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Keys to Victory on Sunday Night Football

Lamar Jackson touchdown Browns
Cooper Neil/Baltimore Ravens
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This is the short version of Battle Plans. For the full version, click here.

Defensive Keys

Stopping Chubb, the Wide Zone Grand Master

Kevin Stefanski has put together a rushing offense so potent, it should strike fear into even the hardiest of run defenses. The Ravens are amongst the best in the league at stopping the run, albeit hindered by key injuries, and even they have their hands full in stopping Stefanski and his Wide Zone (also known as Outside Zone) offense this week on Sunday Night Football.

Nick Chubb, for me, is literally the best in the business at running int he Wide Zone. There are many backs who run this scheme efficiently, but Chubb is like a chess player running the scheme. Chubb doesn’t just select the best hole for the line of scrimmage and the first few yards of the run play. He regularly has the vision to see how blocks will develop at the second level and how defenders will react, leading to him breaking off a ten-yard run, getting yardage in big chunks.

The Ravens defense though, through playing as a unit, is well built to stop the Wide Zone offense and has done so over the years and throughout this season. They will have to play at a high level to do so this week but the real test is on the edge, as the scheme is predicated on that lateral movement already mentioned.

There isn’t much you can scheme up to stop Wide Zone; most of it will come down to execution.

In short, the Ravens need to play good fundamental defense against this Browns rushing attack to stop it.

Keep Njoku and Peoples-Jones quiet

While the Browns boast the number one rushing offense in the league, the passing offense has been less than stellar.

They have been trying to push the ball down the field with an intended air yards of 8.7 yards per attempt, good for 4th in the NFL. They haven’t been especially effective at it but when they are it’s been using David Njoku up the seam and targeting Donovan Peoples-Jones a healthy amount. Unfortunately, relying on those two guys can be a recipe for disaster as they are inconsistent.

The Ravens should roll coverage to Peoples-Jones. I know this seems excessive for a receiver who hasn’t yet been a breakout star, but he’s shown flashes and he has been effective with the passes that have gone his way. If the Browns can get him going, then they can get their passing game going, so I’d mix in some bracket coverage for him early.

They should also consider working one safety in a robber technique to take away Njoku’s most dangerous routes – he can be tough to stop on deep crossers and digs when he comes across the formation. And he’s the Browns’ most dangerous runner to the Ravens once the ball is in his hands given some of the tackling issues in the secondary – he has speed and power.

Keeping the ball out of his hands in the first place is worth devoting some resource to.

Pressure with four, play man coverage behind

The Defensive Keys this week are dominated by stopping the Browns rushing attack. This is because they are number one in the league at running the football and most of the Ravens attention needs to be focused there this week. But, I’m adding a third key to success and the second for taking away the pass because the Ravens should have some success against this Offensive Line when rushing the passer.

While the Browns Offensive Line is very good, it hasn’t been as good in pass protection as in previous years.

They haven’t been blitzed all that much but still rank 30th in both sacks allowed and adjusted sack rate. They actually give up fewer pressures than you would expect for a team that gives up so many sacks but they can be got at. This might be a week for reigning in the blitz somewhat, because it’s the right thing to do against an offense that can struggle to keep Mayfield upright without facing too many pressure packages. It also allows the Ravens to keep more players out in coverage.

Man coverage behind the pressure is also the right way forward, as Mayfield carves up heavier zone coverage and the Ravens defensive backs should match up well against these receivers.

Offensive Keys

Garrett, the wrecking ball

Myles Garrett he leads the league in sacks with 13.0 already and leads the league in pressures. He is as dominant as they come off the edge and you literally cannot block him one-on-one at all on obvious passing downs.

Alejandro Villanueva has been the opposite of what he was in Pittsburgh (someone you can rely on in the run game but decidedly suspect in pass protection). As a result, you cannot simply put him out there on an island and hope for the best. This is not a best-on-best situation, so it’s imperative that the Ravens give Villanueva some help.

They can do this by…

  1. Limit the amount of vertical sets Villanueva takes.
  2. Give Villanueva help when facing Garrett off the edge in a variety of ways.

Garrett is often lined up inside so it won’t always be Villanueva that faces off against him. The Browns have been pretty good scheming up pressure when Garrett is lining up inside to give him one-on-one opportunities against bigger interior Offensive Linemen who he can also over-power while having a significant athletic advantage over them.

The Ravens cannot allow one-on-one matchups inside for Garrett. I would adjust the slide protection calls to account for Garrett when he’s lined up inside.

Chameleon Coverage

The Browns also mix up their coverage at high rate and from the film, it looks as though it’s almost even across Middle of Field Open and Middle of the Field Closed coverages. . This means the Ravens are limited in what they can do to prepare a game plan and need to be ready to have their QB and WRs effectively read coverages and adjust.

The option routes for Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown and even now Rashod Bateman who looks to already be processing at a high level, need to be at the forefront of the game plan this week. You never are able to tell too well how much these are used week-to-week but the Ravens could have benefited from more of them in the Bengals game.

The receiver and the quarterback have to be on the same page of course for these routes to work and the Ravens have been better at that this season than any other so perhaps this is the game when that truly comes to the fore.

Matchup of the Week

Wyatt Teller vs Brandon Williams (or Justin Ellis)

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