The Baltimore Ravens have continued two consistencies within their offensive production Sunday. On the bright side, Baltimore converted 8/14 third down attempts, propelling them to rank second in the NFL as they’ve converted 45.7% of their chances through 11 games.
On the disappointing side, the Ravens continued sputtering out in the red zone, where they rank 24th in the league, scoring touchdowns on only 24 of their 43 red zone trips.
The Ravens are an efficient team between the 20’s. They rank 11th in yards per drive, 9th in points per drive and have had at least four scoring drives in all but one game (Week 11 against Carolina). Overall, they rank 8th in points per game despite their red zone troubles. They trail Philadelphia, the NFL leader in red zone conversion percentage, by over 21%. Over the last two games, Baltimore is three for nine in the red zone. The combination of red zone ineptitude and fourth quarter meltdowns defensively have proved the two areas that prevent Baltimore from feeling like a true contender. The latter felt resolved until Sunday, which Baltimore hopes will serve as a stinging slap that finally forces them over the hump.
Offensively, Baltimore doesn’t have A.J. Brown. Four of Brown’s seven touchdowns have come in the red zone, and the threat that he presents on the outside is certainly impactful. However, comparing Philadelphia’s efforts in the red zone to Baltimore’s, there is one key differences that jumps out on tape. Philadelphia spread the field laterally which opens up room for their run game.
The Eagles rank first in the NFL in red zone conversion rate (72%)— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) December 1, 2022
Baltimore ranks 24th (51%)
Look at how they attacked in the RZ Sunday. Philly stretches the field horizontally, Baltimore operates in a phone booth.
Philly throws the ball 38% of the time, Baltimore 51%. pic.twitter.com/D82huxuHFb
Baltimore often chooses to use tight alignments yet fails to attack the width of the field after condensing the defense. Using more mesh concepts or smash concepts are ways to do so. Instead, they effectively try to throw the ball in a phone booth. The condensed formations operate more smoothly between the 20’s, as the defense has to respect the vertical element that the Ravens often attack, particularly in the intermediate range. This allows for more ‘high-low’ concepts that create a read defender forced to commit to a receiver in-front of them or behind them.
Once inside the 10 yard line, the back line adds an extra defender, yet Baltimore still often attempts to fire vertical routes from tight alignments into tight zones, which feels like they’re adding two or three defenders at times. By simply expanding their alignments, defenders would be forced to cover a larger area in their zones. It also can help force lighter boxes and more room for the Ravens option run game, or even without the option.
The red zone is all about space. Simply put, when aligned tightly, the space is to the perimeter. When aligned wider, the space is over the middle of the field. Baltimore isn’t utilizing these basic rules frequently enough. A large part of what made Baltimore so successful in 2019 was their empty set pass game. Lamar Jackson generated 39.54 EPA, throwing 11 touchdowns according to Sports Info Solutions. That was 10 points higher in EPA and four touchdowns more than the next closest quarterbacks.
Then the Titans, in the dreaded 2019 Divisional Round, played inverted cover-2 and flooded the middle of the field. Baltimore struggled to convert on key downs and in the red zone. One year later the two teams met again in the playoffs, and Baltimore condensed their alignments then attacked the flats with Marquise Brown, fueling a 10-point comeback and giving Baltimore their first playoff win since 2014. The Ravens followed the basic principle of attacking laterally when they condensed the formation. They need to do so again, or utilize more spread alignments to open up the middle of the field. They’re currently not doing either frequently enough.
Sunday in Jacksonville, Baltimore failed to spread the field in the first half before adjusting in the second half and producing two touchdown drives.