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Things to Change (And Keep the Same) to Sweep Cleveland

Baker Mayfield Chuck Clark Odafe Oweh Browns
Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens
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Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Divisional opponents keep coming this week with the second Browns matchup in three weeks. As I’ve already ventured a suggestion for a game plan to take them down here for Week 12’s clash, I thought I’d try something different this week with Battle Plans. This one will be shorter and will include some things the Ravens should start doing, some things they should stop doing and some things they should continue doing, based on a film review of the Browns game from two weeks ago.

Here goes…

Defense

Things to Continue

This is an easy one on defense – continue to stop the impressive Browns running game. But it’s worth breaking down what went well as the Ravens severely restricted Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt. There’s a lot to be said for the Ravens approach of asking their line of scrimmage defenders to play the run first before converting to the pass if it shows itself. This approach naturally works against some teams and the Browns are certainly one of those teams.

We know the Ravens’ 2-gap approach to defending the run and how they work together as an unselfish unit. What jumps out on film from this game though, is how well the component parts of the unit played. Firstly, Patrick Queen was effectively keying on the Browns’ pre-snap motion as well as generally trusting his eyes and shooting the gap all night long. He was a terror in the backfield as well as taking on lead blockers. Kristian Welch played some snaps in this one too; he and Josh Bynes played well, but Queen was the star of the show and will need to have another good game this Sunday.

The Defensive Line too played well in this one (and minus Calais Campbell don’t forget). Brandon Williams was back much closer to his best, dominating the point of attack, occupying double teams, while Broderick Washington worked hard to beat reach blocks, which are a feature of the Outside Zone scheme and had a good game himself. Justin Madubuike, who earlier in the season was too reliant on his get-off and burst to defeat Offensive Linemen, is a more complete player now and this game featured multiple examples of him using his hands well and, crucially, locking his arms out to gain leverage at the point of attack. And this was against elite competition in terms of interior Offensive Linemen.

The final key personnel-wise, was one I alluded to in my original Battle Plans piece: back-side discipline – Odafe Oweh showed his speed and disciplined run defense when facing the cutback from Chubb on the bend on that Outside Zone play, while there was pretty consistent edge-setting from all Raven edge defenders.

The Ravens must continue to have all of the component parts of their run defense show up on Sunday in the same way.

From a coverage perspective, some things that I liked and would like to see again include bracketing David Njoku. The Ravens did this a lot when he was downfield as he was a handful for Brandon Stephens 1-on-1. In my original Battle Plans, I suggested the Ravens might take this approach given the lack of other receiving threats from the Browns and it worked well two weeks ago. Njoku is on the Covid list currently, but he may make it off by game time a la T.J. Watt, with two negative tests.

In general, the Ravens need to continue to defend the Tight Ends well. Queen was good in coverage as well as against the run, reading Tight Ends and getting out into the flats to cover them effectively. The Ravens were also careful of Hunt coming out of the backfield on 3rd down and had some rules around bailing out of a pass rush to cover Hunt if you were across from him and he released into a route instead of staying in to block.

Things to Start

I believe this is an interesting format for Battle Plans when the Ravens take on a divisional opponent for a second time because we get to take a look back at what the Ravens did do strategically to take down an opponent, therefore giving you a better indication of what they might do on Sunday. But I can’t get away without suggesting any new ideas for their approach. The one for the defense this week centers around coverage.

The Ravens were excellent in man coverage against the Browns two weeks ago. The Browns don’t have a lot of dangerous receiving threats and therefore the man coverage the Ravens run this week won’t be against the greatest competition. It’s probably a gentle introduction to life without Marlon Humphrey for this secondary. But, because there is no Humphrey the Ravens may run some more zone coverage. If they do this, they must look for Jarvis Landry especially on intermediate routes where his route is layered in between zones.

The Browns were particularly good at getting him open close to a Donovan Peoples-Jones route, and particularly to take advantage of the Ravens’ match principles, flooding the zone. Peoples-Jones was the other Browns receiver, next to Njoku, that the Ravens gave some respect to.

Things to Stop

There is also one thing the Ravens should stop doing and that’s giving no respect to Baker Mayfield. I would take allowing some more yardage against the run to show a little more respect to the Browns passing game. They got away with it two weeks ago as Mayfield really struggled, missing some glaringly obvious guaranteed completions. The main thing he missed was when the play design had created a situation for serious YAC, giving way instead to a deeper downfield throw looking to gain the yards through the air.

While I’ve mentioned that the Ravens defended the stable of Tight Ends well in coverage, there were occasions where the Tight End successfully leaked out open when Baker was on naked bootlegs and he completely missed them. He might continue to miss those opportunities but I’m betting he won’t be as bad as he was two weeks ago.

Offense

Things to Continue

This section is going to be a lot shorter than the corresponding section for the Defense, considering the Ravens could not do much right on Offense in the game two weeks ago.

