By David Kang.
(Disclaimer, I am a Ravens fan)
After the Ravens got off to a scorching 2-0 start, there were talks about the possibility of the Ravens competing for the AFC North crown. Their defense was an absolute buzz saw, and their offense had done just enough to win them games. But these past two games have left many questions as to just how good the team could be, especially, especially due their incompetence on offense.
The outlook of the Ravens offense was not all that great to begin with. Coming into the season, there were many questions marks in every facet of the offense. Ricky Wagner signed with the Detroit Lions, leaving a giant hole at right tackle, and starting left guard Alex Lewis suffered a season-ending injury before the regular season even started. The receiving corps featured Mike Wallace, an aging and uninspiring vet, and Breshad Perriman, a talented but oft-injured and unproven receiver. Although the group was improved by the signing of Jeremy Maclin, there were still questions as to how threatening the group would be on the outside. Dennis Pitta was forced into retirement due to his 3rd hip injury, and Ben Watson was a 36-year-old coming back from Achilles surgery. Couple that with a middling running back group and Joe Flacco, who has struggled in recent seasons and missed the entirety of preseason due to a back ailment, the Ravens offense did not look great on paper. To make things worse, the Ravens’ best player on offense, Marshal Yanda, suffered a season-ending ankle surgery in week 2 against the Cleveland Browns.
Predictably, the offense has struggled tremendously. This past week in particular, the Ravens garnered 288 total yards of offense. Joe Flacco threw 49 passes, completing 31 for a mere 235 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs. He had an atrocious 4.8 YPA and an even worse 3.37 adjusted YP/A. Although Flacco did have a very poor performance, the blame was not entirely on him.
With a completely new offensive line, the unit lacks cohesion up to this point, and there were several instances of miscommunication, or an offensive lineman being beat instantly off the snap.
In this particular play, it looks as if the offensive line is in half-slide protection with the left side of the line, including the center, slide to the left, defending each of their gaps. The right guard here, undrafted FA Matt Skura, seemed to either slide left because he missed the protection or dramatically oversetted inside. Either way, the defensive lineman slanted in the opposite direction, which led to easy pressure on Flacco, who managed it well enough to complete a pass on the outside to Maclin.
Here the Ravens have a 6-man protection with a 4-man slide from the RG to the LT against 4 with the WR and RB both providing chips wherever needed before releasing onto their patterns. Tuitt does a great job of occupying Howard here, and since both the RB and WR chipped and released on the outside, Dupree, the OLB, had a wide open lane on the inside and provided a natural pick for Watson to be able to reach Dupree in time. Thus, in a pseudo 8-man protection, the Steelers got easy pressure and a sack.
Understanding the lack of ability that they had on the offensive line, the coaching staff approached this game in a very conservative fashion. They tried to establish the running game early under center and work passing concepts off of it, but they quickly abandoned the approach as the score became more lopsided. They stuck to mainly shotgun, left the OL on an island, and essentially tried to offset all this with a short passing game. The problem here was that the concepts they did run were all isolated routes and provided very little help for the receivers to get open. They mostly ran curl-flat, slant flat, stick, and curls with verticals on the outside and did not run too many things more complicated than that in their offense, which could be an indictment on Flacco’s post-snap processing ability or decision making on part of the coaching staff. Nonetheless, all of the above resulted in short, timing passes, where Flacco had to throw the ball at the end of his drop. Because of both the predictability of the short passes and the lack of pass protection, the Steelers’ secondary played downhill, ready to jump on any break the WRs made and with no respect for a play downfield.
Out of more than 50 pass attempts, the Ravens only incorporated a double move off of one of their short concepts once.
Here the Ravens show a stick play with trips on the right with the RB running to the flats. The Steelers show and execute a Cover 3 look. Mike Wallace carries the boundary corner deep outside, and Perriman, the #2 WR, runs an out and up. Ben Watson, the #3 WR runs a curl to the outside. Sean Davis, the strong safety, had #2 vertical responsibility on Perriman here. However, due to the lack of aggression shown all game from the Ravens, he passes Perriman off to Bud Dupree, who is playing the curl flat and would have accounted for Perriman if he did just run an out route (though he was also occupied with the RB in the flat). Instead, Davis chose to try and jump Watson’s curl route, leaving Perriman wide open. The only problem is that Flacco threw an errant pass, and the ball just escaped Perriman’s grasp.
