Todd Monken served as Georgia’s offensive coordinator for three seasons and a combined 40 games. Really, though, John Harbaugh might have needed to see only the last two.
In last season’s College Football Playoff, the undefeated Bulldogs faced two top-25 defenses, according to ESPN’s efficiency metrics: Ohio State in the semifinals and Texas Christian in the final. Georgia finished with 533 yards and 42 points in a narrow victory over the Buckeyes. Then it walloped the Horned Frogs for its second straight national title, rolling up 589 yards in a historic 65-7 win.
The Bulldogs, who finished with the country’s second-most efficient offense, didn’t lack for talent. But their postseason pyrotechnics showed what made Monken such an attractive candidate for Harbaugh and the Ravens, who announced his hiring last Tuesday. Here’s a look at how his Georgia offense stormed through the CFP — and how his tendencies and concepts could translate in Baltimore.
Georgia lined up in the shotgun or pistol formation on about 84% of its plays last season. From there, the Bulldogs could run the kind of read-option plays that have made the Ravens’ ground game so dangerous with quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Of all the concepts in Monken’s playbook — both run and pass — none were more important than the inside-zone read. Like any read-option play, the quarterback can hand the ball off to a running back or keep it himself, depending on how the unblocked edge defender reacts. On inside-zone plays, blockers moving in the running back’s direction try to displace defensive linemen in their designed area with double teams, whenever possible, before taking on second-level defenders like linebackers and safeties.
The Bulldogs rushed for 376 yards (5.6 per carry) on zone-read plays last year, according to Sports Info Solutions, bolstered by one of the nation’s best offensive lines. In the College Football Playoff semifinal against Ohio State, Georgia running back Kendall Milton scored from 11 yards out on an option handoff.
A week later, quarterback Stetson Bennett scored easily against TCU on a 21-yard keeper.
Monken also incorporated split-zone looks into his option playbook, whereby an off-the-line player — usually a tight end — moves across the formation at the snap for a kick-out block on the unblocked edge defender, trying to seal the back side of the play. According to SIS, the Bulldogs rushed for 174 yards (6.7 per carry) on read-option plays with a split-zone flow last season.
Against Ohio State, tight end Brock Bowers’ right-to-left movement helped spring running back Daijun Edwards for a 21-yard gain.
Georgia’s success with inside-zone reads helped open up the rest of Monken’s playbook, from complementary run designs to run-pass-option plays to play-action concepts.
If defenses wanted to clog up the middle, desperate to take away the Bulldogs’ inside-zone and power concepts, they’d be left vulnerable to toss sweeps, which attacked the perimeter. Georgia averaged 4.1 yards per carry on sweeps last season, according to SIS.
Monken also played off the tendency with the occasional end-around, one of which wide receiver Ladd McConkey took for 14 yards against TCU.
Designed quarterback runs
While running back Kenny McIntosh led Georgia in red-zone rushing touchdowns last season (10), Bennett wasn’t far behind. He had eight scores from inside the 20-yard line and another two from beyond, finding the end zone on a mix of scrambles, read options and designed runs.
Against Ohio State, Bennett wasn’t touched on a 3-yard touchdown. Against TCU, he wasn’t touched on a 6-yard score. Both runs came on power concepts helped by legal crack-back blocks from wide receivers that effectively walled off Bennett’s running lane.
Even with former coordinator Greg Roman’s deep playbook, the Ravens seemed to run out of ideas in the red zone last season. Over the season’s first 10 weeks, the offense ranked 12th in the NFL in expected points added per red-zone rush, according to TruMedia. (EPA is a measure of efficiency that accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and field position.)
After returning from their bye in Week 11, however, the Ravens ranked No. 21 over the rest of the season.
Wide receiver and tight end screens
Roman was no big fan of screen passes. Jackson has never finished a season higher than 28th leaguewide in attempted screens, according to Pro Football Focus, and over the past two years, the Ravens’ top screen options finished 25th (wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown) and 33rd (wide receiver Devin Duvernay) in total screen targets, respectively.
That should change under Monken. Bennett attempted 100 screen passes last season, completing 87 for 633 yards (6.3 per attempt) and a touchdown, according to PFF. Only six Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks threw more screens in 2022.
The bulk of Bennett’s went to his wide receivers and tight ends. McConkey was targeted on a team-high 21 screens, and fellow wide receivers Kearis Jackson and Dillon Bell combined for 17. Bowers, meanwhile, also had 21 screen targets, by far the most in the country for a tight end.
