It’s surprising to me I’ve made it through Tuesday before our Saturday game and I’ve yet to see anyone mention that the Irsay’s stole the Colts from the people of Baltimore. Further, I’ve yet to even see a single Baltimore fan say that while acknowledging that the city of Baltimore government was actually trying to steal the team from the Irsay’s. And while Robert Irsay, by every single account, wasn’t a great person, protected the company he rightfully owned and moved them to a city who was happy to have an NFL team.
Just to go one step even further, not once have I seen any Baltimore fan mention the above while also being self-aware enough to realize that the only reason they have a team to root for is because they stole their franchise from Cleveland.
Here’s lookin’ at you, Baltimore.
In the past two years, the Ravens have had four different offensive coordinators, and they’ve settled in with Marty Mornhinweg. Even though they’ve already been through so many in the recent past, Ravens fans over on Baltimore Beatdown voted overwhelmingly that they would like to see ol’ Marty fired. In my opinion, it’s less about his scheme and play calling and far more about talent and the fact that firing a fifth OC won’t magically make better players appear. But, we’ll talk about that below. For now, we’ll cover Mornhinweg’s true West Coast Offense.
So much has been written about the West Coast Offense and no one has done a better job with it than Bill Walsh. If you happen to find a copy of Walsh’s book “Finding the Winning Edge” at a yard sale or thrift store, you need to buy it, and I’ll gladly buy it off of you for $50. Seriously, if any of you amazing readers out there have a copy, I can justify the $50 to my wife. Also, just so you know, it’s worth far more than $50, but the offer stands.
For those of us who don’t have the book (and aren’t willing to spend $250-plus to get it), what we’re left with is a lot of articles and videos that Walsh wrote and recorded. With that said, a lot has changed since Walsh won four Super Bowls using it, and while every team in the league uses some principals of the scheme, few use a more effective, modern version of Walsh’s system than Mornhinweg.
I found this article from Mike “Tiny” Nolan for Turn on the Jets. In it, he details Mornhinweg’s time with the J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS! (which I’m okay typing because while we’ve had a rough go of the last few years, the New York Jets haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1968, and they’ve never won more than 12 games in any season going back to their AFL inception in 1960. So, yeah, whatever, Jets.) Enough Jets hate, let’s go back to that article:
Mornhinweg’s offense at the core is your typical West Coach Offense. He wants to stretch the field horizontally instead of vertically to start. He wants to use three-step and five-step drops to time up with his slants, outs, ins, and crosses to hit receivers in stride and make the defense cover sideline to sideline. After he has established the short passing game and safeties start to jump certain routes, he wants to open it up with skinny posts and deep shots. If he is playing from behind they will still continue to air the ball out no matter how effective it has been. f he is up, get ready for a heavy dose of an athletic RB running Inside, Mid, and Outside Zone as well as your inside power game to take advantage of a tired defense.
So, he actually calls games like a West Coast Offense aficionado. Like I said, everyone uses WCO principals and concepts, but not many use a true WCO, and fewer use it well.
While the basic philosophy rings true for Mornhinweg, he has shown the ability to break away from the more monotonous versions of the WCO. He was actually a nice break from Andy Reid’s often times frustrating dink and dunk aerial assault when he took over the Eagles play calling duties in 2006. Reid’s offenses almost always led the league in Pass to Run ratio, a stat that most Eagles fans weren’t proud of with a stud playmaker in the backfield. When this came to a boiling point with Eagles fans after a 45-21 thumping by the Colts in Week 12, Reid relinquished play calling duties to Mornhinweg. The result: Jeff Garcia was able to save the season at QB as he efficiently led an offense that was made for him and Brian Westbrook’s carries went from 14.6 per game to 19.5 per game and the Eagles rattled off 5 straight wins to surprisingly get into the playoffs.
We’ve seen this in 2017 as well in regard to Andy Reid. He gave up play calling duties and the Chiefs have begun pushing the ball downfield more. Rookie superstar Kareem Hunt has gotten back on track in the last two weeks as well.
