2008 Ravens Win With Trickery

John DavisCorrespondent IMay 29, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 18:  Mark Clayton #89 of the Baltimore Ravens runs for yards after the catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Championship game on January 18, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steelers won 23-14.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron did his best work when implementing the element of surprise in 2008. Knowing he had to nurture his young quarterback, he took advantage of his unique players.

Troy Smith, a running quarterback at Ohio State, won’t find much playing time in the NFL. However, after the Miami Dolphins burned New England in the Wildcat formation, Cameron went to work. He inserted Smith into the game to run the Wildcat effectively throughout the later part of the season.

Teams had to worry about Smith’s speed with the ball. However, what they didn’t expect was to see Flacco running a post down the left sideline for his first touchdown reception since high school.

Cameron also used young, athletic wide receiver Michael Clayton on a handful of reverses and double reverses, often gaining 40-plus yards, such as the 42-yarder in during Week 1. Flacco lined up in shotgun, giving the impression the Ravens would pass, then faked a handoff to running back Ray Rice. Usually, Clayton, who went in motion, would take it from there. However, in that first game, veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason took the ball to Clayton, who found the end zone.

The Ravens weren’t only effective with trickery, though, as old-school power running did the trick. LaRon McClain, who gained just 18 yards in 2007, was the team’s leading rusher in 2008, gaining many of his yards up the middle. He became the perfect back to earn the tough yards, meaning he often ran the ball with only one wide receiver on the field. Needing one or two tough yards, the Ravens would bring in an extra lineman – or second tight end – and set up fullback Lorenzo Neal to McClain’s left or in front of him.

Behind a tough offensive line and Neal, one of the NFL’s top blocking fullbacks, McClain often found space to run, including late in the Dallas game when he helped seal the victory in Week 16.

McClain also ran well in the I-formation, with Neal lined up in front and two receivers out wide. Right guard Marshal Yanda excelled at pulling to his left, leading the way, along with Neal, for McClain. This play proved crucial in Flacco’s development as it kept defenses honest. It also provided points in the red zone, which is where games are often won and lost. The biggest of those scores may be in Week 4 when McClain’s 2-yard dive tied the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game the Ravens ultimately lost in overtime.

Finally, the Ravens excelled with Flacco looking for Mason in the slot. The rookie quarterback, lined up under center, took a three-step drop, looked to the middle of the field where Mason was gliding untouched and found his man to move the chains.