From the Far Hash: Breaking Down the Ravens on Offense and Defense
Hey Packers fans, have I ever got a treat for you. To accompany my weekly defensive breakdowns, I somehow conned Richard Chang (from Out of the Pocket and the Dick Chang’s Fantasy Football League #DCGB) to breakdown the offense.
This week, the Packers travel to Baltimore to take on the defending champion Ravens. It will be a test of where the Packers truly are this season. It will be a great game to watch for sure.
Alright, let’s get to the breakdowns!
Offense (by Richard):
Baltimore Ravens: Another identity crisis.
The Packers play the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore this weekend, but really it’s like they’re playing themselves.
Let’s be honest, despite having playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, Green Bay has struggled (in spots) this season to move the ball down the field and into the endzone. They have a bi-polar offense of run-run-run, or pass-pass-pass and can’t seem to find a successful rhythm that incorporates both. Not yet, anyway.
Enter the Baltimore Ravens.
Despite losing their number one playmaker, Clay Matthews, Green Bay may be in store for its best defensive effort of the season against Baltimore. Why? Like I said above, the Green Bay defense is basically playing against the same offense that they practice against on a daily basis – their own.
Baltimore runs an 11 Personnel (1 RB 1 TE) on 57% of it snaps. Ray Rice (green) will typically take the hand off and run towards the strong side of his line (towards the blue dot).
Baltimore runs a 21 Personnel (2 RB 1 TE) offense on 21% of its plays. They use this formation for the power running game, with fullback Vontae Leach lead blocking for Ray Rice. On offense, where Leach goes, Rice follows).
They also used this 11 Personnel formation to run trick plays and play action. Last week alone, Baltimore used this formation twice in the first quarter – both handoffs to Rice. They came back to it in the 3rd quarter and used it in a play action pass to WR Tandon Doss for a 40 yd gain.
Joe Flacco, like Aaron Rodgers, is a Super Bowl MVP quarterback struggling to find his rhythm in 2013. Flacco enters Sunday’s game having thrown only five touchdowns to eight interceptions; he’s failed to throw for three hundred yards in three of five weeks; and he hasn’t cracked a hundred point passer rating in a single contest. Baltimore is known for its strong defense, clock controlling rushing attack and game managing quarterbacks, but Baltimore escaped that brand of football, arguably, years ago, but inarguably when they handed Joe Flacco $120 million dollars. Remember the famous play against Denver that forced overtime: a deep pass outside the numbers just outside the reach of the opposing cornerback? That’s Baltimore’s offense. Well, that’s the productive half. Flacco is best deep and outside the numbers. Take that with a grain of salt, because his “best” has only accounted for 279 yards in thirty attempts, netted zero touchdowns and resulted in two interceptions. His passer rating for passes thrown more than twenty yards downfield ranks in the bottom ten among active NFL quarterbacks , and remember, this is where he grades well. If you account for short, intermediate passes and balls thrown around the line of scrimmage, Flacco would rank dead last if not for the dubious effort put forth by Minnesota’s Christian Ponder. Summarily, he’s horribly inaccurate. If his numbers are so bad, how are the Ravens 3-2? Simply, the play-action pass.
Ray Rice: As many fantasy football owners know, Ray Rice hasn’t been a very productive back the first five weeks of the season. He’s rushing for less than three yards per carry, he’s only scored three touchdowns and he’s put the ball on the ground twice already. The big play is gone, his longest rush is only fourteen yards and he’s failed to come closer than twenty-five yards to the century mark. If you consider Rice’s struggles rushing the ball, and Flacco’s inaccuracy on and around the line of scrimmage, you’ll struggle to find how Rice contributes to this offense at all. And you’d be justified except, remember, the play action pass.
Torrey Smith: Smith’s stats alone imply Baltimore has a healthy and productive passing game. He catches the ball deep down the middle, he catches the ball in the soft under belly and he’s sure handed in traffic around the line of scrimmage. But most of Smith’s efforts have either proved fruitless –he’s only caught one touchdown in five weeks—or have come in garbage time of Baltimore’s two losses.
Baltimore starts slow, with short passes, draws and strong side rushes in the first half and uses the same formations in the second half to stretch the field.
Defense (by Jay):
The Baltimore Ravens have been known for their defense for years. Despite the loss of key players, such as Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, The Ravens are still committed to a stout defensive approach. They have lots of young talent capable of making plays.
On paper, they are a base 3-4 defense. But, the reality is they don’t really play much straight 3-4. Since it’s a passing league now, most defenses play the majority of their snaps in the nickel substitution package. The Ravens are no exception there.
However, most teams use a 4-2-5 nickel approach. This is where the Ravens are different. They run a hybrid defense they call the “Big Nickel.” This uses a 2-4-5 alignment.
They use two down linemen, with their most notable being nose tackle Haloti Ngata. They use four linebackers, but their outside linebackers are where the hybridization comes into play.
They have Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil anchoring the edges along the line of scrimmage. They can put their hands in the dirt and rush as defensive ends. Or, they can stand up in a two-point stance and either rush or drop into pass coverage. They are very difficult to account for from a schematic standpoint, let along for their freaky athletic prowess.
The secondary is covered by five defensive backs, rounding out the 2-4-5 alignment. See picture below.
The Ravens usually rotate their coverage to the alignment of the offensive formation by keying on the slot receiver. Usually, the slot receiver will motion to one side of the formation to tip off to the offense what defensive coverage they are facing. When then slot receiver motions, the safety to that side of the field drops into the box and the other safety retreats into a single-high look. The Ravens expect both safety players to know each safety position. See below.
If the slot receiver plays the other side, the defense rotates.
The Ravens don’t blitz much because they’ve had great success rushing the passer with their front four. Dumervil and Suggs are absolute pass rushing beasts, and Ngata gets plenty of push up the middle. So, they’ll just sit a base look, which is usually a single-high safety, and their uglies up front do their thing.
If the Ravens do need to bring pressure, they like to use the middle linebacker cross-fire blitz. The edges are still fierce with Suggs and Dumervil, but the linebackers up the middle add extra push. It’s essentially a stunt, so it really presses the offensive linemen to remember their blocking rules and pick everyone up.
Now, I will say that my defensive breakdowns have been mostly accurate up to this point. I’ve watched film of them each week and summarized their tendencies. During the Packers games, I saw lots of those tendencies.
However, despite all that, the defenses usually resort to their trusted Packers-beater. Yep, that’s right, they come out in the old trusty cover 2 man. This never fails and teams will show it plenty against the Packers, even if they didn’t show it too much against their previous opponents.
So, once again, the Packers will probably be facing a heavy dose of cover 2 man against the Ravens this weekend. Passing will be more difficult, but this means the running game will open up because the defense can only have seven in the box. Each week, the defenses are begging the Packers to run. And, the Packers have run very successfully, gaining 180+ yards in each of the last two games.
It will be interesting to see what in-game adjustments the Ravens make. They will show cover 2 man, which the Packers will counter with their running game. If the running game isn’t successful, they’ll stay in the cover 2 man and squeeze the Packers receivers. If the running game is successful, I expect the Ravens to show their true tendencies by walking a safety up into the box, giving them an eight man box.
We will certainly see a chess match this weekend. It’s an old cliche, but this Sunday, the better team will be the one who wins. It’s look in the mirror time against the defending Super Bowl champs.