As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, breaking down the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive attack.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Ravens’ Run Game
To get some offensive stats out of the way, here’s a handful that should score you. The Ravens rank in the following categories:
Points Per Game – T-1st
Yards Per Game – 1st
1st Downs – 1st
Passing TDs – 1st
Rush Yards – 1st
Yards Per Carry – 1st
This ain’t your Trent Dilfer led offense anymore.
The run game is multiple in large part to Lamar Jackson’s talents. Adds a whole new dimension to the game. He’s their second leading rusher with 238 yards and a score. The backfield is led by Mark Ingram which is shaping up to be a great signing. Through four weeks, he already has 328 yards, five touchdowns, and is averaging exactly 6 yards per carry. The latter is third in the league only trailing Saquon Barkley (6.4) and…Jackson himself, averaging 6.6.
Big play run game that’s #1 in runs of 10+ yards. 23 of them, five more than second place. They’ve had at least four runs of 10+ yards in every single game, even last week’s ugly loss to Cleveland. To put that in context, two teams – Washington and Miami – have fewer than four runs of 10+ yards all season long. Insane.
A little similar to the 49ers’ offense, the Ravens use a fullback in Patrick Ricard, whose a Swiss Army Knife for them in all three phases of the game and has logged 60 snaps this season. He isn’t nearly the versatile receiving threat as Kyle Juszczyk but a strong lead blocker nonetheless.
Schematically, they run a little bit of everything and do a good job keeping defenses on their toes. The last two weeks, they’ve opened up in pistol and are able to get a strong downhill scheme with their big offensive line. There’s also a mix of power and outside zone. So you’re forced to defend everything. This isn’t Shanahan running inside zone on you 50 times a game.
Of course, with Jackson at the helm, there’s plenty of option runs too. They love this read option with the added wrinkle of a TE arc block. The TE leaves the read man unblocked and works to the 2nd or 3rd level which works especially well if Jackson decides to keep. Couple examples.
You will get unbalanced looks in 3rd and 1 situations. LT Ronnie Stanley flips over to the right side.
Some other overall offensive stats. They convert 47.9% of their third downs, 7th in the league, aided by their run game and ability to stay on schedule. They’re also a top ten red zone unit, converting 2/3 of the time. That’s 9th in football.
Ravens’ Pass Game
This will be Jackson’s first start against the Steelers. He’s shown considerable improvement from last year, notably with his accuracy, at least in context of his completion percentage. Up about seven points from his rookie year. Sitting at 65% through the first month with 10 touchdowns to two picks.
The downside? He’s been sacked 10 times this season and the last two games haven’t been great across the board. Taken down seven times with just three touchdowns and two picks in losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.
TE Mark Andrews is their top receiver with 23 receptions, 266 yards, and three touchdowns. No one uses their TEs like the Ravens do. Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle have combined for 40 catches for 468 yards and four touchdowns.
At receiver sits two rookie wideouts led by Hollywood Brown. He’s averaging a blistering 16.3 yards per catch and is an obvious big play threat. But doesn’t even have the best YPC on the team. That goes to Willie Snead at 19.3 per reception, which ranks in the top ten in football.
It’s no surprise their offense is repeatedly hitting big plays. 4th in the NFL in 20+ yard receptions with 18 of them.
Conceptually, there’s always at least one vertical element to their passing attack. Usually multiple routes, flood concepts to try to overload zone coverage. Like these post/wheels or divide routes to get the big play, which also helps open up underneath routes or Jackson when he tucks and runs. Steelers better be prepared to run Sunday. A lot. Ravens will test them over the top and try to wear the secondary out.
Offense uses a lot of motion to create space and force the defense to adjust on the fly without being able to make checks.
Will also use the RB screen game on 2nd and long after negative plays on 1st down. Minor point but one worth noting. Steelers did a great job defending the screen game against Cincinnati.
Last thing to note. The Ravens have been ultra-aggressive this year with a heavy analytical approach. No team has gone for it as often on 4th down (nine attempts) and they’re tied with the Eagles for number of two-point conversions (4). John Harbaugh has been as aggressive as any coach this season. Don’t be shocked if you see him go for it on 4th and 3 in the red zone or going for two after their first touchdown Sunday.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Ravens week, Steelers fans!
One week after facing a moribund Bengals offense on Monday Night Football, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a tougher test in Week 5 as the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson ride into town.
The first two weeks of the season, Baltimore’s offense looked nearly unstoppable. The last two weeks though? Not so much. Baltimore has struggled with ball security, namely running back Mark Ingram II, who has had fumble issues pop up at the most inopportune times.
That said, Ingram II is averaging more than 6 yards per carry in Baltimore’s new-age attack under Jackson and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, serving as the perfect starting back to operate the scheme with.
He’s a physical, downhill runner that is decisive and hits the hole with real burst and conviction, stressing defenses very quickly.
This is the first play of the 2019 season on the road against the Miami Dolphins and Ingram II goes for 49 yards. I love the blocking concept, going pistol with a sidecar in Patrick Ricard, while pulling left guard Bradley Bozeman. Notice this is an unbalanced line as well, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley lined up next to right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., putting Baltimore’s two best blockers up front next to each other, running power right down the Dolphins’ throats.
