After winning the AFC North for the first time since 2012, the Baltimore Ravens hosted the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild-card round, and it was far from a glamorous result for the home team. Defensively, the Ravens held their own. However, it was an entirely different story on the other side of the ball.
Baltimore’s offense had been a juggernaut under Lamar Jackson. For seven weeks, they were dominating games with a potent rushing attack led by Jackson, Gus Edwards, and Kenneth Dixon. Greg Roman and Marty Mornhinweg utilized mainly power concepts to stymie opposing defenses. Nothing the Ravens did was unique, but it worked due to the speed and smart running by Jackson, Edwards, and Dixon as well as the solid play from the offensive line.
They did not have an extensive arsenal of plays as it was only a handful of concepts — power read, G-lead, zone read, split zone, counter bash, and outside zone. The biggest question heading into this highly anticipated playoff matchup was how Los Angeles would adjust to the Ravens’ offense having just played them a couple weeks prior.
The Chargers’ game plan was not necessarily exotic nor did they reinvent the game of the football with their strategy. Due to injuries along the defensive line and inside linebacker, Los Angeles may not have trusted their reserves against such a powerful rushing attack. Instead, the Chargers’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley decided to play a majority of their snaps in quarters personnel (seven defensive backs). In simple terms, they had defensive backs, mainly safeties, perform the responsibilities of linebackers — Sam, Will, and Mike.
In turn, Los Angeles had more speed. Most of Baltimore’s success running the football, specifically Lamar Jackson, came from outracing defenders to the edge. With more speed on the field, the Chargers felt confident in their strategy to bottle up Jackson. This plan certainly worked in that facet of the game. The area that they were most vulnerable would be inside, which is where Baltimore’s running game has usually feasted.
The key to protecting this personnel package was controlling the line of scrimmage, and Los Angeles’ defensive front consistently clogged up holes along the interior to force running backs to cut outside and play to their strength — speed.
After being shut down along the interior in ‘11’ and ‘12’ personnel packages, the obvious adjustment would be to bring in heavier personnel sets, which Baltimore has done in the past. However, Marty Mornhinweg must not have felt confident in this potential solution as the Ravens only went with three or more tight ends twice. Given the poor play of their offensive line, it is unknown if this strategy would have necessarily worked, but it may have been worth a shot.
Another potential solution and one that the Ravens seldom tried was to run it more with Jackson. Edge rushers Melvin Ingram III and Joey Bosa were well-aware of Baltimore’s offensive tendencies, which resulted in them crashing the backfield on plays where they knew Jackson was merely a decoy. Instead of honoring Jackson’s legs like most defenses did, including the Chargers in Week 16, they knew he was not a threat on certain plays, and it created an advantageous situation for the defense in the run fits. An effective solution would have been to run more Counter Bash or QB designed runs. This would have forced Ingram and Bosa to play more ‘honest.’
A different solution and one that Baltimore did try was to somewhat abandon the running game and pass the ball. However, there were a ton of negative factors that led to the demise of their passing game. The offensive line could not hold their own against a potent front that rarely blitzed. Four-man pressures were getting home on a consistent basis, which is a nightmare for the Ravens.
What makes this performance so frustrating is how ineffective their offense was against a somewhat predictable defense. According to my charting, Los Angeles only played two coverages for the entire game — Cover 3 and Quarters. The Chargers only played Quarters late in the game in an attempt to prevent any deep passes. For the first three quarters, it was mainly Cover 3 or Cover 3 Mable, which is a variation of Cover 3. Many teams run Cover 3 Mable to counter 3 x 1 sets. Instead of the entire defense playing their zone responsibilities, the cornerback on the one wide receiver side plays man-to-man. In simplistic terms, that is the only difference.
The weaknesses of Cover 3 are well-known — the seams and flats. While Marty Mornhinweg’s game planning left much to be desired, he should not be blamed entirely as there were multiple opportunities that Baltimore squandered.
Without a doubt, Lamar Jackson had his worst performance of the season. While it is important to remember that development is often rarely a linear process, Jackson’s performance as a passer was a major disappointment. His mechanics were inconsistent, which is not new to him this season. However, his dropbacks, specifically his footwork, were ever-changing as well. The other area where he failed was his decision-making. Too often Jackson would hold onto the ball too long or miss wide open receivers down the seam.
When your quarterback is struggling to throw the ball to the seams, which are open, what is Mornhinweg’s next option? The only logical choice is quick passes. While the Ravens did have limited success throwing to flats with some quick passing concepts, Jackson’s inability to get the football out quickly hurt these plays as well.
