The Baltimore Ravens offense has been stuck in the mud over the past several seasons. This is a large factor (among a few others) in their lack of postseason appearances over the last three years.
This offseason, the front office seemed determined to fix things on that side of the ball. They overhauled their wide receiving corps, brought in two exciting young tight ends, and selected the most electric player in college football at the quarterback position in the first round of the draft.
All of this solves one of the issues holding back Baltimore’s offense recently: A straight up lack of talent. Now that some of those pieces have seemingly fallen into place, we’ll get to see the offensive coaching staff with a competent array of weapons to work with for the first time in a while.
Assuming it works out to even a decent degree of success, and the Ravens begin to score touchdowns at even the league average, a new question arises. Will John Harbaugh be tempted to jump in on the trend of more frequently going for two points after scoring?
The logic theoretically lines up; Harbaugh has always been one of the more aggressive coaches in football, so with more talent in place he’d likely jump at the chance to score more points. But with supposed logic out of the equation, what do the actual numbers say? Noah Riley at Rileykolstefootball.com recently did a study breaking them down, starting by explaining the fundamentals that lead to success on two-point tries:
“The majority of defenses that are run on two point plays are either man, or banjo/ bracket combos of man coverage. In the passing game, it seems that plays designed to beat bracket/ banjo coverage do best, and the plays that did poorly tended to be ones that can be matched by bracket/ banjo coverages. When calling 2 point plays is important to understand the rules of the defensive coverage, and have concepts that exploit them.”
Essentially, defenses are most likely to run man coverages when in goal line situations, which makes sense. In such a condensed area of the field, strength against strength is a typical strategy. Riley notes roll out passes and fade routes tend to fail because they cater to the strengths of those defensive alignments.
In the interest of finding out how to exploit them with better play calling, he took a look at some of the more successful play concepts run against these defenses in two point situations. At a 54% success rate, he starts with the pick play:
The combination of similar success rates of each play call, and the small sample size makes it hard to say any particular type of pick play is especially efficient. The 2 man pick wheel play has been successful every time, but it still is a small sample size. Pick plays worked great against pure man coverages, and sometimes slipped open when there were miscommunications in banjo coverages.
He includes a breakdown of the different types of picks in the article, with 2-man pick plays working better by the numbers. At 53% he has the boot:
Bootlegs did fairly well statistically. Surprisingly, I could not find a type of bootleg that stood out as more effective than the others. Whether it was off outside or inside run action, or from under center or out of the gun had no statistical significance. Also the route concepts teams ran all had similar success rates. The majority of bootlegs were slight variations of Y Cross, the most common of which is adding some kind of late leak route, Late leak variations went 6/12 (50%) and other variations of y cross went 10/21 (48%) which doesn’t show and statistical difference in success rates of the plays. There were also 3 bootleg pick plays which went 1/3, and 2 dash plays (QB pumps one way, rolls out the other), and those both converted.
Inside runs were charted at a 62% success rate:
Since inside runs did very well statistically, and had a large sample size, it is safe to say that they are a very efficient play call. Power performed exceptionally well. Power was almost exclusively ran out of the shotgun from 11 personnel with either the Y off or the Y on the ball. Another thing that stood out is that any time the QB’s got involved in the run game, teams did well. This makes sense, because involving the QB gives the offense an extra blocker in a situation where the defense can usually find a way to be +1 in the run game.
And the most effective play from 2? The draw:
To me, the quarterback draw stood out as statistically the most efficient play in the study, converting 11/13 times (85%). The other surprising thing I saw watching this is that some QB draws were run by QB’s who are not known for their running abilities. Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Kirk Cousins all converted on QB draws. There were also two running back draws that both failed to convert.
This all seems to make sense as a draw play is predicated on surprising the defense with a run. This could possibly be made easier by spreading the defense out and then pounding it into the end zone.
So with all of this data laid out, how does any of it relate to the Ravens? We can answer that by going over the team’s new personnel and determine if their skillsets cater to the more successful two point plays.
The guy to focus on here is obvious. Michael Crabtree was brought in to put the ball in the paint, and if the Ravens are looking to do that through the air on a two point conversion, his name will be among the first to come up.
His route running and incredibly strong hands make him a near perfect red zone threat. This is evidenced by the 16 touchdowns he’s scored over the last two seasons. He’s actually responsible for one of the more famous two point conversions in recent memory, when the Raiders dialed one up to get the late win over New Orleans in 2016:
Ironically, this came on a fade route, one of Riley’s least effective two point plays at just 31%. If Baltimore’s coaching staff can get creative with their new number one receiver, they can certainly scheme up some successful goal line/two point passing concepts.
Another receiver to watch here would be Willie Snead. His shiftiness and clever route running tricks could make him an ideal guy to try and spring loose on the aforementioned pick plays.
The players to keep an eye on here are pretty obvious. Nick Boyle’s blocking ability will certainly help in goal line situations, but Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews were drafted to make an impact in the short to intermediate passing game.
Their size, hands, and route running make them ideal candidates to help make an impact on two point plays. Hurst in particular has the power to do so when you put the ball in his hands, one way or another:
Two more obvious candidates here are Alex Collins and Buck Allen. With the draw play proving to be mostly successful, they both could use their speed and burst to run it up between the tackles on two pointers.
While the value in that is self explanatory, a dark horse here would be Patrick Ricard. A defensive lineman/fullback, Ricard not only surprised fans by making the team, but also caught two receiving touchdowns in 2017.
If Marty Morninwheg is creative with this stable of backs, the Ravens goal line output could greatly improve.
Here’s the interesting part - Riley notes that the quarterback draw was arguably the most successful play in this study. He was even surprised to see players such as Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan and yes, Joe Flacco in the mix when it came to this play working effectively.
With Flacco already proving himself somewhat useful in short yardage not only in draws but also sneaks, the introduction of Lamar Jackson adds a whole new element to short yardage conversions by way of the quarterback. His elite agility and athleticism will be a welcome addition to an offense that has historically struggled in the red zone and short yardage:
Jackson’s agility, elusiveness, and balance is an entirely new element that should help Baltimore in these situations should they choose to use him in this way.
Ultimately, the answer to whether or not the Ravens should go for two more often lies with how the new offense comes together. If the talent translates to on-field effectiveness, my answer would be unequivocally yes.
To sum his article up, Riley states that instead of encouraging a lot more two point plays, he hopes the curated data will instead lead to more successful ones:
I hope coaches can take something from this study that will help with play-calling in two point conversion type situations. This study not only can help coaches with play-calling on two point conversions, but it also gives coaches insight for lower red-zone/ goalline play-calling. When calling 2-point type plays it is important for coaches to know and understand the defensive scheme/ personnel they are facing and find ways to attack them, and also consider the data and what has worked for other teams in the past.
If the Ravens do attempt more 2-point conversions, that likely means the offense in general is more successful than it has been recently. I’m sure that’s something we can all sign up for, right?