The Baltimore Ravens are the sixth-highest scoring team in the NFL while being 31st in passing yards per game. This statistic may seem a bit abnormal on the surface, but one must consider the potent rushing attack by the Ravens which is highlighted by last year’s MVP quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
The Ravens rank first by about 12 yards over the Tennessee Titans in yards per game on the season. They average just about 173 rushing yards per game, which is impressive. What’s even more impressive is the last three games where the Ravens averaged 228 rushing yards per game. Of course, Jackson’s 124 yards that he dumped on Cleveland two weeks ago helps that number, but it doesn’t take away from the identity of this offense - run the football.
Between Jackson, rookie J.K.Dobbins, and Gus Edwards, the Giants are going to have their hands full on Sunday. The Ravens use a lot of different personnel packages, a lot of pre-snap motion, and a ton of misdirection to manipulate the run keys of the second-level defenders, while putting a bunch of stress on the big guys up front. If the Giants stand a chance, they’ll have to play great on defense and force Jackson to rely on his arm. This is not easy whatsoever, but let’s look at three things the Giants can do to give them a chance.
1). Discipline on zone read
Jackson’s athletic ability forces the defense to respect his legs. It’s tempting for the unblocked backside defender to crash down on the running back when the quarterback goes into the mesh point - DON’T DO IT! Not against Lamar Jackson, who has made a living making the end man on the line of scrimmage pay for that decision.
Zone read can be incredibly frustrating to defend. It takes sound discipline and decisiveness to try and slow it down. There are two threats on the play: J.K. Dobbins (27) and Lamar Jackson (8). The Ravens do a good job bringing motion from the backside and using that motioning offensive player as an extra blocker to the play side. We see that above with Willie Snead (83). This is a very common hand off that we’ll see a bunch on Sunday, but if the end man on the line of scrimmage to the backside crashes down in an effort to stop Dobbins, then that will give Jackson the nod to keep the football and use his legs, which we hopefully don’t see too much of on Sunday. Sione Takitaki (44) does well holding his responsibility and forcing Jackson to hand the ball off, but so many defensive ends fail at this job, even against the Ravens.
Baltimore aligns with three players in the backfield from a different alignment then the shotgun one we just saw - yet another very annoying thing to deal with about the zone read. Both Mark Andrews (89) and Patrick Ricard (42) kick outside to lead block and leave Porter Gustin (97) as the read defender. Watch how Andrews runs around Gustin and allows Jackson to read his movements. Gustin goes too far inside, doesn’t hold contain, and allows Lamar Jackson to gain the edge for a big gain with lead blockers in front. If Gustin stayed put, Jackson would have handed the ball to Dobbins who would have had a numbers advantage in the box. It’s tough to defend. I’m hopeful that the Giants front can hold up and restrict rushing lanes against this offensive line, while Patrick Graham ensures that the EDGE players keep discipline on Jackson, but it’s not going to be easy.
Once defenses have seen the zone read several times and been burned by either the running back or Jackson, then they start to cheat a bit, and we saw that a little with the Browns on Monday Night Football. The Browns slanted in an effort to slow the running game down and gain leverage on the Baltimore offensive line. It worked to the advantage of Baltimore and Jackson handed the ball off to Gus Edwards (35), who had to make players miss in the hole behind a nice trap block from the pulling back side guard. Look at the respect from the Browns eyeing on Jackson at the mesh point after the slant; both Larry Ogunjobi (65) and Myles Garrett (95) don’t even look Edwards’ way. Also, Takitaki is late to see that the ball was handed off; by the time he started moving towards Edwards, the lineman was in place to make his block and Edwards took the football to the house.
Here it is again against Tyquan Lewis (94) and the Colts, who are one of the better defenses in the NFL. Lewis did not keep contain and it was an easy chunk yardage play for Jackson. Luckily for the Colts, there was no lead blocker heading in that direction like the Ravens tend to bring in a lot of those situations. The Eagles were victims to this, to no surprise since we saw Daniel Jones have a very good game making Eagle ends pay with his legs:
It’s a pistol formation, with a motioning defender to the opposite direction to cause confusion, which is something common in this offense as well. Brandon Graham (55) bites down, but the safety does a great job replacing him. However, the speed of Jackson was too much and he still picked up good yardage on the run.
