In 2016, the Baltimore Ravens added undrafted free agent nose tackle Michael Pierce and crossed their fingers. About to start his third season this weekend against our Buffalo Bills, Pierce has already exceeded expectations starting 13 games last season. Pierce should be matched up against the interior of Buffalo’s offensive line, which we all know will be a critical part of Sunday’s contest.
Michael Pierce is typically asked to take on a role similar to that asked of Marcell Dareus by Rex Ryan. Specifically, negate offensive lineman so his teammates can clean up. Pierce only had one sack in 2017, but 49 combined tackles playing this role. For this play, Pierce is taking on the double team. The play pauses to highlight two large running lanes, which Pierce helps create. For a nose tackle in the Ravens’ defense, it’s less about clogging lanes than it is about controlling where the lanes develop. Pierce knows he has C.J. Mosley behind him to clean up, and both of his teammates to each side are working one on one, allowing them to shift and close the gaps. Pierce’s control of two opponents on this play is impressive. If you’re wondering, that’s Maurkice Puncey and David DeCastro he’s taking on. Between them they have nine Pro Bowl seasons and four All-Pro.
This is very similar to the last clip, but the pauses show the lanes from the running back’s perspective. Here you can see even better how the Ravens scheme open lanes. While it sounds counter-intuitive, look how easily Patrick Onwuasor can shadow the play with Michael Pierce drawing so much attention.
A lot of Pierce’s tackles were of the “one arm” variety. While nose tackles aren’t often expected to be master hand fighters, Michael Pierce shows off some solid fundamentals. If it were up to right guard T.J. Lang (two Pro Bowls), Pierce’s left arm would be tied up and Lang wouldn’t be pushed so far to his left. Pierce’s well-timed moves put him in position to make the tackle.
Michael Pierce is one-on-one against Ramon Foster which turns out to be a mismatch. Pierce uses the full length of his arm to prevent Foster from securing his jersey. As a result, when Le’Veon Bell comes in behind Foster, Pierce cleanly disengages and comes around Foster for the tackle. From a physics standpoint, you don’t often see a ball carrier come to a screeching halt with a shoestring tackle.
Chris Hubbard shoves Za’Darius Smith into Michael Pierce. Rather than let himself be taken out of the play, Pierce recovers quickly and makes DeCastro look like little more than a speed bump. The play pauses to show the reach of Pierce. I didn’t bother looking up his wingspan because he knows how to reach. He sets his left hand on Bell and uses it to bring the rest of his 340 pounds on top of Bell.
Pierce can get a head of steam in a hurry when needed. Golden Tate finds out the hard way. Pierce wraps on the tackle but the impact still creates a huge gap between their bodies. And then Pierce lands on him for good measure.
If you’re looking for good news for the Buffalo Bills as they look to get past the Ravens, it’s that he should see limited playing time. On passing downs, Baltimore loves getting the lighter defenders out there, taking Pierce off the field.