Posted in Pregame Content

Ravens offense: Things we want to see against the Browns

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens are about to host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday Night Football. This is one of the biggest games of the season. It’s a chance to keep the Browns down and hold onto first place in the AFC North. The Ravens have to play the Browns again in Week 14 after playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 13. The Browns get a bye in between their clashes with the Ravens. This one is big and it can’t be overstated.

Stars back, the quarterback protected:

The first thing you want to see for the Baltimore Ravens is the return of Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown. This isn’t a game that the Ravens can get by in without making big plays. The offense can’t leave the defense out to dry. The Browns may be as on and off as the Ravens, but when they’re on they can drop some points on the scoreboard.

The Ravens need more from their pass protection to be better. What was the problem two weeks in a row? Blitzes coming off the edge untouched and unnoticed. This is a game where the Ravens can’t leave Lamar Jackson out to dry, assuming he gets back into the action. This is where the return of Nick Boyle comes in. Protect the right tackle with extra help blocking. Put Boyle in there and have Pat Ricard at the ready.

Myles Garrett has 13 sacks to his name this year and has a case to be the Defensive Player of the Year. The Browns should absolutely send a defensive back after the Ravens’ quarterback in this game, it worked for two teams in a row. The offensive line is outmatched. What does this mean for Greg Roman?

It means it’s not okay to see a lot of looks out of an empty set, taxing your five-man protection. It means that he can’t call a ton of deep shots down the field that doesn’t include safety valves for Jackson underneath. The ball has to come out quick more often than not and that doesn’t mean 50 wide receiver screens.

Run the ball, have some fun with it:

The Ravens need to keep making progress with their run game. Let’s see Devonta Freeman keep picking up some momentum. Let’s see Latavius Murray running fearlessly up the gut as he did against Chicago. We need to see Jackson chip into the run game. The Ravens used to be promised 150 yards on the ground even on a bad day. You can run against this Browns defense. Let’s see the Ravens get back to overpowering their opponent.

This is a game where every bit of creativity from Roman will be appreciated. All season, the Ravens have been using Devin Duvernay in the run game. What if that jet sweep could be used to set up a fairly deadly play-fake? It feels like the Ravens have been setting it up all season and this could be a good game to have it pay off. The Ravens need to pull out all the stops. The last thing Ravens fans will accept is a lack of creativity and inspiration from their play-caller.

More than anything you just want to see the Ravens finish drives. Too often they are stopped to Justin Tucker field goals when the offense looks like it’s about to get going. The offense needs to hone into the moment with no little mistakes. Penalty-free football is next to impossible the way the game is called, but Baltimore can’t beat themselves with stupid things: False starts, delay of game penalties, illegal formations.

Jackson to Andrews:

Again, this article is written in the assumption that we’ll see the Ravens MVP candidate under center on Sunday evening. We have to see Lamar Jackson playing like Lamar Jackson wire to wire. He can’t be off or out of sync at the beginning of this game and look to turn on the jets as the game progresses. He needs to be the number eight that steps into his throws and fires strikes, not the one who misses low, or puts himself in a bad throw because he held the ball too long.

This is a Browns game so it’s all about Mark Andrews. Andrews has had some of his biggest games against the Browns. That needs to continue on Sunday evening. When Jackson is feeling it and the Browns don’t have a way to stop Andrews, good things happen for Baltimore.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Ranking every crazy victory of this insane season

This is going to be a battle. The offensive focus needs to be on three things. First, the play-calls must help the offensive line. Secondly, creativity must unlock some fun in the run game. Finally, the Ravens need Lamar Jackson back and ready to do some damage. Other than one bad day in 2019, Jackson has owned the Browns. He’s their biggest nightmare. He has to be extra scary to the Browns on this game in front of a national audience.

Posted in Complicated made simple: X's and O's and scouting for all fans

Baltimore Ravens: How to spark run game against the Vikings

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens offense needs to spark the running game and no time is like the present. This can’t be a lingering problem when there are actionable steps to fix the run game. The Baltimore Ravens must reclaim confidence on the ground in their battle with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Ravens oddly enough are a pass-first team. It sounds odd but it’s true. Lamar Jackson has thrown for over 230 yards in every game but one. Mark Andrews at tight end and a good group of receivers are carrying the offensive box score. How can the Ravens finally achieve the balance they’ve been looking for now that their run game is struggling and their passing attack is mostly flourishing?

