Through 7 weeks of football, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves at 3-4 and have been inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball. After strong showings against the Raiders and Bears, the Ravens offense managed just 16 points and 208 total yards of offense against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7.
Despite the offensive roller coaster the Ravens have found themselves on this season, the rushing attack has been improved this year, going over the 125 yard mark in 5 of their first 7 games this season and currently sitting 13th in the league at 120.1 yards per game. The Ravens have been looking for a consistent rushing offense since the 2014 season, when Justin Forsett caught a lot of people by surprise, rushing for 1,266 yards at a league leading (among running backs) 5.4 yards per carry. The Ravens, as a team, finished 8th in the league that year at 2,019 total rushing yards, but finished 26th and 28th in the league in total rushing offense in the two seasons since.
Over those two seasons, as the Ravens struggled with their rushing offense, they looked to get a spark by going outside of the traditional rushing attack and getting the ball into the hands of speedy receivers with concepts such as the jet sweep. At the end of the 2016 season, the Ravens employ both the jet sweep and the end around to get the ball into the hands of former 7th round pick Michael Campanaro, and it worked like a charm as they reeled off plays of 39, 23, and 10 yards the three times they ran it. Now in 2017, even with the running backs carrying the load more adequately for the Ravens, the team still looks to utilize this gadget play to spark a big play.
In the 3rd quarter of the Week 7 contest against the Vikings, the Ravens find themselves down two scores and in desperate need of a spark on offense. It’s 1st down and 10 from their own 25 yard line and the Ravens come out with 11 personnel with twins to the left (bottom of the screen) and the tight end to the right of the line but off the line of scrimmage. The Vikings counter with their nickel subpackage with an over front as NT Linval Joseph (#98) is shaded slightly over the center to the A gap on the weakside. Michael Campanaro is lined up as the outside receiver of the twin set to the left and off the line of scrimmage. Before the snap, he is sent in motion from the left side of the formation to the right side.
Campanaro takes the handoff from QB Joe Flacco (#5) as he runs around the right side of the line before making a sharp cut up upfield for a 19 yard gain. A look from the endzone camera angle shows how the Ravens drew up this play to get Campanaro in space where he could utilize his speed in the open field.
The Ravens fake the zone run to the left with RB Alex Collins (#34). LT Ronnie Stanley (#74), LG James Hurst (#74), and C Ryan Jansen (#66) block down to the left to sell the run. RG Jermaine Eluemenor (#71) and RT Austin Howard (#77) double on the 3-technique Tom Johnson (#92) while TE Nick Boyle (#86) kicks out to block the safety. This leaves DE Danielle Hunter (#99) unblocked left to read the play. Hunter buys into the fake for just a moment, taking a step towards the fake run, which is enough to give Campanaro an advantage as he takes the ball and cuts up around the edge and quickly scampers down the field.
The jet sweep is most commonly run by speedy wide receivers. Before Campanaro, the Ravens used the likes of Chris Givens and Mike Wallace. With a 4.46 40 time at the combine and an ability to cut and change direction quickly, Campanaro fits the profile of someone you want to run the jet sweep with. Given the Ravens’ propensity for running this play with Campanaro, though, teams can start to pick up on the play, so the Ravens switched it up in a unique spot.
In the Week 5 matchup against the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens have the ball in the red zone. It’s the opening drive of the game and second down and goal. Baltimore comes out with their goal line package, 23 personnel. The tight ends on the field are Ben Watson (#82) who is lined up on the left side of the formation, Boyle, who is on the line to the right of the formation, and Vince Mayle (#88), who is on the right side of the formation as well off the line of scrimmage as a ‘U’ type tight end.
Another look from the endzone camera angle shows a similar play design to the Campanaro run.
Again we see the fake zone run to set up the defense. The entire offensive line, Boyle, FB Patrick Ricard (#42), and RB Javorius Allen (#37) all fake a zone run to the right. Watson kicks out to the left to block DB Keith McGill II (#39) which leaves DE Denico Autry (#96) unblocked on the left side. Autry reacts to the fake zone run to the right, causing him to take his momentum opposite the direction Vince Mayle is running with the ball. McGill is able to get off the block by Watson at the last second in an attempt to stifle Mayle but Vince uses all of his 31 ¾” arms to reach the ball just inside the pylon for the score.
A team can not win by gadget plays alone. With the improved run offense, the Ravens will be able to continue to set up plays such as the two noted above. And as they continue to find success with multiple players in gadget plays and in different situations on the field from different formations, they give themselves an advantage in that teams have to be prepared for them at anytime. It’s the hope of Baltimore fans that plays like the jet sweep being a threat can open up the field for the offense, but only time will tell if the team can build on them.