Conservatism was evident in the way Flacco was reading the defense as well as he was too quick to pull the trigger on a short throw or a checkdown and left a lot of throws on the table. He could have gotten skittish from all the pressure and might’ve been told to be more conservative, but nonetheless, an offense cannot be successful with such conservatism, especially with a bad offensive line.
In this play, it’s 2nd and 10 in the 2nd quarter, and the Ravens are in empty with the Steelers showing 2 deep coverage. I’m not sure what exactly the coverage here is, but on the twins side of the formation, the Steelers look to be playing a pattern match coverage with the slot defender playing the hook curl while passing the #2 vertical off to the safety. Maclin is running a skinny slant/post from the slot with plenty of cushion between him and the safety to get him the ball. Flacco looks Maclin’s way initially after the snap, but his shoulders and body points to the strongside #3 Campanaro running an in-breaking route. Flacco predetermined where he was going and despite seeing favorable coverage in the direction he was looking at, refused to test that side of the formation.
Another ailment in Flacco’s game of recent years has been his footwork. Despite showing good competency and discipline in resetting his feet and not being lazy with his footwork earlier in his career, Flacco has become very lackadaisical and lazy with his feet ever since he won the Super Bowl. Although he still has great zip and arm strength, he does not have great “arm talent” in the sense that he can deliver accurate balls in different trajectories and platforms. Flacco tends to struggle whenever his feet are not set and often severely hurts the team. Though not being able to reset his feet is understandable when there is some pressure, Flacco often does this with a clean pocket, which is absolutely maddening.
The beginning of this play is fine, but when he tries to readjust to try and fit the ball to Maclin, he does not open his plant foot wide enough. His stance becomes too narrow, which hinders his follow through and causes him to miss right.
The Steelers are showing a basic spot-drop Cover 3 look, and Flacco in this play tries to fit in a ball to Campanaro, the #2 WR running a seam route, in between the LB and the safety. It is a very difficult throw to make and would require pin point accuracy and timing, especially with a LB as athletic as Shazier being the underneath defender. Although there is slight interior pressure, there is still more than enough room for Flacco to open his plant foot using his whole body. Instead, he brings his feet together very closely with a narrow base and essentially is throwing off quicksand. The throw does not use his lower body at all and is just pure arm. Predictably, the ball sails and floats in the air too long, which allows Shazier to tip the pass and lets Hilton pick off the pass.
This is a simple bootleg play that the Steelers played extremely well, and Flacco should have just thrown it into the ground. There is a sliver of space if he led Ben Watson more down the field here, but his bad footwork showed up again. This time Flacco throw the ball on a lackadaisical sidearm fadeaway. In order to complete this pass, there needed to be some air underneath the ball down the field, but Flacco threw it with a flat trajectory because he did not see Shazier in the passing lane. Great play by Shazier to turn around and find the football, but this is just very poor from Flacco.
Flacco only had a couple good plays in the game, where he was able to deliver the ball while under pressure, but the overall impact of the plays is very negligible due to the fact that they were of the “keep the chains moving” variety rather than the “explosive scoring” variety. Moreover, these kinds of plays were too few and far in between and did not happen with as much frequency to make up for the general lack of competency across the board on offense.
This third play was probably Flacco’s best play of the day. The Steelers are in 2 high in a pattern match coverage. The field CB is matching 1 to 2, the SLB has the curl flats, MLB has underneath on #3 while the boundary safety covers over the top. I’m not sure what exactly the field safety’s responsibility is here, but his eyes are on the quarterback with the #3 receiver in front of him. Flacco does a good job of looking at the seam in the early part of the play, which baits the field safety to the #3 receiver. This gives Flacco just enough room to squeeze the ball to Mike Wallace running the corner route before he gets met with the CB. Flacco throws with good timing and accuracy, and it results in a touchdown.
Overall, the Ravens problems on offense run deep across every level with the issues in the offensive line and the lack of creativity in the passing game. Although Flacco can throw the ball well enough on the short range to hit these short checkdowns, he does not compensate for his teammates’ lack of ability consistently enough to make up for the conservatism of the offense. Combine that with his mental blunders and propensity to turn the football over, the Ravens offense will continue to struggle whenever they have to rely on Joe Flacco. The only hope for them this season is that the offensive line starts to gel, and the offense becomes more consistent running the football. Otherwise, another mediocre season awaits them while they waste another talented defense across from them.