To say that the Baltimore Ravens' offense has struggled so far would be an understatement.
Nevertheless, it is not standing pat. The team unveiled a number of offensive wrinkles against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7 and, while the Ravens lost the game, there were a number of good signs.
After seven weeks, it’s clear that the running game is not the strength of the offense. As a result, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell made the choice to shift to a spread offense with a heavy usage of three-wideout formations and Joe Flacco working out of the shotgun for most of the night.
With Flacco working out of the gun, there are more opportunities for him to survey the field, make quick reads and spread the ball around like he does here with Tandon Doss.
Jacoby Jones (blue) runs an “in” and serves as a pick to free up Doss on a quick slant (yellow). As soon as Flacco catches the snap, he hits Doss crossing the middle, which leads to a 13-yard pickup.
Flacco connected with nine different receivers against the Steelers and was extremely accurate (18-of-19) on passes between zero and nine yards from the line of scrimmage.
Joe Flacco is very comfortable with a spread offense and operating the no-huddle from his days at Delaware. Giving him more responsibility will give the aerial attack a boost and spreading defenses out will jumpstart the entire offense.
In addition to quick hitters, running a spread offense can open up room for Ray Rice—both as a runner and receiver.
On this play, all three receivers run deep routes which take their defenders down the field with them. Troy Polamalu (red) is playing near the line of scrimmage, but he drops back to help cover the crossing routes.
As a result, Rice is left with a ton of space on the left side of the field when he runs his wheel route (yellow). He gains 13 yards on the play.
In the running game, three-WR formations give the offense favorable numbers by taking a defender out of the box.
It wasn’t just the play-calling, however, that affected the ground game against the Steelers. Mike Preston of The Baltimore Sun reported that there would be a change to the blocking scheme moving forward. Juan Castillo was brought in over the offseason to be an offensive line coach and run-game coordinator, and he’s used more zone blocking this year.
It was predominantly zone blocking that was used against the Steelers, but there were a number of plays that used traditional man-blocking and double-teams at the point of attack.
For example, there are two double-teams on this 13-yard running play (red). Lawrence Timmons is left unblocked (blue), and Rice can read his reaction and choose between the two running lanes: between the center and right guard (dotted yellow arrow), or off right tackle Michael Oher (solid yellow arrow).
Timmons starts to come up the middle, so Rice chooses to go outside for the longest run of the game.
While the rushing stats don’t show much improvement, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates that the offensive line played its best game of the season against Pittsburgh.
The bye week would be the perfect opportunity to implement broader changes to the blocking scheme, so we’ll see whether there is more man-blocking against the Cleveland Browns in Week 9.
Sticking with the status quo wasn’t going to be enough for the Ravens if they want to get back in the playoff picture. Judging from their display against the Steelers, expect these changes to become bigger parts of the game plan for the second half of the season.
That will be a step in the right direction for this offense.
Game footage courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.