NFL Preview Week 3: The Ravens Tight Ends Poised For A Big Day

The Baltimore Ravens tight ends, second-year man Crockett Gillmore and rookie Maxx Williams, may have a big day against the Cincinnati Bengals defense. Mark Schofield reviewed the tape, looking at the matchups between the Bengals pass defense and the Ravens tight ends.

Baltimore is looking to get their season back on track after an 0-2 start. Last year’s wildcard participants have dropped their first two games of the season, losing to the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. But if they are to right the ship – and score a big win over divisional rival Cincinnati – Ravens tight ends Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore need to play a big role.

Last week, the San Diego Chargers were able to get TE Ladarius Green involved in the passing game early and often, using two different concepts. First, they used him on option routes underneath, working against the linebackers in either man or zone coverage.

On this first play quarterback Philip Rivers is in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, in a pro alignment on the left, slot formation to the right. The Bengals have their 4-2-5 sub package on the field and initially show Cover 2 in the secondary, before dropping safety Reggie Nelson (#20) down into the box to cover running back Branden Oliver, as they roll this into Cover 1:NFLPreview3RavensPlay1Still2

From the left side, Green runs an option route, aiming his stem right at linebacker Vincent Rey (#57). Had the Bengals dropped into zone coverage, the TE would simply settle in a spot between the linebackers on a curl route. But as Green throttles down and pivots back to his QB, he reads the man coverage and makes the right read – breaking to the outside and away from Rey:

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The LB cannot break under the well-placed throw from Rivers, the TE hauls in the football and turns upfield with a very nice gain.

Here is second example of San Diego using this concept against Cincinnati. On this 1st and 10 play, Rivers is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field. The offense has trips on the right with a single receiver split to the left. The Bengals initially put their defense in blitz posture, with the secondary showing Cover 3 and both linebackers showing A-Gap Blitz:NFLPreview3RavensPlay2Still1

But before the play begins, Cincinnati rotates their defense into a Cover 2 look:NFLPreview3RavensPlay2Still2

Green runs another option route, this time from the right side of the formation, while the defense drops into Tampa 2:

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As the linebackers drop into zones, Green simply throttles down, turns, and looks for the football. Easy pitch and catch for the offense.

Now, here are the Ravens using the same concept to get their TE open. On this first play, Joe Flacco is under center with 12 offensive personnel on the field, in a bunch formation on the right. The Raiders have their 4-3 defense on the field, and show Cover 3 in the secondary:NFLPreview3RavensPlay3Still1

The Ravens run a triangle concept here. Williams, the inside trips receiver, runs a short out route while Marlon Brown (#14) runs a deep curl route. Gilmore attacks the middle of the field, running at the linebackers in coverage:

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As the two linebackers drop into underneath zones, the TE settles between them, doing a good job of using his body to shield Curtis Lofton (#50) from the football while Flacco delivers the pass.

Here’s another example, this time against the Broncos:

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As the Broncos drop into zone coverage, Gilmore settles into the soft area between the two underneath zone defenders, David Bruton Jr. (#30) and Brandon Marshall (#54):NFLPreview3RavensPlay4Still2

Flacco gets Gilmore the football, and the Ravens have an easy gain on first down.

Crossing, Throwback

Another way that the Chargers used to get Green open was on underneath crossing routes, sometimes with a “throwback” look or element. On this first play, San Diego has 11 personnel in the game against the Cincinnati 4-2-5 nickel defense. The Chargers have pro formation on the left with slot alignment on the right, and the Bengals run straight Cover 2 for this play:NFLPreview3RavensPlay5Still1

Gilmore is tasked with a straight crossing route underneath. Stevie Johnson (#11) is the slot receiver, and he runs a deep slant which occupies the slot cornerback, Leon Hall (#29). This frees up room for Gilmore:

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Hall drops with Johnson, before passing the WR off to the safeties and rotating back underneath. But by that point, the TE has passed Rey and the zone vacated by the slot CB. Rivers hits Green in stride and the Chargers have a first down.

On this play, San Diego again uses Green on a crossing route, with a bit of a throwback element. Rivers is under center with 12 offensive personnel in the game, with a 2 TE wing on the right and slot formation on the left. The Bengals have their base 4-3 in the game showing Cover 3 in the secondary:NFLPreview3RavensPlay6Still1

Rivers will take the snap and fake a stretch play to the right with running back Melvin Gordon (#28). The design of the play gets the defense flowing to that side, but Green is going to run a crossing route from right to left, working away from the flow of the play:

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By the time the defense realizes the fake Gilmore has slipped through the middle of the field, seemingly unnoticed and  is racing away from MLB Rey Maualuga (#58) with an easy first down.

The TE crossing route – particularly with a throwback element to it – has been a staple of the Baltimore offense for the past few seasons. Already this season, the Ravens are using Willams, their rookie tight end, on these plays. Here are two examples.

This first play finds Flacco under center with 13 offensive personnel on the field. Williams and Gilmore are in a wing alignment on the right, with the rookie just off the line of scrimmage. The Raiders have their 4-3 defense in the game with a Cover 3 look in the secondary:NFLPreview3RavensPlay7Still1

Baltimore shows Oakland a stretch run to the right, with the offensive line and running back Justin Forsett (#29) all flowing to that side of the field. But Williams cuts against the flow of the play, back down the line of scrimmage. Flacco takes the handoff, turns, and quickly finds the rookie:

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Here is another example, this time with the rookie starting in the backfield:

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Again, the offense shows an outside run, while Williams cuts against the flow of the play to the other side. Flacco carries out the fake, wheels his head and quickly gets the football out to his rookie TE for a solid gain.

While Flacco and the Ravens offense will certainly try and work the vertical game, with Steve Smith Sr. and Brown, the two tight ends will play a big role for this offense on Sunday. Given the ways that San Diego was able to scheme to get Green open – and how those elements mesh well with what Baltimore already does on offense – Gilmore and Williams are both in store for a productive afternoon.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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