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Rewind: The Ravens rush vs Washington

The biggest problem for the Ravens last year was the lack of a running game. Week after week, John Harbaugh would say the team needed to run more but each game would end up pass-heavy, usually because the Ravens were chasing the game. One game into pre-season, the Ravens are definitely emphasising the run.

Admittedly, the team never trailed against Washington and so could afford to run. And we are just looking at one game here but the play calling was definitely more balanced. I counted 34 runs and 31 passes. Let’s look closer at how the running game breaks down.

The backs
The Ravens had four running backs with more than one carry on Thursday night. Terrance West and Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen got the early carries, while newcomers Taquan Mizzell and Bobby Rainey saw the field later. Mizzell is an undrafted rookie, while Rainey joins from the Giants, though he began his career with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie in 2012. Danny Woodhead, signed as a free agent in the off-season, didn’t play.

Here’s how the carries were divided:

Mizzell: 15 for 51 yards, an average of 3.4 yards per carry and a long of 11.
West: 5-23, 4.6ypc, long of 18, one TD
Allen: 8-21, 2.6ypc, long of 8
Rainey: 4-12, 3ypc, long of 5

These are very small sample sizes and all four backs were playing behind an offensive line that was missing numerous starters and constantly rotating. West in particular, who got all his carries in the first quarter, was on the field when the offense was struggling to find a rhythm.

With those caveats in mind, let’s take a look at each back’s “success rate”. This is a metric developed by Football Outsiders that considers a successful run to be one that gains 40% of the required yards on first down, 60% of yards needed on second, or 100% on third or fourth down. Here’s how the four backs did:

West: 40% success rate
Mizzell: 40%
Allen: 25%
Rainey: 0%

That matches up well with what your eyes would have told you. West had two very strong runs – an 18-yard burst to set up 1st and Goal and a goal line dive for a TD. Mizzell, had more carries and more successes, including a burst of three 7-yard gains on consecutive plays in the third quarter.

Running direction
Much was made in the off-season of the addition of Greg Roman to the coaching staff. The veteran coach aims to introduce what he describes as a “multidimensional” rushing attack. Can we see any sign of that, with one pre-season game in the books? First, let’s look at where the runs went:

RG: 15 (44%)
LG: 8 (24%)
LT: (Off-tackles, sweeps and tosses): 7 (21%)
Middle: 3 (9%)

The run direction is based on the data from NFL.com. In some cases, the run might not have gone where it was meant to. A lot of the runs appeared to be Counters – that is, runs where the RB’s first step is in one direction before he takes the ball the opposite way. However, on at least a couple of occasions, it didn’t look to me as if the play had been drawn up as a Counter.

As you can see, the bulk of the runs – almost half – went over Right Guard, which is where Marshal Yanda will play come the regular season. A quarter headed over Left Guard and roughly a fifth went off the left side of the line, including the End Around to Tim White that opened the game. There were no sweeps or tosses off the right side of the line, which I find interesting, since the right side is traditionally the ‘power’ side in the running game.

Once again, we’re looking at a very small sample here and lots of this running will have been situational. Against the Dolphins this week, we might see all the outside runs head to the right.

Personnel groupings
Part of the multidimensional approach the Ravens are aiming for means keeping your opponent guessing about whether you will run or pass from different personnel groups and down-and-distance situations. Here’s how many times the Ravens ran from each personnel grouping (the first number is the number of RBs on the field and the second refers to TEs):

21: 9 (27% of total runs)
22: 8 (24%)
11: 7 (21%)
12: 7 (21%)

There was one run each from 20, 10 and 23 personnel, the latter being the goal line formation that brought West’s touchdown.

Overall, that’s a very even split. The Ravens ran from four different personnel groupings more or less equally. Three additional tidbits: first, in 11 personnel, the runs almost always came from the shotgun (5 of the 7). The only other shotgun runs were one each in 21 and 10 personnel.

Second, 13 runs – almost 40% – involved some kind of motion. About half the time, the play calling paired plays that used the same motion but switched the direction of the run. For example, on the Ravens third possession, Boyle went in motion left to right on 1st and 10 from the Washington 32 and the run went over Right Guard. On the next play Boyle again went left to right but this time the run went outside the Left Tackle.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Ravens used 22 personnel on just 3% of plays last year.

Conclusions
What have we learned from all this? I’m going to be bold and say that we’ve learned nothing. No wait, come back! This hasn’t been a waste of time. What we’ve identified here are some trends to observe over the rest of pre-season as the team begins to gel, more of the starters come into the lineup, and we start to see the fringe players gain in confidence.

As the next few games unfold, keep the following questions in mind. Does the play calling remain balanced? Can Allen start to show more effectiveness in his running? Is Mizzell as good as he looks on one outing? Finally, how will the variety of run plays develop in forthcoming games.

Photo: Chris Marquardt

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