Ingram II doesn’t mess around either, putting his foot in the ground and getting north/south in a hurry, reaching the Miami second level in a hurry. Then, he has the ability to dish out punishment at the end of his runs too, running over Eric Rowe here on his way to the explosive play.
When not relying on Ingram II on the ground, Baltimore can turn to Gus Edwards as well, giving Baltimore two explosive, physically punishing runners that fit perfectly into the scheme.
The one really fun – and potentially dangerous – part of Baltimore’s offense with Jackson running the show is the ability to run the read-option, putting the ball in Jackson’s hands while letting him use his legs.
Baltimore wants to stress edge defenders in these instances. Watch Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon here. He chooses to go after Ingram II on the read-option as tight end Mark Andrews pulls across the formation to get out in front of Jackson.
As Vernon chooses Ingram II, it’s an easy decision for Jackson to pull the ball and get out behind Andrews in space, forcing linebacker Joe Schoebert to try and make a play that’s nearly impossible for middle linebackers to make in space on Jackson.
If Jackson doesn’t get tripped up late in the run, he’s still running.
With the amount of playmakers the Ravens now have on offense, it all works together perfectly in Roman’s scheme. Baltimore can run the real read-option on the ground, and can also stress defenses with the RPO, working into the middle of the field getting the football to guys who are electrifying in space.
Here in Week 1 again, the Ravens busted out the RPO one play after an interception by Earl Thomas.
Watch the way the read-option causes the entire front 7 and even the single-high safety for Miami to flow to the left with Ingram II and the blockers, leaving a backside slant in play for Brown and Jackson to connect on.
Jackson makes a strong throw, leading Brown into space. Once the catch is made and the tackle is broken, there’s no catching Brown.
If the Ravens are able to establish the run early and really stress the defense on the ground, RPOs and play-action fakes are going to be deadly for Baltimore.
One thing that really stands out to me in Roman’s system is the window dressing that he does, giving the defense a number of things to look out, allowing him to scheme guys open for Jackson to hit.
The motion here by Brown behind Jackson and Ingram II from left to right draws the attention of Arizona’s slot corner and inside linebacker. With that, the play is designed to send Andrews out of the slot as a blocker, before then releasing up the field.
Jackson sells the swing route to Brown, causing Arizona’s two defenders to come downhill, allowing Andrews to slip behind up the sideline for the wide-open touchdown.
Defenses are so worried about Brown’s abilities after the catch, so Roman is able to design things like this, getting Jackson’s favorite target in Andrews involved.
Jackson loves to use his tight ends in Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle. In fact, nearly half of Jackson’s completions (87 total) are to the trio of tight ends (40). Forty percent of his 10 touchdowns are to tight ends as well.
If the Steelers want to slow down Baltimore’s attack through the air, they have to take away the middle of the field for Andrews and Hurst, who can get up the seam and really stress the middle of the field for a defense.
Outside, Baltimore is rolling with two rookie wide receivers in Brown and Miles Boykin, who has become a solid red zone option for Jackson, hauling in two touchdowns on the year.
Both can take the top off of defenses, but it’s been Brown who has been the vertical threat early on for the Ravens.
When you have Jackson dropping dimes like this late in games to help close out a win, look out.
Slot fades for the win! Jackson drops that perfectly into the bucket along the sideline. You can’t throw the football much better than that, folks.
Willie Snead IV and Seth Roberts will see their share of targets as well, while Chris Moore seems slightly buried on the depth chart. It’s obviously a much better wide receiver room this year compared to years past, but it’s not a group that should really scare the Ravens.
Up front, this might be the league’s most underrated offensive line. Here’s how I expect them to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT – Ronnie Stanley
LG — Bradley Bozeman
C — Matt Skura
RG – Marshal Yanda
RT — Orlando Brown Jr.
Honestly, this might be the best tackle tandem in football right now. Pro Football Focus has Stanley rated as the best pass blocking tackle in football, while Brown Jr. has emerged as a stud right tackle, which is exactly what he was in college. They’re both maulers in the run game too.
Yanda continues to play at a ridiculously high level for this point of his career. Not long ago he was the best guard in football. Obviously, that title resides elsewhere now, but he’s still in the top 5.
Skura and Bozeman are the week links, but thanks to the talent around them they’re able to do just enough to get by and make this a complete unit. As Karl Dunbar says though, Bozeman is the fish of the week. Expect the Steelers to really attack him defensively.
On special teams, kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch continue to be the best pair of specialists in football. Tucker seemingly can’t miss much, and Koch continues to show off power and touch on his punts.
These two really help change games for the Ravens. It’s great having a kicker that comes through consistently and puts points on the board, while also possessing a punter that can flip the field and pin offenses back deep, helping out a young, new-look Ravens defense.
The return game hasn’t been great for the Ravens. Moore and rookie Justice Hill handle the kickoff returns, while Cyrus Jones handles the punt return duties.
Jones does have a 25-yard punt return to his credit this season. He’s been a dynamic punt returner dating back to his days at Alabama. Hill has the game-breaking speed but just hasn’t shaken loose early on, while Moore is the safe play that will get the yards needed while hanging onto the football. That said, he can bust off a long one if coverage units aren’t careful.