So, what this is telling us is that Mornhinweg is absolutely going to use a pass-heavy system but he’s not going to neglect the ground game if the team has the ability to do so.
Mornhinweg’s version of the West Coast Offense is a little bit different than that of his contemporaries. While at the core of his offense is the timing aspects of the horizontal passing game, he has been much more willing to involve the running game. In Mornhinweg’s offense, the RB is like a closer in baseball. It was common in Philly for Westbrook or McCoy to go in to halftime with a handful of carries and between 20-40 yards only to explode in the second half and ice the game.
Mornhinweg will utilize several different types of running schemes. His favorite is the zone scheme.
I just want to stop right here because Mornhinweg’s personnel in Baltimore has been and is better suited for power runs. They do mix in plenty of inside and outside zone runs, but you will see God’s play run more often than the author of this article would suggest. Mornhinweg likes the zone, but he’s not going to ignore what his team is built to do. Amazing how many coaches around the league take this approach; it’s almost like you try it if you want to be successful.
Before the Air Coryell and WCO offenses hit the NFL, teams would often times pass out of necessity as opposed to strategy. Teams who started running the WCO could substitute short pass plays for running plays on first down, thus creating a more unpredictable offense. Defenses could no longer stack the box on first down and offenses were able to find more creative ways to stay on schedule. While his offense has shown more of a running tendency than most WCOs, at the base of Mornhinweg’s offense is the quick timing short routes that can open up the entire playbook.
This is 100% consistent with what I saw watching the Ravens games this season.
The Mornhinweg offense relies on high percentage throws and timing. His favorite types of pass plays can be put into two groups. The first is horizontal routes run by athletic receivers who can make a play after catching the ball in space. These routes are often open because of route combinations whether it is with high-low concepts that put linebackers in a bind in zone coverage or through clearing routes that can take a safety out of the equation. These are the type of routes receivers like Terrell Owens and DeSean Jackson made a living on in Mornhinweg’s offense. The second is pure timing routes that excel against man to man. Receivers are required to run perfectly timed slants, outs, and hitches. These are the routes that receivers like Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant have thrived at.
Once both of these types of routes have proven successful, it is time to take some shots. This is something Mornhinweg has proven to be very adept at in his Eagles tenure as he will usually take about 4 or 5 deep shots a game. Most times he sets up his deep shots. When both the horizontal routes and the timing routes start hitting, safeties start jumping underneath routes and corners start playing tighter on the outside. This is when Mornhinweg takes some chances
I believe we will see Quincy Wilson get beat deep. The Ravens do exactly what this is suggesting. Mornhinweg has changed teams and years have passed but his play calling seems to be consistent.
Another important part of Mornhinweg’s pass scheme is the option route. Most of his passing plays, especially on 1st and 3rd downs, will have option routes. This means that the receiver has to decide what route to run based on whether it is man or zone and based on where the defense’s leverage is in coverage. Receivers also need to be smart enough to recognize blitzes and make sight adjustments for the QB to throw “hot”. This is something the Eagles always struggled with in both the McNabb and Vick eras.
I noticed this on a few incompletions. The receiver and quarterback weren’t on the same page. I’ll reserve assigning blame for these mistakes below, but it’s not always black and white.
Warning: If things are clicking in the Mornhinweg offense, it can be one of the most explosive and exciting offenses in the NFL. If things are not clicking and everyone hasn’t bought in like the Eagles of 2012, it can be one of the more frustrating offenses to watch. I blame most of this on the offensive line being one of the NFL’s worst. (We drafted a 26 year old fireman from Canada who played football for a total of two years in the 1st round). I don’t think this will happen for the Jets because they have a solid line. In the past, his offense could get stagnant at times as he could break away from what made them successful. However, it was tough to tell whether it was Mornhinweg or Reid’s influence that led to this.
