Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is an excellent passer, but what sets their offense apart is their run game.
The Ravens offensive scheme and philosophy borrows heavily from the triple-option playbook. Even going for it on 4th downs as often as they do, is not the result of modern analytics, but a tactic that option teams have historically employed.
The key to stopping option-based plays is for every player to focus on executing their own job.
Every defensive play call must feature a player responsible for each gap, but they also must have option responsibilities. At least one player must be assigned to the quarterback, the dive, and the pitch.
If even one player is playing the ball rather than his option responsibility, the offense will eventually find the flaw in the defense and gash them for a big game.
In this clip the Ravens are running Zone Read, which is a staple of their running game.
As you can see the offensive line is zone blocking to the offense’s left, leaving the backside defensive end unblocked. He is the quarterback’s read.
The defensive end needs to either come inside to tackle the running back or stay square and wide to play the quarterback. This is determined by the defensive scheme. The defender cannot guess or rely on gut instinct. Option plays are designed to take advantage such lack of defensive discipline.
Here the defensive end stays square, but shuffles down the line of scrimmage far enough that Jackson knows the end cannot tackle him, so he keeps the ball.
While the offensive line blocks for the running back, both the tight end and the motion-man lead the way for Jackson on the other end, and the play leads to a nice gain for the offense.
The Ravens will also block the defensive end and run an Inside Zone, or like in the clip above they can run Outside Zone.
They tend to run the Outside Zone away from motion. This helps to hold off backside pursuit and the fullback/tight end also assists with a backside block.
In addition to the Outside Zone, they will get the ball on the edge with Sweeps to both the quarterback and running back. These plays feature offensive linemen pulling out in front of the ball carrier on the edge.
Speaking of pulling offensive linemen, in addition to zone schemes, the Ravens run a number of down/gap scheme plays such as Power and Counter.
This clip is the Quarterback Power Read.
Power traditionally involves a fullback kicking out the defensive end, but with Power Read the defensive end is the read, so he is unblocked. The running back comes wide, putting the defensive end in conflict. He can either get wide to contain the running back or stay tight to play the quarterback. The quarterback reads him and either hands the ball off or keeps it and follows the pulling guard.
On this play the defensive end actually bends as if he was pursing a run in the opposite direction. They are attempting a gap exchange, with the linebacker getting wide to play the running back, but the defensive end takes himself too far inside making it impossible to play the quarterback. Jackson wisely keeps the ball and heads up the middle for a big gain.
This is an example of a Counter play.
They can feature the backside guard and tackle pulling, but in this case it is the guard and fullback making the play side blocks.
The offensive line blocks down on the play side, while the pulling guard kicks out on the defensive end and the fullback leads up for the linebacker.
The Ravens have a diverse running game which features a mix of option plays, zone scheme, and down/gap schemes.
It is vital for the Bengals defense to be sound in their defensive play design and disciplined to their execution of responsibilities. This defense has already given up some big plays this season as a result of one player not being in the correct position. They cannot afford those types of mental errors if they hope to defeat the Ravens.
If you are interested in getting more in-depth with the Ravens offensive scheme, you are in luck. This offseason I broke down every play the Ravens offense ran in 2019 and made 3 videos explaining the run game, formations and motions, and 2 and 3 back formations.