Defenses around the NFL spent all offseason studying the Ravens and trying to draw up ways to stop Lamar Jackson. A few teams found some success in doing so towards the end of last season, so you can bet a few more will find a way this year. To proactively counter that possibility, the Ravens will need to break certain tendencies and take advantage of others. If their Week 1 drubbing of the Browns is any indication of their ability to do this, Baltimore might be on their way to an even better year in 2020.
The Ravens’ first touchdown illustrates this idea perfectly. On this play, Baltimore used “escort motion” with fullback Patrick Ricard (#42). This type of motion is where a player motions from one side of the formation to the other and the ball is snapped right BEFORE he crosses the center, as you can see below.
Timing of the snap is the key element here. Normally, 2nd-level defenders won’t shift pre-snap until the motion man has crossed the center. So with escort motion, the offense ends up with a numbers advantage to the play side by the time the ball is snapped to the quarterback.
The Ravens had a tendency to run the ball consistently to the side of this motion in 2019. In Week 14, the Bills responded to this tendency by having their linebackers shift before the ball was snapped against any escort motion, negating the numbers advantage and limiting the effectiveness of one of the Ravens’ staples. The Browns appeared to take the same approach on Sunday:
The Ravens may have anticipated this. So what did they do in response? They called a play-action pass to the escort-motion side and had tight end Mark Andrews run his route back against the grain to the other side of the formation.
The defense flowed hard to the side of the play-fake and Andrews got lost in the chaos. The result was a wide-open receiver and a touchdown.
Playing off of their own tendencies will go a long way towards helping make Baltimore a better team in 2020. You know what else will help? Lamar Jackson’s continued improvement from the pocket. While that first touchdown wasn’t exactly a good pass by Jackson, he was very sharp throwing the ball for the rest of the day, completing 80% of his passes for 275 yards and 3 TDs.
This deep ball was one of his better passes of the day – an almost perfect throw.
As John Harbaugh mentioned during the offseason, improving the deep ball is a point of emphasis for Jackson. As defenses attempt to stop the Ravens’ rushing attack, Baltimore will see their receivers matched up 1-on-1 against cornerbacks and safeties, like on this play-action pass. They have to be able to take advantage of these opportunities when they arise in order to keep defenses honest against the run.
Below was another impressive throw by Jackson. He knew he was about to take a hit but hung in the pocket to deliver the ball to an open receiver downfield.
The below throw, however, was arguably Jackson’s best pass of the day. A 3rd-down TD to Willie Snead that all but put the game away.
That throw required both firmness and touch, which isn’t easy.
With the running game not exactly firing on all cylinders against the Browns, it was good to see Jackson continue his upward trend as a passer. It’s obviously early, but we like the direction Baltimore’s offense appears to be headed in 2020.
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