Ok, deep breath here. This one is a doozy to try to figure. We’re trying to judge communication, or a communication breakdown, and that is even tougher to do. It’s like remembering a phone call you weren’t part of.
But I was told by someone close to Davis that he carried out the correct assignment on the play and was not the reason why the punt was blocked. That, and based on what we’ll talk about below, makes me believe all that is true and Davis did the right thing.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have predictably been tight-lipped about what went wrong. They’ve all just categorized it as a “miscommunication.” Sean Davis, Mike Tomlin, and you can bet Danny Smith isn’t opening his heart up to talk about what went wrong. He doesn’t talk about the bad things.
So we don’t have much of anything to go off of internally. I’d love for them to clear it up, tell us what happened, but they’re making us try and piece things together. Such is life.
It is easy to immediately blame Davis for not blocking and releasing downfield, letting running back Buck Allen rush in free and block Jordan Berry’s punt. But that leaves out a lot of important context that at the least, makes things more understandable and slightly clearer though again, not any less frustrating.
Let’s look at the block again from the best view, the All-22 end zone angle.
There is Davis, lined up at what is called the right wing, moving laterally before taking off downfield.
But that is something the Steelers did all game long. They did this with Davis and left wing Jordan Dangerfield. If we assume Davis executed his assignment perfectly, he wasn’t supposed to block Allen. Let’s look at other examples. One GIF and then I’ll post screenshots of the rest.
Here’s Davis doing it earlier as the right wing.
I don’t know with absolute certainty but here’s my reasoning to why. Because I *think* this is a fairly unusual tactic by Pittsburgh.
The Ravens only had seven men as potential rushers. The Steelers had eight to block, meaning one player could release freely and get a headstart on coverage. And because of the threat Devin Hester is, it’s all the wiser to get as many coverage faces downfield as soon as possible.
And it worked! Here’s Sean Davis, the one everyone yelled at, getting downfield and forcing a fair catch.
So what happened on the block?
The Ravens show the same look as they did on all punts with this assigned coverage. The key area, the mystery event, is Golden does give Davis a signal, a motion of the hand, probably a verbal command, that Davis does respond to, shaking his head yes (which you’ll see in the GIF at the top).
What was that signal? No idea. Was that Golden audibling and telling Davis to stay in? Or to kill him staying in and letting him go freely like he had before? That’s the key here. As the personal protector, Golden is the quarterback, making it harder to pin a mistake on him, but there is no other evidence I can gather that puts it on Davis.
Because Davis still releases. Only Golden doesn’t slide to pick up the end man like he has before. He pinches in to the A gap, despite everything being covered, letting Allen have a free run to the punter.
So when Allen told reporters he noticed the team wasn’t blocking him, that isn’t true. That man is supposed to be blocked. In the instances before, that player would peel off and run with him, not even requiring a block. Here, it was just a breakdown at the worst time.
This is not an issue of a player just whiffing, forgetting, not caring to block. This was a schematic, and smart, design that had a breakdown involved. Again, doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow, these are issues that absolutely can not happen, but it isn’t so blatantly on Davis as it appeared when it happened live, or the ensuing reaction.