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One point of emphasis in the preseason for the Ravens on both sides of the ball appears to be the use of versatile personnel packages by both coordinators on offense and defense. Thus far, the sides have installed frequent sub packages and lined up in various, intricate formations that they have not shown in the past.
It is not a surprise that defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has used a multitude of defensive looks thus far in the preseason. On third down, Ryan uses a three-man line where Trevor Pryce plays at the nose guard position, while Terrell Suggs and Dan Cody line up on the outside as defensive ends. In other situations, depending on what type of offensive formation is on the field, Ryan has used a 3-4 base scheme, a 4-3 nickel scheme and a 4-3 base front to counter attack.
The interesting aspect of Ryan’s substitutions and adjustments is that he has enough versatile players to use this chameleon like defensive scheme. Last Thursday night, when Philadelphia tried to spread out Baltimore using a three receiver look, Ryan quickly took out defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg and brought in reserves Dan Cody and Corey Ivy to provide better speed and cover skills.
If an offense wants to try and out-muscle the Baltimore front seven by using power packages, the Ravens could adjust by using a five man line. Considering that converted ends Jarrett Johnson, Dan Cody and Adalius Thomas are all capable of putting their hands down and operating out of a three-point stance, Ryan has the option of crowding the line with extra defenders who can take on blocks.
Not only are the linebackers versatile enough to line up on the line, stand up or go further down the field to give the defensive backs support, so too are some of the linemen.  Terrell Suggs, Trevor Pryce and Kelly Gregg can be shifted around as well.
As mentioned, Pryce can play on the inside, and is an excellent pass-rusher coming up the middle in third-and-long situations. Suggs can drop back and play on either the left or right side of the line. Gregg can play at defensive end and has already lined up on top of the tackle’s shoulder a couple of times in the preseason.
Ryan’s ever shifting, constantly changing defensive alignment is reminiscent of the scheme that Bill Belichick uses in New England. Although the Patriots are primarily a 3-4 base front, Belichick never uses a static front to stop an offense. Depending on which offense he game plans for, Belichick will use exotic formations to match-up against the opposing offense’s personnel packages.
Case in point, against Indianapolis, Belichick may emphasize the use of six defensive backs to stymie the Colts’ prolific passing attack. In a game against Miami a couple of years ago during New England’s second Super Bowl run, the Patriots used a five man front to shut down Ricky Williams and the Miami rushing attack. Belichick’s focus is to take away the strength of an offense, and make that offense have to use its weaker points to defeat the opponent.
In similar fashion, look for Ryan to try and use as countless different types of defenses to keep up with what the offense is doing.
On offense, the Ravens have also become a lot less predictable, which is a welcome change.  Like Ryan, offensive coordinator Jim Fassel appears to have a number of versatile weapons at his disposal. Daniel Wilcox can play H-back or line up in a traditional tight end stance. Justin Green has some skills as a runner and a blocker. Mark Clayton and Todd Heap can line up inside or outside as receivers.
Given that these players can move all over the field, Fassel has tinkered with some changes in the offensive scheme that Ravens fans are not used to seeing for the past four or five seasons.
Although the Ravens will still use the base power I-formation, the use of this set will diminish greatly. Instead, look for the two tight end formation to be the staple offense that the team uses. Given Wilcox’s ability to line up in the backfield as a lead blocker, Fassel does not need to use the fullback that frequently. In fact, Jamal Lewis has been successful running the ball out of this single-back formation.
Wilcox can also line up wide, which gives Fassel the option of extending both tight ends at the receiver spots, essentially using a four-receiver look using two tight ends and two wideouts.
In other situations, Fassel may be able to use two or even three backs at the same time given the depth in the backfield. Mike Anderson is capable of lining up as a fullback. Musa Smith has gotten a lot of repetitions as the third-down back and there is a good chance that he will see action during the season in tandem with Lewis.
While the use of different fronts and formations is nothing new on the defensive side of the ball, the implementation of different offensive formations and plays is certainly something worth noting, especially if Fassel continues its use during the regular season.
It is quite possible that for the first time in a long time, defenses may have to adjust to what type of formation that the Ravens’ offense throws out on the field.
If not they may have to pay the consequences.

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Dev Panchwagh

About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens’ keys to success against each upcoming opponent.

Dev started modestly as a sports journalist, but his contributions to sports talk radio were noticed, leading to duties as a regular columnist for the network before joining RSR.  It would be very difficult to find his rare combination of youthfulness, knowledge and insight in all facets of football anywhere else.  Fortunately, Dev brings it here each and every week. 

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