I’ve noticed this too. The Ravens offense is either firing on all cylinders or it seems it’s in desperate need of a tuneup. They run hot and cold. At times, I was watching a game thinking; “These guys are really good.” A few drives later; “This offense is terrible.” It’s an interesting case study for anyone interested in institutional consistency in complex systems (okay, that’s probably not a thing, and if it is, it’s probably not your thing).
The second part about the line is interesting for reasons you’ll see below, but I’ll just say, they aren’t strong up front. The last point about assigning blame for the stagnant offense and blaming Mornhinweg or Reid, time has shown us that it wouldn’t be Reid’s first time slowing down a potent attack.
Reid is a really interesting case study for people interested in coaching and organizational development, oddly two things I’m actually interested in. Without delving too deep into the subject here, Reid has consistently established good programs quickly while having deficiencies as a football coach making decisions on the field on Sundays. Which leads me to believe he is an amazing leader, organizer and delegator (is that a word?) but may not even be the best football coach in the AFC West. I’ll probably never take the time to really dig into this but it’s an interesting realization I’ve just had.
Back to the Ravens and the WCO, if you’ve never been to WestCoastOffense.com that’s okay because it hasn’t been updated since maybe 2008, but it does have some good information, and this article from Bill Walsh himself is among the nuggets that can be found over there.
That article is worth a read but because I’ve already devoted something like 2,000 words to the scheme, I’m going to give you some of the play designs listed in that article and call it a day. Again, there’s more good info on the WCO if you’re interested, click that link. From Walsh:
22 Z-In This is a five-step drop pattern. The quarterback takes five big steps and a hitch step and throws on time. The receiver splits 12 to 14 yards. The flanker releases inside for 5 to 6 yards and then bursts hard to the outside foot of the cornerback. What he wants to do is to get that cornerback on his heels. Then he'll turn in about three steps and catch the pass 12 yards deep.
The fullback runs what we call a scat pattern. He doesn't have any pickup, and he releases to the outside. He never catches the ball more than 2 yards past the line of scrimmage, most often right at the line of scrimmage. If the backer blitzes, he looks for the ball early. Our tight end picks off the near end backer. He'll put his head past that man's shoulder, slow down, and make contact. He bounces off it and goes to the far guard position, turns and faces the quarterback, and watches his eyes because he's the last outlet.
The quarterback throws the ball related to the sky safety. If the safety gives ground, he'll throw to the fullback. If the safety flattens out, we'll throw in behind him, in this case to the flanker. If it's man-to-man, the flanker runs a man-to-man pattern trying to beat the corner. If it's man-to-man, the safety will often chase the tight end, and there will be a good throwing lane with the backer coming out on the fullback.
When we throw to the fullback the ball should arrive to him a foot in front of his number. If the fullback has to reach, he will take his eyes off the ball, slow down or break stride, and probably get nothing out of it.
The quarterback decides prior to the snap and just after the snap whether he's going to throw him the ball or not. The quarterback takes five quick steps. Notice I said five big steps in the Z in. Now that we're throwing out, the QB takes five quick steps. He can't lead the receiver with the pass because any time you lead a receiver who is running parallel to the ball, he'll never catch up to the ball.
Throw right at the man's hip. If you throw into his body, the defensive back doesn't have any way to get to it. What we are trying to get here is the defensive back giving ground this way and then losing lateral ground this way. That's on single coverage.
On this particular pattern both receivers do the same thing, but I would say most often the flanker gets it. The tight end takes an inside release, goes straight up the field, and runs a full speed crossing pattern, but never crosses the ball. The tight end on his basic crossing pattern is the one you go to on man-under defense. If a team is running man-under, that kind of an out is suicide. So if our quarterback sees inside-out coverage on wide receivers, reasonably close, his drop now goes right to the tight end; he's looking for the tight end to beat a man-under linebacker
Hook Pattern Now let's look at the seven-step drop pattern. This is one play that we've almost worn out. On a seven-step drop pattern, our receivers will maneuver. We're going to run a blue left for us, a right, which is motion, and we're going to run a 79, which is weak flow pass protection. Now X is going to run a pattern on the weak side (see Figure 3).
