“Principles, not positions”, so eloquently stated by Grantland’s Robert Mays in his 2014 analysis, is the core idea behind Trestman’s offense scheme. As we all are aware by now, Marc Trestman, aka The Quarterback Whisperer, is the Ravens’ new Offense Coordinator, the fourth in 4 years.
After quite an extended search for the right fit for the job, Ravens’ brass hired the former Chicago Bears head coach, is well known for his offensive mindset. Not only does his quiet demeanor and even keeled personality vibe well with quarterback Joe Flacco, but the scheme he brings fit the other personnel too. We should all expect a very vanilla offense throughout the preseason, but when Week one rolls around, what will see?
The Running Game
I’ll preface by saying running backs Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen are going to love this playbook. Remember the zone-blocking scheme that Ravens implemented and yielded 3.1 yards per carry in 2013? Well that jumped up to 4.5 yards per carry last season, putting the Ravens solidly in the Top 10 in the league. I fully expect the team to maintain their commitment to and success in the running game, mostly due to the offensive line. This is now the Ravens’ third year with offensive line coach, Juan Castillo.
There’s no turnover on the front as all five starters are returning along with reserve tackle, James Hurst, who saw extended snaps when Eugene Monroe went down. A lot of the success in zone blocking comes from communication and chemistry between the linemen, tight ends, and fullbacks. In 2013, we saw two of our guys blocking the same defender wayyy too often while another defensive lineman or linebacker came up and made the stop at the line of scrimmage.
With another year under their belts, the Ravens linemen should be on the same page and consistently get push, even against the stingiest run defenses. We will see our big guys’ athleticism on full display, especially the best guard tandem in the NFL, Marshall Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. They’ll be pulling across formations, getting up to the second level, and generally just punishing defenders to get chunk yardage on the ground and at the very least set up 3rd and short situations.
Speaking of chunk yardage, how about Alshon Jeffrey on all those end-arounds? In the past two seasons, Jeffrey, a wide receiver, had 22 carries for 138 yards, which works out to 6.3 yards per carry. While Bears’ fans and analysts saw this as a misuse of Jeffrey’s talents, the Ravens may have a few guys better suited for this. While we don’t foresee a lot of these, it may be a good use for quick, strong open-field running wide outs like Michael Campanaro or DeAndre Carter, if they make the roster.
The end around may also serve as a little trickery Ravens fans have been clamoring for for years, or just create misdirection to exploit aggressive weak-side linebackers. While the running game is back to where Ravens’ fans are used to seeing it and should continue to succeed, Marc Trestman is, after all, the Quarterback Whisperer. That means the zone-blocking scheme is key, but it will serve as the foundation for Joe Flacco and the passing game.
The Passing Attack
Joe Flacco excelled last season under Gary Kubiak, setting personal bests in yards and touchdowns. He just turned 30 years old, so taking a career low 19 sacks helps his longevity as he enters what he considers his prime as a quarterback. Trestman’s last quarterback, for the most part, was Jay Cutler. Flacco and Cutler are very similar athletically, big arm and sneaky mobility, but don’t worry everyone, that’s where the similarities end.
Trestman stated Flacco would mostly operate under center, to force teams to defend the run first but of course, the shotgun will be utilized when necessary. Despite his reputation as a shotgun quarterback in college, Flacco has actually been more efficient from under center throughout his career. Trestman will feature a fast pace (though not necessarily no huddle), lots of pre-snap motion, and several different personnel groupings such as 2 tight ends, bunch wide out formations, and an unbalanced line. (Side note, shout out to Adam Terry, unbalanced line extraordinaire and still, Baltimore’s most eligible lineman).
Within each formation, Trestman loves to attack the same areas on the field with multiple options. This creates a situation in which defenders must choose their positioning early, which speeds the game up and makes them vulnerable to miscommunication and mistakes in coverage. From Flacco himself, we’ll see short drop backs, play action run fakes, and high percentage throws to wide outs, slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs, all staples of the West Coast offense.
Let’s hope everyone knows the whole route tree, because here’s where that principles, not positions idea comes in. Running back, Matt Forte, caught 74 passes for the Bears last year. Several of these were screen passes but he lined up or motioned out to several places all over the field. One such place was in the slot, where he would abuse linebackers in the open field and rack up yards after the catch. Trestman is also famed for his complex screen game, taking advantage of his explosive running backs, those athletic offensive linemen mentioned above, and strong blocking wide receivers such as Steve Smith Sr.. Justin Forsett and Buck Allen are known for their ability to catch passes out of the backfield, but look for those two and even fullback Kyle Juszczyk to line up wide or in the slot much more often than we’re used to.
When we think of slot receivers around the league we think of an unconcussed Wes Welker, Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, and (hopefully) Michael Campanaro. However in a Trestman offense, former Bears number 1 wide receiver Brandon Marshall (6’4” 230 lbs.) played nearly 300 snaps in the slot last year, far more than any other season in his career.
Usually slot/nickel corners are a bit smaller and quicker, so Marshall was regularly able to outmuscle them for position which led to a whole lot of first downs. While we may not have a Brandon Marshall, don’t overlook Kamar Aiken (6’2” 215 lbs.), Jeremy Butler (6’3” 220 lbs.), rookies Breshad Perriman (6’2” 220 lbs.) or even Darren Waller (6’6″ 240 lbs.) to play a similar role at times in the slot. We can look for crossing routes as well, because we have the main ingredients: guys that aren’t afraid to go over the middle who are also good after the catch and a quarterback with a strong arm.
If we look to the outside, when a deep threat like Perriman is lined up against a man-to-man with no safety help, a running back is matched up with a linebacker, or the defense is showing blitz, look for Flacco to check to a deep fade where he can loft the ball up quickly and let the play maker do their job. Flacco also just so happens to be very good at those throws, so it seems like maybe that whole long hiring process might be worth it.
Ravens Nation should expect this offense to fire on all cylinders with a veteran quarterback at the helm and several versatile skill players. The good thing about having young weapons is that they’re not set in their ways and will adapt to the offense quickly. That being said, let’s give Marc Trestman and Co. some breathing room early on as he gets a feel for his personnel at game speed. When they figure it out, armed with the principles, not positions mentality, it won’t matter who is getting the ball or where they got it from, this Ravens offense will be able to do it all. Let’s see what you got Coach!