In last year's AFC Divisional playoff game against the New England Patriots, the Patriots performed some questionable maneuvers that caught the Ravens off guard. While the league ruled those maneuvers legal, the Ravens are making sure they won't fall for similar tactics again.
At practice this week, some noticed strange formations being formed on offense and practiced against. When asked about this, Coach John Harbaugh answered with what could be interpreted as a slight jab at the Patriots.
"We are working on formations – legal formations, illegal formations, unexpected formations. The first time we ran it, you heard (linebacker Terrell) Suggs out there saying, ‘That’s not legal, that’s not legal.’ We will not assume that the referees are going to understand or always get it right when a formation goes out on the field, so we’re working on everything."
- Coach Harbaugh via For The Win
While this is mainly about being prepared for anything, there is obviously still some stigma regarding that playoff game last year. As Coach had this to say after last year's loss:
"We wanted an opportunity to be able to identify who the eligible players were," Harbaugh said after the loss. "Because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and Tom (Brady) would take it to the line right away and snap the ball before (we) even figured out who was lined up where. And that was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception."
- Coach John Harbaugh
Harbaugh was referring to plays like these, in this particular play, you see Patriots TE Michael Hoomanawanui lined up where the left tackle usually is, next to the left guard. Yet he is an eligible receiver. Meanwhile, Patriots RB Shane Vereen on the right side is ineligible, because only the end player on the line of scrimmage is eligible.
That playoff game wasn't the first time the Ravens saw illegal formations either, as this epic, and crafty trick play to Browns QB Johnny Manziel in Week 3 was not legal. Yet on the field, the play wasn't flagged as such. It was called back only because of an illegal shift by Browns RB Terrance West, not because of the illegal formation.
While the league ruled the kind of plays that the Patriots legally ran (at the time) illegal this March, plays like Manziel's are good examples that the refs may not always catch the illegal formations. It's just simply better to be prepared, and expect the unexpected. The Ravens surely won't be caught off guard again.