In case you missed it, Last Word on Pro Football’s newest series “The Breakdown” just finished examining what each AFC East (Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets) team constructs on both sides of the ball. We now progress into the AFC North, beginning with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Breakdown: A Look at the Baltimore Ravens Schematic Philosophy
Mixing and Matching
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg returns for his second season after first serving as the Ravens quarterback coach in 2015 and being promoted to his current position following Marc Trestman‘s firing this past October.
Mornhinweg believes that “in this league, you need to pass the ball very efficiently to score points,” a statement indicative of his West Coast offense. As I’ve previously mentioned in this series, that style of offense is predicated on high-percentage, timing concepts primarily from three and five-step drops. It’s a scheme that relies on the horizontal stretches to open up vertical shots down the field, but Mornhinweg adds his own twist by often aligning his three-receiver sets to the boundary rather than the field. It’s a wise move when you consider that defenses treat the sideline like an extra defender as they feel comfortable maintaining an even numbers matchup, and even taking a minus one because of that “extra defender.” This is where Baltimore capitalizes: the high dosage of horizontal concepts are built on spacing, allowing their receivers to win the leverage battle and eat up yards after the catch due to the defense being out of position; Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace both went over 14 yards per catch last season.
Stretching to the boundary also opens up those aforementioned vertical shots to the isolated X receiver on the backside of the formation who is most often aligned outside the numbers, further alleviating stress on your offense and placing it on the defense. Doing so means the other side of the ball has to leave a single corner on him (not the best idea when their X is the deep threat Wallace, who can both quickly and efficiently get hip-to-hip before stacking down the field) or rotate a safety over the top for help. No matter how you slice it, the defense is in a bind with their now-inability to disguise blitzes and coverage rotations, while forcing them to spread great distances widens the throwing lanes those spacing concepts are so adept at attacking. Having a quarterback with the arm that Joe Flacco possesses becomes an increasingly important trait as these throws get longer.
The staple of the West Coast offense is the zone running scheme that relies on athletic linemen to block on the move and in space. That’s an area where former Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele thrived and helped him earn a large contract with the Oakland Raiders. It also optimizes the skill set of one-cut runners who can immediately get downhill. With Kenneth Dixon and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, the Ravens could run both inside and outside zone out of 21 for days on end and still keep the offense on schedule. However, with both gone (the former recently underwent surgery on his medial meniscus and the latter signed a new deal with the San Francisco 49ers), Baltimore loses two legitimate threats in both facets of the offense. The one-two punch of Terrance West and Lorenzo Taliaferro will be called upon to carry the workload.
Master of Disguise
After coaching linebackers from 2010-2012, Dean Pees was promoted to defensive coordinator following the 2012 season. Top corner Jimmy Smith struggled to stay healthy and the rest of the secondary was the catalyst for a defensive unit that found itself as a middle-of-the pack team in passer rating and explosive pass plays allowed. Baltimore looks to mitigate those struggles having signed free agents Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr and drafted Marlon Humphrey in the first round this past April.
Jefferson spent quality time in Arizona’s disguise-based defense. Paired with fellow safety Eric Weddle, the two will mesh well in a system that makes both safety positions interchangeable and relies on disguises and coverage rolls. Their heavy use of zone coverage incorporates relatively standard rush five and drop six zone blitzes. General manager Ozzie Newsome spent three consecutive draft picks on front seven defenders that included edge rushers Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser. That influx of next-level athleticism is needed for their pass rush. The hope is that it plays a pivotal role in zone blitzes with constant shuffling of his inside linebackers opening up one-on-one pass rush opportunities for such edge rushers.
Where Pees makes things interesting and far more difficult for offenses to neutralize is the use of said disguise. He’ll employ a litany of chaos fronts that completely mask where the pressure is coming from and who will be dropping into coverage. The interchangeable roles for his safeties and shuffling of his inside linebackers is especially vital in this area as they can roll both pre- or post-snap and different linebackers can come from different regions of the field. C.J. Mosely is a do-it-all backer that Pees relies on to generate pressure as the most-often designated blitzer in these packages. But the use of Kamalei Correa and Terrell Suggs has become vital to the pre-snap presentation as well.