Over the past two seasons, the Baltimore Ravens offense ran through the league by, well, running. More specifically they did it by using heavy personnel and a ton of motion to influence the defense and create openings. That isn’t happening quite as often this season. The Ravens have leaned more on the throwing ability of Lamar Jackson and the results have been positive.
The Ravens rank seventh in passing DVOA, Jackson individually ranks third among quarterbacks in EPA per dropback according to TruMedia, and he’s eighth in Completion Percentage Over Expectation according to Next Gen Stats with a league-leading average depth of target — 10.7 yards past the line of scrimmage.
For the first time in Jackson’s career, Baltimore is throwing more than running on early downs (52%). In both 2019 and 2020, that rate was a league-low 42%. It’s not just that the Ravens are passing more often, they’re started to change the structure of the way they approach offense.
In 2019, the Ravens used motion on 62% of their offensive snaps, which was the third-highest rate in the league according to Sports Info Solutions. Last season that went up to 68%, which was second. So far this year, Baltimore has only used motion on 45% of their offensive snaps.
Through five weeks, Jackson’s pass attempts without motion have already reached 68.4% of his non-motion attempts from 2020 and 49.4% from 2019. He’s throwing for similar rates of completion and on-target but obviously doing it more often and further down the field.
Lamar Jackson Pass Attempts Without Motion, 2019-2021
Few teams were better at using motion to manipulate the defense than the Ravens — and they still have the sixth-best positive play rate when they do motion in 2021 — but the Baltimore offense has done more to open things up, especially in the passing game by spreading things out.
There’s also an important distinction here. The Ravens haven’t abandoned motion — they’re not suddenly a static offense — but they have a changeup and a way to create space without heavily relying on that pre-snap movement.
Baltimore isn’t necessarily getting lighter in personnel to accomplish that, either. The Ravens have actually used less 11 personnel than they did over the past two seasons, but have embraced more creativity in two-back sets, including more 20 personnel looks with two backs and no tight ends on the field.
Ravens Personnel Rates, 2019-2021
Just with some of these different looks, the Ravens have been able to get defenses out of position and create big plays through the air. On a second-and-10 midway through the second quarter of Baltimore’s Week 4 game against the Denver Broncos, the Ravens came out in 21 personnel. But the Ravens used that heavier personnel look to go empty and spread the Denver defense out.
Fullback Patrick Ricard lined up as a tight end of the right side of the line while tight end Mark Andrews was split out wide to the right with Marquise Brown in the slot between them. The Broncos matched that look in base personnel with a five-man front, two off-ball linebackers, and four defensive backs. At the snap, the Ravens used both of their backs to chip on the five-man rush and without a defensive back on him off the line, Brown was able to get to full speed and run straight through the two deep safeties on a post for a 49-yard touchdown.
The Ravens used 21 personnel to set up a go-ahead touchdown against the Las Vegas in the fourth quarter of Week 1. Baltimore came out in pistol with Ricard inline to the right and trips to the left with Andrews again as an outside receiver. That alignment messed with the Raiders’ nickel personnel in zone coverage and eventually left linebacker Nick Kwiatowski carrying Sammy Watkins deep down the field. That matchup turned out exactly how you might expect, with a 49-yard completion to Watkins.
Jackson has 18 attempts this season from 21 personnel without motion and on those passes he has a 15.1-yard aDOT and is averaging 17.1 yards per attempt, according to SIS.
Baltimore has been able to take advantage of some different formation looks across personnel packages. Some of these spread formations have created more space in the passing game and created similar conflicts to what they attempted with motion in the past.
On a third-and-3 in the fourth quarter against Denver, the Ravens came out in 11 personnel with a bunch to the right side. Baltimore just wanted to run mesh to pick up the first down, but with miscommunication in coverage, no Denver defender traveled with James Proche, who ran wide-open across the field for a gain of 32 yards.
Obviously, coverage busts like that aren’t something to count on but it’s an example of the formation, personnel, and routes doing the work. In 2019, the Ravens had six passing plays with a bunch formation and no motion. They upped that to 11 in 2020 and have used it five times already through five games in 2021.
Even though the Ravens are using 11 personnel less often than they have in the past, they’ve been more creative and successful with those packages. In 2020, Baltimore had a 45% positive play rate out of 11 personnel. They used motion 62% of the time from that grouping. This year, the Ravens have a 50% success rate from 11 and have only motioned 35% of the time.
In some of these 11 personnel packages, the Ravens have just trusted that they have the ability to win one-on-one matchups. Against the Colts in Week 5, the Ravens used a 2×2 look. The right side of the formation featured tight end Josh Oliver in the slot and Marquise Brown outside. The alignment brought safety Andrew Sendejo down near the line of scrimmage, which indicated there would be no deep safety help to that side of the field. Brown ran a double move on the outside that tripped up cornerback BoPete Keyes and spring him open for a touchdown.
These types of plays show the type of progression and trust the Ravens have in players like Jackson and Brown.
It’s not all about these deep throws down the sideline, either. Baltimore has opened up the middle of the field in some of these looks for positive gains to the secondary receivers. On a first-and-10 in the second quarter against the Colts, the Ravens came out in a 3×1 look from pistol. Quick hitches from Mark Andrews (slot) and James Proche (outside) allowed Devin Duvernay to run free on a crosser behind the linebackers. Jackson delivered an anticipatory low throw to keep Duvernay away from an oncoming safety for a gain of 15 yards.
Later in the game on a third-and-9, the Ravens came out in a 3×2 empty look from 11 personnel. At the snap, Andrews and Brown (the slots on each side) ran up the seam which carried the middle of the field defenders. That allowed Duvernay from the outside of the trips side to run another crosser into the open middle of the field for a gain of 17 yards.
Baltimore is adding these types of plays to the offensive arsenal while many of the older aspects are still working. The Ravens have more trust in Jackson to drop back and make a play and to this point, that trust is more than warranted. This can even get better in the coming weeks with first-round pick Rashod Bateman expected to make his season debut in Week 6.
Jackson has already proven himself as a passer in the NFL but he continues to add more to his toolbox. The straight dropback game has been dangerous for the Ravens this season and it’s a big reason why Baltimore sits near the top of the AFC.