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Film Study: Offensive dominance, Texans tempo

Taking a look at this Sunday’s matchup

NCAA Football: Heisman Trophy Presentation Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The venerable Brian Baldinger beat me to the punch. As I was compiling footage on Lamar Jackson’s performance in Cincinnati on Sunday, I received a twitter notification that Baldy had gone through every single throw, which was my intention. Baldy is the best in the business, so if you haven’t seen it, enjoy.

Lamar Jackson had one of the greatest single games throwing the ball from an NFL quarterback that I’ve seen. Jackson’s two incompletions were:

  • An incredibly placed ball to Mark Andrews on a seam route, putting the ball ‘where only his receiver could get it.’ Andrews nearly hauled in a one handed SC top 10 catch.
  • A spike

That’s it . . .

Jackson’s eyes, footwork, patience in the pocket and rhythm were all spectacular. When he accentuates his footwork, particularly his “heel pop” at the top of his drop, his accuracy is golden. The scariest thing about Jackson’s passing is that it’s not nearly a finished product.

His consistency from game-to-game is still a work in progress, although he’s been deadly accurate against the Seahawks, Patriots and Bengals. Long gone are the days of Jackson one hopping the occasional pass to a receiver using a discombobulated arm angle. He has progressed this much in year two, imagine what year four could look like if he’s able to continue improving (dude’s a gym rat, don’t think he will stop).

PFF agreed with the sentiment that Jackson was about as close to perfect as one can be, grading the second-year passer with the second best performance in PFF’s history (13 years).

Football Outsider’s Derrik Klassen, my favorite quarterback analyst, went in-depth into Lamar Jackson’s quick-strike passing ability this week. His article is on point in all aspects.

The Ravens offense as a whole was dominant. WR Marquise Brown appears to be trending in the right direction. Brown was undoubtedly more explosive in Cincinnati than he was against the Patriots.

The play that the Ravens used to start the game was beautifully drawn up by OC Greg Roman. The Ravens have now scored touchdowns on their opening drive in six of their nine games. They’ve kicked field goals twice. Greg Roman’s opening scripts are the stuff of legends. Here’s an in depth look at the Ravens first two offensive plays, as the next three were quite simple.

Greg Roman has created an offense that does the following things as much, or more than, any other team in the league:

  • Motions

The Ravens use well timed pre-snap motion, particularly in the run game, to create quick disadvantages for defenses. They quickly bring an extra blocker and snap the ball before the defense can adjust, putting more blockers than defenders on one side of the formation. Couple that with the read option, if Lamar Jackson makes the right decision, he can have one or two extra blockers.

  • Throwing from heavy personnel

Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews have run 456 routes on only 317 passing plays. On average, 1.91 tight ends are on the field for the Ravens. Those numbers are unmatched around the NFL. Lamar Jackson also targets tight ends at a higher percentage than any other passer.

Now let us take a look at exactly how Roman attacked the Bengals . . .

Play-calling vs. Bengals

  • Run - 10
  • Pass - 5
  • Play action - 11
  • RPO - 0
  • Read Option - 4
  • Screen - 1
  • Speed option - 2
  • Triple Option - 1
  • Kneel/Spike - 2


The Ravens have started to show the speed option more, which attacks the perimeter. They’ve run a handful of speed options against the Patriots and Bengals, which adds yet another element for opposing defenses to prepare for. Lamar Jackson makes sure to run away from contact when he pitches the ball, and the Ravens have only made slot corners the ‘pitch man’ on speed options, so linebackers don’t get clean shots on Jackson.

The Ravens ran 12 offensive plays against the Bengals before a true pass play, electing to rely heavily on the play action passing game against the Bengals. In fact, Roman only ran three true pass plays in the first half, which resulted in easy throwing lanes for Lamar Jackson as linebackers crept up into the box before tight ends blew past them.

Boyle continues to emerge as major factor in passing game, which is needed because of his heavy run split (249 run blocking snaps to 123 routes run), just like Andrews heavy pass split (214 routes run to 84 run blocking snaps). The Ravens will look to throw with Boyle in the game and run with Andrews in the game at times to throw defense’s film study off, using their own tendencies against their opponent.

One takeaway that I find interesting is how quick the “twittersphere” is to protest the Ravens offensive success because they’ve dominated against the Dolphins and Bengals. The Ravens kept Lamar Jackson and the starting offense in for merely six of eight quarters against the two teams. If the Ravens were to (just for entertainment purposes) keep their foot on the gas, the Ravens would certainly have scored more than the 108 points they amassed against Miami and Cincinnati.

