The full Battle Plan for week one is POSTED HERE, but we thought you might appreciate an abridged version. Here are the keys to the game (for anybody in a bit more of a rush…)
Persevere with the running game
Any Ravens offensive game plan this year will start with running the football.
The Raiders Defensive Line will be much changed from last year. Gus Bradley brings a 4-3 under front to Vegas.
This means a likely starting Defensive Line that includes the solid veteran Jonathan Hankins at 1-technique, Gerald McCoy, Quinton Jefferson or Solomon Thomas at 3 technique, some rotation of Cle Ferrell and Maxx Crosby at 4/5 technique, with Yannick Ngakoue likely at LEO position, which is the weak side Edge defender in Bradley’s scheme.
This line has the potential to be better as a run-stopping force, putting less square pegs in less round holes, leveraging defenders playing more of their natural position.
But, I said “potential “ to be better.
The Ravens Offense has the best running attack in the league, we know this. And last year the Raiders defense was one of the worst five in the league in defending the run. Not exactly unstoppable force meets immovable object, more unstoppable force meets razor-thin slice of Swiss cheese.
Run play-action and target the Backs early
Gus Bradley, of Seattle Seahawks Superbowl-winning Cover 3, trees-for-Cornerbacks defense, brings his brand of football to Sin City this year after three years as the Chargers DC.
To beat a Cover 3 defense you have to win the right to the middle of the field, where the Ravens used to thrive in the passing game and likely still will in 2021. It requires patience and adherence to a game plan which I believe should start with play-action and targeting the Running Backs early in the passing game.
The weaknesses of the Cover 3 defense are the flats and the seams. To be able to manipulate the underneath zone that sits in front of the 3 deep zone, you have to be patient and take what the defense gives you early, likely in the flats.
Bradley will run multiple coverages with checks and adjustments. It’s likely though, that the variations might not yet be fully installed and we may be facing a version of Bradley’s defense that is a little less complex and therefore easier to attack.
Win the space to throw across the middle of the field
Without sophisticated adjustments in coverage, play-action should get the Linebackers in the Middle/Hook zone biting on the play fake just enough, while throwing to the flats will get defenders in the Curl/Flat zone widening slightly more than they should be, opening up the fleshy under-belly to the Cover 3 defense – the seams.
The Raiders defense was actually very good against Tight Ends last season, top five in the league in terms of efficiency when defending Tight Ends, and were at their best when defending the middle of the field in pass coverage. But this is a different unit and the seams will be open if the Ravens run the ball well, run play-action and target the flats early. This leaves room for Mark Andrews to work.
If Lamar can hold the deep Safety with his eyes, after we’ve established the threat of the running game, throwing to flat, and working the seam – the deep post to Hollywood will be open.
Lamar Jackson has continued to struggle when faced with a heavy underneath zone and hasn’t faced a Gus Bradley defense since the playoff loss to the Chargers his rookie year. His development will be tested on Monday night.
Limit Darren Waller
No other Tight End had a greater share of their team’s targeted air yards last season and Waller led the Raiders receivers with 145 targets. While the Ravens were very good at stopping Wide Receiver corps’ last year, they were among the bottom third of teams in the league at stopping Tight Ends.
The Ravens don’t have a Tremaine Edmunds type physical specimen in their Linebacker room to matchup with Waller, in any case the Ravens rarely trail a player in coverage with a specific defensive back tailored to cover that particular weapon.
The plan should be:
- Get physical – no free release
- Waller runs a lot of Option routes so mix up looks in coverage and leave a surprise for him.
- Double team often. This one is obvious, but any kind of bracket or cone double team coverage should be deployed effectively as well as Robber technique from your safety.
- Get length on the field. The Raiders run him out of the bunch regularly and the Ravens need to get length into their banjo coverage so defenders can pass off responsibility for him.
- Don’t panic. They move Waller around to get him, and others, advantageous matchups. The Ravens could do with avoiding a Peters-Waller matchup but they should be comfortable with Humphrey on Waller and not panic when he is moved to face different defenders.
- Stay disciplined. Linebackers must stay disciplined in case Waller is running behind him into their
Give Derek Carr eye candy but don’t take any of his
Gruden utilizes heavy and creative pre-snap motion with often multiple players moving. The eye candy will be used several times over on one play, i.e. WR in motion, second TE fake to block, play fake to RB, come back to Waller on some kind of in-breaking route.
But the Ravens should make the Raiders dance to the beat of their drum, not the other way around. The Ravens are the masters of disguise themselves and should move in their mysterious ways to keep the Raiders and Carr off-balance.
This kind of disguise should help with another fundamental strength of the Raiders’ offense – the brilliant Ted Nguyen says that the Raiders offense is at its most difficult to stop when Carr is aggressive – the Ravens ability to disguise their defense has the potential to cause hesitation in the best quarterbacks in the league, so it could trouble Carr in this one.
Test the OL early and often
Tom Cable, the Raiders OL Coach, will have his work cut out to gel a brand new Offensive Line that includes holdovers Richie Incognito and Kolton Miller alongside trade acquisition Nick Martin at Center and surprising, at least to me, first round draft pick Alex Leatherwood. This line has some talent but it also has some developing to do and it takes time to assemble an Offensive Line that resembles a unit.
Don’t worry Raiders fans though, it’s an easy start to the season as you face… oh, wait, no, it’s really not. Wink Martindale and the experience returning in his scheme this year, will surely be too much for a new Raiders Offensive Line to handle, even with a veteran QB behind them doing the organizing.
I say, let the good times roll and let’s see some of our new defensive weapons, as well as our more experienced horses, feast on a Raiders Offensive Line that is ripe for a 2020-Bengals-like-beating.
Matchup to Watch
Kevin Zeitler vs Gerald McCoy
The aging veterans are both on new teams and will likely go head-to-head in this one if McCoy plays in the 3 technique spot as anticipated. McCoy is still a good penetrator and will test the Ravens first off-season addition.