You vary the width of the receiver. He may be 1 yard split or he may be 12 yards split, depending on which linebacker we are trying to beat. X works up the field, gets past the man who has short coverage, and turns in. We tell him to get past the W and beat the M.
On this pattern we tell our receiver that he must go at least 12 yards and never more than 18 yards on the hook. Not because he can't get open, but because the quarterback can't wait that long to throw. A lot of it is predicated on pass rush. We say never less than 12, because we can't have a hook develop at 12 when our quarterback takes seven steps.
Walsh was so detailed and so specific it’s an amazing sight to behold, even in small doses like the article linked above.
Now that we understand how the Ravens will look to attack our defense, let’s take a look at who they’re going to use to accomplish their goals.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco is elite?
Ravens fans are an interesting bunch. They will defend their quarterback to their collective deaths while seemingly ignoring the fact that in 2017, he’s an average to slightly above-average QB at his best.
For his career, Flacco has averaged 232 yards per game and is a career 61.7% passer. Eli Manning (a guy I felt was comparable before looking at anything) has averaged 240 yards per game and has a career completion percentage of 59.9%. Obviously, they have had very different situations for their careers, but honestly, their level of play has been very similar.
So far on the year, Flacco has thrown for 2,701 yards to Manning’s 3,073, despite Eli starting one fewer game. Surely, though, Flacco has a better TD-to-INT ratio? Flacco has 14 TD’s to 12 INT’s, and Manning has 18 TD’s to 10 INT’s... But the completion percentage, right? Flacco has 64.2, and Manning has 63. 3. I guess you got me there.
All stats without context, right? Right. The talent and scheme around the two players is what makes those numbers mean less. It is intriguing considering that many people in the media and fans are suggesting that the New York Giants start a third-round rookie over a guy who is on pace for 3,782 yards, 21 TD’s and 11 INT’s while most people just say that the Ravens need to give their QB more help, but I digress.
The Ravens stay true to their scheme and in watching the film, I saw good Joe and bad Joe. Honestly, I have no idea when either guy is going to show up.
- For example:
Why did he throw this pass? Who knows? And if he’s going to throw it to that receiver, why did he throw it there? Again, these are the mysteries of the universe.
- Progressing through reads, throwing to the open man:
When Joe makes these kinds of plays, the offense gets rolling, the defense starts to come up to defend these underneath throws and the Ravens pick up first downs.
- And then these plays can open:
Those underneath plays set this play up. All the receiver had to do was keep running and Joe threw a dime. This is Flacco at his best.
- Donovan McNabb he is not:
He can absolutely hurt you with his legs but it’s not something we should spend a lot of time planning for.
- Tough to say what happened here:
Based on the receiver’s reaction, I believe he made the wrong read and ran the wrong route. As a result, the pass went to the spot it was supposed to go to but Flacco, after recognizing the mistake, put the ball five yards out of bounds.
After watching Flacco, I get why Ravens fans love the guy. Obviously, he took them to and won a Super Bowl, but when he’s “on”, he’s really good. The fact of the matter is, he’s inconsistent but the Ravens could do far worse, and replacing what Flacco gives them isn’t an easy thing to do. It seems Ravens fans are just going to have to live and die with Good/Bad Joe.
The Ravens have won eight games this year, and in those eight games they’ve averaged 125 yards rushing. In the six games they’ve lost, they’ve averaged 93 yards rushing per game. Yet another stat without context. True to Mornhinweg fashion, these Ravens like to run when they have the lead. So obviously, they would have more yards when winning than when losing.
That’s not up for debate but it is interesting that in those six losses, they have averaged 208 yards passing compared to 215 yards in their eight wins. An additional seven yards isn’t that big of a deal, on average they aren’t throwing the ball that much better in wins but they are running it well.
