams into him just as Clark passes the first-down marker and touches the ball. Moore cleanly and legally drives his right shoulder into and through Clark, also flinging up his right arm for good measure, to get the ball out. The effort is a success, and the ball goes tumbling through the air.
Clark remains on the turf, and Shaun Phillips controls the ball by going fetal around it, just as he should have. It's an incompletion, not a fumble, but playing to the whistle is something that Jack Del Rio is constantly harping on.
Mike Adams was in on only 29 defensive snaps, as was Kayvon Webster. Bruton was in on two defensive plays, but had an excellent night on special teams.
Chris Harris saw 82 snaps, eight targets, and allowed only three completions, on which he got his three tackles. He also pulled in a momentum-turning interception.
Moore was in for 89 plays, the most of any defender, and he had six solo tackles.
Carter had four tackles in 67 snaps, while Ihenacho saw 80 snaps for his 11 solo tackles and one assist.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan was on the field for 67 snaps with three QB hurries, an INT that should have been a pick-six, and allowed only four receptions on nine targets.
Wesley Woodyard was in for 86 snaps and notched a half-sack and 10 tackles, five of them solo.
Nate Irving only had two tackles, but he graded out at a plus-1.3 in coverage, an area where he’s struggled in the past.
Phillips had 62 snaps but with 2.5 sacks, one QB hit and three QB hurries, as well as four tackles and a forced fumble.
The Broncos' coverage over most of the night made it tough for the Ravens to keep Flacco’s uniform clean, since the front line had enough time to get to Flacco with the coverage playing that tight. It would be fair to say that the separation on this play was more between Clark and the ball than between Clark and the defender.
Moore’s hit was completely clean and legal. It was also devastating - he drove his shoulder right through Clark’s ribcage just as Dallas was turning around to attempt to gain yards after the catch. The timing was perfect - the ball went in one direction, Clark’s rib cage in another. This is the kind of play that shows that the new rules of the game can be followed without reducing its excitement and technique in the least.
Clark spent some time on the turf before getting back up, but in the end he was fine. The outcome was exactly what Denver needed - a stop in Ravens territory. Denver always needs to stop third downs and to get ahead on turnovers, just like every other team.
In this game, they did both.
As you can see from looking at the names above, it’s clear that Denver’s youthful defensive secondary (including the coverage linebackers) did their job well in the opener.
Things to take away:
- According to Billick, an offense has slightly less than a one-in-five chance of success on a third down with six or more yards to gain. Slow them enough on first and second down - get them off schedule - and your likelihood of forcing a punt goes up greatly, just as it did here.
- Rahim Moore came to Denver two seasons ago looking downright skinny, and causing many to wonder if he could get strong enough to play safety. He has - his time with Luke Richesson and Co., and his work on his understanding of angles and technique in hitting have improved as well. He’s developing quickly.
- Harris, Carter, and Ihenacho joined Moore on this down - each of them a young DB who has shown a lot of effort, determination, and aggression in his play. Add Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kayvon Webster, and Omar Bolden to the list, and you’ve got a very tough group of young talents in the defensive backfield, players who should provide benefits for years to come.
Obtaining good players is one essential skill; knowing how to develop them to suit your team is a far more important one. Denver has learned to do both - and it shows.
Timing, technique, and crashing the opponent (legally) are all equally important in plays of this nature. Rahim didn’t take long to be put his errors from the 2012 playoff game behind him. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the next one.