When on Offense
1. Stacks, Rubs, Bunches, and Motion: Despite the sprinkling of some two-tight and four-wide sets, the Ravens’ emerging go-to formation is a three-wide, one tight, single back look from the gun. This personnel grouping normally shows up in passing downs, but the Ravens have also used it often on first down.
The key to this spread formation is tight end Dennis Pitta. The fact that he’s at full force makes him an interchangeable chess piece who can release from the line, operate from the slot, or play outside as a wideout.
Pitta and the rest of the receivers were in static spread looks. There wasn’t much pre-snap movement and the formations were either balanced, or you would see three receivers to one side without stacks or bunch groupings.
In contrast, the Chargers (another team that loves to use 3×1 looks) favored pre-snap motion and the bunch when they faced Jacksonville.
On one of his TD catches, speedster Travis Benjamin came into motion right before the snap and ran a crosser targeted right at inside linebacker Dan Skuta. In that instance, because the Jaguars play zone, the trailing corner had to pass Benjamin off to Skuta.
If offensive coordinator Marc Trestman can mix in more pre-snap motion, and give his receivers some free releases through jumbled stacks, there should be ample chances to create favorable isolation matchups against the Jacksonville linebackers, especially on crossing routes (the route of choice for San Diego). We saw Pitta work those crossers last week but Mike Wallace and Steve Smith need to join the party.
2. Attack the Soft Underneath Coverage: Not only are the Jacksonville linebackers vulnerable on horizontal routes, they are vulnerable on any underneath routes, period. Given that the Jaguars show a lot of Cover 3 (where the linebackers will widen their drops and extend to the numbers), they take deep drops to cover the deep middle, leaving plenty of space on shorter routes.
This is the type of game in which the Baltimore running backs will have space to operate off of circle routes and angle routes. Sit down routes should also be there, and if the receivers get the ball in rhythm, they’ll have the chance to do gain yards after the catch.
3. Strong-side Stretch Run: The Chargers ran all over the Jaguars (from power, base sets, and from spread, shotgun looks), and they did most of their work off of the strong-side of the formation. It wasn’t a fancy attack. On a number of the runs that Melvin Gordon was able to rip off, San Diego simply ran power and got their linemen to the second level consistently.
It’s no secret that the Ravens aren’t running the ball well. But there is hope that they can get the stretch run cranking against a Jacksonville front that is undersized and can be handled by single blocks. Terrance West had a couple of successful stretch runs heading right against Cleveland, and he seems more comfortable hitting the hole without hesitation on these plays.
The offensive line needs to get their timing down on the play-side blocks and cut off the back-side. The opportunities will be there for a more productive running game. West just needs more chances and there needs to be a commitment from Trestman.
When on Defense
1. Double Cover the Allens: The Chargers coverage scheme against Jacksonville was clear: Take away the sidelines routes that Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns typically feast on. And for the most part, outside of garbage time, they put on a clinic. San Diego kept their safeties back to take away the deeper outside patterns, and their corners (Jason Varrett and Brandon Flowers) played tight coverage to make it tough for the Allens to get off the line.
Ultimately, it was slot receiver Marqise Lee and tight end Julius Thomas who did the most damage against the San Diego secondary. But as a result, quarterback Black Bortles had to throw more passes over the middle where he’s not nearly as accurate with his touch and timing.
The Ravens should take a similar approach on Sunday. Corners Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright need to play closer to the line and jam Hurns and Robinson in spots, and safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb can’t be late when they converge to help out on either receiver.
The theme should be to play as much tight coverage as possible (foregoing off coverage) and minimize the one-on-one looks Bortles is more comfortable with. When it comes to defending Lee and Thomas, the Ravens are just going to have to take their chances with single coverage, but playing dime coverage (with Anthony Levine on the field) will give them more of a fighting chance to hold up.
2. Bluff Blitzes: Again, with Bortles, playing coverage is the way to go. Flood the passing lanes, drop defenders right before the snap, and force him to drop the ball into tight windows.
In the first half against the Browns, the Ravens brought their backers too many times up the middle and Josh McCown made them pay, especially in third-and-long conversion situations. But when defensive coordinator Dean Pees started dropping the inside linebackers, McCown had to hold the ball an extra tick, and that made all the difference to throw off the timing of the pass plays.
Similarly, the best way to keep Bortles guessing is to show A-gap pressure, only to drop the blitzers after the snap, forcing the big-armed QB to hold the ball. Disguising interior blitz looks and dropping linebackers into underneath windows will also muddy the hot route adjustments Bortles tries to make.
3. Late Motion and Shifts: Hue Jackson called a masterful first half against the Baltimore defense, and much of his play-calling prowess came at the pre-snap phase.
The Browns shifted from power looks to open looks right before the snap. After the shift, there was still some additional motion to help McCown distinguish between man and zone, and to create one-on-one matchup advantages. In fact, the 28-yard pass completion to tailback Duke Johnson came from a late shift in which Johnson motioned out wide before the snap. Overall, the shifts created confusion at times for the Baltimore defense and enabled the Browns to dictate the tempo early in the game.
It was interesting to see Jacksonville use their own formation shifts against the Chargers. Expect to see the Jaguars incorporate some of the late pre-snap changes to get Baltimore defenders out of position.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch WR Allen Robinson versus CB Jimmy Smith
Photo Credit: Larry French, Getty Images
There will be several interesting matchups in this game, but this one is shaping up to be the main event. Robinson has been kept under wraps the first two weeks of the season, but it’s only a matter of time until he gets going again. The third-year receiver is terrific on contested balls, and he is especially tough to deal with on back-shoulder and stop routes. Smith has his work cut out for him. While Smith’s ball skills have been inconsistent at times this season, he can’t afford those lapses in coverage this time out.