Battle Plans: Bengals vs. Ravens
Checks and Balances
There was talk before the season started that quarterback Joe Flacco would have more latitude in Marc Trestman’s offense to call audibles and make adjustments in the pre-snap phase. That flexibility wasn’t apparent in the first half against Denver. The Broncos dropped their linebackers into the box over the center, right before the snap, and Flacco didn’t change the protection or timing of the snap.
In the second half, Flacco got to the line quicker and did a better job of moving from under center to the gun to gain more space to operate.
To combat the Bengals (Sports Betting Dime has the Ravens listed as 2 1/2 point favorites) and their A-gap pressures, Flacco needs to take the same approach he took against Denver in the second half. He needs to get to the line with plenty of time and be prepared to make adjustments depending on what he sees.
Vincent Rey and Rey Maualuga are active box defenders that will press the line. Flacco can’t let these two backers dictate the tempo. Instead, the former Super Bowl MVP needs to identify where they are and use motion to force them out of the box.
Hurry Up Mix-Up
Against the Raiders, the offense was able to operate from the no-huddle more often. In particular, when the offense went to the no-huddle in the second half, they were able to wear out the Oakland defense.
As the Ravens make their way back home against a Cincinnati front-seven that has been dominant, they need to break out the no-huddle and go with a quick pace to keep the Bengal bigs from substituting. The Cincinnati front is big and athletic, but their interior tandem (Domata Peko and Geno Atkins) can be worn out.
When the offense does turn to the no-huddle, staying in a power formation (namely a two tight end set with Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams on the field) will keep the Bengals’ base defense on the field while presenting enough flexibility to pass or run with equal effectiveness.
Running the Ball in Passing Situations
When you look at the numbers, Justin Forsett actually had a fairly productive day running the football. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry, doing most of his damage on the edges. On his longest gain, he was able to gain 16 yards on 2nd and 10 off of a well-timed lead draw from the left side. The play was reminiscent of the type of runs we’ve seen from Matt Forte in which he follows a pull block off tackle to find daylight.
Overall, the Ravens had more success running the ball from the gun, especially in traditional passing situations. We should continue to see Trestman expand on his running plays from the gun, mixing in some coordinated counters to keep the Bengals pass rush off balance and hit on runs against lighter fronts.
The 5 Second Rule
When it comes to reading and attacking the Baltimore Ravens, Andy Dalton has mostly had his way in the pre-snap phase. Specifically, he has been great at getting to the line of scrimmage with plenty of time left on the play clock, waiting for the defense to show their hand, and making an adjustment before the snap.
When the Ravens have been able to confuse Dalton in the past (as they did during a home victory in 2013), they’ve been able to muddy their looks and time their movement just as the play clock expires. Timing will be everything on Sunday.
If Dalton gets a bead on the defensive look with more than 5 seconds left on the play call, he’ll have plenty of time to make a check or audible and get his offense in a better play. But if the defense can “hold their water” on their blitz movement until the clock hits the 5 second mark, Dalton won’t have enough time to make an adjustment.
With Terrell Suggs out, the Oakland Raiders laid out the blueprint for dealing with the Baltimore defense. They often spread the field, showing a mix of four wide and empty looks, and didn’t bother to establish a base rushing attacking. In fact, the Raiders ended up with a 46-19 pass-to-run ratio.
The spread formations accomplished two things. One, it enabled Oakland to add speed on the field while forcing the Baltimore backers (including Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil) to play in space. Two, with the defense being forced to drop more players into coverage, the down front was unable to generate a rush bringing just four, and at times, three rushers.
One way to combat the spread is to win the numbers game. If a defense brings more unbalanced, overload pressures, they can outflank 5-man and 6-man protections. Overload looks also force the offensive line to “fan” or shift left or right to cover the heavier sides of the formation.
If the offensive line shifts left or right, there will be opportunities for the defensive front to attack the more open side of the formation.
When the Bengals show spread, defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to shift his front-seven defenders around to outflank the offensive line. Once the offensive line slides to compensate, he’ll be able to use delayed blitzes or a secondary overload rush to generate pressure off the edge.
The resurrection of tight end Tyler Eifert has made the Bengals an ever more dynamic and dangerous offense this season. Remember, Eifert was on his way to having a breakout season last year, but he was knocked out in the first game with a broken arm and dislocated elbow. That injury of course happened in Baltimore, against the Ravens.
Eifert is a matchup nightmare. The Bengals have been moving him all over the field, including from the slot. Given Eifert’s versatility, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson can create a three-wide look from a base formation simply by detaching the athletic tight end away from the line.
Couple Eifert’s ability to line up in the slot along with A.J. Green’s slot position propensity, and the Bengals have the flexibility to create major mismatches from the inside out.
The Ravens need to account for these two from the slot, especially as motion players. Even if Green or Eifert is flanked out wide, they will come inside right before the snap. When they do release from the slot, there should be a double team awaiting either player from the underneath defender (slot nickel corner, linebacker, or “drop” safety) and a deep safety.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Hill will likely be one of a number of defenders that will match up against the burgeoning pass-catcher. But Hill may very well have the best combination of size and athleticism to run with Eifert in single coverage. Hill has been used by the Ravens to shadow tight ends before (namely Jimmy Graham in a memorable performance last season). He’ll have to use his hands to disrupt the young TE at the line and use his length to close on Eifert’s large catch radius.