How The Ravens Can Scheme Their Current Receiving Corps Open

Sports and Bets — October 7, 2015 at 12:07 pm by

By now, everyone knows the Ravens are absolutely decimated with injuries at the receiver position.  In July, if you looked at what the perceived depth chart was going to be on opening day in Denver, it probably would have looked like Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman as the starters, and Michael Campanaro as the slot. Going into this week, Smith is doubtful, Campanaro is on IR, and who the hell knows if Perriman will play at all this year.

Next man up, right? Well, that next group of three happens to be Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, and rookie, Darren Waller. No need to bash anyone, at this point it’s all been said. Instead, let’s look at some ways that this offense can still be somewhat successful, or at least good enough to give the defense a chance to win some games.

To start, let’s look at what each player does well; or what each player possesses as far as physical tools. Both Marlon Brown and Darren Waller are big receivers with noticeable height advantages on anybody covering them. Waller, unlike Brown, also has some speed to get deep on a defense. Kamar Aiken is a decent route runner, who is best suited to work the intermediate routes, because he lacks top end speed. This week Ozzie brought in Chris Givens from the Rams, who has displayed flashes of big play ability in his short career.  Though his career has been derailed by his own inconsistency.

This is where good coaching comes in. A good coach can schematically put his player’s best attributes to work. This can be done by play design, formation, and game planning. I have full confidence in Marc Trestman’s ability to execute the type of game plan to maximize his healthy player’s best attributes. This is how I would do it.

Normally the Ravens use a lot of vanilla formations. In passing situations, you will usually see the Ravens in 11 personnel(1 back, 1 tight end, and 3 receivers). These players will be evenly spaced with the “X” receiver and the slot receiver lined up to one side, and the “Z” receiver lined up opposite on the strong side of the formation (Side with the tight end.). I say vanilla because it’s plain, it’s a formation that says were coming at you, try to stop it. Problem is, now, with receivers who can’t get separation from defensive backs, nobody will be breaking open. Any team playing the Ravens will gladly line up their three best corners man-to-man with the Ravens three receivers, and consistently win that matchup.

So how do you beat man-to-man coverage, and more importantly how do you beat man coverage when you have receivers who can’t do it on their own? Formation is the first step. Lining up vanilla won’t get the job done. They can’t allow the corners free access to bump the receivers at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens are going to have to get creative with their formations, much the way Bruce Arians does in Arizona. The use of stacks and bunches is a great way to manufacture free releases for the receivers.

A stack is two receivers lined up one right behind the other. This will ensure at least one receiver will get off the line free because the other receiver has a nice two-yard cushion that creates a two-way go for him to release. It’s not always going to be the back receiver that gets the free release, because the corner can choose to wait to bump the second guy, but that would mean allowing the first to go free. You will never see two corners line up right next to each other on the line of scrimmage to try and bump both players, because it leaves them way to vulnerable to deep balls. Any corner trying to bump the back receiver will also have a tough time getting to him, because the receiver has space to maneuver around him. This formation will then, most of the time, dictate a free release for one, if not both, stacked receivers.

The same concept applies to the bunch formation, where you have three receivers bunched together. By rule, only one of those receivers will be lined up on the line of scrimmage, therefore, only one receiver can really be bumped. The other two line up usually on either side of the receiver on the line, about one yard back off the line of scrimmage. The man-beating route combos off the bunch formation are endless. The crossing of three receivers makes it virtually impossible to play straight man coverage on them. A lot of times, defenses will play a zone/man combo where each defender will take whichever receiver breaks into his area and then stick with that receiver in man from that point on. This still makes it very hard on the defense to play tight coverage, because they have to react so quickly to a combination of factors.

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Let’s break down a potential bunch pass play. It’s third and five, and the Ravens come out with bunch trips to the right of the formation. The “X” receiver Marlon Brown will line up wide left, isolated on a corner with the possibility of a safety shaded over the top. The “Z” receiver in this set will be Kamar Aiken, lined up on the outside of the bunch, to the right of the “Y” receiver, Maxx Williams, who is lined up on the line of scrimmage. Darren Waller will play the slot in this set, and be lined up inside of Williams. The ball is on the left hash, making the bunch on the wide side of the field. At the snap of the ball, the bunch route combo will give the appearance of a bench concept. That is where the outside receiver does an out, and the inside guy does a corner route. Aiken, on the outside, starts on an angle to the outside, appearing to be running an out. Maxx Williams runs the corner route, and Darren Waller, from the inside slot position, runs a six-yard out-breaking stick route. This leads the defense, who is playing man, to commit to what they see. If they are playing straight man, the defenders have to sift through the other receivers to stick their guy. If they play a man/zone combo off the bunch, then the outside corner would stick Aiken, who started on the out. Where Trestman gets creative, figuratively, is after two steps, Aiken plants hard with his outside foot and drives back hard to the inside. This is called a “China” route. The receiver starts out and breaks hard back in to run either a slant or a shallow cross. Either route will be highly successful against man coverage, because Aiken will use the natural pick he gets off both Williams and Waller running their routes out of the bunch. If Joe sees zone he can hit Waller on the stick route for a first down. Or if he does get man, the underneath route to Aiken can turn into a big catch-and-run gainer. Oh, and by the way, if he gets blitzed, remember you have the fade to Marlon Brown hot. The same Marlon Brown who is 6’5″ working against the average sized corner, who might be six foot. This is just one example of how to use formation and scheme to get lesser talented receivers open.

Another plan of attack this week needs to be the use of wide receiver screens on the outside. Once again, the size of Marlon Brown and Darren Waller need to be put to good use. This is a positive attribute that needs to be utilized, as Darren Waller is 240 pounds. Getting him blocking on a corner is a mismatch, and should help get the offense going in the right direction. We’ve seen firsthand how a good receiver screen game can open up so much space downfield, as the Steelers do this to everybody.

It’s definitely not time to throw in the towel on this team. How many times have we seen teams rise from mediocrity to make playoff runs. A 3-4 start to this season will put the Ravens in decent position to make a run, considering they travel only once in November and just once in December. It’s time for Trestman to scheme with the talent he has and it’s time for Joe Flacco to elevate his game and carry this team.

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