No offense with Lamar Jackson at quarterback should ever be predictable. But over the Ravens’ first eight weeks of the season, they at least had a significant tell.
The Ravens’ most common personnel grouping this year is 11 personnel (one back, one tight end and three wide receivers). During former offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s tenure from 2019-2022, the Ravens’ approach in the grouping was relatively balanced: Jackson dropped back to pass on 58.9% of his early-down plays, according to TruMedia, one of the NFL’s lowest rates.
Under new play-caller Todd Monken, the Ravens have reversed course. Entering Week 9, no offense had a higher drop-back rate on first and second down (80.1%), when more of the playbook is available to offensive coordinators. No one in 11 personnel even came close. The Ravens had been eager to pass, even if it meant passing up opportunities for easy yardage on the ground. In 11 personnel, they’d seen light boxes (six defenders or fewer) on 72.1% of their early-down plays. Roman’s passing attacks had rarely earned that respect.
|Season||Drop-back rate (11 personnel)||Light-box rate (11 personnel)|
|2023 (through Week 8)||80.1%||72.1%|
|2023 (Week 9)||48.4%||79.2%|
On Sunday, however, Monken seemed to embrace the potential of his spread rushing attack. In a 37-3 flattening of the Seattle Seahawks, the Ravens rushed for 298 yards, the fourth most in franchise history, and they ran especially wild out of 11 personnel: 16 designed runs, 163 yards, one touchdown.
Running back Keaton Mitchell’s 40-yard score in the third quarter? That was 11 personnel, with five Seahawks defenders in the box.
Mitchell’s 60-yard scamper in the fourth quarter? That was 11 personnel, with six defenders in the box.
Running back Gus Edwards’ 42-yard run to open the second half? That was 20 personnel — two backs, Edwards and fullback Patrick Ricard, and no tight ends — with seven defenders in the box. But the Ravens’ three-receiver grouping had forced five Seattle defensive backs onto the field, and the Seahawks in the back end who could get off their blocks couldn’t tackle the hard-charging Edwards.
Just as notable as the Ravens’ spread offense personnel was their timing. Both of Mitchell’s big plays came on second down. Edwards’ came on first down. In the second and third quarter, when the Ravens lit up Seattle for 30 points, they dropped back to pass on early downs just 45.7% of the time.
This was not a vulnerable Seahawks front, either. Entering Sunday, Seattle had the NFL’s best success rate against designed runs, having allowed just 3.6 yards per carry (third in the NFL) and 1.05 yards before contact per carry (fourth in the NFL), according to TruMedia. The team’s trade for defensive lineman Leonard Williams last week was supposed to bolster its front, too, not weaken it.
“It says a lot about the O-line and the backs and Lamar,” coach John Harbaugh said Sunday of the Ravens’ rushing success. “Lamar had a number of those runs, too, but also the threat of Lamar. The passing game is going, so they can’t just gang up on the run too much. Then, the execution of the O-line and the backs and the tight ends … all those things factor in.”
Overall, the Ravens averaged 0.42 expected points added per designed run in 11 personnel Sunday. A small sample size, sure, but impressive nonetheless. During Jackson’s NFL Most Valuable Player-winning season in 2019, he averaged only 0.30 EPA per offensive play.
Monken had hit similar highs earlier this season: 0.47 EPA per designed rush in Week 1 against the Houston Texans, 0.44 in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts, 0.42 in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The problem was in his volume. In all three games, the Ravens’ designed-run rate out of 11 personnel was under 20%.
“Personnel does that,” Monken said Thursday of the Ravens’ pass-heavy tendencies. “Some of it is who you have in the game, whether it’s utilizing Pat Ricard, utilizing your tight ends, the run game that you can have when you’re in spread-out personnel, how much you want to run Lamar. That becomes part of that as you continue to build and try to scheme other defenses. Certain teams give you different fronts that might not be as much of an advantage to be in a spread set. So we certainly are trying to be as best as we can and be as balanced as we can per personnel set, but it doesn’t always work out that way.”
On Sunday, the Ravens took what the Seahawks gave them up front. What they got was more than enough.
Odds and ends
- Cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s reintroduction to the NFL was rough. In his first game back since recovering from minor foot surgery, a 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5, Humphrey allowed four catches on five targets for 59 yards, according to Sports Info Solutions, including the go-ahead 41-yard score to wide receiver George Pickens. Over the past four weeks, however, few cornerbacks have been stingier: six targets, one catch allowed, 5 yards given up (and, yes, two pass interference penalties committed). Since Week 6, Humphrey’s allowing a microscopic 0.04 yards per coverage snap.
- Center Tyler Linderbaum was a one-man wrecking crew on Mitchell’s 60-yard run, twice knocking inside linebacker Jordyn Brooks out of the picture. But left guard John Simpson’s effort was notable, too. He hit a max speed of 16.38 mph as he looked for work downfield, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the fastest a Ravens offensive lineman has moved this season.
- Safety Geno Stone has been in the right place at the right time a lot this season. On Sunday, the right place happened to be a very loud M&T Bank Stadium. He grabbed his NFL-leading sixth interception in the second quarter after Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett seemed to give up on a vertical route down the left sideline. Lockett deserved only so much of the blame; quarterback Geno Smith appeared to call an audible at the line of scrimmage before the third-and-4 snap, and Lockett gestured to Smith as if he hadn’t heard it.