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Ravens News 12/19: Rushing diversity, analytic strategy and more

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

How the Wins Piled Up for Lamar Jackson’s Ravens - Andy Benoit

These conversations are only happening place because of the tremendous on-the-fly adjustments made by John Harbaugh and his staff, especially offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Mornhinweg hails from the Andy Reid coaching tree and, in his heart of hearts, probably yearns to sling the ball up and down the field. But Baltimore does not have Kansas City’s weapons, and for much of last season and parts of this season, Mornhinweg struggled to find the right balance in aerial designs with Flacco. Thankfully, this past offseason Mornhinweg and his assistants—notably QBs coach James Urban and tight ends coach Greg Roman (a run game aficionado)—had the foresight to write a few playbook pages for Jackson, even though Jackson was not expect to be ready for a fulltime role until 2019.

That has spawned the most creative and diverse rushing attack in pro football—in Jackson’s five starts the Ravens are averaging just under 47 rushing attempts per game. This offense now utilizes myriad read-option designs that features not just Jackson’s legs but—equally as important—the threat of his legs, which skews a defense’s box count and makes linebackers play tentatively. Magnifying this is the array of ghost reverse, jet-sweep and orbit motion looks (in other words, wide receivers sprinting from one side of the field to the other, bringing extra dimensions to the run plays). With all this, the Ravens are employing more pull-blockers and “sift” blockers, with linemen and tight ends working across the formation, sometimes in the direction the ball is going, other times in the opposite direction.

Baltimore’s rushing offense has produced the second most yards per game, fourth most touchdowns and is tied for the second best first-down percentage.

Week 15 NFL Team of the Week - Gordon McGuinness


Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens – 91.3 overall grade

The Ravens’ second-year cornerback is fast becoming their most important player on defense and, after struggling through injury last week, he rebounded with the best performance of his young career. Targeted six times in coverage, he allowed two receptions for just 13 yards and came away with an interception and two pass breakups. By the end of the game, he had allowed an NFL passer rating of only 2.8 on throws into his coverage.

The second-year cover corner is PFF’s #8 player at the position this season with a 81.7 overall grade.

Baltimore Ravens put ‘analytics guys’ to work — on in-game situations and playoff possibilities - Aaron Kasinitz

John Harbaugh’s mind wasn’t racing after the Baltimore Ravens failed to convert a third down at the Buccaneers’ 7-yard line Sunday. The 11th-year coach didn’t ask assistants or stats gurus whether he should keep the offense on the field midway through the second quarter and never looked toward kicker Justin Tucker.

“It wasn’t tough,” Harbaugh said of the fourth-down call. “We decided we were going to do that. Our analytics guys, [football strategy coordinator] Matt Weiss leads that. That was something we decided to do before the game even started.”

“We know what we need to do, and we know the percentages on ties and different things like that,” Harbaugh said. “It’s something you really need to know strategically going into a game, I think, to understand where you stand.”

Harbaugh has called 19 fourth down attempts this season, converting 11. Three of his six challenges have been successful.

The Starting 11: The Five NFL Teams With the Most Work to Do This Offseason - Robert Mays

Lamar Jackson’s running ability has been important for the Ravens all over the field, but it’s particularly useful when Baltimore gets into the red zone. Check out the Ravens’ first touchdown from their 20-12 win over the Bucs on Sunday. Baltimore comes out in the pistol formation, with running back Kenneth Dixon lined up behind Jackson. Jackson instructs Willie Snead to come in jet motion from right to left—a common occurrence for this offense—before taking the snap. But instead of moving the ball toward the left side of the formation, Jackson pitches it to slot receiver Chris Moore as Moore follows Snead to the right. This would be a cool play design no matter what, but the threat of Jackson as a rusher actually causes linebacker Riley Bullough to chase Jackson and take himself out of the play entirely. A running quarterback is a weapon in the red zone, and the Ravens now have the best one in football.

The offense has posted a 53-percent red zone efficiency since Lamar Jackson became the full-time quarterback.

Ravens Have to Do the Job Themselves, And They Can in L.A. - John Eisenberg

Also, the Chargers aren’t invincible at the 27,000-seat soccer stadium where they’re playing while they wait for their permanent home in Los Angeles to be built. They’re 4-2 at the little stadium this season, with none of those wins coming against a team that’ll be in the playoffs. (They’ve beaten the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals.)

No doubt, a cross-country trip to play a hot team isn’t what the Ravens want for Christmas, especially during a playoff push. The Chargers might be the AFC’s most balanced contender, featuring a likely Hall of Fame quarterback and the toughest defense Jackson has faced since he became the starter.

But after the Ravens almost beat the Chiefs in Kansas City a few weeks ago, it’s not unrealistic to suggest they can compete with any team anywhere. Their new style of play “travels” well, i.e., makes them tough on the road. Their running game can control the clock and quiet home fans. Their defense doesn’t yield easily.

The Chargers are favored by 4.5 points in Las Vegas. The Elo model suggests the Ravens have a 34-percent win probability.