While last year’s hire of Gary Kubiak to be the Ravens’ offensive coordinator was a slam dunk, there is a reason to give pause before celebrating this year’s hire of Marc Trestman. To his credit, Trestman comes highly recommended by players who have played under him and he is known to be a student of the game with a high acumen of offensive concepts. He has coached under great offensive minds like Bud Grant, Marty Schottenheimer, George Seifert, Bobby Ross, and Jon Gruden. In addition, he is known as the “Quarterback Whisperer,” as he has maximized the talent from quarterbacks he has worked with over the years.
These are reasons to celebrate his hiring. But what should give Ravens fans pause is how he orchestrates his offenses. More on that in a moment.
Kubiak was able to breathe life into the Ravens’ offense by teaching his version of the West Coast Offense. He brought an organized and focused offensive philosophy that provided a clear identity for the Ravens. He refined Joe Flacco’s footwork and fundamentals. He reorganized the offensive line using his version of a zone-blocking scheme. He helped turn running back Justin Forsett—a previously forgotten player—into a Pro Bowler. In 2014, rarely did the Kubiak-led Ravens’ offense sway too far from their identity of being a balanced, patient offense that used the running game to set up the play-action passing game.
With less volume of passing, Flacco was his most efficient. He had one of his best statistical years, as he posted career highs in yards and touchdowns. He was responsible for the lowest amount of turnovers in his career, had the third best completion percentage of his career, compiled his second highest quarterback rating, and had the eighth best Total QBR (ESPN’s statistic to measure the effectiveness of the quarterback) of the 2014 season.
The hapless 30th ranked running game of 2013 was replaced by an impressive running attack that was ranked 8th in the league for 2014. Kubiak coaxed a league-best 5.4 yards per attempt from Forsett, and Forsett was 5th in the league with 1,266 rushing yards.
The offensive line, with a 60 percent change in starters from the end of the 2013 season, was dominant. The offensive line consistently opened up holes for the running backs, and it was one of the best at getting Forsett yards before contact. In addition, Flacco was the second least sacked quarterback in the NFL. The line only allowed 19 sacks in 2014 after allowing 47 sacks in 2013.
In addition to Kubiak’s system being singularly focused, clearly communicated and well-taught, it is the fact that his system is well-balanced which makes it so successful. A well-balanced offense keeps defenses honest, it also allows quarterbacks to be more efficient, and it keeps more players involved on offense.
Below are statistics analyzing exactly how balanced the Ravens were under Kubiak this season. For comparison’s sake, I have also listed the numbers under former offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.
The numbers that I found most interesting are the rushing attempts in relation to the passing attempts and where they ranked within the perceived pass-happy NFL. Under Kubiak in 2014, the Ravens were in the top-third of the league for rushing attempts and they were smack-dab-in-the-middle in relation to passing attempts. In other words, Kubiak did not lean too heavily on the run or pass—he ran a balanced attack with a 45-55 run to pass ratio.
The NFL average for the 2014 season was slightly more skewed towards the pass with a 43-57 run to pass ratio, but the league average is not that different from how Kubiak’s offense panned out throughout the course of the year.
And that is the point I am trying to make. Under Kubiak, the Ravens were in-line with the league with regards to run-pass ratio. They leaned slightly more on the run game in comparison to the rest of the league, but that fit Kubiak’s philosophy of the run setting up the play-action pass game. Under Caldwell, the Ravens went to the air way too often exposing Flacco, the offensive line, and the limited receiving weapons the team deployed in 2013.
Taking this point further, I examined the Ravens offensive statistics under former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Below are the numbers for when he ran the offense.
Under Cameron, the Ravens were heavily committed to the run—especially in the earlier years. The run-pass ratio remained very balanced and consistent overall, but there was something interesting that I discovered. During the early years under Cameron, the Ravens ranked near the top in the league of rushing attempts, while they ranked near the bottom of the league in passing attempts.
When did those two numbers become more balanced? During the Super Bowl season of 2012, the Ravens had their most balanced attack as they ranked 12th in rushing attempts and 15th in passing attempts with an overall 44-56 run-pass ratio.
So what does this mean for the Ravens and the 2015 season? Well, that brings us back to the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.
Below are Trestman’s statistics while he was either an NFL offensive coordinator (OC) or head coach (HC) in the NFL. Because the college and Canadian games vary in style to the NFL, I did not consider Trestman’s statistics he accumulated during his time as OC of N.C. State (2005-06) and HC of the Montreal Alouettes (2008-12) of the CFL.
For the most part, Trestman leans way too heavily on the pass. His offenses routinely rank in the top of the league for pass attempts and his offenses usually rank towards the bottom of the league in rush attempts. Looking at the league-wide statistics for run-pass ratio in 2014, there was only one team that was less balanced than Trestman’s Bears. That would be the Oakland Raiders with a 35-65 run-pass ratio. Moreover, Trestman has an overall run-pass ratio average of 42-58, which is not the successful balance that the Ravens have found with quarterback Joe Flacco.
Trestman has been on record saying he will stay the course and that he will continue to operate the Ravens’ offense. But will that be within the framework that Kubiak left behind in 2014? Yes, both coaches run a version of the West Coast Offense, but Kubiak’s was a much more balanced attack while Trestman’s favors the pass all too often.
More often than not, Trestman helps an offense transition from a running team to a passing team. Three key examples are when he orchestrated the offenses of the Raiders, the Cardinals, and most recently the Bears. The Raiders went from the league leading rushing team in 2000 to an over-the-top passing team in 2002. The Trestman-led Cardinals were a team smitten with quarterback Jake Plummer and these teams practically abandoned the running game. The 2013 and 2014 Bears relied too heavily on quarterback Jay Cutler rather than limiting his passing volume by giving way to running back Matt Forte.
In further analysis of his numbers, Trestman’s offenses are initially successful, but then seem to regress in year two. Jon Meoli, of the Baltimore Sun, does a nice job in this piece highlighting Trestman’s offenses having early success in his tenure with his respected teams. Why is this the case with Trestman’s offense?
Sure, many things can affect an unbalanced offense—poor personnel, falling behind in games, a poor defense, etc. But does Trestman’s track-record reveal a more systematic flaw in his approach? Will he stay committed to a balanced offensive attack that allows the run to set-up the pass? Or, will he fall in love with Flacco’s arm like he seemed to do recently with Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler.
Ultimately, we will see the results as the 2015 season unfolds. But, there is enough data to suggest that we should pause before saying that the hire of Marc Trestman is a total slam dunk for the Ravens.
Bill from Cosco
3/4/2015 10:29:30 am
I like this post. It's very juicy.
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An avid sports fan, and a passionate Ravens fan. However, I don't always wear the purple-shaded glasses.