Last year, the Ravens saw the NFL's new wave of offense up close and personal – the read-option.
The Ravens lost to Robert Griffin III late in the season in Washington. They beat San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick in Super Bowl XLVII, but Kaepernick threw for more than 300 yards and ran for 62, including the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in Super Bowl history.
After that, Baltimore made sure they got to know the read-option offense real well this offseason.
"The read option was a major priority," Head Coach John Harbaugh said, who also noted that he felt the Ravens defended it pretty well last year.
Ravens coaches visited colleges to study it this offseason. Then they practiced facing the read option every other day throughout Organized Team Activities and just about every other day during training camp. They had specific periods of practice dedicated to it.
They did so despite only having one read-option opposing quarterback on their regular-season schedule. They'll face that quarterback this week when they travel to Buffalo to face rookie EJ Manuel.
"We're looking forward to the opportunity to testing out some of our theories this Sunday," Harbaugh said.
The read-option provides a level of deception for the offense.
With the tailback lined up next to the quarterback, the quarterback can fake a handoff to him while watching how the defense is reacting. If the linebackers are crashing inside to stop the run, the quarterback can keep it and run around the edge. If the linebackers are slow to react, the running back can take the ball with a better chance for success.
"There are just so many things that you can do off of it, especially when you have a mobile quarterback that can make plays with his arms and legs. Then it becomes a tough scheme to defend," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
Manuel ran the read-option just a little bit in college at Florida State, but he still showed off his athleticism to run when plays broke down. Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone said they were definitely looking for a mobile quarterback, and surprised many by making Manuel, the first signal caller selected, 16th overall.
Since it's something new to Manuel, he hasn't done a ton of it so far in his young career. He'll suit up for just his fourth NFL game Sunday against the Ravens.
So far, Manuel has run just 13 times for 76 yards. He hasn't scored a rushing touchdown and does have one fumble. Marrone said Manuel has the ability to keep the ball himself more, but that it's something he's gaining confidence in doing.
So how do the Ravens stop the read-option if the Bills run it?
"You've just got to go back to your fundamentals, play fundamental football, and try to have the best day you can," Suggs said.
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees stressed having eye discipline. For example, if a defender is assigned to the quarterback, his eyes have got to stay on him even if what he's seeing tells them they should stray.
Defense is all about keys. See one key, it tells you clues about the next, and ultimately what's going to happen. With the read-option offense, some of those keys have to be thrown out the window.
"When you start looking at things you shouldn't look at, that's when you get beat," Pees said. "It's a little bit like in coverage. Most of the time when a guy gets beat in coverage, it's because of the eyes, not sometimes because of their body position, [but] because they're looking at the wrong thing."
This week, the Ravens defense squared off against backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor in practice. Taylor is a mobile quarterback who has developed the ability to run the scheme, and even did some of it during preseason games.
The Ravens defenders feel they're ready for their next crack at the read option. But will it be here to stay?
"We'll see," Suggs said. "Everybody thought the 'Wildcat' was here to stay, and you really don't see too much of it anymore. This may be. We'll just have to see how defenses handle it going forward."