Play Chart vs. Chargers
|Down||Distance||Personnel||Play type||Result||Coverage faced|
|Down||Distance||Personnel||Play type||Result||Coverage faced|
|2nd||11||12||Play action||5||Cover 3|
|1st||10||11||Play action||0||Cover 3|
|1st||10||12||Play action||0||Cover 3|
|2nd||10||12||Play action||17||Cover 3|
|2nd||6||12||Play action||0||Cover 3|
|2nd||8||12||Play action||-3||Cover 3|
|2nd||17||12||Play action||8||Cover 3|
|1st||10||13||Play action||-1||Cover 3|
The biggest takeaway from this chart is the pass-heavy game plan. Remember, this chart counted sacks and scrambles as passing plays while also removing RPOs and spikes from the final percentages. The Ravens’ run-heavy strategy was seemingly thrown out the window as the game was out of hand relatively early. Baltimore’s poor 4.18 yards per play on first-down forced them to be pass-heavy on second and third down as they were constantly behind the sticks.
Comparing these numbers to their Week 16 matchup, Baltimore ran 8 G-lead (power) concepts in the rematch as opposed to 14. The difference in yards gained is still monumental — 87 to 14. Los Angeles shut down the Ravens’ bread and butter concept. Gus Edwards’ big run to start the game in Week 16 came off of a G-lead concept.
How do you counter speed? Some would say power, but Mornhinweg clearly did not feel that way as the Ravens only ran two ‘13’ personnel plays (one running back and three tight ends). The other interesting trend was the uptick of Ty Montgomery’s snaps at wide receiver. With only four receivers active, the Ravens utilized Montgomery as a wideout on multiple occasions. For the purposes of this chart, Montgomery always counted as a running back.
The blank section of this chart are running plays. On running plays, the Ravens only had 44 rushing yards. They were unable to counter the Cover 3 coverage of the Chargers. This could have been because of the smaller windows that Jackson had to throw through as defensive backs are naturally faster than linebackers.
The lack of production in ‘12’ personnel could have been the key takeaway from this game. Baltimore nearly gained six yards per play in this personnel package in Week 16. In the two instances of three or more tight ends, the Ravens only gained two yards.
Lamar Jackson passing data
Contextualizing data and trends is one of the most important aspects of analyzing the success or failure of an offense. Jackson was not an effective passer against the Chargers, but there is a much more concerning trend to look at when digging into the numbers.
Screen - -5 yards - 0 yards from LOS (not including YAC)
Short - 1-6 yards from LOS (not including YAC)
Int - 7-19 yards from LOS (not including YAC)
Deep - 20+ yards from LOS (not including YAC)
RON -Right side outside the numbers
ROH - Right side outside hashes
BEZ - Back of end zone
LONBLS - Left side outside the numbers behind the line of scrimmage
LOH - Left side outside of the hashes
LON - Left side outside the numbers
MOF - Middle of field, in between hashes
RONBLS - Right side outside the numbers behind the line of scrimmage
ITA - Intentionally thrown away
TLOS - Tipped at line of scrimmage
Of his 15 incompletions, two were spikes and one was an interception, which leads to 12 passes unaccounted for. One was intentionally thrown away while six were uncatchable and five were catchable. Breaking down those numbers, 6 of the 29 passes — 20.69% — Jackson threw were uncatchable. Considering the relatively low volume of throws, that is not a great percentage.
The numbers across the board are erratic, and it is hard to identify much of a trend one way or the other.
- LOH - 3-for-5 - 60%
- LON - 4-for-8 - 50%
- MOF - 3-for-6 - 50%
- ROH - 1-for-2 - 50%
- RON - 3-for-5 - 60%
Contrary to popular belief, the Ravens’ offense was never built on zone reads. They certainly ran their fair share of these plays throughout Jackson’s rookie season, but it was far from their bread-and-butter concept. One of the things that this concept did do was force defenses to defend Jackson’s legs and always account for him. However, with Los Angeles’ familiarity with the Ravens’ offensive system, they were able to identify plays with relative ease. Bosa exemplified his high football IQ and awareness on this play with his ability to force a pull read and push Jackson further behind the line of scrimmage and alter his running lanes. While Bosa did not make the tackle, he helped his defense get in better position to swarm towards the ball. The force defender (CB) made the tackle, but more importantly, he established outside leverage, which would have made Jackson go inside if he broke a tackle.
One of the constant themes during this film piece will the Cover 3 defense. The Chargers ran it a majority of the time, and while the seams and flats are the two biggest weaknesses, the gaps in between defenders can also be exploited. The issues and risks with this particular defense are the speed across the board since there were seven defensive backs on the field 98.31% of the time. Regardless, Jackson was reading the hook/curl defender to decide which receiver to throw it. With Willie Snead and Nick Boyle running similar concepts, Jackson had to read Jahleel Addae, who overcommitted to Boyle. Although Jackson made several questionable decisions throughout this game regarding reads, he made the right choice on this play to move the chains.