One of the keys I did mention in the original Battle Plan for this game was stopping Myles Garrett, and the Ravens did a pretty good job of keeping him quiet, albeit with one sack and a couple of hits on the Quarterback to his name – that’s relatively quiet for Garrett.

He can be a menacing run defender and the Ravens did an excellent job isolating him in their running game. Instead of running straight at him to slow him down as a pass rusher, they used his aggressiveness and propensity to crash down towards the Running Back against him. They used misdirection to attract him, like a moth to a flame, towards destroying Devonta Freeman on an interior run while Lamar actually kept the ball and had plenty of room off-tackle.

In pass protection, there was a pretty effective combination of Alejandro Villanueva actually holding up pretty well against him and leaving him unblocked for Lamar to account for. Villanueva’s best pass rush-negating move is his snatch-and-trap, which he will use effectively against pass-rushers who over-balance. He can’t use this move consistently against Garrett but one of the reasons why this move is effective for Villanueva is that he has good hand timing. He deployed this really well against elite competition two weeks ago, managing to time up his hands with Garrett’s, something he may have picked up from playing in the division for so long, therefore against Garrett so often. He may need to watch for a ghost hand move this Sunday though; if Garrett has watched the tape back, I think he would be lining that up for this week.

They left Garrett one-on-one with Villanueva a surprising number of times and just sped up Jackson’s clock – something they might want to adjust slightly as Villanueva still had plenty of reps where Garrett took advantage of his massive Achilles’ heel: his height and corresponding lack of leverage. One thing they could continue doing that they did on occasion was leave the back on Garrett’s side of the formation more often, something they did sparingly. The back wasn’t always chipping Garrett but he had to adjust his plan to take account of the potential double team, and it often put him on an arc that Villanueva could better deal with.

Things to Start

I’d like to see the Ravens take advantage of some of the Browns over-aggressiveness on defense. Firstly, with respect to the Linebackers who were extremely quick to key on the Quarterback running game, always looking for it and quickly abandoning some assignments to get north and south towards Lamar. I think some subtle movements/head fakes from Lamar like dropping back and momentarily faking a QB draw to try and freeze those Linebackers for even a split second might have a big effect, not just on the passing game in behind those guys but also in keeping them honest when he does run the ball.

In fact, manipulating the defense with moves like this when he runs is something I’d like to see him do more of, converting to a throw before he gets to the line of scrimmage when he does get on the move, and then pump-faking when he is on the move after this, could really start to keep defenders, who are way more scared of his legs than his arm, honest.

One thing that is blindingly obvious from a film review of the Browns game or, frankly any other Ravens game from recent weeks, is the lack of respect shown to the Ravens deep passing game. The early days of this season with the heady ADOT (average depth of target) numbers are long gone. One of the reasons why a heavy blitz game plan has worked in recent weeks has been the zero fear that opponents have when accounting for the Ravens’ downfield threat.

Many teams are in fact not consistently running Cover 0 behind their heavy pressure packages but running Cover 1, only, the Safety feels free to come up on those shallow crossing routes that would otherwise work against Cover 0 and not respect Lamar’s ability to connect on anything deeper. The Ravens need to start hitting the deep shot, not necessarily on third down against those heavy pressure packages but at least on early downs to make those safeties think twice about so readily supporting on underneath routes when they’re playing behind a heavy blitz package.

Things to Stop

Missing receivers open on timing routes.

This is really clear when you watch the film; Lamar Jackson is not at his best currently and he’s missing wide open receivers who aren’t open for long, but they are open, on timing routes. This is when Lamar needs to hit his back foot and release the ball to a breaking receiver before they’re open. Lamar was much better on anticipatory throws like this earlier in the season, but he’s moved closer to earlier-career Lamar, see-it-throw-it type passes.

It’s been written about a lot, but Rashod Bateman is the one getting open on these routes a lot. The Browns gave him a decent amount of respect and Bateman was taking advantage of it with significant amounts of separation on comeback routes and when he found holes in the zone. The Ravens did keep many guys in to protect at times and the Browns only rushed four. When Lamar sees this happen, the ball has to come out quick and on-time otherwise his sight will be flooded with Browns defenders and very few Ravens.

A couple of other smaller notes: I’d put away the Devin Duvernay running game this week, as Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney are too smart, too athletic and too disciplined to let that hurt them too much, and they were ready for it and negated it pretty well.

I also think the Ravens need to better understand their limitations when blocking Jeremiah Owusu Koromoah in the running game. His processing, lateral mobility and explosion make him close to unblockable in space for the Ravens’ usual second level blockers like Pat Ricard and Nick Boyle. I’d use a Wide Receiver on him, understanding that he won’t have the power to keep him blocked but might be able to match the athleticism and at least get in his way more effectively. The Ravens were letting him run free and make plays all night.

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