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2021 Opponent Scouting Report: Week Five Ravens Offense- Not as good as they’re going to be

Baltimore Ravens v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Overview

On October 11th, 2021 the Indianapolis Colts will travel to the team’s original home to take on the Baltimore Ravens. In this week five match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

Big time players make big plays in big games and in week five of the 2021 NFL season it doesn’t get much bigger than Monday Night Football. This will be the Ravens third primetime game and second time on MNF, already this season. They’ve shown they have big time players, our Colts haven’t shown much but they’ll be looking to change that this week.

Let’s see what we can expect in week five.


Offensive System

A note: all numbers presented here were compiled using only the first three weeks of the season unless stated otherwise.

Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman spent his first four years as an NFL coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers. While there he helped to craft the offense that would lead to the most successful years of Collin Kaepernick’s career. When the Ravens drafted Lamar Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft they gave Jackson a year to learn about NFL life behind longtime starter Joe Flacco. It became clear that the Ravens saw Jackson as their future at the position and heading into 2019 the team decided they were going to do everything they could to help Jackson and by extension their offense succeed. They hired Greg Roman and essentially gave him free rein to design a system that Jackson could succeed with.

What Roman came up with doesn’t look like any other offense in the NFL. Sure there are similar plays and concepts and how many ways are there to throw a slant, anyway? But this Ravens offense is unlike any other offense because the player it’s built around is unlike any other NFL quarterback. While most teams don’t regularly use a fullback (or even have one on their roster) Baltimore has had one on the field for more than 60% of its teams snaps. Many of their formations look like an inverted wishbone offense from the 70’s and they spend a lot of time in the pistol.

Through week three their highest percentage of plays still came out of 11 personnel at 36% of offensive snaps. The fact that their highest percentage of plays comes with one back and one tight end on the field is the least unique aspect of this offense. Most successful offenses around the league use a lot of 11 personnel. What is more unique is what comes next. They have spent 23% of their snaps in 21 personnel and another 23% in 22 personnel. In total Baltimore has spent 58% of their snaps on offense with two running backs on the field. Two running back sets went out of fashion years ago but the Ravens have found a way to modernize a run first system using a combination of old misdirection principals and spread passing concepts.

22 personnel

Most of the time I highlight plays like this in an opponent scouting report to show an interesting wrinkle, using a one receiver set in the middle of the field with three minutes to go before the half, up by a touchdown. But this isn’t a wrinkle, this is just what this team does.

More of the same

This one might be slightly more common near the goal line but the fact is they would have been happy to call this play anywhere on the field and they’ve been doing it successfully for more than two full NFL seasons, this isn’t a gimmick that the rest of the league is going “figure out”. There’s not much to figure out, they’re just playing a unique brand of football and they execute it at a high level.

21 personnel with an extra offensive lineman

This sure looks like an RPO that Jackson missed the read on. Had it been a designed pass there’s almost no chance his left guard would be five yards down field (not getting called) because his throw came out late.

More 21 personnel

Out of their inverted wishbone formation the Ravens send a tight end and their fullback to the wide side of the field. The tight end (the player closest to the bottom of the screen) runs to the flat, pulling a defender with him. That left the fullback without anyone near him. Had the pass been complete, he had a linebacker running at him but the play would have gained 3-4 yards and if the fullback could have slipped the tackle he might have been close to picking up a first down. Not a bad play on first and ten with the lead.

The big play designs don’t stop with the passing

Through the first three games the Ravens ran the ball outside or off tackle 75% of the time. It’s harder to hit explosive runs up the middle, given the fact that’s usually where most of the defense is. Everyone knows this but most teams are still going to run up the gut to try to soften the defense and they may take a few shots running the ball outside but apparently, Greg Roman doesn’t have time for that.

In 11 personnel

When the Ravens are in 11 personnel they have thrown the ball 68% of the time but when they’ve been in 11 personnel on third down that number jumps to 76%. With numbers like that it’s obvious why a team would prepare to defend a pass but the Ravens are aware of their own tendencies and will work to fool opponents by breaking their tendencies when the situation calls for it.

This is a designed big play offense

One thing that I haven’t heard or seen talked about at length is how this offense is designed to hit on big plays. It’s completely possible this is something I’ve missed from large media sources, during the season I don’t spend that much time doing anything other than watching football so I tend to miss some stuff. For example, I went to dinner with a few friends last week, everyone was talking about current events. I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about and I had to fight the urge to tell them about the Dolphins bizarrely good-and-bad-at-the-same-time defense, because I knew they wouldn’t be interested.

I digress, this offense is designed to take shots deep down the field. I guess I don’t really know that’s how it was designed, but that’s how they’re running the thing. They’ll hit you with run after run after run and right when your linebackers feel like their brains have completely turned into mush getting off blocks and making tackles, the Ravens hit them with a play action and Lamar Jackson chucks the ball deep.

