Can The Baltimore Ravens Running Game Hold Up Without Gary Kubiak?


It is often taken for granted that the Baltimore Ravens will be able to run the ball well. Heading into the 2015 season, this is no different, and with an outstanding offensive line and Pro Bowl running back why should we be worried about the running game?

I can give you one reason… the person who installed and taught the system is no longer in Baltimore.

Gary Kubiak installed the zone blocking scheme which rejuvenated the offense and allowed both Justin Forsett and Joe Flacco to flourish in 2014. Fittingly, Kubiak’s love of the zone blocking scheme can be linked back to his time as a backup quarterback in Denver watching Terrell Davis cut up defenses.

My question is, without Kubiak can the running game continue the success it had under him? First let’s take a look at what made it work:

Here we have a typical running play from last season with the Ravens lined up strong to the right. Zone concepts often don’t use a fullback, though Kubiak found a lot of success with Kyle Juszczyk in on running plays.

As the ball is snapped, the center moves to the right to double team and seal off the tackle while the left guard steps right to prevent a free rush at the runner.

The left guard now cuts the back side tackle to attempt to create a lane down the middle if the runner needs to cut back. The runners read here is from the outside in; in this case an open lane is forming to the outside. If the pile created by the right side of the line was further outside, Forsett would cut back inside between this and the cut by the left guard.

The fullback reaches the linebacker and seals the lane for Forsett to run through and go one on one with the safety, gaining 9 yards. If he was forced to cut back, then the weak side linebacker would be sealed off by the left tackle.

The most important things that we can take away from this are that first and foremost, the success of this scheme is based upon a shared understanding of what everyone’s roles are. The offensive line is successful because they are all intelligent players who know their responsibilities. This is not a huge, mauling line, but it is one that can take control.

Likewise, Forsett is successful not because he is a monster who will truck his way down the field, but rather because he understands his reads and can react quickly and in the right way.  Just think about how many times we saw him cut back plays for big gains.

Also, notice Owen Daniels’ block on Paul Kruger. Without good blocking tight ends this scheme does not work.

The only consistent way for defenses to stop this scheme is to put eight men in the box and close off the running lane with an unaccounted for defender. This is where the play action bootleg comes in, and as soon as the defense is doing this to stop the run, Flacco pulls it back and fires to an open receiver down field.

The play action is entirely complimentary to the running scheme and one would struggle to work without the other. This is where my major concern with Marc Trestman’s passing scheme comes in.

Trestman has had the luxury of Matt Forte in Chicago allowing for runs to be executed often from shotgun and in spread formations, as Forte can take on more pressure on his own.

If spread formations are to become the norm for the Ravens, then there will be more pressure on Forsett to make plays on his own, which is not his game and does not play to the strengths of the offensive line.

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Also, bubble screens and quick passes are not necessarily complimentary to the zone blocking scheme as it brings more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens have said that they are sticking with the zone blocking scheme this year so it will be interesting to see how it is incorporated into Trestman’s passing attack, or if the passing attack will revolve around play action as it did last year.

One solution is to involve the running backs and fullbacks more in the passing game and operate a variation on the zone scheme, which could get the ball out quicker to the outside and still leave a cut back option. This might give some more flexibility in terms of formations and could make use of a quick rookie in ‘Buck’ Allen. This is entirely speculation though, so your guess is as good as mine at this point.

I wouldn’t panic over the running game, as the Ravens know they have to establish it if they want to tackle the NFL’s best teams and you can bet they are cooking up something to make it work.  Watch this space for something slightly different next season though.

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