Defensively, the Ravens were dominant to open the game. They scored two touchdowns and forced/recovered a fumble, continuously harassing Ryan Finley. The Ravens defense settled for limiting big plays in the second half, rotating in depth players after sprinting to a five-score lead.

The box score would indicate that Joe Mixon gashed the Ravens on the ground, but that wasn’t the case. The Ravens were more than happy to concede rushing yards as the clock ticked away. Michael Pierce’s injury is significant, but the additions of Justin Ellis and Domata Peko will surely hold the fort securely until Pierce rejoins the team.

Chuck Clark turned in quite a solid performance, stacking together three consistent performances as a true box safety in a row. Clark’s strip and Earl Thomas’ recovery ended the Bengals day.

Patrick Ricard seemed to take a step forward defensively. Ricard used his high motor, strong trunk and footwork to make two impact plays, one a tackle for loss, then a sack-fumble that Tyus Bowser scoop-’n’-scored on. Ricard seemed to have his eyes up and feet driving, showing some tackling range while engaged with blockers in the run game.

Jaylon Ferguson was out of place at times, as he continues to see more and grow. He has proven himself to be quite the sure tackler at this point. His long arms allow him to make plays on ball carriers that appear to be out of reach, while dead-legging them and wrestling them down rather effortlessly at times.

Jimmy Smith looks fully healthy. His technique is confident and his play is physical.

Overall, the defense outscored the Bengals offense with another two touchdown performance, their second in three games. If the Ravens defense continues to turn the ball over and find the end zone at this pace, they’re nearly unbeatable.

Moving forward, the Texans present an interesting matchup. The Texans are all over the place, statistically. They excel at passing the ball, but struggle to defend the pass. They stop the run effectively, but struggle to generate explosive runs.

The Texans excel as a high tempo offense. In the no huddle, the Texans are extremely effective. The no huddle is Houston’s bread and butter, which just so happens to be the Ravens bane defensively.

The Ravens were gashed by New England repeatedly with the no huddle. Starting potential no-huddle situations with a versatile defense to begin possessions will be crucial. The Texans will look to negate the Ravens aggressive, blitzing nature by running tempo.

Despite the speed of the play calls, Deshaun Watson stays extremely calm after the snap. Watson can be almost too calm at times, which has led to quite a few sacks over his career. According to Next Gen Stats, Watson has the 25th fastest snap to throw time (2.79s).

Watson’s cool demeanor and patience are obviously quite similar to Lamar Jackson’s play style, which could lead to quite an entertaining back and forth as the game wears on.

The Texans offense ranks 8th in DVOA through week 10, with their run game ranking 12th, despite getting practically no attention. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr. complement one another quite well. Hyde has been averaging around 15 touches per game, and is more than capable of getting the “tough yards.”

Deshaun Watson has the third most passing yards on designed rollouts of any passer this season. The Texans have an offense that uses reverses, sweeps, motions and rollouts to attack laterally, while also pushing the ball deep. Kenny Stills has been an underrated chain mover for the Texans, who can push vertically and also finds soft spots for intermediate throws.

Houston’s passing offense is similarly efficient to the Ravens. The Texans tight ends are capable, but not lethal. Meanwhile, DeAndre Hopkins has been having somewhat of a down year by his standards. He is averaging under 10 yards per catch, which is shocking considering his career low is 12.2. Hopkins average targeted distance is 9.4 yards per target, which is tied for 65th in the NFL.

In other words, Hopkins role in 2019 is more of a chain mover than a deep threat. The Texans have moved the chains quite well, ranking in the top six in the success rate of third down conversions, fourth down conversions, and red zone touchdown conversions.

I would expect Marlon Humphrey to shadow Hopkins at times, but if Will Fuller is active, Humphrey would be best served to keep the Texans deep threat in check. Humphrey is certainly the Ravens best speed corner, and Fuller can blow a game wide open at any time.

The Texans would be wise to spread the Ravens out, run tempo, and try to lure Earl Thomas to one side of the field. Marcus Peters is susceptible to double moves as an aggressive corner, so if Deshaun Watson can get time, expect some deep shots.