Like this

They don’t all work out

In fact, most of them don’t. But you can’t hit homerun's unless you swing the bat and Lamar Jackson is swinging the bat more than anyone else this season. According to Pro Football Reference, Jackson leads every full-time starting quarterback in intended air yards per pass with 11.5 yards per attempt. The next closest is Aaron Rogers with 9.7 yards per. He also leads in completed air yards per attempt at 9.2 per with Derek Carr behind him at 7.9 per.

This Ravens team wants to hit homerun's and they seem to be content striking out pretty often as long as they get a dinger every now and then.

Using motion

The Ravens use some form of motion, most of the time. Doing so helps the offense do things like determining what coverage the defense is in and moving defenders where they want them to go before the play. And every now and then you can make a defender lose in man coverage before the ball is even snapped.

I love this concept

Anytime a team works their tight end across from one side of the field to the other, I get excited. I don’t really know why, I just love it. Maybe it’s because tight ends are a mix of offensive linemen and wide receivers and are usually big guys lumbering gracefully down the field and for whatever reason I love it when those big graceful goons go across the middle and get targets.

Yes this play looked just like several of their run concepts and it was a good fake, but mostly I wanted to post this clip because of how much I enjoy the tight end thing.


The 2020 Matchup

Normally I don’t add an entire section when I look at the Colts opponents but I thought to myself, “how can I take this massive article and double it?” Not really but despite the fact that the Colts lost last season’s matchup, I remember feeling that the defense did a good job bottling up Lamar Jackson and limiting what they were able to do on the ground. I wanted to see how they did it, as they’re probably going to try the same things this time around. For the sake of my own time I’m not going to offer a comment on every one of these as I already commented on them in their original post on Twitter. I do have some thoughts about what the Colts are going to try to do on defense at the end of this section.

I’ll let you know if he responds. For the record he definitely should have taken on the TE to force the run back inside.

This is how Leonard should have played it on the run I showed you six plays ago.

Once again, I’m pretty sure Autry was supposed to squeeze down and I believe a safety was supposed to fill. I believe Leonard had to maintain the gap he was standing in.

I think the Colts success on defense will largely come down to how healthy Darius Leonard is when the game kicks off on Monday night. Last week against the Dolphins, Leonard seemed to be playing as fast as he’s played this season. If his ankle has finally healed and he can play fast again, his speed and angles allowed the Colts to get away with not spying him much a season ago.

After doing a bit more work I figured out that teams don’t play man coverage against Lamar Jackson that often but it’s not because he struggles with one type of coverage more than the other. The differences in percentages in passing statistics were insignificant. Which means that teams play zone coverage against Lamar Jackson so that their defenders can keep their eyes on him to limit his rushing ability. Normally Jackson is still able to find room to run as he averaged 7.2 yards per scramble in 2020 but he averaged just 4.3 yards per against the Colts. The conclusion I came to is that the Colts speed on defense is why they were able to bottle him up.

The Colts defense is different this year but it’s one that’s still built on speed which means that if it’s possible to match up well with this Ravens team, the Colts just might.


Quarterback

I’ve talked a lot about Lamar Jackson already. It’s impossible not to, this offense is built completely around his skillset. No one else can run this system. I’ve spent a lot of time telling you how good he is and that’s true and I’ll keep giving you more examples of how good he is, but I’ll show you some of his not so great plays, also. Let’s jump in:

Jon Gruden has always like his defense old and slow

How are you supposed to defend this guy?

The bad decisions are confusing

The game announcer was right, Jackson should have thrown this ball to his tight end. I can’t explain why he didn’t. Not only did he not take the easy yards, he threw a really inaccurate pass, it didn’t get tipped, he wasn’t rushed, he just missed. If this wasn’t third down, maybe I could understand wanting to throw to the back who was “more” open, but honestly he had to just completely ignore his progression as there’s no way his running back was the first read on this play.

Not bad for a wide receiver

That’s a joke. He’s a legit quarterback, calm down, Ravens fans. But he’s an even better running back. Seriously.

It’s pretty easy to throw picks when your receivers fall down

As much as I wanted there to be some big gotcha moment on this play, his receiver just fell down.

This one was baffling

This was on third and long and I understand wanting to make a play but they were in field goal range. I can’t even begin to explain what led him to make this throw.

Lamar Jackson is a really good quarterback who doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s amazing with the ball in his hands and is efficient as a passer. Jackson probably won’t ever throw for 5,000 yards in a season but the Ravens don’t need that to have one of the best offenses in the league.


Running Back

Yikes.

For the second week in a row the Colts are playing a team that could really use the services of Marlon Mack. For a team that runs the ball as much as these Ravens do losing your best two running backs isn’t good news. So far the Ravens have placed both Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins on IR, both men will miss the season.

To replace them the Ravens have brought in Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray and Le’Veon Bell. Once I saw this list I couldn’t help but think about how great of a fantasy football team you would have had in 2016 with those three guys in your lineup.

