Two and Three Tight End Sets
Last week in this space, we talked about how offensive coordinator Marc Trestman needs to expand his tight end packages coming out of the bye week. And sure enough, on the first play the offense ran, rookie TE Nick Boyle caught a 25-yard pass from a three-tight end look.
Overall, the offense showed multiple tight ends on 36% of their offensive snaps.
The three-tight formations were especially prominent on first down. But as the game progressed, Trestman reverted back to more open, spread formations to get the Jacksonville front seven defenders out of the box.
That strategy won’t work well against a Rams defense that fields heat-seeking missiles on their front line. Outside of Denver, this is arguably the most dominant pass-rushing group the team will face all year.
Trestman needs to dial up the percentage of multiple tight end sets on early downs to slow down the St. Louis rush and create one-on-one opportunities for his tight ends in the passing game.
Having more tight ends on the field — especially when they are positioned on the line to the same side – creates a longer pathway for defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn (if both players play) to work around. And when the tight ends flex out wide, they’ll have the matchup edge against a linebacker unit that has struggled in pass defense all year.
Think Protection First
Deploying heavier, tighter sets as opposed to more wide open formations is going to be important to keep the Rams from hitting the afterburners out of their stances. But it’ll also be important that Trestman uses those tight ends and his backs to chip and hit Quinn and Long as they turn the corner.
Specifically, there should be more use of delayed releases in which the backs and tight ends read the rush and leak out after they apply an initial hit. For instance, against the Jaguars, fullback Kyle Juszczyk was effective on a leak out play in which he faked a blitz pick up only to release into the flat. This type of play should continue to work against St. Louis.
Overall, the emphasis should be to use as many six, seven, and even eight-man protections to keep Flacco upright — even if that means having less receivers out on pass patterns.
Despite the injuries, the Rams line is fully capable of wrecking this game if they’re given the opportunity.
Keep Donald Running
Beyond the chips and delayed motion releases from the backfield, the offense should also feature a heavy dose of draws, delays, and misdirection runs to keep the St. Louis defense honest – especially against reigning Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald.
The second-year DT is an absolute terror as an inside rusher and run stuffer. He explodes off the snap and can get quick penetration to disrupt plays in the backfield.
Depending on the down and distance, Donald will alternate between playing the 3-technique over the left and right sides of the line. Which means guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele will need to give the illusion that they are pass blocking to bait Donald into running himself out of the play, setting up a delayed handoff through the gap he vacates.
He’s No Gurley-Man
In sports, when a star is born, it’s a special scene.
Upon his second start against the Cardinals – when he ripped apart one of the best run defenses in the league for 146 yards on the ground – Todd Gurley has put on a show. Since Week 4 he’s gained the second most yards from scrimmage. Possessing sprinter speed at 231 pounds, Gurley will remind Ravens fans of Jamal Lewis on Sunday. Like Lewis, if Gurley is given the chance to find a crease with a full head of steam, he can take any handoff to the house. That’s what he did against San Francisco on a 71-yard outburst.
(Photo credit: Ron Clements/Sporting News)
However, over the last two games, opposing defenses have been able to slow down Gurley just enough on the ground (he’s averaged roughly 3.7 yards per carry) by packing the box and maintaining their gap integrity.
The same script needs to be followed by Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
He needs to sell out to play the run on first and second down, blitz his safeties off the back side of the formation (just as they did with Kendrick Lewis last week to take away the cut back), and force Gurley to move laterally. Pees will also need to account for Gurley as a potential runner in third-and-long situations.
With the way nose guard Brandon Williams has been able to effectively clog the middle and force backs to bounce the ball outside, the formula is there between scheme and execution to keep the rookie sensation from breaking loose on a run that goes 40 yards or longer.
If Gurley is the No.1 priority, Tavon Austin is certainly a close second. The Baltimore native is finally having a breakout season and presents a tremendous open-field matchup problem for the Ravens.
The Rams move Austin all over the field. He’ll play in the slot. He’ll go in motion. He’ll be used on the jet sweep. He’ll be featured on bubble screens. The Rams do whatever they can to get the versatile receiver involved as either the primary target or as a dangerous decoy that can bait the defense into taking false steps.
Play recognition is going to be critical for neutralizing Austin. The defenders need to figure out when Austin is getting the ball and when he’s bluffing to set up another receiver down the field.
If they get caught over-pursuing to chase Austin, the Rams will be able to use scheme to open up their passing game.
Meet the Old Keenum, Same as the New Keenum
The Ravens faced Case Keenum last season in a forgettable game against the Houston Texans. The streaky QB was able to make enough plays, especially outside of the pocket, to keep the Houston offense on schedule. In particular, the backup QB was able to scramble for 19 yards on four rushes.
That may not seem like much, but for a Rams team that has been plagued by pass protection issues all season long, Keenum’s ability to escape the pocket could make all the difference. Especially when defenses are already keyed up by all of the misdirection Austin presents in combination with their zone running scheme.
If the Ravens can anticipate Keenum’s boot action and maintain their rush lanes, they should be okay.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Quinn has battled through hip and knee injuries this season, and there is some uncertainty surrounding his availability in this game. He was more disruptive at the beginning of the season when he was heathy. Still, if Quinn is active, he’ll give Monroe all he can handle. The dynamic rush end is one of the best at bending and using his hands to get around opposing tackles. Monroe can’t get caught over-setting in his stance, or Quinn will maneuver past him.