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Film Breakdown: An In-Depth Look at Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' Rushing Attack

The Bengals' defense will have their hands full on Sunday.

With the Bengals facing Lamar Jackson and a strong Baltimore run game on Sunday, I thought this would be a good time to look into what the Ravens run game is. 

Baltimore isn't running a “zone read” on offense. The Ravens run the most gap scheme in the league, but also have plenty of plays with “read option.” So what are the Ravens doing on offense? There are three different concepts that they are utilizing to run the ball: power read, counter read, and counter bash. 

Let’s dive into these plays to see how they work.

Power Read

Power Read

This play is called “power read” which makes sense when you think about the name. The offensive line will block it like power while leaving the end unblocked. The quarterback will read what that end does as his "give read." If the end crashes down, the quarterback will give the ball to the halfback. This is the opposite of the typical offset gun zone read. If the end stays, the quarterback will keep the ball and run behind the blocking scheme.

On this example of power read, the end is blocked. Still, the quarterback will follow the blocking through the C gap. The quarterback running the ball here has to be a pretty dynamic guy which is exactly what Jackson is. 

He is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks that the NFL has had in its history. His ability to run with the ball is really unmatched across the league. This play did not hit for an explosive gain, but he is a huge play waiting to happen.

Here is another example of the Ravens utilizing power read, but in this particular play, the Ravens are in a split-back gun formation. I think Jackson makes the incorrect read on this play and should have kept it, but Von Miller does a fantastic job here to squeeze and pop so I understand how that happens. Notice on both of these plays how the offense is not zone blocking. They are not all stepping to the playside and getting horizontal displacement. Instead, the offensive line is pushing vertical and trying to displace guys that way. A complete opposite philosophy to the zone run/zone read.

Counter Read

Counter Read

This is your standard counter read play. Again the name gives away what the play is. It is GT counter with a read option element. On counter read, the quarterback will read the backside end. If the end crashes, he will pull the ball and run. If the end stays, he will give the ball to the back. The reason this play works really well is that it allows for the offense to get two players to the front side of the formation by pulling. Typically doing so comes with a difficult block on the backside end, but with the read option element, the end is being read.

Here Jackson gives the ball to the back and it goes for a touchdown. The touchdown happens in part because of all of these moving parts. The motion bumps the linebackers into the opposite direction. As I have written about with wide zone, motion at the snap helps to give offensive linemen better angles to execute their blocks. 

The next reason this works out so well is that the defensive end gets absolutely blasted by the puller. That end had no idea what was coming and was put onto his back which created a huge hole for the back. Lastly, Latavius Murray is a good running back and is able to fight into the end zone. All of this really shows how difficult it is to defend the Ravens run game.

If you have a keen eye you may have noticed that Jackson was not executing a keep fake after he handed that ball off. He was executing a pass fake. That is because the difference with Baltimore this season is that they have not run a typical counter read. Instead, they are running a counter read stick-out RPO.

Counter Read RPO

Everything with the blocking remains the same, but now this allows Jackson to pull the ball and throw an easy pass if the defense presents an opportunity. This allows for both a quick passing game along with a dynamic running game. Either it’s an advantageous run situation, a way to get the motion player (indicated by the dashes) into space, or an easy throw on the stick route. The Ravens are constantly evolving their scheme on offense into something more frustrating to defend.

Jackson throws the out/flat route to the motion man on this play. The Ravens use Hollywood Brown as their motion man which is not surprising since he is probably their most explosive athlete. That is a guy they want to get into space. It does not go for a huge gain, but it is something the Bengals need to be prepared to defend.

The curl flat zone defender on this play widens with the motion man, so Jackson throws the stick route. This concept is especially difficult to defend because of the multitude of options. If just one guy gets out of position this is most likely going to hit and if it hits, it could be a huge gain.

Counter Bash

Counter Bash

The last concept to look for with the Ravens is counter bash. In fact, if you just glaze over this it may not seem different at all. The difference is that it flips the halfback and the quarterback’s roles. On this play, the halfback will run away from the pullers and the quarterback will follow them. This play requires a dynamic athlete at quarterback and a talented running back. The Ravens have both of these players and value them highly. Everything else about this play is the same. The end away from the pullers is the read player and the intended gaps for the backs are also the same. The blocking scheme is also the exact same.

Here it is being run for a solid gain. You can see how well this opens up the defense for Jackson. A great play is made by a defensive back to tackle him before he hits the open field, but in the first level, there was a humongous hole.

This play shows the Ravens breaking their own tendency. On most of the counter bash plays that I saw, the Ravens lined up the tight end to the same side as the running back. However, on this play, they line him up opposite of the back. It’s a small difference, but they seem to prefer running counter read with the back opposite of the tight end and counter bash with the tight end to the running back’s side. How they get around the formation issue is that they use motion and have a wide receiver as the give option rather than a halfback. If the end did crash, the receiver gets a lead blocker for his side with the halfback as well. Another sneaky wrinkle that has been added by offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Really this article was to show the diversity of the Ravens run game and how it is not simply “zone read” or a “read option”. The zone read is a completely different concept and read option is such a broad term that it does not correctly describe what is happening on these run plays. Try to notice these run plays during the game on Sunday, because they will all be executed by the Ravens. 

Check out more of my film breakdowns here. 

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