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What's Wrong with the Ravens Offense?

Discussion in 'Ravens Talk' started by 29BmoreBird22, Nov 20, 2020.

  1. Hey all,

    I'm just popping in for a second. I didn't have enough to really make an article, but I wanted to share some thoughts that I had. I apologize for the mega length of this one and I hope you can make it to the end, but I really wanted to just express my thoughts and frustrations.

    This post was inspired by two things that I saw on Reddit- 1. I saw a thread that basically said Hurst is the biggest reason that the Ravens offense is struggling. 2. I continually see threads bashing Lamar Jackson and putting the blame for the offensive struggles on him first and foremost, which is kinda the nature of having been so insane in 2019 and being the quarterback of the offense, but in my opinion, unfair.

    First off, no, Hurst didn't make the Ravens all of a sudden worse. The offense isn't struggling because they traded their third string, 27 year old tight end who played less than half the snaps. Instead, what happened is that teams are copying the Chargers, and to an extent, the Titans.

    What did the Chargers do in 2018? They had an absurdly deep front four that allowed consistent and relentless pressure off the edge and kept Lamar contained in the pocket. The defensive line bullying the Ravens offensive line meant the Chargers could use safeties, like Adrian Phillips, as linebackers for additional speed to defend the threat of the run while providing plus coverage.

    So you might be asking yourself, "Why didn't more teams do this in 2019? If the blueprint was right there and is successful in 2020, what stopped teams in 2019?" The answer is simple: In 2019, the Ravens had a healthy offensive line across the board and Marshal Yanda. Teams without a dominant and heavy defensive line would be placing a lot of strain on their linebackers (safeties playing linebacker, in this case) to have to take a pulling guard head on or a guard in the second level. Those safeties would get absolutely mauled by the 2019 Ravens offensive line. Teams couldn't afford to match the Ravens speed because matching the Ravens speed would mean that they couldn't match the Ravens physicality. In 2020, teams are able to match the Ravens speed with speed because of the replacement level play at RG, poor play from Matt Skura coming off of an injury, and continued mediocre play from Bozeman at LG. Of course, Fluker and Brown Jr. being at tackle only heightened the issue.

    What did the Titans do in the playoffs? The Titans had dominant defensive line play that absolutely rocked the Ravens interior and took away the Ravens dive game. The Titans basically took on the philosophy that they weren't going to allow the Ravens to get north/south with the football. Instead, they were going to make the offense flow laterally. Think about it- does it matter if the quarterback gets 30 yards if it's all going sideways? No because that's not advancing the ball forward. The Titans ability to blow up the Ravens interior running game meant that the Ravens were forced outside the tackles and into space, where the Titans speed was able to contain the Ravens running game and prevent huge plays. The Titans were smart- they felt better about their chances of their defensive backs tackling Lamar in space than a 330 pound defensive lineman trying to make that play.

    The RPO offense and play action passing game have a similar ask of the offensive lineman. In the play action passing game, the offensive lineman are asked to sell the run by stepping forward and putting their head down, but will maintain the posture to pass block because they must sell the run, but then drop into a pass blocking set. A key quirk of the RPO offense is that the offensive lineman will only run block (offensive lineman have no idea whether the play will be a pass or a run; they're solely run blocking. Side note: this was a reason I was not a fan of Laremy Tunsil coming out of Ole Miss. The RPO offense meant that he wasn't nearly as refined in pass sets and I questioned his ability to be able to become a premier pass blocker due to this.), so linebackers read this key from the offensive lineman (step forward, head down) and will begin to flow downhill because this means running play based on ques. This step downhill creates a void in the middle of the field where receivers run free. Where are the Ravens at their best throwing the ball? Over the middle. The Titans ability to dominate the run with the defensive line meant they could hesitate before flowing downhill and not compromise their run defense in the process. As a result, the Titans clogged the middle of the field with players who were adept at defending the pass and took away that open space that would normally be there for the Ravens. (Another side note: the RPO offense was a reason I did not think highly of RGIII after his rookie season. I felt that if RGIII were forced into a pro style, pocket passing system, he would struggle to make reads in tight coverage and to fit throws into tighter windows than what the RPO offense afforded him. I do think Lamar is plenty capable of making those throws when his head is on straight, so to speak.)

