The Drive That Was Great…Until It Wasn’t


Welcome to Tale of the Tape! There was a lot of talk about the second half of the Dolphins game, so I want to go back a bit further and focus on the Ravens’ first offensive push of the game.

But there’s no better way to start than on the first play of the game, a 103-yard kickoff return from Devin Duvernay. What a great way to start the season at home, and it’s just a beauty of a Duvernay run that’s put together by some great special teams work.

It starts with positioning. The Ravens place five players to the left of Duvernay and three to his right, with Judge Hill and Patrick Ricard joining the numbers advantage on the left. Each player knows where they are supposed to be in relation to Duvernay’s return path. Watch Kyle Hamilton force his man to Duvernay’s right to keep the middle free, then watch Malik Harrison and Tylan Wallace ghost their initial blocks to be Duvernay’s escorts further upfield. Sacred start.

After a Marcus Williams interception, the Ravens got the ball back at their own 20. They ran six plays for two 1st downs and about 30 yards, setting up that 1-and-10, the player’s seventh play.

The Ravens come out on 13 personnel (I’ll count Ricard as a TE) with the Dolphins defense showing pressure. Baltimore keeps eight to protect Lamar, and Rashod Bateman gets to work on Xavien Howard: inside release, outside crossover, breaks for the sideline, then brakes for maximum separation.

It’s one of the best men’s coverage corners in the game, and Bateman breaks it down methodically. He also does something that I like about a lot of YAC’s best acquirers: he sets his feet up to explode after catching the ball. He doesn’t have as much room to work with here, but the consistency of his technique from rep to rep is impressive.

On the next play, the Ravens rushed into the B gap with no gain. Morgan Moses misses her block, so Patrick Ricard can’t quite seal his, and that’s all she wrote. It’s a shame too, because he’s a very good blocking representative of Josh Oliver.

I don’t hate the play appeal on 2nd and 1, partly because it’s a well-designed game overall. Oliver getting inside his man was supposed to pave the way for Mark Andrews to move up to the second tier. Getting those tight ends (and Ricard) to the second tier has been a key part of the Ravens’ running game at its best, breaking up chunk plays in the secondary.

But then, going out in an even heavier formation (2 TE, Ricard and Daniel Faalele in 6th OL) for another run down the middle in a stacked box is confusing to say the least.

Not only does the defense get a power play when Jackson hands over the ball, every defender is already in the box! I really want to see Greg Roman go back to passing heavy formations and running out of scattered formations, instead of sending the RB straight into the heart of defence.

And then Roman opens his safe, with a TE sneak that puts the ball in the hands of his second best offensive player.

I don’t know if the Ravens will be able to pull it off again, but it’s frustrating proof that Roman has different levers to push in these short-range scenarios. He just needs to pick the right ones, ideally faster.

After a late game, the Ravens send an RPO bubble to Isaiah Likely at 1-15. Not bad, but not great when it comes to making up yards and the ball carrier starts with the ball behind LOS.

Intriguing runners like Duvernay and Likely in open space is another new wrinkle I look for in Roman’s offense. Bateman is great at getting that separation for himself, but the other setters will need a little help.

After a few more plays and another first down, the Ravens again fail to run what looks like an inside zone play.

Drake’s jump cuts work best when he has blocks to read, but in that case he needs to hit the holeshot hard and get on the field right away. I’m encouraged by the zone concept that allows Linderbaum to go in search of a second-tier defender to, finally, level.

On the next game, Jackson finds a way and scrambles for a first try on a bootleg.

Keeping the ball in the hands of your best player seems like a pretty easy path to victory. I would love to see play calls like this in short range situations – give Jackson some space and let him go to work.

Drake is too hesitant on the next game – a 1st and a goal – and is bailed out by a Dolphins penalty.

I was very impressed with Jackson’s pre-snap command of the offense, but that was once I screamed for an audible to pass. Give your fastest receiver and best road runner a chance to play!

Roman remains predictable in goal, and the offense is paying the price…

…two times in a row.

You could be forgiven for thinking it’s the same clip twice in a row, and it certainly sounds like the same playcall. These games have worked in the past, but they are just too predictable! There are so many better ways to do it – one would be to run a game action with Jackson that goes well and probably leaks past him. The rookie TE can block or find a free spot in the end zone, and either way, it’s a TD!

It wasn’t until 3rd and 1st that Roman switched to QB power, the Ravens’ most reliable short-range play in Jackson’s day.

But because he sent three tight ends and a sixth offensive lineman, LOS is too crowded for Jackson to find space. Again, lacking a more dispersed formation here would give Jackson more room to maneuver and find the end zone.

And that brings us to 4th and goal, the final drive of a 74-yard, 11-minute drive that showcased the best and worst this offense has to offer.

A failed shot isn’t great, but I’m not worried long term because Linderbaum and Jackson’s chemistry will continue to improve. Part of the problem with sustaining long runs is that your attack is more likely to make a mistake!

Here are some of my latest takeaways from this player and the Dolphins game as a whole:

I think Roman needs to go back to what made early iterations of this offense so successful: passing heavy formations and running out of light formations. Get mismatches for your athletic tight ends against slower passing linebackers, and expand the defense to give Jackson and the RBs more room to work the field.

All in all, I firmly believe it’s time for the Ravens to embrace a much happier offense. Lamar Jackson became this guy passing the ball – as Spencer Schultz wonderfully explained – and it’s a mistake not to lean into that, especially when most defenses are expecting a heavy game plan.

The running game has its place, but I increasingly doubt that it should be the calling card of this offense, especially the transfer to substitute RBs. Put the ball in Jackson’s hands and let him use his arms and legs to keep the offense going. He also has excellent command of offense now, so he should be fully empowered to break through opposing defenses as he sees fit. More often than not that will be through the air, especially with the continued breakout of Rashod Bateman to provide another elite passer with Mark Andrews. Don’t look now, but if the Ravens commit to their aerial attack, they’ve got everything they need to be among the best passing attacks in the league – and that will also help reinvigorate their rushing offense.

There’s huge potential for this attack, but now more than ever it’s up to Greg Roman to capture it.


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