One of the best ways for an offense to gain a competitive advantage is for the quarterback to vary their cadence and snap count throughout the game. This forces the defense will to react to the physical movement of the ball or opposing players, rather than the quarterback’s Jodi Song. Every quarterback has their own cadence and when that quarterback gets complacent with said cadence, defenders use it to “jump the snap” thereby increasing their chances of disrupting the play. By using the same cadence and snap count over and over and over again, the quarterback – and the offense – becomes predictable.
Peyton Manning was arguably the most well-versed player the league has ever seen when it came to the gamesmanship and small details of playing quarterback. Most know the memes that were generated while he was playing. Manning would rant and rave behind the offensive line. He would point at the middle linebacker. He would wave his hands around and generally look like a lunatic while shouting “Omaha! Omaha!” He’d randomly use hard counts to get would-be blitzers to tip their hand and then he’d check out of one play and into another. That worked for him. That was his way of gaining a competitive advantage.
The funny thing is that I read an article from several years ago about Manning and based on that article, a lot of what he did was pure nonsense. It was simply to confuse the defense.
One Eightyyyyy! Set! Hut!
Now, we all know that Joe Flacco is not the most emotive player to ever strap on a helmet. However, there has been a growing rumor that Joe uses the same cadence on every snap. Everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about – “Reaaaaadddddyyyyy set-hut!” So, for this Tale of the Tape session I wanted to actually look at the pre-snap actions of the offense – specifically Joe’s cadence.
After watching several games, I not only concluded that this rumor is 100% true, but it is alarming that it has been happening for so long and nothing is being done. No wonder Joe is constantly under pressure from pass-rushers and the backs seem to get stuffed for short gains every other play. The defense knows the snap count!
What I paid attention to:
– Joe’s cadence
– The number of times a player was sent in motion
– The number of times Joe checked out of one play and into another
I chose to compare the two most recent games: Cincinnati and last week’s loss to Dallas. I wanted to see the difference between a home and an away game. To have a varying perspective, I also looked at Pittsburgh’s win over Indianapolis last Thursday.
The cadences that I observed Joe using:
– [Quick count] Ready-Hut or Set-Hut
– [Slow count] Ready-Set-Hut
– [Slow count] 180-Set-Hut
– [Under Center] Silent
– [Clock Play] Clock-Clock-Clock
– [Shotgun] Silent/Leg Lift
– [Quick count] Hut
By my count, the offense ran 65 plays against Cincinnati and 54 plays against Dallas. Of the 119 total plays ran in the past two games, Joe used two cadences for a combined 90 times. If broken down by game, Joe used the slow count “Ready-Set-Hut” 46 times against Cincinnati and nine times against Dallas. He used the Silent/Leg-Lift out of shotgun 35 times against Dallas and he did not use it at all against Cincinnati. Graphs 1, 2, and 3 show how Joe’s cadence breaks down over the past two weeks.
It makes sense that the Ravens would use a silent count during an away game. In fact, when I watched Pittsburgh against Indianapolis, I saw the same thing. Ben Roethlisberger took 49 snaps against the Colts before being replaced by Landry Jones in the last series (the game was already won at that point). Of those 49 snaps, Roethlisberger used a silent count 46 times. The three remaining snaps were all quick counts of “Set-Hut.”
There were two noticeable differences between the silent counts from Roethlisberger and from Joe. The first was that Joe only used the silent count out of shotgun whereas Roethlisberger was pretty even between shotgun and under center. The second is that Roethlisberger would lift his leg 2-3 times every so often whereas Joe would lift his leg once, then raise his hands, and then receive the snap.
What is bothersome to me is that I’m just some guy sitting at a computer typing this up. I’m not a professional. I may have played for several years, but I’m sure there are a lot of things that I miss while watching a game. However, there is no way that defensive coordinators and defensive players aren’t watching film of the Ravens and keying on Joe’s cadence.
In the Cincinnati game, Joe used the same cadence 71% of the offensive plays. That means a defender had a really good chance of predicting the snap and getting past a Ravens blocker that much quicker. If we add Joe’s “180-Set-Hut” cadence, which to me sounds identical as far as intonation and duration to “Ready-Set-Hut”, that 71% becomes 88%.
The same can be said of Dallas where 65% of the offensive snaps were out of shotgun using the silent/leg-lift.
Does It Matter?
I’m not saying that the offense is going to suddenly turn juggernaut if Joe takes a page out of Manning’s book. Though, considering that the Ravens are relying on many young players to keep the wheels on the bus, does it not make sense to try and gain every competitive advantage possible?
One reason I’ve heard is that they’re concerned about false start penalties – particularly from their rookie linemen (Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis). I get that is a possibility for the lack of a varying cadence, but penalties are going to happen. They’re part of the game. That shouldn’t mean competitive advantages are not even considered.
What this really tells me is that the Ravens believe that their game plan and individual talent can overcome predictability. I think that Joe’s 2016 stat line says differently. The number of times Joe has been pressured and has had very little pocket to work with says differently. The number of times Joe has thrown off of his back foot while having a defender in his face says differently. I also think that Terrance West and Ken Dixon averaging under 4 yards per carry says differently.
Lastly, the fact that the Ravens are averaging 1.5 offensive touchdowns per game says differently.
So should we expect the cadence to suddenly change in Week 13? Of course not. But keep an eye on it and let me know if you’re seeing the same thing I am.