In 2021, it seems like Murray might still have some juice

Freeman hasn’t been given many carries and Bell has done nothing but prove that the Steelers were right for not giving him the contract he wanted. Murray’s 3.4 yard per carry average isn’t lighting the world on fire but he does seem to be the Ravens best option to carry the load at this point.

The other running back you’ll see a lot of is former defensive lineman Patrick Ricard. Ricard is listed at 6’3” 311 pounds but he moves in space as a blocker better than almost any other 300+ pound player I’ve ever seen. Either the Ravens haven’t updated his weight on their website or this guy is getting “random” drug tests every week.

Either way he’s still massive

Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Pass Catchers

Sammy Watkins- 4.34

Tylan Wallace- 4.39

Devin Duvernay- 4.39

Marquise “Hollywood” Brown- 4.32

Miles Boykin- 4.42 (at 6’4” 220 pounds)

Rashod Bateman- 4.39

Those are those players 40 yard dash times. Those are all really good times. The Baltimore Ravens seem to like speed at the receiver position. The only receiver on the roster who didn’t run a blazing fast 40 yard dash time is James Proche II and he’s still tied for the highest yards per catch average on the team with 17.2.

First round pick Rashod Bateman has yet to play this season but there is a chance he will return this weekend. Watkins and Brown have received the lion's share of the teams passes so far in the 2021 season.

Brown

Hollywood Brown has developed into a very good receiving option for Lamar Jackson after being taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma. Brown is starting to feel like a guy that is going to get targets no matter what the defense is doing. Hopefully the Colts can figure out a way to bottle him up Monday night.

Proche alert

James Proche II only has six catches on the season but if he keeps this up, he’ll develop into the kind of security blanket every quarterback needs.

Finally we’re talking about the tight end

Mark Andrews is a really good tight end. He hasn’t hauled in a touchdown catch yet this season but the Ravens are only averaging one passing touchdown per game. He is second on the team with 18 catches for 253 yards. If Proche wants to become a security blanket for Jackson, Andrews is his main source of competition.


Offensive Line

Another week, another not awesome offensive line.

From left to right:

Alejandro Villaneuva, Ben Powers/ Ben Cleveland, Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler, Patrick Mekari

Villaneuva has been downright bad in pass protection this season. When given the chance to go forward, get his hands on someone and move them in the ground game, he’s been fine. Third year pro Ben Powers and third round rookie Ben Cleveland have rotated at left guard for the past three games. Neither man appears to be head and shoulders above the other, although Cleveland is 6’8” 357 pounds and even though he was in a walking boot for last year’s Senior Bowl, Cleveland’s amazing size was evident from the stands.

Bozeman is a good center and based on what I’ve seen he has been the best Ravens offensive linemen this season. Zeitler turns 32 this year and it appears his best football is behind him. Mekari was a UDFA out of Cal, in 2019. Considering he’s a former undrafted guy, playing in his third year, Mekari is playing really well. If you don’t factor in any of those things he probably shouldn’t be starting for an NFL team.

Also when Villaneuva went down against the Broncos, Andre Smith stepped in and played at left tackle. He only played 35 snaps, it’s too early to know anything about where his game is at but he did immediately get flagged for a facemask so that was entertaining.

Villaneuva was lined up on the right side on this one

Like I said, when you let the guy go downhill, he can still move some people.

They aren’t great when asked to open holes inside

No one was really able to successfully wall off their man on this play. Bozeman giftwrapped the block for Powers and he was unable to get his hips around and into good position. Bozeman went on to block his guy into getting his feet tangled and making Zeitler’s job easier and Mekari did do a good job considering that’s Chris Jones and the back was able to get around the edge for a nice gain.

The Ravens are tied for 8th most sacks given up with 11

The Ravens offensive line struggles with the blitz, the Colts defense struggles to blitz, something’s gotta give, right?

The Ravens offensive line is better as a run blocking unit than blocking for their quarterback, but that’s not a high bar. Their star left tackle Ronnie Stanley could be back in a few weeks time but as it stands this Ravens offense is relying a lot on the misdirection and playmaking ability of it’s quarterback and less on it’s ability to keep him clean and move people off the ball. This is the worst offensive line Lamar Jackson has had as a starter.


Final Thoughts

This Ravens offense is missing vital parts of it’s offensive line and running back room and they’re still ranked in the top 4 NFL offenses by yards and they rank as the 9th best scoring offense, too. Lamar Jackson hasn’t played his best football and they expect rookie Rashod Bateman to be a playmaker when he recovers from his injury.

Lamar Jackson and the playmakers these Ravens have that are healthy are good enough to win a lot of football games but if there is a “good” time to play these guys to try to steal a win that the Colts probably shouldn’t get, this is that time. By the time the playoffs come around, if they continue to get healthy, this team will be really hard for anyone to handle.