Jackson’s Playmaking on Display vs. CLE Baltimore Ravens/Phil Hoffmann

Game Changers Jackson’s Playmaking on Display vs. CLE

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Game Changers ~ Week 17

There are plays in every football game that impact who wins and who loses. They can occur on offense, defense or special teams. Sometimes it’s a play everyone sees, like a long touchdown run or pass, a sack, or turnover. Other times it’s a play that goes unnoticed. It could be a key block on offense or a defender who doesn’t make the tackle himself but executes his assignment, allowing a teammate to make the play.

Lamar Jackson.

Yep, that’s it. Let’s dive into this week’s breakdowns.

Just kidding. Several players made game-changing contributions in the Ravens’ 26-24 win over the Browns last Sunday at “the Bank.” Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon both ran like men possessed. The OL played well against a formidable pass rush. Jimmy Smith had two picks. Anthony Levine Sr. had two key pass break-ups on the last defensive series and obviously, C.J. Mosley made the leaping INT on 4th & 10 to seal the win and punch the Ravens’ ticket to the postseason.

All of those players and units are deserving of attention but in the biggest game of the season, the rookie QB also made his share of big plays.

Jackson 25-yard TD Run

Q1, 4:25, 3rd & 4 at CLV25

On this 3rd down play, the Ravens called my second-favorite QB run concept: QB power read. First, we’ll take a look at the play design and rules, then we’ll look at the how the Ravens executed this concept.

Image and coaching points from www.firstdownplaybook.com

The diagram shows QB power read strong run from a shotgun 3×1 set. The read key is the play-side defensive end (M in the yellow triangle) who is left unblocked. The general rule for the offensive line is to block the same way they normally block the power run scheme. The play-side tackle and guard and the center each block down. The backside guard pulls and looks to block the first LB off the ball. The backside tackle hinges to block any defender off his edge (C gap).

The QB extends the ball to the RB who sprints across the QB’s face to the edge. If the DE widens with the RB, the QB pulls the ball and attacks the B gap (between RG & RT). If the DE squeezes down inside, the QB hands off to the RB. Now let’s look at the all-22 angle of the play in question:

One of the most interesting things to me about how the Browns defended this play is how fast the FS Damarious Randall (23) flows to the three-receiver side of the formation. He drives to that side as soon as the ball is snapped (even before the QB/RB mesh), vacating the middle of the field. I can only assume he was anticipating some sort of quick screen to one of the wide receivers.

From the end zone angle you can see how the running lane really opens up for Jackson inside. The read key, LB Jamie Collins (51), widens. MLB Joe Schobert (53) also widens in reaction to RB Ty Montgomery’s path, making LG James Hurst job off blocking him inside-out easier.

The backside LB on this play is actually SS Julius Peppers (22). He’s unblocked but hesitates to scrape play-side. I think that’s because of the threat of Jackson keeping the ball and running/booting out back-side (to Pepper’s right). With Randall, Collins & Schobert all flowing outside and Peppers’ momentary hesitation, Jackson is able to hit it downhill and score from 25 yards out.

There’s a coaching cliche that a good fake is worth two blocks, and that was evident on this play.

Jackson 8-Yard TD Run

Q2, 15:00, 1st & 8 at CLV8

I wrote above that QB power read is my second favorite QB run concept. The concept the Ravens used on Jackson’s second TD run is my favorite. It goes by different names. You could simply call it QB counter but my favorite name for it is QB counter BAsh.

The first time I remember the Ravens running this concept with Jackson was in the Week 7 game against the Saints. The “BA” in BAsh stands for “Back Away.” To my knowledge the “sh” doesn’t stand for anything. It just allows you to use the word “bash” for a cool run concept. On BAsh, the read key is the backside DE. If the DE squeezes down, the QB will give the ball to the RB. If DE widens with the RB, the QB will keep the ball, follow his pullers and run the counter path.

Let’s jump to the end zone angle to see how the Ravens executed this concept.