Against Cover 3, the deep 1⁄3 cornerback on the far side is pushed towards the middle of the field due to the route combination and bootleg. Jackson’s footwork on the bootleg was far from ideal as he moved too fast for himself. While that sentence may appear to be awkward, this is a common occurrence with athletic, fast quarterbacks. Jackson’s feet were not in a position to deliver the pass when he needed to, and it resulted in him having to take extra steps, and it allowed a defender (Derwin James) to pressure him. Given the safety’s (middle 1/3) hips and positioning, a pass to John Brown could have been completed.
Given the Ravens’ offensive tendencies, this appears to be a spit zone concept. However, the H-back (tight end) never blocked Ingram, and he forced Dixon to slow down while Matt Skura was bullied inside. Skura intended to attack the inside shoulder, which is not bad technique. The issues arose when Skura was unable to sink his hips and get better leverage as the play progressed. The defender countered by quickly attacking Skura’s outside shoulder and getting by him to help force a turnover.
Baltimore’s staple concept — G-lead— had a ton of success against the Chargers in Week 16. The issue was the adjustments Los Angeles made in this matchup to hinder it. It started with Melvin Ingram, who sealed the edge to ensure nothing would get to the outside. Ingram also knew an H-back was coming to block him, which led to him having the advantage of preparing to avoid it. The adjustment occurred with the Chargers’ alignment and post-snap movement. The linebackers shifted to the play side immediately once they saw Hurst pulling and clogged up every hole. Their alignment changed regularly with the nose tackle, but unlike in Week 16, they employed bear fronts to account for more interior gaps.
According to my charts, Baltimore only attempted one RPO (Run-pass-option). While in theory these concepts would counter Los Angeles’ speed, it did not work as planned as the linebackers, who were actually defensive backs, were well-prepared. None of the defensive backs committed to the run as they identified this concept and wanted to force a run. After Jackson gave the ball up, they all swarmed to the ball. This play should exemplify the speed the Chargers had on the field as two of their “linebackers” were able to get to the ball carrier within seconds of the play after back-peddling.
Against Cover 3, this play attacked the flats, but the seams were not effectively stretched. This play design is undoubtedly questionable in route combinations alone, but lining up tight is another debatable flaw. While in theory, it could work as it forces the defense to run to their spots after being put out of position in tight and it could also be utilized to fake a running play, the Chargers were a much faster team, and they would have won any race a majority of the time. Lining up tight forces the Ravens to win a race to a particular spot with tight ends and not-so-speedy receivers with the exception of John Brown. Spreading the defense out surely has its own set of flaws, but the pros seem to outweigh the cons.
At this point in his career, Jackson is a pure sight thrower. He has to see receivers open as opposed to anticipating them open. This is not an abnormal knock on Jackson as many rookie quarterbacks share this same quality in their first year in the NFL. The issue arose against the Chargers defense as windows were smaller and closing up faster, which really exemplified this weakness. Jackson was a second too late in throwing the ball to Snead, and the window closed up. While Jackson’s mechanics were brutal, he was relatively lucky the pass was off the mark and resulted in a mere incompletion. He continues to have uneven weight distribution, a weak front side hip, and an unbalance stride front (front foot).
Although the Chargers did not utilize a ‘Bear front’ on this play, it was clear they were well aware of the concept. For starters, No. 71 (Damion Square) performed a pass-rushing-esque swim move to get to the backfield to prevent the running back (Gus Edwards) from getting to the outside. Once Hurst began pulling, the defense knew a run to the right side was forthcoming. Matt Skura had to block No. 93 (Darius Philon), who outran him to the backfield. This was part of the issue with the Ravens’ game plan — there was not much alteration to well-established concepts. To confuse Los Angeles’ defense, the Ravens could have pulled from the opposite direction or ran bash (backside run) plays, where the runner would go in the opposite direction of the pulling lineman.
The result of this play is a sack, and it is a fair question of why Jackson did not check it down to a tight end. The Ravens faced another Cover 3 from Los Angeles, and this play design did not adequately attack the seams while the flats were open. Given the Chargers’ speed, this play would have likely gone for a minimal gain if Jackson checked it down, but it would be much better than the sack. Jackson only looked at one receiver for seemingly the entire duration of this play. He struggled at an alarming rate to see the field, which was one of his strengths heading into this game.
Isaac Rochell effectively shut this play down by controlling two gaps. He utilized a long-arm move to create separation until the running back reached his area. The Ravens’ running game was frustrating in design, but the run-blocking was a significant problem as well.
This was an interesting play as the tight end appeared to be wide open in the seam, which is a weakness of the Cover 3. While Jackson may have had slight hesitation to throw it there due to the safety lurking near the hashes with his hips open ready to jump the route, this is a significant amount of yardage left on the field. If the ball was placed closer to the numbers, which would have made it a farther distance for the safety yet enough to give the cornerback a longer path to the tight end as well, this could have been a huge play for the Ravens. Jackson was not seeing the field clearly and seemingly struggled to identify the Cover 3 coverage on numerous occasions.