    The Patriots on Sunday took an interesting spin to this and attempted to replicate what the Titans did. I'd have to rewatch to be 100% sure that the Ravens are running more off tackle (presumably due to the weaker interior offensive line), but Bill really seemed to prepare for runs to the perimeter, not inside.

    Instead of playing from a traditional look, the Patriots often flexed their defensive ends into a wide nine position and pulled their defensive backs up to the line of scrimmage to get physical with the Ravens receivers. This was a twofold win for the Patriots. From a run game standpoint, the wide nine places a very large strain on the linebackers of an offense because the wide nine essentially places the defensive ends too far out of the play to impact interior runs and is used more for pass rushing because it allows the ends to gain more ground upfield. In theory, this should take the defensive ends out of the play because they should be shooting too far upfield to defend the run, asking the linebackers to fill the void and take on offensive lineman consistently. For the Patriots, this wasn't the case. The Patriots used this look to be able to contain the running lanes to the inside and force the Ravens to run inside. Any runs outside would be met with a defender in the face of a Raven immediately. If somehow a Raven were to make it past the defensive end, the defensive backs were there to immediately meet that same Raven. An interesting note with the defensive backs- while teams like the Chargers opted for lighter defensive backs to match the speed of the Ravens offense, the Patriots actually went with bigger, heavier defensive backs who could play physically at the line of scrimmage and take on blocks/make tackles at the line of scrimmage. In essence, the Patriots dared the Ravens to run through the interior and the Ravens failed to take advantage of this.

    As for the passing game, bringing the defensive backs down to challenge the Ravens receivers worked because of the diminutive size of Hollywood Brown and the inability of Myles Boykin to create separation. Brown is lightning fast, but he's tiny. Teams have learned, or are quickly learning, that if you just get physical with him early in his route, he's not going to outmuscle you and blow you away. This is an area the Titans really won with against the Ravens- they could outmuscle the Ravens receivers at the top of their routes and the Ravens couldn't fight through it.

    The three biggest things hurting the Ravens right now are the piss poor offensive line (the interior is straight ass), an inability to attack the boundaries, and the poor play calling/play designs of Greg Roman. I thought Hollywood was going to be huge for the Ravens this year, but I still wanted a trade up for CeeDee Lamb or Tee Higgins at 28 (I am happy with Queen, though.) Turns out, Hollywood is best in the slot because of his inability to overcome his size and the Ravens have no one who can challenge the sidelines. Hollywood might think he's a "Soulja," but he's showing that's really not the case.

    I think the Ravens would be greatly helped if they'd run more bunch and trips formations and more motions to help create free releases for Brown because if a corner can get a hand on him at the line, he's not fighting that off. He needs a free release where he can get his speed going and just run past a DB.

    It just feels like the majority of motions are Pat Ricard moving across the formation to get a running start on a lead block or Andrews motioning out of the backfield. This is also an issue because the "escort motions" by Ricard are just telling the defense, "Hey, we're gonna run this way!" This works just fine if you can outmuscle the defense, but the Ravens offensive line isn't doing that to teams this year. Additionally, I would like to see Roman scheming more free releases for the wide receivers through the use of motions across the formation. Make the defensive back trail and force him to catch up at the snap. Don't allow him to set and get hands on the receiver.

    Recently, Lamar told someone (Eisen, maybe?) that defenses know the plays that the Ravens are about to run. This prompted people to freak out and point to this as a reason to fire Roman and also sparked people to say, "Hey, that's not a big deal at all! Offenses have tells and should have an idea of what's coming anyway."

    I disagree with the idea that the defense knowing the play isn't a big deal. Certainly, offenses have tells for the defense (certain routes break at different yardages, high hat/low hat reads, etc.), but that's why you introduce wrinkles. PA passing and RPOs are difficult for defenses to defend because the offensive line emulates a low hat read for the defense, asking defenders to flow downhill when the play is going to be behind them. Double moves on passing plays are great because obviously you're attempting to bait the defensive back into breaking downhill on your route before breaking upfield. Bunch formations create traffic, don't allow for defenders to press easily, and can cause confusion with who to cover when receivers begin to cross each other's faces off the LoS. That type of small stuff that really adds up.

    Teams don't use 100 different formations and plays- teams have a handful of formations and plays, but it's those small wrinkles you add that really make a difference.