At the snap, RB Ty Montgomery sprints across Jackson’s face towards the edge; similar to his path on the QB power read concept. But the difference with BAsh is that the RB is moving in the opposite direction of the pulling offensive linemen. It gives the defense the look that the  play-side is the side the RB is running towards but it’s actually the side the linemen are pulling to. Jackson is reading the backside DE (LB Collins) and when he widens, Jackson keeps the ball and looks to run the counter path.

LT Ronnie Stanley and LG James Hurst pull from left to right as they would in a traditional counter trey run concept. Hurst kicks out the play-side DE Myle Garrett (95). Stanley works inside Hurst and looks to block the first LB off the ball. Here that’s Peppers (22), who’s at LB again. Jackson gets in tandem with the 2nd puller (Stanley) and attacks the B gap downhill for an 8 yd score.

TE Mark Andrews gets a key block towards the end of the play, walling off FS Randall. Andrews is sometimes criticized for his blocking at the point of attack but I think both he and fellow rookie TE Hayden Hurst excel at these types of position blocks in space vs quicker DBs.

32-Yard Pass to Hayden Hurst

Q4, 13:40, 1st & 10 at BLT17

In addition to the plays he made with his legs, Jackson also did some nice things from the pocket in this game. At this point in the game, the Ravens are up six points but they don’t get conservative deep in their own territory.

They come out with 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) and are in a shotgun 3×1 set. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think this is an RPO (run-pass option). I think this is designed play-action. The Browns appear to be in a split field zone coverage.

All three receivers on the right side of the formation appear to be running slants while Michael Crabtree is releasing vertically outside the numbers on the left. Both the MLB Shobert and the OLB Genard Avery (55) react up to the run fake to Gus Edwards. This opens a void in the middle of the field and Jackson hits Hurst in stride. I want to show you from the end zone angle why I like this throw.

It isn’t a long or tight-window throw but there is some level of difficulty here because Jackson has pressure in his face. DT Larry Ogunjobi attacks C Matt Skura’s back-shoulder and gets a hand in Jackson’s face just as he releases the ball. Jackson doesn’t drop his eyes and look to scramble, but instead stands in there and delivers an accurate ball even though he’s not able to completely step into the throw or finish his follow through.

The other encouraging thing on this play was Hurst’s run after catch. He absorbed a hit from the side by FS Randall (and a glancing blow from Peppers), maintained his balance and rumbled from 15+ more yards. Hurst has been criticized for his lack of production but he’s a natural hands-catcher and has been coming on lately.

13-yard Pass to Mark Andrews

Q4, 10:03, 2nd & 9 at CLV23

I really liked the play design here on 2nd & 9. The Ravens line up in 13 personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs) with all three TEs in tight on the left-side of the formation and WR John Brown on the right. This is a pre-snap run look for the Browns’ defense.

At the snap, RT Orlando Brown Jr. and RG Marshal Yanda pull from right to left, showing a counter trey run with Dixon in the backfield. The Ravens ran this concept with Dixon in the game several times. But this isn’t a run play, it’s a play-action counter boot concept.

Despite the play fake, the Browns are in decent position to defend this play because they blitz RCB Travis Carrie (38) to the side of Jackson’s boot action. But this is where a special athlete like Jackson can beat even a perfect defensive call.

Jackson sees Carrie as he gets his head around after the run fake. He subtly drifts backwards, inviting Carrie upfield, then accelerates outside and away from him. With Jackson’s speed, he probably could’ve tucked the ball a gained positive yards along the right sideline before getting out of bounds. But Jackson keeps his eyes downfield and makes an accurate throw on the run to TE Andrews running a deep over route.

There’s a lot of good on this play but I want to highlight two things:

  1. Earlier in the season, I believe Jackson would’ve tried to immediately beat a defender in Carrie’s position outside. The small difference on this play was that he was patient, invited Carrie upfield nearer to him, then used his ability to accelerate to get outside into open space. The ability to change speeds is an underrated part of understanding how to be elusive.
  2. Did you catch how the Browns’ defensive line stemmed into tighter alignments just before the snap? They used this approach several times in the 4th quarter. The Ravens had a good call on to counter it on this play. But later in the game, that late line stemming did stop some of the Ravens’ inside runs. I think this is a defensive tactic worth keeping an eye on as the Ravens move into the playoffs.

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