Open rushing lanes with the passing game:

The first part of this is to realize that the passing game has to open up the run game while subsidizing some of the production. Screen passes and a quick-firing passing game can act much like the run game. It’s a staple concept of the west coast offense. While that’s not the Ravens’ deal, there are elements of the west coast approach that would help the Ravens.

Having more of an underneath passing game would keep Lamar Jackson honest as he tends to ignore his safety valve. Jackson either keeps the football too long or he forces it down the field when a passing play breaks down. The idea however of using this approach is all about getting something extra in the offense. It’s like working at a restaurant, you scrape every extra drop out of those big plastic jars of mayonnaise.

Lamar Jackson is the key to the run game. He’s always made a huge impact on the defense. The Ravens need to use more RPO (Run pass options) and get back to more of the zone-read concepts that Jackson and company have made such a dangerous attack in the past. Surely, the lack of chemistry with the running back fill-ins has factored into everything, but these concepts are a requisite threat when Jackson is the quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens always must lean on Lamar Jackson:

More quarterback runs make sense. Jackson is going to do more damage than 30-year-old running backs seeing lesser results. Jackson is averaging 6.3 yards per rushing attempt. That’s a good way to get the run game going. The running backs are only going to get going to an extent. Accepting that is a key component to understanding the run game as it is.

Jackson had 16 rushing attempts against the Chiefs. That may have been the best the offense functioned the entire season. Winning that game without those rushing attempts would have been a tall order. Jackson won’t always have to tuck the football. He didn’t really have to do much against the Broncos the way his passing was torching Denver. The Detroit Lions got beat by his arm, and the Chargers got beat by the most complete team win of the Ravens’ season.

When Jackson has to turn on the run game by himself, he has to realize it. He also needs to take off more rather than taking sacks he doesn’t need to take. Improvised run plays may be the single greatest danger to the defense, and Jackson is forcing it sometimes as a pocket passer to prove that he can do it. Mr. Jackson – it’s proven, you can take off and make something magical happen with your legs.

Other Factors:

The offensive line is a huge part of this. Say what you want about Tyre Phillips, he may be the answer at left guard. At right tackle, Phillips looks abysmal his heavy footwork is his undoing and he loses leverage a lot. Remember he was the Ravens’ first choice at left guard. He clearly struggles at tackle but if we just accept that he’s a guard he could give the offensive line a boost next to Bradley Bozeman. Down the line, Phillips can move back to guard if the Ravens can find anything better at tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi is that anything better).

Greg Roman needs to be less predictable with his play-calling. The Ravens need to stop with a simple dive play to a running back who doesn’t have much burst in short-yardage situations where the middle of the offensive line is closed for business. Creativity has always been Roman’s calling card. I’m going to go back to the Chiefs game again… What happened to the offensive coordinator who bragged about how many running plays he didn’t even use yet?

The Vikings won’t see Latavius Murray, who is listed as doubtful for the game. This is a good chance to let Devonta Freeman audition for the main spot. How much does he have in him? Go find out already. When the Ravens have had big plays it’s either been Freeman or Ty’Son Williams and Williams has been stuck in John Harbaugh’s doghouse.

Speaking of young running backs, Nate McCrary is sitting on the practice squad. The running back one job was Ty’Son Williams’s job to win at the time the season kicked off. He lost the job, why not see if McCrary, a player who was neck and neck with Williams this preseason, can win the job this year?

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens defense: 3 keys against the Vikings

The run game has to get going. It’s an essential part of the Ravens’ identity and the offense needs to reclaim it. This was an exercise of throwing ideas against the wall to see what could be done. The Vikings and Dolphins present a perfect chance for the Ravens to spark the run game and get back to something they love to do.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

The Baltimore Ravens should trade for Marlon Mack, here’s why

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens have a need at the running back position. Furthermore there’s only so much the team can do for the offensive line at this point in the season. The team did sign Cedric Ogbuehi to the practice squad- it’s possible that he could give a passing grade performance at right tackle. It does however seem that if the Ravens don’t trade for a running back, they’re going to have to lean on their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, for rushing yards.

Marlon Mack is an interesting option. He doesn’t cost much from a salary cap perspective. That alone could get the Ravens to play ball. A cost-effective move that gives the Ravens more at the running back position could be interesting. This is a what could it hurt kind of thing.