    Think of the Chiefs who use so many stack/bunch formations and motion their receivers across the formation for free releases routinely. I don't think I've ever seen players get open with ease as consistently as the Chiefs did against the Ravens because the Chiefs took their regular plays and threw in a little wrinkle here and there and kept the Ravens second guessing. You could clearly tell that in coverage, Patrick Queen had no idea what he was doing. The Chiefs took regular, routine looks and flipped them on their head so that Queen was reacting well after the ball had been snapped and wasn't able to lean on his instincts.

    I agree with the idea that teams will have an idea of what's coming, so the job of the offense is to maximize the number of possibilities, not make it so that the defense can pinpoint onto the exact single play the offense is running. The Ravens just don't have the type of players who can make the plays when the defense knows what's coming. Sure, someone like Randy Moss could tell you what he was going to do and then go and do it, but the Ravens don't have that type of player. The Ravens very desperately need to create more possibilities to give their guys a chance.

    I've also seen it talked about a lot that Lamar Jackson was missing plays against the Patriots in the deep passing game, but I wouldn't read too heavily into the lack of passing plays deep against the Patriots. It was a damn monsoon and torrential downpour; you're not going deep with ease on those plays. Not even Russell Wilson, who is the best deep ball passer in the NFL, is hitting those throws routinely in that weather.

    TL;DR?:

    So to summarize what I see is wrong with the Ravens offense beyond just Lamar (who certainly has work to do):

    The Ravens offensive line can't punish lighter formations and defensive lines are able to stop the run without involving the second level at the same rate as last year. This allows defenses to go light and clog the middle of the field without needing to attack downhill. I know it's been talked a lot that the Ravens have seem more dime defense through nine games than they did all of last year. It's not as simple as just, "Hur dur, more defensive backs go brrrrrrrrrr." The Ravens just cannot punish those lighter sets because the offensive line sucks right now.

    The Ravens have no receiver capable of challenging the sideline. On top of a lack of a punishing running game, teams can clog the middle because if you man up and go 1v1 on the outside, Hollywood and Boykin aren't going to beat you. They're not forcing teams to spread out and defend the entire field "honestly." Teams can cheat between the numbers and know the Ravens receivers won't make them pay.

    A bland offense with basic, and often downright dumb, route concepts isn't helping. The Ravens don't scheme their receivers open pre-snap and rely on their ability to get open post snap, something they're not doing, at all. Couple that with confusing route concepts that have players running into the same area or tripping over each other, literally, and the Ravens offense is quite literally creating defensive traffic with their poor route designs. I would really like to see Roman just install basic multi-level route concepts. It truly is infuriating to watch a play over again and see that Roman literally had two receivers run the same route about 5 yards in depth apart and then had another receiver running the opposite route at the same depth as one of the other two. Like, dude, why are you intentionally giving the defense less space to defend?

    Is Lamar perfect? No, he's looked more off this season than last and isn't having his best season. However, he had a really strong second half vs Indy and I thought he actually had a really good game against the Patriots when looking at the season as a whole.

    But if you think for a second that Lamar is the biggest worry of this offense (I'd argue the abysmal interior offensive line is), you're absolutely nuts. Lamar is the last worry that I have with this offense.

    What are the fixes for the Ravens?

    Well, they're certainly not easy, but...

    The Ravens need to seriously upgrade their interior offensive line. Relying on mediocre, late round draft picks/UDFA's to start has finally caught up to the Ravens. And I get it- offensive lines are supremely expensive and there aren't enough quality players to consistently fill 32 NFL offensive lines, but the opportunities have to be taken when they're present, like a Kelechi Osemele. I would have loved to have seen the Ravens make a run for him because when he was health for the Chiefs, he was punishing defensive lines. The Ravens, 100%, need to make teams fear and respect the run if that's going to be their calling card. The Ravens pride themselves on the ability to punch you in the mouth with the running game, but currently, the Ravens are swinging and then getting punched back at by Mike Tyson.

