The Patriots and Ravens will renew acquaintances this week on Sunday Night Football. The Ravens have long been a thorn in the Patriots side both in the regular season and the post season.
A big reason for that of course is John Harbaugh and his coaching staff. Despite turnover at the coordinator positions, Baltimore is well coached. They are tough, physical and fundamentally sound.
Harbaugh has two of the best coordinators in the NFL working for him in Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale. Martindale is a long time Ravens assistant who was promoted to the position.
Both coordinators orchestrate systems that are unique and different from what you traditionally see around the NFL.
Here is how the Ravens offense and defense work.
Offensive Philosophy: Roman developed the Ravens offense when he was the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. The two men coached together at Stanford. Roman was Harbaugh’s tight ends and offensive tackles coach so they had a good working relationship.
After the 49ers made the decision to switch from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick, the Niners had to find a way to take advantage of Kaepernick’s athleticism. So Roman devised a running game based on read option principles that incorporated multiple formations and movement.
The offense allowed the 49ers to have unprecedented success from 2011 to 2014 as Kaepernick became the preeminent dual threat quarterback in the NFL.
Roman left San Francisco after Jim Harbaugh resigned and resurfaced as the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills in 2015.
The Bills however lacked the personnel to run Roman’s read option offense effectively. They tried doing it with Tyrod Taylor but it wasn’t the same.
After leaving Buffalo, Roman re-emerged as the Senior offensive assistant & tight ends coach of the Ravens. In 2018, he became Assustant Head Coach and eventually replaced Marty Mohrninweg when Jim Harbaugh decided to make a change after the team drafted Lamar Jackson.
The Roman Read Option was back and this time Roman had the quarterback necessary to run it.
So what is the Roman Read Option offense? Here is a simple break down of some of the base concepts.
Diagrams 1 & 2: Veer Read: Veer read is the staple run play in the offense. It’s simple. The quarterback reads the EMOL. If he jumps inside to take the back, the quarterback pulls it and reads the next level defender. When defenses started taking away the quarterback with second level defenders like spill linebackers, Roman adjusted by bringing around a lead blocker from the backside. That made this play even more effective and the backbone of the system.
Diagram 3: Power Read: Power Read is another staple play of the Roman Read Option offense. It is a great way to get a back on the edge while getting the quarterback vertical in the run game. The quarterback once again reads the EMOL. If he comes upfield to take the back, the quarterback pulls it and fits in behind the backside guard wrapping around. If the end comes inside to play the quarterback, he gives it to the back on the stretch run.
Diagram 4: Zone Read: Everyone knows the zone read play. It is the base play of the read option offense. The Ravens run a fair amount of zone read but Roman prefers veer read because he can bring a lead blocker around.
Like the other read plays in the offense, the quarterback once again reads the EMOL. If he comes down to play the back, the quarterback pulls it and takes off. Motion gives the zone read an option component because it incorporates a pitch man. It makes what is still one of the most difficult plays in football even harder to defend.
Diagrams 5 & 6: Man-Gap Runs: The Ravens complement their read option running game with traditional man gap running plays like Wham and Power. Plays like this allow the Ravens to set a physical tone and they blend well with the veer and power read which are also man-gap running plays.
The Ravens passing game doesn’t get as much notoriety but Roman does a great job generating big plays in the passing game off of the running game and in the drop back passing game.
Diagram 7: Play Action Pass: The Ravens do a great job of pushing the ball on play action off of the veer running game. It puts a lot of stress on a defense because the linebackers and the secondary are over compensating on run fits and they come up. The Ravens run double post in this example. Double post is a terrific deep shot concept because you can hold the underneath coverage with the short post and hit the deep post behind for a big play. It is an effective Cover 2 beater.
In the drop back passing game, Roman does a great job of utilizing concepts that allow Jackson to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Diagrams 8 & 9: Drop Back Concepts: Stick and spacing are two concepts that simplify the read for the quarterback and enable him to get the ball out quick. Roman cuts the field in half for Jackson on pass plays like this.
The Ravens also utilize a fair amount of three step passes and boot action as well with Jackson. Here are some examples out of Roman’s playbook.
Diagrams 10 & 11 Boot: The Ravens want to take advantage of Jackson’s athleticism on the perimeter so they will boot from both under center and the pistol. This allows him to get to the edge, read the defense and either throw it or put it down and take off. Roman does a good job layering routes as you can see but also throwing simple two man, max protection concepts.
I mentioned that Baltimore also utilizes the three step passing game to get the ball out quick. Roman likes to use empty a lot to accomplish this.
Diagram 12: Empty Stick Concept: Here is a simple example of how Roman gets the ball out of his quarterback’s hand quickly. He spreads the field with an 11 personnel empty formation and throws a simple five man out stick concept.
The Ravens offense has been labeled predictable this season and that was a topic of conversation this week. Don’t believe it. Baltimore is diverse offensively and they do a lot of different things. The Patriots will have their hands full.
Defensive Philosophy: The Ravens have been a 3-4 base for a long time going back to Brian Billick’s time as head coach.
Current defensive coordinator Don Martindale has carried the tradition by running a 3-4 and running situational variations off of it.
It all starts with the Odd front. The Ravens build their other fronts off of this front.
Diagrams 13: Odd: Odd is the Ravens base front but off of it they play several other fronts and that make them versatile.
Diagrams 14, 15, 16, 17: Over, Under, Reduce and Sink are all variations that allow Baltimore to play two gap or one gap. These fronts allow them to bring run and pass pressures based on alignment.
Baltimore plays a lot of Cover 2 pre-snap but they rotate and move a lot which makes the quarterback read hard post snap.
Diagrams 18-29: Coverage Variations: As I mentioned, Baltimore will start in Cover 2 but they will play Cover 3, 3 Weak, Cover 6 (combination coverage 1/4, 1/4, 1/2) and Cover 4 (Quarters) amongst other coverage variations. What they play behind the front coverage wise depends on how much pressure they bring.
Like most 3-4 teams, the Ravens play an Over Front and other 40 front variations off of it.
Diagram 30: Over Front
Baltimore will also play a straight up 40 nickel and dime front based on down and distance. Out of this front, they will do a lot of twisting and bring depth pressure based on where the ball is.
Diagrams 31-37: 40 front coverages and stunts: The Ravens like to play in their sub packages a lot so the Patriots can expect a heavy dose of nickel tonight based on the amount of 11 personnel they run. Baltimore will use a variety of pressures and stunts.
The Patriots run a lot of two back out of 21 personnel so expect Martindale to bring a lot of pressure against it. Diagrams 38-44 are examples of run pressure the Ravens could use tonight to slow down New England’s ground game.
As you can see, there is a common theme here. Pressure but with a lot of post snap movement behind it. Baltimore disguised as well as any team in the league.
Ok. So I emptied a lot of my Ravens content into this piece but Baltimore is a well coached team and they will present a lot of problems for the Patriots. I have presented a lot of information. I hope you enjoy and I hope you got a little more educated on the Ravens as a fan.