The upside is easy to see. In 2019 he rushed for over 1,000 yards. The year before that he was close to the 1,000-yard mark with healthy yards per attempt. He’s a capable receiver out of the backfield and he’s only 25 years old. If Jonathan Taylor never burst onto the scene for the Colts, Mack might have gotten back to being their feature back.

While Mack is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season, it’s in a very limited role. If the Ravens traded for him it is likely that he would be the best athlete in the running back room. Remember, Latavius Murray is 31 years old and Devonta Freeman is 29. At the running back position youth matters. Bell is also 29 years old and he had a year without football, and a couple of teams it didn’t work out with – it’s been a long road back to this chance with the Ravens.

The Baltimore Ravens have to do something:

Mack runs very similarly to Justin Forsett. I know that Gary Kubiak is far removed as the offensive coordinator, but let’s not act like Greg Roman couldn’t have gotten something out of Forsett. Mack is a bit bigger than Forsett, though their style of play is nearly identical. Mack would fit in the Ravens’ offense. He’s not going to waste time, he’s going to get downhill, make a cut and go.

It’s not all on the running back position… fine, nobody is saying that it is. The Baltimore Ravens can’t run the football though, and if the move isn’t costly, and I’m Eric DeCosta, I’m going for it. I’m sending a fifth or a sixth-round pick to Indianapolis and I’m seeing what a change at running back can tangibly do for this offense.

With Mack’s current spot with the Colts, we don’t know how much he can provide for the offense. The ceiling is hidden within the context of being a third-down back and the guy who gives Taylor a breather. What we do know is that the Baltimore Ravens running backs aren’t cutting it.

Ty’Son Williams got the first crack at being the guy. He had pass protection issues and fumbled the football. Latavius Murray averages 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and lacks the burst to get around the edge. Bell has positives to speak of, especially in pass protection. Still, Bell isn’t the spark the offense has needed. Baltimore doesn’t have a running back number one.

While the Ravens would be wise to promote Nate McCrary from the practice squad, it may not be enough. Remember, the Ravens chose Ty’Son Williams over McCrary after the preseason. McCrary ended up with the Denver Broncos for a short time before winding his way back on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. It’s very likely that McCrary wouldn’t be enough to change the fortune in the backfield.

The Bottom Line:

Mack is a player that could get the Ravens through their running back struggles. Next year the Ravens are going to have Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins back. They don’t need Mack to have a complete renaissance of his career. They need him to be better than what they currently have on the roster.

Look at the situation the Ravens are in. Lamar Jackson has 46 percent of the rushing yards. Devonta Freeman has had some big runs, though he only has 20 attempts this season. If the Ravens were going to add a flashy and expensive running back it would be foolish. The offensive line is going to make this a struggle all year and they’d never get the full return on their investment. Mack doesn’t cost that much and may give them an upgrade.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Ranking their top 10 problems after a tough loss

The Baltimore Ravens need a running back to step up so they can keep their identity as a football team. The idea was to get more out of the passing game, not to lean entirely on the quarterback for everything. Would Mack light it up in Baltimore? Who knows. What we do know is that the current running back group isn’t getting the job done. If things are going to be a struggle for the run game you must change the pieces around where you can and see what improvements can be had.

 

 

Posted in Complicated made simple: X's and O's and scouting for all fans

Baltimore Ravens: Analyzing third down problems for the offense

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens have had a lot of problems on third down this season. The Ravens are 17-50 on third down attempts this season. This is actually uncharacteristic of the Ravens offense in the Greg Roman and Lamar Jackson era. Efficiency has been the key to their success in past seasons. This year the key has been just avoiding third-down altogether.

Let’s take a look at the third downs on drives that ended in a Sam Koch punt against the Denver Broncos. What went wrong with these plays? How much does play-calling factor into the equation? How can the Ravens improve on third down based on this sample size? Answers are on the way, let’s dive in!

Number 1: A Drop short of the line to gain:

The Ravens’ first drive against the Broncos wasn’t a three-and-out. They managed to pick up the initial third down with a quarterback keeper. It wasn’t blocked particularly well, and it was obviously a play where Lamar was keeping the ball. This led to one of Jackson’s scariest hits of the game, but the Ravens moved the chains.

