The life of an NFL left tackle was best summed up by former New England Patriots All-Pro Bruce Armstrong, who said, "If we have 65 offensive plays in a game and I do my job on 64 of them and on [the other] I allow a sack, I've had a bad day. And everyone in the stadium knows it."
"That's our life," says the Baltimore Ravens' 6'9", 340-pound Jonathan Ogden, the game's top left tackle. "With us, one snap can mean everything."
Ogden played 78 downs in a 44-41 overtime win against the Seattle Sea-hawks on Nov. 23 in Baltimore, blocking defensive end Chike Okeafor or outside linebacker Chad Brown. After watching tape of the game at the Ravens' training facility five days later, Ogden broke down the 37th play for SI: second-and-five from the Baltimore 40-yard line with 7:24 left in the third quarter and the Ravens trailing 27-10.
"Dot Right Flex, Hound Right Divide" is the call quarterback Anthony Wright makes in the huddle. "On one."
"Dot" is the Ravens' basic two-back, one-tight-end, two-wideout formation. "Right Flex" tells tight end Todd Heap to line up split to the right by five yards. "Right Divide" means the formation is strong to the right with the wide-outs split, and it also tells them what their routes will be. Wright is to take a seven-step drop, and his first option will be a deep out pattern to the sure-handed Heap. "Hound" is the only word in the sequence that matters to Ogden. If tells him the line will slide to the strong side of the formation. That means he will most likely go one-on-one against Okeafor, unless Seattle calls a stunt—when the defensive tackle and the end quickly switch spots on the snap—or a blitz, with Brown or a defensive back coming right behind Okeafor. In the latter scenario Ogden would take one of the two pass rushers and a running back would have to pick up the other.
As Ogden walks to the line, he sees Okeafor wide to his left and no one opposite left guard Edwin Mulitalo. Neither Brown nor the safeties appear to be blitzing. Ogden has five inches and 75 pounds on Okeafor, but Okeafor is quicker. This is the first game Ogden has played against him, and so far he hasn't had any difficulty pushing Okeafor back on running plays or containing him on passing downs. From the previous 36 snaps Ogden has learned that Okeafor works hard and does not excel at any one aspect of his position, but barrels around the outside like a poor man's Simeon Rice. Okeafor hasn't shown an inside move all day, so Ogden's 90% sure that on this play the Seahawks end will try to outrun him to get to Wright.
"Here I'm in a two-point stance," Ogden says, "so [Okeafor] knows it's a pass or a draw. He knows I'm not coming right at him, like I would in a run block. My left foot's behind my right because I want to get a quick start. I've got to get my body going backward quickly at the snap."
The ball is snapped, and Wright pulls away from center. Okeafor comes rocketing out of his stance. "My left foot moves back, my right foot slides, and I'm in good shape," Ogden says. "He's going outside, which I knew, and I've got to get my hands on him to slow him down. He likes to knock your hands away to get outside, so I'm thinking, Keep your feet moving. Get out there. Don't let him use his hands. Sometimes you take a chance giving up the inside lane to the pocket."
As Ogden slides out, about four yards behind the line of scrimmage, he begins pushing Okeafor, who is wildly and futilely slapping Ogden's long arms to get them off him. "It's not only [about] having great hands and strength but also balance," says Ogden. "I have to engage this guy while he's sprinting toward me and I'm moving back and to the side. Without balance I'll fall, and he'll be past me." Ogden pushes Okeafor and then moves back as they engage again. It isn't until Okeafor is 10 yards past the line of scrimmage that he can straighten his path toward the pocket. Advantage, Ogden.
The 27-year-old Wright, however, is inexperienced and mistake-prone. He's supposed to be seven yards deep, looking for Heap, but instead he's 10 yards behind the line. Ogden, in a split second, has gone from being in control to being in crisis. "You may think, Seven yards or 10 yards, what's the big deal?" says Ravens coach Brian Billick, "but it's huge. You think the Green Bay Packers linemen don't know exactly where Brett Favre is on every pass drop? Our guys are just getting used to Anthony, and this [type of mistake] drives linemen nuts. [Offensive coordinator] Matt Cavanaugh's told Anthony, 'You're pissing off your offensive linemen.' "