Keys to Victory Across The Pond
1. Influence the Backers
It’s amazing how much of a difference a dependable running game can make. By establishing an effective ground attack against Cincinnati, the week before, the Ravens had a natural opportunity to expand their play-action passing game on early downs against Cleveland. Against the Browns, the Ravens designed hard run-action plays on early downs in which the backs and the line sold the stretch run. With stretch-run fakes, bootlegs and rollouts to the strong side, the Cleveland linebackers were lured into moving to the play-side, away from the boot action.
Last week, the Titans showed the Jaguars base and heavy formations, and executed their own variations of play-fakes and misdirection to get the linebackers to overcommit to the run. On a deep sideline completion to rookie Taywan Taylor, Marcus Mariota’s play-fake forced the Jaguars backers and safeties to suck up. Although Taylor was the target on the play, tight end Delanie Walker ran free over the middle and could have easily been targeted.
Similarly, tight end Ben Watson was also a benefactor on a wide-open opportunity against the Browns from a three-tight, play-action play in which the Cleveland front seven came too far upfield.
This is a talented and fast group of Jacksonville linebackers, led my Myles Jack. But as Tennessee showed, the right type of window dressing can get them to hesitate and take false steps forward. The early-down play-action philosophy needs to be a big part of the game plan against the Jaguars, along with a healthy dose of post-snap misdirection (jet sweep fakes, toss sweep fakes) to get the backers chasing in the wrong direction.
2. Pick Plays and Interference Routes Over the Middle
Again, if the Ravens are going to win in the passing game, it’s going to be over the middle of the field against the Jacksonville backers and safeties. The cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye will be tougher to deal with on the outside. Of course, the situation could change if Ramsey is out this weekend (he has been very limited in practice all week due to an ankle injury).
Still, the Ravens haven’t really tested coverage outside the numbers this season. Virtually all of Joe Flacco’s targets have traveled to the middle of the field. The Browns tried to counter those quick-hitting inside routes by positioning Jamie Collins at a shallower depth to take away crossers underneath. The results were mixed, as Watson got loose behind him, and also took advantage of the few times Collins bit on the play-fake. Watson could have another prime opportunity if he’s matched up against Jack. Jack struggled in coverage against Walker last week. And Jack has also shown that he is less effective when he must sift through contact when he’s trailing a receiver one-on-one.
If the Jaguars continue to play man coverage in this game, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg should counter by designing pick plays and rub routes to force the Jacksonville defenders to work through the trash on horizontal routes. Watson was able to get free working from some clear-out route combinations, and that formula should work well again not only for the veteran tight end, but also tailback Buck Allen, and slot receivers Jeremy Maclin and Michael Campanaro.
3. Handle the Blitz and Stay Quick
Last week, much of Battle Plans focused on how the Ravens need to have an answer against the Cleveland pass rush, especially in third-and-obvious scenarios. True to form, the Browns presented some well-designed stunts and loops with their inside backers that got the best of the Baltimore interior pass protection.
However, the net result of those plays wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been because Flacco played a smart game. He got rid of the ball when he was rushed. In fact, it won’t show up in the stat sheet, but much of the Ravens’ offensive efficiency on Sunday can be attributed to Flacco’s ability to move around and throw the ball out of bounds when he was in trouble. Last season, he might have taken those sacks.
With a renewed focus on getting the ball out quick and in rhythm, the timing couldn’t be any better against a Jacksonville defensive front that can get after it. This is a group that doesn’t need to blitz to pressure the QB, but against the Texans, they blitzed on 34.5 percent of their plays. They blitzed less against Mariota (29 percent) so they wouldn’t compromise their rush lanes, but they were only able to generate one sack.
Against a Baltimore front minus Marshall Yanda, expect the blitz to be a bigger piece of the game plan. To this point, Flacco has been outstanding against the blitz. He’s come to the line with plenty of time to make pre-snap adjustments after the rush has been declared. After the snap, he’s made the right reads and kept the offense on schedule. Flacco needs to win another chess match against the Jacksonville rush on Sunday.
1. Eight Man Front
By necessity, the Jaguars have turned into a run-first team – actually, let me rephrase, a “run-all-the-time” team. That’s what you have to do to mask Blake Bortles.
Against Houston, that formula worked just fine, as rookie tailback Leonard Fournette was terrific in his debut. He ran with power, he ran with great pad level. He wore out one of the best defensive fronts in the game. However, the story was vastly different against the Titans. Fournette gained 40 yards. He was a victim of a three-turnover circumstance.
The Titans showed loaded boxes all game and dared Bortles to beat them. Bortles instead beat the Jaguars.
The Ravens don’t consistently use their safeties to crowd the box on early downs. But they will run some deceptive run blitzes. The sample size is small, but safety Tony Jefferson was more active as a run blitzer against the Bengals. Considering the Browns operated primarily from the gun, he wasn’t as involved in that role last week.
Jefferson should be an active box defender all game long against the Jaguars. He needs to be the crash defender to provide extra support in the C gaps to take away Fournette’s perimeter cutback opportunities. Keep Jefferson in a float position to defend the run, play Cover One on the back end, and let your corners play man coverage.
2. Pre-Snap Safety Movement
As much as Jefferson should be the primary extra defender to provide run support, safety Eric Weddle should also be in the mix to at least provide the illusion of a run blitz. Weddle’s central role, though, should be as the centerfielder.
Against the Browns, both safeties moved around before the snap. Weddle in particular would flash in the box before the snap, only to back out and sprint to his deep coverage landmark right as the ball is snapped. The pre-snap movement kept DeShone Kizer guessing on the coverage type, creating uncertainty between Cover One, Cover Two and Cover Three.
Pre-snap safety movement is not only an effective strategy to better disguise the run blitz action, but it could also influence Bortles to check out of the run and create the same level of post-snap uncertainty that Kizer faced.
3. Force More Downfield Throws
It was interesting to see defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ approach against Kizer and the Cleveland passing game. He elected to use more four-man pressures, limit the pre-snap movement, and place the emphasis on taking away the big play. Despite this plan of attack, the Browns generated seven plays covering 20 yards or more. However, the defense was able to generate four picks from Kizer and Kevin Hogan.
All bets are off against Bortles this Sunday. Pees should bring more fire zone pressures, and mix in some delayed safety blitzes to force the beleaguered QB and a suspect offensive line to handle the heat. The Ravens corners are equipped to handle the Jacksonville receivers without safety help over-the-top. Plus, Bortles just doesn’t have the touch or timing right now to hit the sideline routes.
It makes sense to take away the inside passing lanes and force Bortles to work the ball downfield, outside the numbers, where the three-man rotation of Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Marlon Humphrey has been so good.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
If I were to tell you Howard was the Ravens’ best offensive lineman through the first two games (Marshal Yanda will always be the team’s best, but we’re just talking about production), there’s no way you’d buy that. But he’s been awfully impressive, and not just in the run game. Howard has more than held his own in pass pro situations without extra blocking help. He’ll need to continue playing at a high level against the Campbell wrecking ball. The Jags move Campbell all over the line, so he won’t face Howard exclusively. They’ll lock horns plenty of times though. Howard will need to be able to handle Campbell’s bull rush and swim move.