    The Ravens really need to figure out something with their offensive woes. I'll be honest, I was super hyped for Hollywood Brown and I thought he was the best receiver in the class when healthy. I thought his rookie season had so many bright spots that if he could put it together consistently and get over that foot, he'd be a beast. Well, that's not really happening, and it's maddening that the Ravens cannot seem to nail down a receiver. I don't really have an easy fix here, but you'd have to think it's some combo of scouting/development. I would think that Hollywood Brown on the Chiefs would be a monstrous player, but the Ravens have a stagnant offensive design and poor development that's limiting him. However, it also seems like the Ravens get too cute sometimes and think they're smarter than they are. Think back to 2014 when the draft was absolutely stacked with receivers. That has to be one of the deepest receiver drafts in recent memory. Who do the Ravens come away with? Michael Campenaro in the seventh. It's like the Ravens went, "Hey, the draft is super deep. We can even get great talent late!" instead of targeting the talent that's a first or second rounder for a reason. Bargain bin shopping will only take you so far. It's even worse to me when you consider that the 2013 draft went all in on the defense, the Ravens went back to the defense for the first three picks and four of the first five. Think to the 2020 draft- it was absolutely STACKED at the top of the draft. The Ravens could have easily stayed put and had a Tee Higgins at 28 or gotten aggressive for a CeeDee Lamb or Justin Jefferson (again, I'm happy with Queen and think he'll be great, but I so badly wanted that receiver.) I also think of times like 2013 where a player like DeAndre Hopkins felt like such a sure thing and everyone and their mother knew the Texans would take him. It would have been nice to see a trade up and an aggressive move for him. Or how about 2016 when the Ravens had Michael Thomas right in their laps and traded back to get... Kamalei Correa. It's so maddening. I don't know what the answer is, but the Ravens have got to do something about their receivers.

    Lastly, the Ravens have got to get someone who isn't stagnant and stale at offensive coordinator. This one, to me, is the hardest fix because any offensive coordinator worth a damn is going to likely get hired for a head coaching position fairly quickly. The Ravens aren't likely to find their own Josh McDaniels. But I'm also really frustrated by the hires that Harbaugh has. As a disciple of Andy Reid, Harbaugh usually hires offensive coordinators that coached for Reid, while kind of ignoring that Reid was the architect of the offense and the one calling the plays. It's a bit different with Bieniemy because he's the man in control and he's calling the plays, as far as I know, but historically, Reid was that guy. I suppose the Ravens have to hope that Roman turns it around, which based on history, doesn't seem like it'll happen.

    Sorry for being so long winded- I'm just frustrated as hell. Lamar isn't perfect, and he's leaving plays on the field, but there are so many issues that are higher on the totem pole that Lamar is the least of the worries right now.
     
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  2. I can't (or won't) read all of that.

    Bottom line... anybody who tries to convince you that this offense has like one thing wrong with it is laughably stupid and hasn't been paying attention or watching games. Its a combination of many things, and sometimes, those things vary from game to game.

    For example... we lost to Pittsburgh, mostly, because Lamar made some very bad decisions at critical times. We've also had games where we struggled because of poor offensive line play, poor play calling, and mostly, poor execution of said play calling.

    My economics professor, who's worked for Presidents, governments, and banks, once told me that when the economy is in the shitter, there's no "one thing" you do to make it better. People think you just slash interest rates or give stimulus money, etc. and all your problems will be solved.

    You don't do one thing. You do multiple things, in moderation, at once.

    That's a perfect analogy for the Ravens offense. They don't need one thing to change. They need a combination of several different factors to greatly improve. Better execution all around, better play calling, more attention to detail, less dropped passes, better decision making from the QB.

    I'll also say this... if you want to go fully macro... While our offense is clearly the weakest of the three units on this team, I would easily put 2 of our 3 losses this year almost squarely on the defense. I think Lamar crapped the bed against Pittsburgh and we lost that game largely because of him. I think the defense shit all over themselves against KC, and I think no matter how many points we scored, we still would have lost. And I think the offense was generally OK against New England, but they just pushed us around on both lines all night long, and ultimately ran it down our throats.

    You could say we're winning in spite of the offense, which is probably true. But the offense hasn't really been the reason we've lost 3 games either.
     
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  3. I can't (or won't) read all of that
     
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  4. I liked this. It is clear that while we are running alot and gaining yards, we aren't as effective as we were last year. I too felt the offense would take the next step especially in the passing game but it appears to me that the offense is a dumbed down version of last year. Too often Lamar is faking to someone who isn't even there. I am not really sure what the point of that is.
     