The Ravens’ next set of downs got them to a 3rd & 8. Sammy Watkins was the intended receiver on an out route run two yards behind the line to gain. Even if Watkins caught the ball, it would have been tough for him to pick up the first down. It’s not the worst play-call in the world as Watkins wasn’t the only read and Jackson did make the right call according to the coverage. I still want the routes to go beyond the first down yardage unless it’s a clever design that sets up the necessary run after the catch.

Number 2: Le’veon Bell gets stuffed

The next Ravens drive saw the Ravens losing the field position battle. On third down and short the Ravens lined up with one back in the backfield. After a motion from the tight end to form a bunch on the left side, the ball was snapped and Le’Veon Bell got the handoff and a whole bunch of nothing. The Ravens ran it right up the gut and the Broncos were ready for it. It’s almost as if you’re known for your running game, teams are ready for a run up the middle on third down. The blocking wasn’t there, the Ravens got pushed back off and the Broncos enforced their will.

Number 3: Never had a chance

The Ravens next drive had the Ravens backed up near their own end zone. It was a third and long and an obvious passing situation. The Ravens lined up in an empty set. What this means is that there was no running back in the backfield and it was five-man protection, completely on the offensive line. Pressure forced Jackson to step up and throw an awkward pass.

Number 4: Latavius Murray gets stuffed

The Ravens had another short-yardage situation on third down. The Ravens motioned Pat Ricard from the left to the right. They ran Latavius Murray right behind him (he almost ran into Ricard). This was another running play up the middle with a little window dressing to go with it. The Ravens should be getting familiar with the result of that method at this point.

Number 5: False Start, Blitz, Sack…

The Ravens were forced into a 3rd & 11 after a false start penalty. The Broncos took the obvious passing situation to send a beautifully executed blitz. Jackson was sacked before the play had a chance to fairly develop.

Last but not least: The same old thing from the Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens needed one yard on third down. They lined up with their fullback and a tight end creating an unbalanced line. This time there was no motion, just the extra blockers to one side. Where did the Ravens run it? You guessed it, right up the gut. What was the result? The same old thing.

That’s what happened, now let’s talk about it:

I’m willing to cut Greg Roman a little slack. The Ravens don’t have J.K. Dobbins or Gus Edwards this year. When you look at the third-down running failures, this makes a huge difference. Le’Veon Bell has barely had time to work in regular-season and the Broncos are a tough way to get going for him. Still, I have some qualms about how the Ravens approach short-yardage situations, especially outside of the red zone.

The most frustrating thing is how ready the opposing defense has been for the Ravens running plays on third down. We’re not even seeing creative calls here. Half the time the pre-snap motion leads the defense right to the running back’s point of attack.

You have to think that these plays are opportunities for Lamar Jackson to make a difference. If the defense is jumping this hard against the run, play-action presents big chances down the field. Pass protection has been better than run blocking, for the most part, this season (I know, it’s weird). If you’re not going to pick up a high percentage of short-yardage situations, you might as well take a shot down the field. That would loosen up the defense for next time.

Jackson is the MVP of this team. On third down, he should more often than not get the chance to move the chains. His dual-threat ability gives him the chance to run or pass for the first down. You have options when Jackson has the ball on the pivotal play.

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What happened to the RPO’s? Safe completions with Jackson rolling out make sense. The key here is to increase the likelihood of a first down, rather than pinning your chances on something the team isn’t doing well. It’s almost as if Roman can’t feel the way the game is going and how the matchup is playing out.

The Ravens are without Ronnie Stanley. At one point in this game, the Ravens were also without Alejandro Villanueva who left with a knee injury. This offense needs all the help it can get when everybody on the planet knows a pass is coming. Roman has to be more careful than lining up Jackson in an empty set. Five-man protection against a likely blitz is putting the offense in a bad spot.

When you boil it down, Roman has some problems to deal with but is culpable for the Ravens’ third down failures. While this is only a sample of third-down attempts against the Broncos, this has been a problem all season long. When the Ravens couldn’t move the ball against the Raiders in key spots, these same tendencies showed up.

Posted in Uncategorized

Meet the new Ravens running back room: It’s basically Plan Z

By Chris Schisler

No more J.K. Dobbins for the Baltimore Ravens. No more Gus Edwards. A completely new running back group. Things changed in a heartbeat, didn’t they? The Ravens running back room now consists of Ty’Son Williams, Le’Veon Bell, Latavius Murray and, Devonta Freeman. Trenton Cannon also figures into the equation but is projected by most pundits as a special teams player. Okay Plan B-Y are essentially gone through. Here’s plan Z.