There are three names you need to know going into this game; Danny Woodhead, Javorius Allen (aka Buck) and Alex Collins. You can expect to see Woodhead in on a lot of third downs and in other passing situations. He’s a threat out of the backfield and he might have a big day against our linebackers.
Allen is a good back and will be used in a rotation with Collins. He’s more of an RB2 and will likely see fewer carries than Collins.
Collins is an interesting back. He was drafted in the fifth round in 2016 by the Seattle Seahawks, he was cut after his rookie season and while this article doesn’t say it outright, it’s obvious that the coaching staff in Seattle just didn’t like the guy. He wasn’t really given much of a chance despite there being a pretty clear need for a guy like him.
As a result, he’s come to Baltimore and put up 844 yards with a 4.9 yard per carry average and punched in 5 TD’s. Long story short, Collins is a 23-year-old, legit RB1 in the NFL and the Seahawks cut him because they made a bad roster decision.
This is what Danny Boy gives you. He’s good in space and has soft hands. He should kill us.
- Shift is Coryell-like:
The Ravens look like they’re getting cute, lining up in some sort of swinging-gate, high-school trick play only to shift into a downhill running formation, pull the backside guard and run a man blocking scheme down the Steelers‘ throat.
Collins does a great job finding the hole and running hard to pick up nice yardage.
- He rarely goes down on first contact:
Here, he makes the first guy miss in the hole and picks up 10 yards after that.
- Great individual effort:
Ideally, a hole opens somewhere on the inside for Collins on this play, and ideally, No. 40 doesn’t come into the backfield unblocked. Collins, on the other hand, didn’t seem to mind and just made a play.
Not every back can run over and around you the way Collins has done this year. I don’t know if he’s a guy that can hold up for a long time physically, but if he is, the Ravens have found a good running back courtesy of the Seahawks.
Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, and tight end Benjamin Watson are the pass-catching threats that have been used the most thus far. Maclin is dealing with a knee injury and isn’t expected to play. Instead, we can look for either Chris Moore or Breshad Perriman to attempt to fill that void.
Moore and Perriman aren’t good. Now, that’s not to say that they never could be valuable to a team but they aren’t valuable in any sense to the 2017 Baltimore Ravens and that’s what we’re focusing on here.
Watson seems like he’s been in the NFL for 35 years, and I feel like he’s played for at least 16 teams. In reality, he’s only been in the league for 13 years and played for four teams. Just when you think his career is winding down, he goes out at 37 years old and leads the Ravens with 49 catches through 15 weeks. He’s averaging 8.6 yards per catch, so it’s not like he’s stretching any defenses, but he has been a good option while pulling down 4 TD’s on the year.
Wallace’s career ended a few years back with the Minnesota Vikings when he failed to crack 500 yards receiving in 2015. At least that’s what everyone thought. To be fair, Wallace isn’t a top-10 receiver but he produced to the tune of 1,000-plus yards in 2016. This season hasn’t been as productive but he does have 200 more receiving yards than anyone else on the team and is averaging better than 15 yards per catch.
Given the probable absence of Maclin, I expect Wallace to have a big day.
Seven other times this season, Perriman has caught a pass. If that seems like a low number for a former first-round pick, just remember Colts legend and fellow 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett also has 8 catches this season. So, 8 catches in your third NFL season seems like the average.
- He’s 37, folks:
Rumor is Watson has to ice his knees after every play in the huddle. On a serious note, this play, where he drags across the field is one I expect to see beat us on Saturday.
- Mike Wallace:
It’s a little tough to see but 31-year-old Wallace just outruns everyone and gets his team a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
If you notice, the other receivers running a variation on the hooks play I listed in the scheme breakdown.
- Not a lot you can do:
I’m sure he is kicking himself for not bringing this one down but it would have been a really difficult completion to pull in. You would like to see him position himself better to have a chance to get his feet in bounds.
