The Baltimore Ravens saw getting big on offense as a necessity. It has been effective.
The Baltimore Ravens The offense can leave viewers wowed by its speed as quarterback Lamar Jackson throws slingshots past defenders or skillful players like Marquise Brown or JK Dobbins squeeze through the open field. But in a four-game winning streak, the Ravens haven’t just passed their opponents.
They also increased their weight to cross them.
For 20 of his 68 offensive plays in Sunday’s win over the New York Giants, Baltimore put a sixth offensive lineman on the field. The Ravens have consistently chosen to play with an additional cross, goalie or tackle in order to provide the running game with more muscle, and they will likely continue to rely on that strategy in Sunday’s crucial regular season final. against the Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1).
Since tight end Nick Boyle suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, the sixth lineman has become a staple for offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
“When you have Nick Boyle in there, you pretty much have one more offensive lineman in the game,” Roman said. “Once it fell, we had to try to find different ways to try to fortify our edges.”
While the Ravens have added Eric Tomlinson, a blocking tight end, to the roster to replace Boyle more directly, he’s only playing a fraction of the snaps Boyle has done regularly. Baltimore has increasingly mixed up six-liners to pave the way for the running backs.
Baltimore (10-5) has had an extra lineman in the game for at least seven offensive snaps in each of the past four games – all wins in which the team has averaged 233.3 rushing yards.
Following his bench last month following a series of shaky snaps, former starting center Matt Skura stepped into the new role, often lining up as a tight end in recent weeks. When center Patrick Mekari left the game with a back injury on Sunday, Skura replaced him and rookie fourth-round goalie Ben Bredeson took over in the tight end role.
The offensive line reshuffle didn’t stop Baltimore from building up strength in the field, as Bredeson saw 14 action shots.
The Ravens use the sixth linemen more often than any of their opponents. Coach John Harbaugh said the reason is simple: Another strong blocker makes it harder for an opposing defense to win in the trenches.
“It’s just the body,” Harbaugh said. “It just gives you another guy who’s a 310-315 pound guy like Matt Skura to block. And he can block with these down blocks or the reach blocks or the base blocks. A tight winger could certainly do that, but they’ll put a big defensive end there and won’t match your tight ends. So sometimes you want to put a guy that matches her. Or sometimes part of that can dominate a smaller defensive end. It becomes a sort of idea for a match.
Dobbins’ first touchdown in Sunday’s win over the Giants is a good example of how strategy can work. Take a look below. Skura (# 68) lines up as a tight end to the right of the right tackle, and Dobbins runs behind him.
Skura pushed his way through the first level of defense, then collided with 240-pound Giants linebacker David Mayo (No.55) near the goal line. Mayo was unable to get past the bigger Skura in time to stop Dobbins from expanding into the end zone.
Many teams add an extra lineman when they’re near the goal line, but the Ravens do so early in the game when they’re far from the end zone. Skura has started three of the team’s last six games not at center but as a tight end.
Conversely, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews hasn’t started a single game during that span. In their first shot of a contest, Baltimore generally prefers muscle to pass-catching prowess.
Of course, every diet decision has a downside. The Ravens know opponents don’t treat Skura – or other linemen – as a serious threat to catch passes. But Baltimore counter with a particularly diverse running game that draws on the skills of Lamar Jackson, who last year broke the NFL single-season record for rushing yards as a quarterback.
Even though a defense knows the Ravens will throw the ball on any given play, they don’t know who will carry it.
Baltimore also called in play passes out of heavy sets, although Jackson hasn’t targeted an offensive lineman on a pass all year.
“You have a few spares to keep them honest,” Harbaugh said, “so they can’t completely over-sell on the run.”
The Ravens will clinch a playoff spot if they beat the Bengals on Sunday, so they’ll have to unleash their best offensive designs. That probably includes a few pieces with an extra lineman, whether Skura returns to the role or a rookie like Bredeson or Tire Phillips is involved (Mekari missed two practices this week with his back injury).
Whatever the look of the staff, it’s hard to deny that Baltimore is in the middle of a trend. He used six linemen for seven offensive shots in a Dec.8 win over the Cowboys, then for nine shots in the next game, 11 after that and 20 last week. And the positive results have piled up as well, with the Ravens on a four-game winning streak and offensive production on the rise.
“These young linemen who are doing it – Skura has done it a bit – they are doing a good job,” said Roman, “and we look forward to continuing to develop that.”