Ravens Offensive Success Stymies Wildcat Hype

Geoff PeckhamContributor ISeptember 23, 2009

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 20:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens throws the ball to teamate during  the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on September 20, 2009 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)

As fans and the media alike get over the initial shock that the Ravens have an effective offense for once, let alone an explosive one, it becomes easier to break down what makes Joe Flacco and company so successful. And as the much-hyped “Wildcat” offense continues to leave an impact on the NFL, Baltimore’s bunch is proving you don’t need to be tricky to win.

Which isn’t to say that the Ravens won’t pull out the tricks when necessary, as evident by the use of quarterback Troy Smith in certain situations (dubbed the ‘Suggs Package’ by the local media). But Baltimore’s 2-0 start is thanks to the arm of Joe Flacco, the legs of Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain and the skill of a young but promising offensive line.

It’s called balance. And it makes Baltimore a tough match-up for any defense in 2009.

The popular offense of the last year, the Wildcat formation helped the Miami Dolphins earn a division title last year. With the NFL being the copycat league it is, many other teams have attempted versions of it, with the Philadelphia Eagles even bringing in the high-profile Michael Vick. How successful the Eagles’ version will be has yet to be seen.

But the Dolphins have not had much success with it in the early part of 2009, starting 0-2. The Ravens played Miami twice last season, in the regular season and playoffs, and had no trouble halting them. Other teams are catching on.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ offense is third in the NFL with 406.0 yards per game, and is second in scoring, coming only behind the New Orleans Saints.

“I think it credits our receivers, it credits our offensive line, it credits our running backs,” said Flacco, referring to his team’s success in the red zone this season. “We have a couple of ways that we can beat you. Our offensive line is doing a great job right now pass-protecting and run-blocking for the backs.

“Anytime your offensive line is playing the way they are, it allows you to free up some time back there for me to find receivers, and it allows the backs to run through some open holes and maybe bust a couple for touchdowns rather than a couple of yards.”

It seems silly to point out, but the Ravens’ offensive line is one of the largest reasons for their success thus far in the season. With the young and athletic Jared Gaither and Michael Oher protecting Flacco, the second-year quarterback is staying up right, and has times time find his receivers.

But Flacco has also shown his ability to move around when need be. Combined with his strong arm and poised demeanor, it’s given defenders more reasons to stay up watching film prior to playing Baltimore. Flacco has nine touchdowns in his first two games this season, a mark he didn’t reach until Week 9 in 2008.

Flacco is also spreading the ball around. A year ago he would often lock on wide receiver Derrick Mason. This year, he’s spreading the ball around to the likes of Mark Clayton, Kelley Washington, McGahee, Rice, and Todd Heap.

There’s nothing especially unique about the play-calling. It’s just been smart, courtesy of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, often regarded as one of the best in the league. With a year under his belt in Baltimore, it’s given the offense more time to gel, and the results are showing.

“[Cameron is] feeling more comfortable with us as a unit, and Joe [is] feeling more comfortable with the weapons he has out there,” Mason said. “He’s not just going to look at one guy. He knows he has two, three or four guys he could potentially hit that could make a play.”

But what truly makes the Ravens difficult to game plan for is the “three-headed monster” of McGahee, Rice, and McClain. Each brings a different style, and Cameron uses each of them on a regular basis, depending on the game plan.

McGahee is the versatile, explosive type who can also block with the best of them, while Rice is more elusive, able to run between the tacklers. McClain is the bruiser of the bunch, great for short yardage situations.

Simply put, there’s just too much for a defense to prepare for. And the Cleveland Browns, who have given up 61 points in the first two games, may have a hard time.

When you have more talent at your disposal, trickery isn’t as necessary. The Ravens are proving that talent and execution can overcome fancy schemes on any given Sunday.