These receivers aren’t great. There is no WR1 on this team. Wallace is a WR2 at this point and Maclin is at best a WR2 also. If Flacco had a big-time wideout, it wouldn’t magically make him better, but everything about this offense would improve. Your move, Ozzie Newsome.
Marshal Yanda is a future Hall-of-Famer as a guard.
That’s not exactly a hot take but it’s also something that not a lot of people who aren’t in Baltimore and who don’t watch guard play closely know. So, you know, the vast majority of people who watch football.
Yanda is also on IR this season. He went down with a fractured ankle in Week 2 and his absence has been felt.
Alex Lewis started three games this season for the Ravens before being placed on IR with a shoulder injury.
Jermaine Eluemunor has started twice this year but has missed the last four weeks with a shoulder injury.
Nico Siragusa was the team’s fourth-round pick, and the dude tore his ACL before the season even started.
John Urschel, projected to start for the Ravens coming into the season, retired in order to finish his Ph.D at MIT. Seemingly, his goal is to use his brain to earn a high-paying position without having to bash it off of the inside of his skull and get hooked on painkillers while struggling to walk by the time he’s 50. Translation: He left the NFL to take a better job.
So, it’s not been an easy year for the Ravens up front. Here are the guys who might actually play on Saturday:
Tackle Austin Howard- he’s been a good but not great player. He seems to struggle at times with speed and isn’t going to be great working to the second level.
Guard Matt Skura- he’s probably a sixth lineman on most teams, but he’s had to play this year. He isn’t Yanda, no one is, but he’s done as good of a job as any backup could filling in for him. He is beatable.
Center Ryan Jensen- everyone seems to love the guy, and many fans believe he is the Ravens’ long-term answer at the position. He’s played well, and if Yanda were healthy, would have created a really strong interior line.
Guard James Hurst- Here’s a guy who, by all accounts, sucked as an undrafted tackle. Due to the injuries, he’s had to move inside to guard and has sucked less. Guard is easier to play than tackle, so that’s probably why.
Tackle Ronnie Stanley- in his second year in the league, Stanley seems to have picked up the speed and strength of the NFL game. With that said, he’s not Jonathan Ogden. I expect to see Jabaal Sheard give him all he can handle.
- It’s hard to believe but there wasn’t supposed to be an unblocked LB here:
Yeah, that guy wasn’t supposed to make first contact with the back behind the LOS like that, but here we are. I believe, and I say believe because it’s impossible to actually know, that the right tackle is supposed to give a combo and get to the second level to take on the ILB who goes unblocked.
Remember up above when I said that Howard shouldn’t try to go to the second level? I meant it.
- The very next play:
Ndamukong Suh doesn’t play for the Detroit Lions anymore but they still sack the quarterback more often than the Colts. This is a nice pocket that gives Flacco plenty of time to step into his throw and miss his target.
- To be fair, Clowney:
Jadeveon Clowney is really good. This is an outside zone run and Clowney just didn’t care that he was supposed to get blocked on this one. He promptly ignored the lesser human being trying to limit his movement and asked Collins if he would mind sitting down for a four-yard loss. Collins agreed and the play was over.
This right here is probably why Luke Bowanko only started one game this year. Help that center out, man! We don’t have anyone as good as Clowney on our defense. Don’t get me wrong, I really like a healthy Henry Anderson but if I’m going to call a spade a spade, Clowney would be the best player on our active roster if he were in Indy and he’s not even the best player on his own defense when J.J. Watt is healthy.
That last line made me sad because it’s true.
This line isn’t great because very few of them should be starting in the NFL. Bottom line, if healthy, this line is probably a lot better and if they retain these guys and get healthy next year, the Ravens will probably have a deep, good offensive line.
This Ravens offense is inconsistent. With that said, they’re much better than we are when you look at it position by position. At this point, it wouldn’t shock me if they scored 17 or 37 points on Saturday. Sadly, our defense isn’t going to limit what they do as much as their own mistakes will.