The mystique of the Ravens offense starts with Lamar Jackson. An electric playmaker at QB who can hurt defenses either running or throwing. But it doesn’t end there; the scheme implemented by Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman puts incredible amount of stress on defenses and weaponizes the threat of Jackson running the ball.
The Ravens are a “series” offensive team. This means that they have concepts in their run game that cross over to their quarterback options, and play-action passing game. Much like Jon Gruden, Greg Roman likes to dress up all these concepts with plenty of different formations, shifts, and motions—making it even tougher for the front seven to stay disciplined and read their keys.
Let’s take a look at the Ravens Bash Sweep series to illustrate exactly what is so tough for defenses to identify where to go.
The “bash sweep” is a wrinkle off the traditional zone-read play where the roles of the runners are flipped. Like the zone-read there is an inside run paired with an outside run. But the bash sweep calls for the running back to take the outside run while the QB has an option to keep the ball on the designed inside run.
Much of the Ravens option run game is pre-determined before the snap of the ball. Lamar Jackson will usually make his decision based on what he thinks the unblocked player will do and has been doing all game.
In the play above, the Ravens pair the bash sweep with a jet motion from the running back. Jackson knows the unblocked defensive end is taking the quarterback inside run, so he immediately hands the ball off to the running back. There are not enough players in pursuit and this play turns into an easy score. Why was it so easy though? Pay attention to the Middle Linebacker for Jacksonville, he is so pre-occupied with the threat of Lamar Jackson keeping the ball, he forgets that the defensive end is taking that option.
Defenders need to be on the same page or the results will be fatal.
Now we see why the linebacker in the previous clip was keying the quarterback run option. The deadliness of this play comes from the packaged concept of quarterback counter going away from the running back sweep.
The play above looks like the option wasn’t predetermined and Jackson read the path of the defensive end. When the end gets upfield to defend the sweep, Jackson decided to pull it and run the QB Counter.
This play is particularly tough to defend because not only do the linebackers need to key the quarterback run, but they need to figure out where to fit. The center and tackle pulling makes this a nasty concept to draw on the whiteboard and explain to all the defenders how all their gaps change. The Eagles fail to fit this correctly and give Jackson an inch, he’ll take a mile.
Bash Play Action
The Ravens don’t stop building their concepts off each other exclusively in the run game. They will pair the backfield action of their run concepts with a play-action pass, making the Linebacker wrong more often than not.
In the play above we have the same backfield action we have been examining in this article. The quarterback fakes the sweep however and instead of running the QB counter, Jackson hits this play-action pass for a big gain.
Linebackers can easily develop blinders when trying to stop the run game concepts from the Ravens. Who has dive? Who has quarterback? Who has pitch man? And then bam, the Ravens hit a play-action pass when they are least expecting it. The Ravens in fact passed the ball fewer times than any team in 2020, and when you get chunk gains of 10+ yard runs on the ground it makes sense.
The play-action passing game is such a deadly part of this offense and when paired with the same concepts that hurt a defense in the run game, it’s almost impossible to stop.
The Ravens may or may not lean heavily on the above bash sweep series, they have other concepts they build off as well (power read, zone read, arc read), so this article is simply to illustrate what makes their offense so difficult to stop. Cut off one head, and another will pop up.
The Raiders (like just about every team in the last three years) will get hit by a big chunk gain. The key is limiting those plays and all 11 defenders sticking to their assignment, being able to trust that the guy next to them will do their job. Easier said than done.