Ravens film room: How Baltimore uses shifts, motions in the run game

Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Ravens had the best run game in the NFL in 2019, and it’s not coincidental they use motions and shifts more than any other team.

The Baltimore Ravens were the NFL’s best rushing offense in the league last year for a number of different reasons. Boasting a dual-threat quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who led the league — not just quarterbacks, everyone — with an astounding 6.9 yards per rush helps. So does the veteran prowess of running back Mark Ingram, who was a seamless fit in the complex and innovative ground-game system of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Roman and the Ravens achieved great success on the ground last season thanks to Baltimore’s crop of playmakers. Yet the scheme was just as important a factor here.

Let’s take a look at the film to digest specifically how Roman got the Ravens rushing attack to be so potent last year.

Ravens film room: Breaking down motions and shifts

There are three reasons you use motion on a run play: to get a defender out of the area you’re running towards, force the defense to adjust its responsibilities (which increases the likelihood that a defender gets out of position), or to have a blocker out in front.

Shifts, which are when a player goes in motion but “sits” or settles before the snap, are mostly designed to force the defense to adjust, usually within a couple of seconds.

The Ravens also use shifts a lot.

This first example illustrates the first reason, as the Ravens run in the opposite direction of the motion. The Cleveland Browns are using man coverage, and thus the Browns’ defender follows wide receiver Willie Snead in motion.

The Ravens use a power play with Marshall Yanda as the pulling guard. Yanda makes a great block, while Browns rookie linebacker Mack Wilson, the only unblocked defender in a position to make a tackle, takes a bad pursuit angle.

These two factors combined give Ingram a lane to run through, which he exploits for a 27-yard gain.

This second example illustrates the third reason, as tight end Mark Andrews comes in motion and acts as a lead blocker for Jackson. As the Browns are using zone coverage, no defender follows Andrews. Thus, Andrews has no one to block as the Browns only had two defenders in the area, who were both blocked.

This numbers advantage gave Jackson and the Ravens an easy 11-yard gain on first down.

Patrick Ricard, the Ravens’ fullback, shifts into the backfield. The main reason why a team would shift a player, rather than simply aligning him there initially, is to force the defense to make an adjustment: the second reason.

Wilson, the Browns’ middle linebacker on this play, points out Ricard’s shift and makes a signal to Sheldrick Redwine, the Browns’ weak-side linebacker on this play. It’s hard to tell what his responsibility was on the play, but either way, he was in no position to stop Jackson. Ricard doesn’t do a great job of blocking the edge defender, however, Jackson has the pace to beat him to the edge.

This was a solid 9-yard gain on first down.

Ricard again shifts, this time aligning next to Andrews in a wing formation. The Ravens are in 22-personnel, which is two running backs and two tight ends. This personnel grouping is a good indicator of a run, as there’s only one wide receiver on the field.

Surprisingly, the Browns have their nickel package (five defensive backs) on the field. Usually, against a heavy personnel grouping like 22 personnel, the defense would respond with a heavy personnel grouping as well. Typically, defenses would look to have two more defensive backs than wide receivers. For example, if the offense is in 11-personnel, which would result in having three wideouts, the defense would put in its nickel package. Thus, after the Ravens put in 22-personnel, you would have expected the Browns to only send out three defensive backs, as the Ravens only had one wide receiver on the play.

This is a designed QB run, and therefore Jackson doesn’t have to read anything. It’s an outside zone with Andrews, Ricard, and Gus Edwards as lead blockers. Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens’ elite left tackle, gets up to the second level as he’s uncovered.

The Browns defended it pretty well, but it was another solid 8-yard gain.

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When going back and watching the game live, look out for where the Ravens’ tight ends, fullback, and running backs are aligned, as they provide a good indicator of where the run is going. This play is a good example as the Ravens had all three of their lead blockers to the left, and predictably the run went to the left.