Sunday’s 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns wasn’t a pretty one for the Baltimore Ravens, whose offense struggled mightily with the defense’s strong performance being the deciding factor.
Quarterback Joe Flacco’s rhythm with his targets is still a work in progress, and the run game has been nothing short of a disappointment through two games.
The win over the Browns didn’t provide many spectacular offensive plays, but here are a few key plays by the Ravens offense that helped decide the outcome.
Q3, 11:09 remaining, 1stand 10
The first half provided very few positive offensive plays, much of the reason why the Ravens failed to score a single point in the first 30 minutes.
So, we fast forward to the second half and Baltimore’s first offensive drive.
This is the first play of a drive that led to the first touchdown of the day for the Ravens.
The Ravens open up the drive in a simple 21 personnel, with the obvious hint that the run play is going to the left side of the line, where both Ed Dickson and Vonta Leach are lined up.
Joe Flacco hands the ball off to Ray Rice, who gets plenty of clean blocking in front of him.
The hole created by Bryant McKinnie and Kelechi Osemele was the most properly executed run play of the day for the Ravens, and Rice’s easy running lane led to a big gain.
He was able to bounce out to the left and pick up 14 yards, his longest run of the day.
Q3, 9:48 remaining, 3rd and 6
On the same scoring drive, the Baltimore offense struck again, this time as a result of perfect execution by Flacco.
On 3rd and 6, the Ravens are lined up in the shotgun with an 11 personnel and three wide receivers on the right side.
Flacco faces a collapsing pocket after Rice is unable to pick up the blitz, and he must make a quick decision.
Two of his four targets – Marlon Brown and Torrey Smith – break open, as Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark are both covered underneath.
Brown (circled) is positioned in the middle of the field, with Smith becoming open across the middle as well.
A pass to Brown would have resulted in an easy completion, but instead, Flacco takes a shot at gaining a few extra yards and targets Smith.
Flacco uses his exceptional arm strength to squeeze a throw into a collapsing window, and the completion to Smith went for over 20 yards and moved the chains en route to a Bernard Pierce rushing touchdown a few minutes later.
Q4, 9:03 remaining, 2nd and goal
Baltimore’s lone scoring play through the air occurred in the fourth quarter, and the touchdown gave the Ravens enough cushion to fend off a late comeback attempt by the Browns.
Facing a 2nd and goal situation from the five-yard line, the Ravens opted to come out in shotgun formation with an 11 personnel.
Flacco actually makes a surprising decision on this play, as both Tandon Doss and Brown run quick slant routes toward the inside, with Doss breaking open for what would have been an easy touchdown.
Instead, Flacco targets Brown underneath with two Browns defenders collapsing on him.
Brown catches the ball in tight space and is able to turn toward the middle of the field and into the end zone for the five-yard touchdown reception.
This play was key because it was one of many examples in which the Ravens utilized the underneath passing game against Cleveland. Instead of attempting a fade or deep out inside the five, the Ravens kept it simple and went with short routes.
With multiple receivers running short, underneath routes, the majority of the time, at least one target is open within a second or two.
In this case, both Brown and Doss quickly gained separation, and with two open receivers just yards away from the end zone, play calls like this one will lead to plenty of success in the red zone for Baltimore this season.