Jackson’s inaccuracy is a direct result of his inconsistent footwork and upper body rotation. On several instances, he would only throw the ball utilizing his upper body strength, which is not abnormal in the NFL, but it is far ideal. Given the high miss that resulted in an interception, Jackson’s shoulders were uneven, and it caused an upward trajectory of the ball. His stride front also moved significantly as he released the ball creating an unbalanced platform.
With the Chargers running Cover 3 consistently, Mornhinweg began to dial up favorable high-low concepts to beat this coverage. However, Jackson continued to make the wrong reads. Not only did he throw an inaccurate pass to the tight end along the sidelines, but he missed a wide-open John Brown, who was above the hook/curl defender.
Regardless of the longer developing play, Jackson had no chance on this play as the offensive line broke immediately. James Hurst was in a horrible position to defend a spin move that resulted in a sack. He overcommitted to the outside, and the defender quickly spun inside to free himself up. Instead of trying to wall off the defender from beating him from the outside, Hurst should have created an angle to protect himself from inside spin moves.
The Ravens inherited the ball in the red zone thanks to a Los Angeles turnover. However, Baltimore did nothing with the golden opportunity. They ran a GT power concept, which was a predictable run play that did not fool the defense. This is where a bash concept could have been useful as the entire defense, other than Ingram, spilled to the right side to clog every hole. Jackson does not have an option to keep it, but Ingram played it well as he stayed on the outside until Edwards clearly had the football.
Although Baltimore did not show Los Angeles the power read concept in Week 16, they displayed it enough times against the Brown for the Chargers to identify it. Ingram played it perfectly by forcing a pull read from Jackson, and he made the tackle. Whether or not Jackson should have given it to Edwards is a debate for a different day, but Edwards would have had to instantly beat Ingram to the edge. This play is a microcosm of this game — the Chargers were more prepared for Baltimore.
Jackson’s drop back was erratic as it led to him having to take a couple of extra steps to regain balance while he missed a wide open tight end in the seams. Again, at times Jackson has shown his feet move faster than the rest of his body, and it continues to haunt him.
Mornhinweg’s adjustment to the Cover 3 after Jackson missed a couple of receivers in the seams was to attack the flats with quick passing concepts. While Mornhinweg did not call enough of these concepts to force the Chargers to adjust or bite on these plays, they did have moderate success. Jackson read the flat defender correctly as he initially covered the slant route.
For as bad of mechanics as Jackson showed throughout this game, he bounced back in a big way in the fourth quarter. It was clear that Jackson was seeing the field better while Mornhinweg began to dial up more Cover 3 winning concepts. Jackson still struggled to anticipate Snead being open, but it did not matter as this was a huge gain for the Ravens.
Without a doubt, Jackson’s best throw of the day came on his first touchdown to Michael Crabtree. His stride foot was firmly entrenched in the ground while his back foot rotated from his arches to his toes seamlessly. Jackson then exhibited proper upper body mechanics with nearly even shoulders and a higher elbow for a higher trajectory of the ball. Crabtree’s route was nothing out of the ordinary, but the cornerback did not expect him to run a vertical route and it showed with the amount of separation he gained.
The Ravens ran a questionable play design in the red zone that forced Jackson to begin a ‘scramble drill.’ Luckily for Baltimore, Crabtree had enough awareness to fight through the tight coverage and box out the defender along the goal line to complete the catch for a touchdown. Jackson’s accuracy outside the pocket is certainly far from where it needs to be, but his natural arm talent is apparent on this play.
This was the most fitting ending to this game as Baltimore’s offensive line was horrendous for a vast majority of this matchup. They were outmatched by simple stunts and fundamental pass-rush moves, and this play was no different. Uchenna Nwosu utilized a long-arm move with a slight bend by planting his outside leg in the ground to generate power and leverage against Brown Jr., and it led to a strip-sack to seal the game.
- There is no one player, coach, or unit to blame for the Ravens’ offensive collapse. The play calling was not perfect, Jackson was inaccurate and struggled to make the right decisions in the passing game, the offensive line was outmuscled, and the wide receivers and running backs were anemic at best.
- This game does not mean that Jackson will ‘never figure it out.’ He had several bright moments during this playoff game, and he can learn and build off of that. Fixing a quarterback’s mechanics is usually an offseason task, and Jackson could return to training camp with much-improved footwork and upper body motions. He was never considered to be an extremely pro-ready prospect, and he was better than expected during the eight games he started.
- Baltimore needs to find a ‘YAC’ receiver in the offseason whether it be through the draft or in free agency, their offense is desperately missing a receiver who can make a defender or two miss.