After a disappointing first five weeks of the season, the Baltimore Ravens decided to make a change at offensive coordinator. Out went Marc Trestman after less than a year and a half replacing Gary Kubiak, who left after a year to take a head coaching position with the Denver Broncos. In now is Marty Mornhinweg, who came in with Trestman as the quarterbacks coach.
When Trestman was named offensive coordinator prior to last season, he vowed he would keep much of the system that was implemented under Kubiak -- a system many on the Ravens thrived under. That season Baltimore was ninth in offensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, sixth through the air and 18th on the ground. Whatever the intentions, the offenses never really matched up and the Ravens decided it was time to move on.
The most cited reason for the move was Trestman’s lack of commitment to the run game, and there’s little doubt that played into the decision. Under Kubiak, the Ravens had the ninth-lowest pass-to-run ratio in the league. Last season, that went to the fourth-highest. And while Baltimore finished 5-11, the pass-run split wasn’t just because the team was trailing in the second half. The Ravens played a high number of close games and while they held the lead in the second half, they still ran the ball 54 percent of the time.
But the idea of “balance” can be overrated, especially in an era when passing is significantly more efficient than running. The problem here is Baltimore hasn’t been all that good throwing the ball under Trestman. This season the Ravens are 27th in offensive DVOA, 27th through the air and 20th on the ground. Running the ball more isn’t always the key to a better offense, but for this Ravens team it might be. Last Sunday’s game against Washington is the perfect example -- and it ended up being the final straw -- as Baltimore ran the ball 13 times in the first half for 74 yards and called just five run plays in the second half, which gained 38 yards. During that second half, Joe Flacco threw 24 times for 89 yards -- 3.7 yards per attempt.
One of the biggest places these two aspects mix together is in Baltimore’s inefficiency on play-action passes this season. Per Sports Info Solutions charting data from Football Outsiders, the Ravens have the 12th highest percentage of pass plays in the league that come off play-action. However, they have the fewest yards per attempt in the league on those plays at just 4.6. They’re also just one of five teams that have a lower yards per attempt on play-action passes than all other passing plays and Baltimore’s difference between the two (-1.3) is only better than the Detroit Lions (-2.8).
Play-action passes can be a good source of big plays and they don’t necessarily need a competent running game to work. Take a team like the San Diego Chargers, who ranks 19th in rushing DVOA but have the highest yards per play off play-action in the league through Week 5. Baltimore just hasn’t been able to get big gains off play action or really anywhere else. The Ravens have the sixth fewest passing plays of 20 or more yards this season. That would be a low ranking in general, but it’s especially low with the arm of Flacco and deep threats such as Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman.
Bootlegs off play-action are a big part of the Kubiak offense, but they haven’t been the same with Baltimore since he left for Denver. Below is a play from Baltimore’s Wild Card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens run the boot and tight end Crockett Gillmore sneaks out from the fake side across the formation and is able to run for a 21-yard touchdown.
There’s just not the same type of outlet in the plays this year. The design leaves something to be desired, but the players also aren’t succeeding in getting open down the field. Part of that is the second level defenders not over-committing to the run. Here’s a play from the first quarter in Week 5 against Washington. The Ravens sell the run to the left and try to sneak Kyle Juszczyk to the right, but Trent Murphy doesn’t bite on the run and is able to cover the fullback as he heads out to the flat. Flacco is left waiting for anyone to get open, which doesn’t happen.
Later in the game, the Ravens try to run another play fake, this time with Gillmore delaying his route after pretending to block, but the linebacker on Gillmore’s side stays patient and tackles the tight end as soon as he catches the ball. Three other receiving options were going deep, but none are able to separate from coverage.
The Ravens’ problems on offense are all because they can’t run play-action passes, but these type of plays mesh together everything that has been slowing the offense down under Trestman. The play-fake doesn’t sell as well as it should because linebackers and secondary aren’t fooled by the run because actual run plays are rarely called and the vertical element to plays fail to create anything open down the field.
Now the Ravens will switch over to the offense of Marty Mornhinweg. The last we saw of Mornhinweg, he was the offensive coordinator for the ground and pound New York Jets under Rex Ryan in 2013 and 2014. He has a commitment to the run game John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens will like. In his last season as offensive coordinator with the Jets, they had the fifth-lowest pass-to-run ratio in the league despite being 26th in points scored. Of course, the offense that season was led by Geno Smith at quarterback. The previous season, the Jets had the fourth-lowest pass-to-run ratio while also ranking 26th in points scored. Previously Mornhinweg was the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles under Andy Reid, where the team finished in the top-10 for rushing yards per attempt in each of his final three years.
A shift to the run game might be beneficial for the Giants’ defense, especially with the injuries in the secondary heading into Sunday’s game. The Giants rank 10th in defensive DVOA against the run and 18th against the pass this year.
In Mornhinweg’s past, he’s been committed to the run despite the flow and game script. That could be beneficial to the Ravens in the long term, but with how well the Giants have played against the run this season, that could be the best-case scenario for the defense, too.