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Ravens Unveil Offensive Changes Against Pittsburgh

Posted Oct 21, 2013

The Ravens stretched the field and used three wide receiver sets for most of the game.

Head Coach John Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell and running back Ray Rice all said that changes could be coming on offense.

That proved to be true on Sunday. 

In the 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens unveiled a handful of offensive scheme changes, which included a move to a shotgun, spread attack. Quarterback Joe Flacco worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun and the Ravens tried to spread out the Steelers defense with three wide receiver sets.

“We wanted to do a little of that and see if we could keep them on the field and run them around a little bit,” Flacco said.

The Ravens lined up out of the shotgun 47 times, compared to putting Flacco under center just 17 times. They operated out of the no-huddle for nearly the entire game, huddling just 16 times between plays when they weren’t coming back from a timeout or clock stoppage.

The move to the spread came as part of an effort to look for new ways to establish the running game. Coming into Sunday, the Ravens ranked 27th in the NFL with an average of 72.7 rushing yards per game, and spreading out the defense was a way to create mismatches.

Rather than lining up in the I-formation with a lead blocker, the Ravens often used Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce out of single back sets, and fullback Vonta Leach saw just 12 of the 62 offensive snaps.

“We wanted to see if we could run the ball still with some good looks rather than just sticking it up in there,” Flacco said. “We wanted to see if we could get ourselves some advantageous looks to run against. I thought we moved the ball pretty well.”

The Ravens had a little bit more success in the running game than they had seen previously. Rice finished with 15 carries for 45 yards, and Pierce had six carries for 13 yards. Overall, the Ravens had 82 rushing yards and averaged 3.2 yards per carry.

“There were sparks and there were holes in there today, but I just think we have to continue building on what we’re trying to do,” Leach said.

As Leach saw a decline in snaps, the wide receivers got more reps. The Ravens typically had at least three receivers on the field, as Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown were all on the field for at least 74 percent of the snaps.

Moving to the spread put the responsibility on Flacco to try to exploit the defense, and he spread the ball around to nearly all of his targets. Flacco hit nine different targets, and finished the day 24-of-34 passing, for 215 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought we did what we felt we needed to do, to run the ball and to throw it,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “Obviously, Joe Flacco did a great job operating it.”

Flacco has plenty of experience operating out of the shotgun offense, as he used that almost exclusively during his college days at Delaware.  The Ravens have also used that in spurts during his six years in the NFL.

When Caldwell arrived in Baltimore last season, the Ravens made a push to go with more of an up-tempo offense, and they have used it at times over the last two years. The uptempo approach can put pressure a defense by preventing them from substituting, and it also forces opponents to make calls at the line of scrimmage.

“I liked it,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “I liked the change of pace, getting on the ball and trying to wear them out. I feel like if we can continue to do that we can wear opponents out.”

The Ravens did have some success with the approach, scoring points on four of their seven possessions.

The problem, however, was the inability to punch the ball in the end zone on their limited opportunities. They moved the ball inside the Steelers’ 35-yard line on five different occasions and three times had to settle for field goals and also had to punt on one of those drives.

“It seemed like there was not a lot of possessions out there today,” Flacco said. “When you get a game like that where you have so few possessions you have to make them all count. We weren’t able to get in the end zone enough.” 

The Ravens will now have the bye to look over the offense and decide what kind of approach they want to use in the second half of the season. Through the first seven games, the offense has moved been back-and-forth from a pass-heavy approach to a ground-and-pound style. 

The coaching staff now has plenty of time to analyze the various strategies before beginning preparation for the Cleveland Browns next week.

“Going into the bye week, the coaches are going to evaluate the game plan, players are going to evaluate themselves, and get away from the game for few days,” Leach said. “Then we’ll come back next week and get back at it.” 

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