First, let’s be clear. Offensive speed is needed to get the attention of the opposing team’s defense. It draws the safeties further away from the line of scrimmage. This opens up space for the underneath passing routes. It opens up the running game. It allows for effective play-action, which in return, helps both the run and pass games. Speed stretches the field vertically.
An offense doesn’t necessarily need an elite Randy Moss-type receiver who has size, speed, and catching ability to be effective. Sometimes an offense needs to merely present the threat of speed to get a defense’s attention. The offense needs to have functional speed. In many ways, this was the main function of former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. The threat of the home run from quarterback Joe Flacco to Smith opened so many other options for the Ravens offense.
From Chris Brown’s The Art of Smart Football, “…speed gives a vertical receiver a chance to get deep, but even if he does not actually get open, he still stretches the defense, thus opening up the entire field. Speed distorts defenses, forcing them to cover wider swaths of the field, exposing the weak defenders and the voids around them.”
Well, Perriman hasn’t played since the first day of training camp. There is a chance he may not be back until late September or early October. Without Perriman, the Ravens lack outside speed—speed that causes defenses to fear.
What can the Ravens do to overcome the apparent lack of speed? What are their options?
Run, Run, Run
The running game will be even more emphasized. However, opposing teams will be aware of this, so the Ravens will have to get creative.
The Ravens could deplore more unbalanced lines when running the ball. The unbalanced line would utilize an extra offensive lineman which would create a numbers advantage for the offense at the point of attack. An unbalanced line can also create more angles for the running game to operate. In addition, it can provide more misdirection plays that could help the passing game utilizing the running backs and tight ends. It could get fullback Kyle Juszczyk and his skill set into the mix a little bit more.
The running game needs to stay effective. Without it, the Ravens lose the ability to effectively run the play-action. The Ravens version of the West Coast offense starts with the running game. Without the speed on the outside to draw the extra defender in the box, the Ravens will have to counter with creative running strategies.
Double Tight End Sets
This strategy is compelling because I believe the Ravens tight ends possess a wide variety of skills. The tight end unit is ridiculously young—Crockett Gilmore leads the unit with 12 NFL receptions, but there is size in Gilmore, speed in rookie Maxx Williams, and moxie in rookie Nick Boyle. All three tight ends have shown that they have good hands.
Running the offense through the tight ends expands the field horizontally. When the field stretches horizontally, the offense can take advantage of the middle of field; in particular, the seams. This area of the field can then be exploited by rookie tight end Maxx Williams as hid did in college. Steve Smith is another player who could take advantage of the open seams on the field.
Obvious drawbacks include the reliance of such young players and a possible step back taken with regards to the run game. Could the Ravens couple this strategy with unbalanced line? That could be interesting.
Creative Play Design
Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is known to be a cerebral coach. Here is hoping that he channels his cerebral-ness into creativity.
Trestman is going to need to manufacture receivers getting open. Without speed, receivers are going to be pressed and jammed at the line of scrimmage. The use of picks, rubs, bunch formation, and screens will be needed to combat the tight coverage the Ravens will face.
In addition, Trestman can use route combinations to open up the field. By flooding certain areas of the field, Trestman can isolate certain defenders achieving desired mismatches, and even dictating mismatches. There are weak links on every defense.
For example, by utilizing a post-wheel combination, Trestman can use the receiver to push up the field taking with him a safety. Meanwhile, the play will have isolated a running back against a linebacker causing a possible mismatch. (See figure below)
Once Perriman returns, the threat of his speed will alter the Ravens offensive strategy and, more importantly, how opposing defenses react to the offense. He doesn’t need to be a “complete” receiver. He needs to provide functional speed. Until then, the Ravens will need to get creative so that the offensive doesn’t become vanilla, predictable, and too easy to defend.