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The Ravens’ offense must find a way to beat pressure looks

The Dolphins and Bengals have forced the Ravens hand and beaten them with pressure looks. They need to respond!

Baltimore Ravens v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

On Thursday night, the Baltimore Ravens offense failed to counter the Miami Dolphins’ pressure looks time and time again. The Dolphins stacked six, seven and eight defenders at the line of scrimmage all game, doing something no defense has done in recent history.

Dolphins’ Head Coach and defensive play-caller Brian Flores baffled Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson for four quarters, holding the Ravens to only 10 points — the fewest that Baltimore has scored in a regular season game since Jackson was named starter in 2018 (and second lowest considering their loss to the Buffalo Bills in January). The Ravens struggled to play with any rhythm or timing in the quick passing game. When pass protection did hold up, Jackson struggled to find confident throwing lanes.

According to Next Gen Stats, Jackson’s completion percentage over expectation (CPOE) was -9.6%. That’s the worst Jackson has posted this year, with the second worst being -8.5% in their Week 7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals deployed similar looks, and held the Ravens scoreless in the final 20 minutes of the game.

Entering the game, Jackson had faced cover-0 on 16 drop backs, the most of any quarterback in the NFL by four. He had only accrued 28 passing yards and five completions on 15 attempts. Only Baker Mayfield and Trevor Lawrence had posted a lower EPA than Jackson through Week 9. It’s not only the blitzes, however, it’s the defenders that bluff and spot drop into shallow hook or curl zones. Matt Waldman does a nice breakdown in the following clip . . .

Waldman has a nice breakdown, however, Jackson should certainly be able to trust his $50 million tight end to go make a play overtop of a defensive lineman in coverage. Instead, he holds the ball and allows the pass rush to get home. Jackson also continuously tried to throw with low arm slots fading away from the blitz, as well as taking three step drops from shotgun instead of stepping into quick throws.

Jackson also tried to use checks at the line of scrimmage to throw bubble screens, throwing a career high nine passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. Several worked, while one was batted down and the Dolphins tackled well.

Screens certainly can help to negate a blitz and pressure looks. To examine how to beat these pressure fronts, Ravens’ Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman needs to get some education from Rex Ryan and “Wink” Martindale. Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady have used tempo and no-huddle offenses for years against Baltimore’s pressure defensive fronts. No-huddle and tempo prevents defenses from having enough time to communicate complex fronts and blitz/drop responsibilities.

Simply, the Ravens need to use tempo. They can also use motion or resets earlier in the play-clock to expose coverage responsibilities, thus eliminating possible blitzing defenders.

While tedious to isolate, a common theme appears to be late motion relative to the play clock on passing downs. Using motion earlier will provide insight for protection, coverage and everything in between against similar pressure looks. Roman needs to deploy more creative ways of backing defenses up, like using orbit motion or boomerang aka return motion to make defensive backs run across formations. Sprint outs with slides can also give Jackson more decisive reads while taking advantage of his speed. Using tight ends to split block backside defenders with slides can move the pocket and help Jackson find rhythm.

If Roman can’t help Jackson get in a groove against these pressure looks, then Baltimore will need to find a coordinator next offseason who can.

The NFL is a copycat league. Baltimore’s next opponent, the Chicago Bears, would be foolish not to follow suit with what the Dolphins just showed the world: Baltimore can’t handle pressure looks. The Ravens will have a long week to make adjustments. Baltimore needs to utilize tempo, throw to iso receivers as well as produce after the catch.

Rashod Bateman, who produced a missed tackle on nearly one-third of his receptions in his last full season as a Minnesota Golden Gopher, as well as Devin Duvernay, need to be utilized in the quick game more against physical defensive backs that are reliable in space. Marquise Brown has made strides after the catch this season, but the Dolphins had very little trouble getting him to the ground.

All the while, the Ravens were the dreaded road team on a Thursday Night game, which includes a travel day during a short week. They were underprepared, out-coached and out-played on the offensive side of the ball. They still sit at 6-3, atop the AFC North, and will have time to lick their wounds and make improvements. Regaining right tackle Patrick Mekari in the next few weeks could go a long way, as well as tight end Nick Boyle, who figured to make his 2021 debut in the next week or two. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson was sacked four times against the blitz Thursday. Mekari has only allowed Jackson to be hit three total times in his 219 pass blocking snaps in 2021.

It’s better that the Ravens had their faults against pressure looks exposed now, while they still have five divisional games remaining. However, if they aren’t able to make adjustments, defenses will continue to reign hell fire with blitzes from all angles until Baltimore’s offense proves they can make their opposition pay. If they’re unable to, then the Ravens may find themselves missing the playoffs for the first time with Jackson as their quarterback while negotiating his contract; which will be the biggest (both monetarily and in terms of impact) contract in Baltimore sports history.

While the Ravens have been ravaged by injuries, missing the postseason feels inexcusable considering they were 6-2 halfway through the season. Heads would roll. Hopefully, that isn’t the case.