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Week 2 Offensive Film room: Ground without the pound

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season is in the books, and despite what the score says, the Ravens faced a tough opponent in the Houston Texans who really made them work for a win. Lamar Jackson didn’t have his best game, only throwing for 204 yards and only rushing for 54 yards. He was sacked four times and created a lot of pressure on his own, and a major part of that was due to the pressure that the Texans’ defense was putting on him.

The passing attack felt dangerous more than it was safe throughout the game, but you know what they say, when the throwing gets tough, the tough gets running (sorry, not sorry). In this edition of offensive film room, I will take a look at a few plays that show why running the ball was working so well against the Texans, and why it was at times the only option.

All the plays I talk about can be found in this video:

Time stamps to find the plays:

Play 1: 0:02

Play 2: 0:55

Play 3: 6:26

For the first play we’ll go early, at 11:45 left in the first quarter of the game. It’s 3rd-& 7 on Baltimore’s 17 yard line. Lamar is sitting in the shotgun all by himself with two receivers on the left side, and three receivers on the right side. The Texans are sitting in zone coverage with three men rushing and five men that will hover over the middle of the field, and Jackson sends Nick Boyle on a motion over to the right side from the left side.

As the play begins, the only open man is Boyle on the right side, but he has a defender near his backside and Lamar doesn’t see him. Instead of waiting for something to open up Lamar moves up into a relatively clean pocket and then decides to run for it. But the Texans are completely ready for this as they have a wall of four defenders set up right around the first down marker. Lamar runs right into them and goes down for a minimal gain, forcing the Ravens to punt.

The reason this is significant is that Baltimore came out of the gate trying to throw the ball, and even though they got it going a bit better later in the game, at this point it seemed like Houston had that aspect of the Baltimore offense figured out. Lamar made some good throws and the Ravens moved the ball through the air very well at times, but the pressure that Jackson was put under by the Houston defense — plus the pressure he creates himself by being just a tad too jittery in the pocket — created instability through the air that made Baltimore hesitant to go to that particular option.

The next play comes early again at 4:57 left in the first quarter, 1st-&-10 at the Houston 43 yard line. Lamar is in the pistol with Gus Edwards behind him and Pat Ricard to his left. He has two tight ends in the slot to his left and Marquise Brown at the wideout to his right. The Texans are once again in a zone formation with nine men in the box over the middle. Boyle goes into motion from the left side to the right side and Lamar snaps it before he can cross. It is an option play that will either be a handoff to Edwards or Jackson will take it himself, and the point of decision there are two unengaged defenders hovering the left side in case of a pass play.

The defender tasked with guarding the option is right in Jackson’s point of view, and bites towards Edwards. Seeing this, Lamar takes it himself and has a lot of daylight to the right side of the field due to the only defender on that side being engaged by Brown. Jackson has a wide open path to the first down marker and can easily run out of bounds after gaining 11 yards. This play stands out because it’s an example of Baltimore creating opportunity for easy yards by relying on Houston’s over-commitment to covering Jackson’s scramble potential.

Another notable play occurred with 12:20 left in the third quarter — a 3rd-&-1 play on the Baltimore 35 yard line. Once again Lamar is in the pistol with Edwards backing him up, Brown is wide left, and three tight ends on the line are in blocking formation. Houston once again has nine men in the box, awaiting a run up the middle or a quick throw to a rolling tight end. This time, however, they’re in man coverage. The Texans have stacked the right side, with three linebackers in blitzing formation on that side.

Just before the play begins, Ricard goes into motion from left to right, and the play begins before the Texans have any real time to react. Lamar quickly hands the ball off to Edwards and he’s put towards the left side that is perfectly blocked by his lineman. Thee defender that slipped through the hole created by Boyle’s motion wasn’t fast enough to tackle Edwards, so he just slides off the back of him and Gus is off. Edwards has pure daylight until he’s stopped by the safety overtop, but he won’t go down until he fights for a few more yards because he’s just that dude.

This play is significant because all of it was by design. The blocking assignments are perfect, the quick motion to add an extra blocker on the side of the run was perfectly executed, and the only lineman who had the ability to capitalize on the hole couldn’t react fast enough to do anything about it. This is another example of Baltimore creating an easy 11 yards just by designing runs to play the defense against itself. Houston expected a run, and they were right —but they played themselves when they didn’t evenly distribute their men, and when they weren’t able to predict where Baltimore would go.