So what should we think of this make-shift group of running backs? Let’s take a real look at what we can expect from each running back. Here is the one thing going for each of them, and the one thing that works against them the most.

A look at the Ravens running backs:

Ty’Son Williams: What works for him?

What’s working for Williams is that he’s young and he’s got fresh legs. He’s the one running back who hasn’t gotten a chance to shine on the big stage. Monday Night Football against the Oakland Raiders is a big jump up in competition than the third quarter of a preseason game. Williams has a lot of competition, though he’s the only one with untapped potential. At this point in their careers, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman can’t be workhorses for the offense.

This is essentially the Suicide Squad of running backs. These are mostly second chance running backs, who didn’t have options and are relatively expendable. Bell can potentially work his way up to stardom, he’s definitely the Blood Sport of this group (Or DeadShot, depending on which version you want to use with this analogy). The point is that in the group of cheap replacements, Williams is the cheapest. He’s on his first contract as an undrafted free agent. The Ravens can run him into the ground if they have to, and they may have to.

What works against Williams? 

The thing that works against Williams is that he’s so inexperienced. We may not know what his counterparts have left in the tank, but they are known commodities. When it comes to the little things it could be his downfall. Pass blocking, route running out of the backfield, and becoming one with this offense are all things that could potentially be hiccups for him.

Le’Veon Bell: What works for him with the Ravens?

What is working for Bell is that he’s a really good pass catcher. This is a running back that has caught 394 passes in the NFL. Do all of the running backs have the ability to be receivers out of the backfield? Sure, some more than others. Bell has a track record for doing it the best. If Bell gets back to the player he was (Or even gets 50-75% there) he’s going to be the most versatile and dynamic back on the roster.

Bell may have skipped the entire 2018 season. Bell may have been on a downward trajectory that started with a bad New York Jets team, but he was a superstar half a decade ago. The Ravens can bring him some stability and this could be the fresh start he’s needed for a while. There’s an idea going around that if anybody can get something out of Bell it’s Baltimore. I think that’s true.

What works against Bell? 

Bell’s running style is well documented and it’s not what the Ravens do. The whole stand behind the line of scrimmage and watch the blocks unfold thing isn’t going to work for the Ravens. Bell probably will adjust. The Ravens probably told him he has to. That’s something to keep an eye on. This marriage isn’t built on a perfect match but on necessity. Bell has to stop a slide down in his career. Things have been going the wrong way. Slides down the hill are hard to stop. Climbing back up is hard too, so there’s a concern here. Cautious optimism is a good thing to have will Bell.

Latavius Murray: What works for him?

The good news for Murray is that he’s put up decent numbers for a complementary running back for the most part of his career. In the last two seasons, Murray had over 600 yards and averaged over four yards per rushing attempt. Murray is a huge running back. Is he Gus “The Bus”? No. Is he someone that a linebacker really wants to tackle when there’s a full head of steam? Nope. Murray could be the best fit. He’s basically still what he’s always been. He’s a running back who can chip into a running back rotation. He didn’t look good in the preseason and the Saints asked him to take a pay cut. He’s not a star, but if the Ravens call on him, this can legitimately work out.

What works against Murray? 

What works against Murray is that he’s not overly explosive. He’s 31 years old, and the Ravens have to see how much is left in the tank. With Murray, you’re getting a player that fits with the Ravens, but the ceiling may be lower for him than Bell. The ceiling could be lower for him than Williams, who has a real chance for a breakout year.

Devonta Freeman: What works for him?

Freeman is a good pass catcher of the football and is a player that could work in the one cut-and-go offense of the Ravens. Freeman stylistically may even fit the best out of all the running backs. So what’s the catch?

What works against Freeman? 

Freeman is coming off a year with the Giants where he didn’t factor into the equation much. He only played in four games and he didn’t look great in that small sample size. Back in the day he was one of the better running backs in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons.

Next Post: Baltimore Ravens: Moving forward after Marcus Peters injury

The problem is that he’s less exciting than Bell and Williams as a pass-catching running back. On top of that, it seems like he was just signed because he was available and the Ravens needed to act quickly.