2). Stopping designed QB runs
The zone read is effective because it gives Jackson an option based on what the defense is presenting. It’s basically eliminating a defender from the play because he doesn’t have to be blocked, and giving the offense advantageous numbers. These zone read runs are different than designed quarterback runs, which Baltimore uses often as well.
This may look like a zone read run, but watch Jackson’s eyes - he’s not reading anybody. This is a designed quarterback run with the entire left side of the line of scrimmage pulling to the right. This scares me a bit because Dallas is in a Bear type of front, which is something the Giants will use, albeit the splits by the Ravens are tighter to force Dallas even tighter giving the Ravens better down blocking angles; the Giants tend to go tight and use the strong side down lineman as a 4i-technique. Anyways, the right side of the line pins and the left side of the line pulls, which opens up a huge alley in the B-Gap. There’s a defensive back in the linebacker position, something that the Giants may do as well, and he’s easily taken out by the pulling lineman.
Expect a similar look in the red zone, albeit this play works well against four-down fronts with wide rushers in tight spaces, cause that backside defender doesn’t really need to be blocked at all. When the Giants go into their 2-4-5 front, then this play would be even more enticing on short yardage situations.
Here’s a quarterback counter run that is similar to the play above. The center is uncovered so he pulls against the Eagles wide front, along with the back side tackle. The center traps Josh Sweat (94) and then Jackson has Mark Andrews and a pulling back side tackle in space. The Giants must trust their keys, keep these alleys tight, and play disciplined against this rushing attack.
This is another quarterback designed run with a motioning receiver and Patrick Ricard lead blocking as the line slides to the left to cut defenders’ angles off. Notice, once again, that Jackson isn’t reading the EMOLOS. Dallas placed two defenders on the edge to guard against the zone read. The first went inside and the second attempted to play force, but was easily eliminated from the play by Ricard. Jackson then followed his lead blockers and picked up good yardage on another excellent designed quarterback run.
A play fake bootleg with Jackson and lead blockers is a scary thought. This was the play to seal the victory against the Eagles, and it may not have worked all that well if Sweat saw what was happening. The tackle just let him go inside and became a blocker in space for Jackson. Baltimore, the masters of deception, sold the play well by sending Ricard with the running back and pulling the ostensible back side guard. The Giants have to really trust their run keys, diagnose the play going down, see the nuances, and then react in the proper manner - sadly, that’s easier said than done when it comes to slowing down these designed quarterback runs.
3). Stop Jackson from extending plays with his legs
If the zone read and designed quarterback runs haven’t scared you enough, let’s discuss Jackson’s ability to tuck the football and run when he doesn’t like what he sees downfield. The Giants secondary has been pretty solid this season, other than last week without James Bradberry. Containment and quarterback spying are options, probably necessities if we’re being real, but that still isn’t a foregone conclusion to stop Jackson. The Giants typically run a lot of zone coverage which figures to be better against rushing quarterbacks since the players in zone are watching, and facing, the quarterback. However, these players still have to come downhill and tackle someone as elusive as Lamar Jackson.
Even with good upfield pressure, if there’s no one specifically keying on Jackson, then you may have a bad time. From this angle, it looks like the defense may be in a zone match look, but it didn’t matter. He’s too creative in space, has a ton of athletic ability, and can break game changing plays at any moment; this is why defenses must spy Jackson and keep him in front of them.
Jackson will just rush all over defenses if there’s no spy and he’s facing man coverage, like we see above. The Giants must keep an athletic defender on Jackson at all times to try and slow his rushing ability down. If they blitz, they have to get home or it could be a long day for the Giants defense.
The Giants showed a lot of discipline against the Browns rushing attack by not allowing Nick Chubb to find his cut back lanes. They also did well against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks when rushing the passer; they were disciplined, didn’t bite on Russell’s fakes, and they stuck to their assignments while executing well. They’re going to need to do both of those things to stop the Ravens rushing attack and Lamar Jackson’s legs when he drops back to pass. They must force Jackson to throw the football and beat the Giants defense with his arm talent. The Giants defensive line must keep the rushing lanes tight, flow to the ball, hit and wrap up Dobbins low to avoid broken tackles. Dobbins has a lot of contact balance, as does Edwards, so the Giants can’t overlook these running backs either. There’s a reason the Ravens are the first ranked rushing team in 2020. On the season, the Giants are the sixth-best in terms of yards per game. That certainly will be put to the test on Sunday.