This is easier said than done, as Earl Thomas is aware of the game of cat and mouse. This is why football is the greatest sport in the world. Watson will be best suited to avoid Thomas, as other passers have. Targeting Brandon Carr down the seams would appear to be one of the few vulnerabilities in the Ravens defense. If the Ravens pass-rush can’t get home, as usual, they will be put in a difficult position.

Overall, Deshaun Watson will need an MVP, heroic performance to overwhelm the Baltimore Ravens on the road. Watson is certainly capable of doing so, but the Ravens defense has been one of the elite units in football since Week 4, and I expect them to remain in that capacity. If the Texans can use tempo to freeze the Ravens pass rush, and connect on a couple of late developing routes, the Texans will be in good shape.

The Texans defense is the polar opposite on money downs, seceding 44.8% of third downs (26th in the league) and allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 16 of their 24 red zone trips (30th in the league). Surprisingly, of the 21 touchdowns the Texans have allowed on the year, 18 of them have come through the air. The Texans have only surrendered scores on the ground three times, while riding a three game streak without allowing a runner into the end zone.

The Texans defense is quite stout against the run, led by D.J. Reader, who is currently PFF’s fourth rated run stuffer. Houston hasn’t conceded a 100 yard rusher since week one of 2018.

The Texans linebacker duo of Benadrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham present two of the better inside linebackers in the NFL. Cunningham excels against the run, while McKinney excels against the pass. Both are balanced enough to be three down NFL linebackers, which is becoming more and more rare every year. The two practically never come off the field (518 and 513 snaps respectively) and both possesses strong lateral range.

The spine of the Texans defense is tough, along with Whitney Mercilus, who has struggled a bit following the injury of J.J. Watt.

Overall, the Texans have playmakers in the box. Their secondary is another story. . .

The Texans have allowed 18 passing touchdowns this year, the 6th most in the NFL. Their starting cornerbacks have been tormented at times:

  • Bradley Roby— 105.6 passer rating allowed, two touchdowns allowed.
  • Johnathan Joseph— 119 passer rating allowed, two touchdowns allowed.
  • Gareon Conley- 127 passer rating allowed, five touchdowns allowed, one interception.

The Ravens will need to continue lighting the Texans cornerbacks up, and I would anticipate Marquise Brown to do so all day. Perimeter runs will also be successful at times for the Ravens, as the Texans defensive backs have been consistently porous tacklers (aside from safety Justin Reid).

Justin Reid brings range and smarts to the back end. He often gets put in bad positions due to poor cornerback play, but he’s a lone bright spot in their secondary.

Overall, I would expect the Ravens to use tempo at times to tire out Reader and the Texans linebackers, forcing the Texans to substitute, where they are thin due to injury. Using Marquise Brown, Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews lined up against the Texans cornerbacks will certainly be an advantage, and one I would expect Greg Roman to exploit.

Final Thoughts—

The Ravens have scored 20 or more points in every game of 2019, and that trend will continue. The Texans defense can’t get off the field on third down, which is the kiss of death against the Ravens, who are more than happy to trot back out on 4th and manageable. The Ravens have been able to limit big plays with great success since acquiring Marcus Peters, and their experience battling the Patriots no huddle offense should’ve exposed which chinks the Ravens need to reinforce defensively.

If the Texans are able to take down the Ravens, it will be from Deshaun Watson playing mistake free football, while converting in the red zone. The Ravens fell to Patrick Mahomes early in the season, and Watson will need to be just as on point to walk out of Baltimore victorious.

The Ravens will need to rely on Domata Peko and Justin Ellis to fill in for Michael Pierce, as the Texans are subtly strong running the football. However, if the Texans catch those players on the field, they will trigger their tempo offense, gashing the Ravens in big chunks of 12 here, 20 there and 15. John Harbaugh shouldn’t hesitate, especially in the first half, to call a timeout to stop the bleeding. Being able to recognize when the Texans have the defense dead to rights will be a necessity Sunday.

Overall, I believe the Ravens offense is superior to the Texans defense to the point where the Ravens will continue controlling the game, as they have for the past month or so. Teams that are unable to grasp control of the game and force the Ravens to play from behind haven’t been able to catch up, although Watson is among the NFL’s best at doing so.

Lamar Jackson went 0-2 against Deshaun Watson in college, and you better believe Jackson wants to show his buddy what’s up. Jackson has started to show great consistency as a passer, with strong rhythm, footwork, and mechanics. The Ravens roll to their sixth straight victory, 26-20, surviving a late surge from the Texans no-huddle.