When you look at some NFL offenses, you can immediately see a complexity, simply in the number of different pre-snap looks a team gives. The Steelers, Patriots and even the Bills have heavily varied offenses.
Other teams have a very limited number of looks, and just run small variations of those throughout a game. The Bengals and Cowboys fall into that category. Perhaps, though, the Ravens take it to an extreme.
Against the Eagles in Week 15, for instance, Baltimore ran most of their plays from about six or seven formations. But there’s an interesting nuance to their offense: they vary from one drive to another, but stick with two or three primary plays for the duration of a drive.
On one particular drive, Baltimore used the same shotgun play three times in 1:08 seconds of game time — seven total plays, excluding one spike to stop the clock.
Week 15, 2nd Quarter, 1:23 Remaining, 2nd & 10
The overall concept here is fairly simple, and the goal with this play is to just take whatever the defense gives.
In this play, the tight ends each run short curls. One or both could end up open, depending on how deep the inside linebacker(s) are playing. In this case, the Eagles are in a 4-1-6 Dime defense, with a single inside linebacker covering the short middle. Tight end Dennis Pitta take off up the seam, so the linebacker leaves him for the shallow safety, but Pitta curls the route just past the linebacker, in a dead zone of the defense.
Week 15, 2nd Quarter, 1:01 Remaining, 1st & 10
Twenty-two seconds later, the Ravens run the exact same play. This time, Pitta doesn’t appear to be the primary target. If he was, the opportunity was there to hit him for a five-yard gain. Considering the down and distance, this would have been a decent choice, except that the clock was quickly winding down and Flacco is looking for a large chunk of yardage. He sees that the safety on wide receiver Steve Smith Jr.’s side is slow in turning his hips and isn’t in much of a backpedal, so it’s obvious Smith will get out in front of him. He does exactly that, and the deep pass may have gone for a touchdown, but Flacco just barely overthrew Smith, and it fell incomplete.
Week 15, 2nd Quarter, 0:15 Remaining, 2nd & 10
Just after spiking the ball to stop the clock, the Ravens again went back to the same shotgun play. With any other kicker, there’s little chance Flacco would go back to a tight end — this time, it was Kyle Juszczyk, on the offensive left, instead of Dennis Pitta on the offensive right. But, when your kicker is Justin Tucker, kicking from the 35 isn’t frightening, it’s routine. That opened up all options on this play for Flacco, and he went underneath, despite Mike Wallace being wide open for a considerably longer gain.
In reviewing other games, this is just part of a larger trend, and it’s one of the things that helps the Ravens’ offense over the course of games. Even if their opponents are able to figure them out within a particular drive, they simply come out with a different look on the next drive, and hope they don’t get figured out before they can score. It’s worked well for them at times. But they’ll be facing a very different Steelers defense on Sunday than the one they did in Week 9, and that could make all the difference.