Isaiah Likely’s emergence should represent this schematic breakthrough for the Ravens

Ravens, Isaiah Likely (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Ravens, Isaiah Likely (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

Well, it finally happened. The darling of Baltimore Ravens training camp finally had his breakout moment, as Isaiah Likely helped carry Baltimore’s offense in the absence of Mark Andrews, catching six passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in Thursday’s win over Tampa.

Considering the lack of depth Baltimore has at receiver, Likely’s performance makes it all the more clear that he needs to simply be on the field. But if Likely plays his way into receiving a greater snap count, someone is going to have to lose playing time.

And if Thursday’s game was any indication, that player will (and should) be fullback Patrick Ricard.

Patrick Ricard’s snap counts

Ricard has been a constant presence on the field for the 2022 Ravens, with Mark Andrews being the only Ravens skill player to receive more snaps.

And to his credit, he has been playing perhaps the best football of his career. He was fantastic helping out Baltimore’s various left tackles to help hold down the fort at the beginning of the year until Ronnie Stanley came back, and has been his usual dominant self in the running game.

The problem with Ricard’s constant presence on the field is the adverse effect it has on the versatility of the Ravens’ passing game.

You are only allowed five eligible receivers in the NFL, and if one of those players is someone such as Ricard who is on the field for 342 snaps but only runs 78 routes and receives eight targets, you fundamentally limit the number of real receiving options on any given play.

When you add in the fact that the Ravens’ running backs are not great receivers, the defense now has two eligible receivers that they do not have to take very seriously when Baltimore is in 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end), their most common personnel grouping.

This makes the jobs of Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, and Rashod Bateman even harder because they are then being put at a basic numbers disadvantage. But on Thursday, offensive coordinator Greg Roman finally made the necessary adjustment and limited Ricard’s snaps.

After using 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) for a combined six snaps the previous two weeks, that was the Ravens’ second-highest personnel grouping on Thursday night.

Correspondingly, Ricard had his lowest snap count of the year, playing just 51% of snaps after playing in at least 62% of snaps in every other game this year.

The Ravens’ schematic shift

If we are saying that Likely just replaced Andrews’ role on Thursday, the change in Ricard’s usage represents a schematic shift for the Ravens.

It is finally a recognition that the way to beat blitzes is by taking advantage of the space that is occupied by fewer defenders in the secondary, and the way to do that is by going lighter, not heavier.

And while the Ravens’ effectiveness against the blitz was still limited due to the non-existent after-the-catch abilities of their subpar receiving group, the defense having to take more receiving options seriously made life easier for Lamar Jackson.

But while it is good that they are at least showing the ability to go to 11 personnel, that should still not be Baltimore’s primary personnel grouping once Andrews comes back.

A player like Likely is a breath of fresh air for an offense desperate for receiving talent, and there reaches a point where an offense needs to just put their best players on the field.

But if Andrews and Likely are sharing the field with one back and one receiver, that means that the last spot will either be occupied by Ricard or a second receiver.

If the Ravens truly want to come closer to finding answers to teams blitzing them, that spot should be occupied by a second receiver.

A Ravens offensive line that currently ranks second in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric simply needs less help than these receivers, and the notion of using speed to occupy space is a pretty basic concept of football that goes back decades.

It is not a coincidence that the one team to beat the vaunted 46 defense of the 1985 Bears that played with eight men in the box and was specifically designed to counter 21 personnel was the Dan Marino-led Dolphins, who scored 38 points against Chicago. They were the one team in the NFL at that point running a true pass-first offense designed around spreading the defense out.

And while no one is running the 46 defense anymore, that example serves to show just how antiquated the philosophy behind much of the Ravens’ passing offense has been.

If offensive coordinator Greg Roman wants to learn any of the basic lessons of football history, he would make 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) the most-used personnel grouping for the Ravens.

This does not mean that Ricard needs to be exiled from their offense. He is an incredibly talented and useful player who is a battering ram in the running game and has made three straight Pro Bowls for a reason, but he made those Pro Bowls playing 31%, 41%, and 57% of snaps.

The Ravens have been looking for a fix to the passing game, and giving Isaiah Likely more snaps at the expense of Patrick Ricard may get the Ravens closer.

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Greg Roman saw what worked on Thursday night. The question is now whether he will be able to suck it up and admit that maybe his preferred offense was part of the problem, or whether he will continue to hold back a team trying to win a Super Bowl.