Monken got them the ball in a variety of ways. Sometimes, he’d call a designed screen, as on this 11-yard catch-and-run by McConkey against TCU.
Other times, he’d “tag” a screen to the back side of a read option, giving Bennett the option to pass the ball out wide if Georgia had a numbers advantage on the perimeter.
With McIntosh giving Monken another credible receiving threat, Georgia could also effectively turn a wide receiver screen into a running back screen. On a second-and-17 play against Ohio State, McIntosh motioned from the backfield to the slot, took Bennett’s quick hitter and weaved his way to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.
Georgia’s passing game relied heavily on play-action last season. Of Bennett’s 454 total passes, more than a third came after a run fake, according to SIS. And of those 165 play-action passes, few were more productive than those powered by a bootleg.
On play-action rollouts, Bennett went 25-for-29 for 376 yards and two touchdowns. According to SIS, the play type had a sky-high success rate — meaning it generated positive EPA — of 82.8%, a testament not only to Bennett’s accuracy but also to the space Monken’s play designs created for receivers.
While Bennett threw 12 of those 29 play-action passes at least 10 yards downfield, his 14 attempts with 5 air yards or fewer actually averaged more yards per attempt. With athletic tight ends like Darnell Washington, a possible first-round pick this spring, and Bowers, a surefire first-round pick next spring, Bennett usually had a big target to find and a good chance of after-the-catch production.
Monken also creatively wedded his play-action schemes to his designed-run looks. Knowing TCU would have to respect Georgia’s counter runs, which averaged 6.4 yards per carry last season, Monken called one play-action pass against the Horned Frogs that had not only his running back and offensive line sell the counter action, but Bowers as well. After pretending to pull as a blocker, the tight end pivoted and bolted into open space. He caught Bennett’s pass a yard behind the line of scrimmage and turned it into a 28-yard gain.
The Ravens’ play-action production under Roman waned every year, but with Jackson’s mobility, the offensive line’s run-blocking ability and the team’s weapons at tight end, Monken should have the ingredients for similar success.
Because Georgia saw man-to-man coverage on only about a quarter of its drop-backs last season, according to PFF, Monken needed an array of zone beaters for his passing attack.
Crossing routes proved a good bet. According to SIS, Bennett was 16-for-20 last season when targeting receivers running dig routes (a vertical pattern that breaks sharply to the middle of the field at a depth of about 10 to 15 yards) and deep crosses (an almost diagonal pattern for an inside receiver aimed at the space behind a defense’s linebackers and in front of its safeties).
With reliable pass protection up front and dynamic receiving options at running back, Georgia could put second-level defenders in a high-low bind. Drop too far back in coverage, and Bennett might throw a check-down for an easy gain. Get pulled in by a route closer to the line of scrimmage, and Bennett might throw into the space a defender just vacated.
In Baltimore, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and tight end Mark Andrews should fill those roles nicely. As a sophomore at Minnesota, Bateman finished fifth in the country in receiving yards on dig routes, according to SIS. A year later, he was even more productive on a per-game basis. Andrews, meanwhile, has been one of the NFL’s most productive receivers on deep crosses.
Switch concepts were devastating under Monken last season. The two-man route combinations stress defenses as soon as the receivers get off the line of scrimmage; with the outside receiver angling inside initially and the inside receiver running a wheel route underneath him, defenders have to handle the exchange smoothly. Poor execution can have defenders running into each other or leaving a receiver unmarked.
According to charting by SEC Stat Cat, Georgia averaged a staggering 23.5 yards per attempt last season on “Wheelie Switch” concepts — any pass play with a switch release and the paired receivers running a wheel route and post or dig route.
TCU was powerless to stop them. In the second quarter, Bennett found Bowers wide open down the right sideline for a 35-yard gain after a quick snap, a fake toss, and a switch release with the tight end (Bowers) and slot receiver (Dominick Blaylock) caused confusion in the Horned Frogs’ pass coverage.
In the third quarter, Bennett hit Bowers for a 22-yard touchdown on another wheel route, this time outside the left hash marks. With TCU’s lone deep safety occupied by the distribution of routes over the middle of the field, Bowers was left with one-on-one coverage, which he beat easily.
On Georgia’s next drive, Monken added motion to another switch concept, again befuddling the Horned Frogs’ secondary. At the snap, three defensive backs stayed with Blaylock, the slot receiver, and McConkey, who’d motioned over to his side of the formation. But no one went with Washington, who’d lined up with them as the outside receiver. Bennett nailed Washington for a 21-yard completion over the middle.
Three plays later, Georgia scored its seventh touchdown. It would go on to add two more, just for good measure.