I watched every snap of the 2019 Ravens offense, and here are a few of the things I learned...
The biggest thing that stuck out to me is that, this "option" offense, isn't really running true option plays. In other words, most of the plays that look like option reads are predetermined before the ball is ever snapped, even if a defender is unblocked and being "read".
Baltimore spends a lot of time on scouting and film study and picks out the matchups they want to attack.
Just like Peyton Manning used to study to find the weak spot in an opponent secondary, Ravens OC Greg Roman know which defenders will struggle against option looks.
Watch Ravens games, and you'll usually see the same defenders left unblocked against option looks many times. Once you figure out where each player tends to line up, and you know how they react to being left unblocked, now you can begin to put together an option game plan.
1. Zone Read Double Load Scheme
This is the option play that Baltimore loves more than any other, and it's where Lamar Jackson racked up a ton of rushing yards. The offense lines up in a compressed set, which brings in the defense tight, and makes it easier to get the edge.
Here's one of the video clips drawn up (after the Z had motioned to the slot).
The first of the two blockers takes care of the alley, taking the most dangerous man. The second blocker avoids the EMOL and then finds the scraping linebacker and seals him off.
In that diagram the slot receiver takes care of the corner as the first blocker, then the fullback handles the near inside linebacker. That first playside blocker can either come from the backfield, or he can be a receiver, like in this case.
That blocking receiver is usually #83 Willie Snead, Baltimore’s versatile utility player on offense. If you see him cross the formation in motion, often times it’s because the Ravens are trying to get an extra hat in a certain spot for the run game.
It’s important that whenever possible, the Ravens get two blockers on the playside inside linebacker. Since the offensive line combo isn’t guaranteed to account for him every time, they have an extra blocker to look for him and seal him off.
This play is one of the most potent weapons in Baltimore's arsenal when they want to get Lamar Jackson the ball and let him loose against the defense.
2. Zone Read/Arc Variations
Now, what happens when you’re playing an odd look, or maybe a defense that likes to shift the front over to the TE side of the formation and leave an extra man out to the split side? The Ravens have a couple of different schemes for this situation.
The playside tackle is going to arc out to the alley defender, even if he’s got a D-lineman already covering him. This widens that down defender and creates space inside of him.
Both blocking backs will lead up in the hole, ideally with each one getting on either side of the unblocked EMOL, traveling up to the near inside linebacker and doubling him.
This version of the play is really just designed to get the ball to the tailback and create a big hole up the middle. It’s not usually something the Ravens want Lamar Jackson to read and take off with. Watching these clips, it reminded me a little of the midline option.
Option guru Paul Johnson actually spent some time with the Ravens coaching staff prior to the 2019 season, and John Harbaugh mentioned that his favorite play is- you guessed it- the Midline option- so there’s undoubtedly some extra influence there.
But what if you want the ability to run the QB between the tackles against this look? As we talked about already, most of the Ravens option plays are predetermined gives or keeps, so what does a keep look like?
The change up to this play is drawn up below.
The blocking backs are following the same rules as earlier, where the first guy through will handle the secondary, and the next man will handle the near inside linebacker.
Baltimore wants the ability to put your defensive linemen in space, no matter what look you give them, and having these different schemes in their playbook lets them do it.
3. Designed Keep off of Zone Read Mesh
Now let’s talk about a much simpler QB run play, a play that actually doesn’t require much of a read at all. Sometimes you just want the ability to give your best player the football and let him loose. That’s what this play is for.
Lamar Jackson will open up for the mesh to the back, as if he’s reading something. In reality, all the defenders are accounted for, and it’s already predetermined that he’s going to take off with the ball and try to get the edge.
In this diagram, the Ravens have schemed up a look where they’ve got a hat for a hat. The RB will act as an extra blocker playside, so all Jackson has to do is pull the ball and take off, hitting the first crease he finds.
This is a pretty great call in a short yardage or goal line situation where defenders sell out against the run action up the middle and leave the edges vulnerable.
4. Inverted Counter Read
Finally, let’s talk about a great play that adds some extra misdirection to the Ravens option package.
The inverted counter read is a great call if a defense is playing their defensive ends upfield to keep the QB contained on the option. On this play, if the DE comes upfield, Lamar Jackson can take off with it and follow the pullers.
The Ravens really like this call against a heavy pressure look, especially on 3rd down, when the defense has a lot of bodies up on the line of scrimmage. Because the defense has a lack of depth, one miss-fit in a gap and Jackson can be gone.
In the diagram, you can see that instead of pulling both the backside guard and tackle, the center is the first puller. Since the guard has a 3 technique across from him, and they don’t want to let two defenders free, he’ll switch responsibilities with the center.
You’ll also notice that there is no one for the backside inside LB. Whoever comes off the mesh w/o the ball is responsible for holding a defender in place, whether that’s Jackson or a RB. If that defender crashes the play, now you come back with a change up and make him pay.
Meanwhile on the frontside, Baltimore wants to double the playside inside linebacker and get a puller up to the secondary, just like a lot of traditional option teams.