  5. The philosophy of this offence i think is a big problem - it seems counterintuitive to say because we're still top 2 in the NFL in rushing yds but we need to run less especially on early downs.

    Part of the adjustment teams have made from 2019 to 2020 relates to how they're playing the zone-reads. Teams are putting faster personnel on the field to matchup with those sideline-to-sideline run plays, they're operating cleaner and better prepared gap exchanges to help linebackers get clean to the edge unblocked (unsealed) so that they can undo the extra man advantage we were able to create with Lamar last year on offence. That works mostly because most teams are mostly forcing the give read with their "unblocked" edge defender which means that Lamar either has to beat a guy who's in his lap with the 2nd level defenders flowing to him or he has to hand it off and teams know they won't be punished if we hand it off inside to Ingram et al for ~4yds a pop. That's especially true this year with our busted up interior OL where that 4 yds becomes even less.

    The philosophical solve there has to be to somehow take advantage of those types of looks. The most successful way we've countered those looks has been with the inverted veer run concept (which we've run most effectively with Dobbins who's a threat to the edge) because the reads are reversed. The give read changes to the Lamar keep up the middle which means with the gap exchanges etc. unless the defence is super disciplined and crazy athletic Lamar's going to have space in level 2 to potentially go and score. The keep read becomes the give read and if defences are wise to it and force the hand off they're letting Dobbins get to the edge and he has the athleticism and wiggle to win the edge in those situations (which is where his early season big runs came from).

    The problem with that counter is that it puts Lamar in way more danger of taking big hits and it's only a counter to the adjustment defences made to the 2019 zone-read problem it's not an invincible play but works well as a change of pace to keep defences more honest.

    The better solve especially with this OL right now has to be to conceptually adjust the philosophy of our passing game away from those explosive plays that we've been wanting all offseason and more to a quick passing attack making use of quick slants and designed checkdowns and even quick screens to guys like Duvernay. We have speed and athleticism in our skill position group - it makes sense to use their strengths to create success.

    That becomes even more important with the loss of Boyle.

    That being said I'm no coordinator but those are my thoughts based on what I've seen defences do to use this year and what sorts of plays I've seen us be successful with and partnering that with some of the available efficiency analytics around related to down and distance passing vs running.
     
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  6. As you said we struggle to sustain longer drives, that's why I decided to compare our 1st down conversion rates - separated by down - with last year. I don't want to annoy people with a detailed analysis, so here are just some of the most important deviations.
    1st down: we run the ball even more than last - but gain 1.3 yards less. Whereas our passing offense is significantly more effective as we gain 1.6 yards more.
    2nd down: Our passing 1st down conversion rate is 27% - a decrease of 15 percentage points. Bottom of the league.
    3rd down: Tough to evalute because I don't have enough data, but it's pretty much the same as last year.

    Most OCs in this league have a tendency to significantly call more run plays on 1st down. Especially our offense. We are not as efficient as last year which puts us further behind. Then we decide to pass on 2nd down but our conversion rate & ypa is abysmal. Which ultimately leads to more 3rd & long situations.

    As counterintuitive as it's sounds to most of us (because our offense is run based) we have to pass the ball more on 1st down and improve our 2nd down pass plays.
     
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  7. In regards to the following comment..... RG3 didn't want to do the RPO anymore and refused. He wanted to be a pro style QB not the other way around. It had nothing to do with the Shanahan's or Snyder forcing him into a pro style offense.

    I felt that if RGIII were forced into a pro style, pocket passing system, he would struggle to make reads in tight coverage and to fit throws into tighter windows than what the RPO offense afforded him. I do think Lamar is plenty capable of making those throws when his head is on straight, so to speak.)
     
  8. Nice post , a lot of great thoughts.

    1. Lamar is a decent Qb, not bad not great. We can absolutely win consistently with him with a better scheme.
    2. The loss of two pro bowl lineman( Yanda/ Stanley) is to much for even the best QBs and offensive coordinators to over come.
    3.Greg Roman has had these brilliant years before with Kap/Taylor and then flamed out. Lamar , Kap, Taylor , RG3 etc are great athletes with severe limitations. The scheme has been solved and it’s not time to adjust , it’s time for a new scheme. We need to move on from Roman.
    4. I would love to see Lamar in a west coast scheme


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