Fresh off a Monday night win against the Houston Texans, the Baltimore Ravens are well-positioned at (6-5) to make a push for a Wild Card spot.
If the Ravens sneak into the playoffs as the sixth seed, it is safe to say at this point, though, that it will be in spite of the offensive play. Sure, the Ravens scored 23 points against the Texans, but the offense frankly looked lethargic yet again, and quarterback Joe Flacco continued to underwhelm.
With that said, one player on offense who can help counteract the dismal play down the stretch is now-healthy running back Danny Woodhead. In two games since returning from a hamstring injury, the veteran running back has nine catches for 44 yards and five carries for 24 yards.
His overall offensive workload has been modest, but with the play of fellow running backs Alex Collins and Buck Allen, it is not necessary to overuse the oft-injured Woodhead. In moderation, though, the offseason free-agent addition has impressed, and has become one of Flacco’s favorite options.
Flacco has inexcusably checked down all season, but the exception with Woodhead is that he has the speed and agility to do something with the ball in his hands after the catch, unlike tight end Ben Watson.
Woodhead’s receiving ability out of the backfield has added a new dimension to Baltimore’s offense, and he is the one offensive player who warrants dump-off passes from Flacco given his explosive play.
Let’s take a look at how Woodhead has been able to make an impact in the passing game.
In his first game back against the Green Bay Packers, Woodhead showed his quickness out of the backfield.
Lining up next to Flacco, Woodhead runs a route right off the shoulder of the Packers pass rusher, giving him an inside line toward the open middle of the field.
For Flacco, this is an easy pitch-and-catch with Woodhead for a high-percentage throw.
Having such a quick and agile asset as a receiving option at running back gives the Ravens an offensive dynamic they have not had since Ray Rice. Flacco regularly targeted Rice on quick-hitting throws such as the play above, and allowed his speedy running back to do damage after the catch.
Against the Texans, the Ravens utilized Woodhead as an underneath option with the wide receivers running deep downfield.
Here, most of the play is happening 10+yards down the field, however Woodhead is readying to slip out into the middle.
As the play develops deep, the middle of the Texans defense tracks backwards, opening up the entire middle of the field for Woodhead.
As noted earlier, Flacco has been quite frankly frustratingly poor this season when it comes to checking down to an underneath receiver instead of attacking the play further down the field. However, Woodhead is the one exception on offense in terms of it being OK to check down underneath.
By the time Flacco opts to throw to Woodhead, the middle of the field is wide open and the running back has an easy play for a double-digit gain.
Woodhead is again working with a completely open middle of the field, making for an easy throw for Flacco.
The running back hauls in the catch, turns upfield, and speeds through the gap between two defenders for another double-digit yardage gain.
If Flacco is going to continue to check down on passing plays for the remainder of the season, at least now having Woodhead in the mix gives Flacco a dynamic option to throw to.
Between his two full games in November and his three-catch opening drive in Cincinnati prior to his Week-1 injury, Woodhead has more than proved to be one of Baltimore’s most valuable assets in the passing game.
Continuing to get the ball in Woodhead’s hands in the passing game will net Flacco more high-percentage throws, and given Woodhead’s ability after the catch, should keep the offense on the field longer than dump-off throws to tight ends.
As long as Woodhead can stay healthy down the stretch, he promises to be a key factor in Baltimore’s push for the playoffs.