‘Old-Old School’ Working Fine for Ravens

A fact about the ‘new look’ Baltimore Ravens offense, since rookie Lamar Jackson was handed the quarterback job, was mentioned early in the 22–10 upset over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Ravens became the first team since the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers to finish five consecutive games with rushing performances totaling over 190-yards per game. While the Steelers did it with a then-traditional split-back offensive set, Baltimore has reached farther back in the football history books by borrowing liberally from a myriad of Single Wing playbooks.

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Play-Action Pass Play — Single Wing Formation

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is certainly no stranger to the ball control offense, but the 2018 version is distinctly different from the prototypical NFL run game. Instead of Offset-I ‘Wham’ it’s deploying three tight ends with ‘Jet’ motion while incorporating the all-too ‘cliche’ of current football announcers, ‘Run-Pass Option.’ (For that matter, the Run-Pass Option, R-P-O, was known as RuPo {pronounced Roo-Poe} in Single Wing coaching circles long before it became the NFL play-by-play buzzword.) What may have started out with an attempt by the offensive staff of the Ravens to simplify the playbook for the rookie Jackson has now become status quo for the Baltimore offensive unit.

Sure, there was a natural leaning toward taking advantage of Jackson’s foot speed. That’s a no-brainer. As evidence by his performance against the Chargers, though, is the wide-open receiver options created by the schemes put into place by the coaching staff. While a pedestrian 11 passes completed out of 22 attempts (in the NFL, it’s hard not to insert the word only prior the number of attempts), Jackson finished the night with a 101.3 quarterback rating.

Would Jackson be enjoying as much success had the Ravens not crafted the mid-season offensive playbook? Prior to veteran Joe Flacco’s injury, and subsequent benching, Harbaugh & Co. attempted to mimic — and very poorly — what ex-Steelers coach Bill Cowher did in the 1990s with a similarly fleet-footed quarterback, Kordell Stewart. The Ravens ‘Slash 2.0’ version was comparable to Microsoft’s release of Vista. However, once the Ravens were forced to align the playbook knowing Jackson was the ‘go-to-guy’ someone must have Googled Single Wing. From there, the Baltimore turn around gained momentum.

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Single Wing ‘Spin’ Series

Why is it the NFL has such a problem when something ‘old’ becomes ‘new’ again? The late Vince Lombardi was once asked what would happen if a team would run the Single Wing again at the professional level. “What would happen if someone came out with the single-wing offense?” he asked back. “It would embarrass the hell out of us.” That’s definitely a voice resonating from the grave for the Los Angeles Chargers defensive coaches today. How many times did the Chargers simply not account for personnel? Linebackers and Safeties alike were akin to World War I trench soldiers — caught in No Man’s Land. If they ran toward Jackson, the former Louisville Cardinal just floated the ball toward the sidelines into the waiting arms of a receiver in the flat. If they broke off the rush, Jackson simply tucked the ball and dashed away like he was part of Santa’s entourage. By the way, this is also the original Single Wing description of the RuPo, or, in today’s cliched lingo, the Run-Pass Option.

A few years ago, another Harbaugh (Jim), was quick to delve into the dust-laden Single Wing playbooks originally used by the likes of Warner (Pop, not Kurt), Sutherland and ‘Biggie’ (Michigan’s Munn, not Smalls of B.I.G. notoriety). There was moderate success for the current Michigan Wolverines head coach and his 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick but Jim Harbaugh’s Single Wing playbook was much smaller than brother John’s current rendering.

It will be interesting to see whether the success Jackson and the Ravens are enjoying right now will result in a wide spread change of thought among NFL coaches and general managers. Quarterbacks, especially in a QB-centric NFL world, are making millions of dollars and rules changes are always protecting those team investments. Just as Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach learned to save their ‘tuck-and-runs’ for critical game moments in the 1970s, and Steve Young’s 49er runs turned into ‘cautionary’ decisions in the 1980s, the impact of a rookie like Jackson will create a renewed discussion of when and when not to want a quarterback to perform like a running back.

Turning the ‘complex’ into the ‘understandable!’ In Coaching & Leadership there is one constant — WRITING!

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