NFL Week 2 what to watch: Ravens’ downfield passing, Lions’ run game gets spotlight

(/walks up to microphone, taps on mic) Wow, is this what having a weekly column feels like?

Welcome to Establish the Fun, where I take you through some concepts and players I think are very interesting in the NFL and what you should keep you eye on in Week 2. I’m going to try and do this every week, so you can have something fun and informative to read before you click on Red Zone for the next 12 hours on Sunday.

This week I’ll be taking you through two aspects of offenses I really like, and a fun player who might finally be used in the right way.

So, without further adieu, let’s get started!

Baltimore Ravens’ downfield passing game

Well, hello Lamar Jackson! The Ravens beat the Jets last week 24-9, and Jackson was great as a passer throwing three touchdowns to one interception. He also finished with the highest intended and completed air yards per throw, according to Next Gen Stats. Sports Info Solutions has Jackson’s average throw depth at 13.3 yards, three yards more than any other QB with at least 15 passing attempts in week one and over four yards more than Jackson’s total last year.

The downfield passing game of the Ravens that has me excited for Baltimore’s offense this season, and it starts with Lamar’s continued growth as a passer. Take this touchdown pass to Devin Duvernay as an example.

The Jets are in Quarters coverage and if Lamar wants to throw the ball to Duvernay, who is running a post, he has to move the backside safety. The mesh concept takes the corner who would normally play that deep 14 of the field away (the Jets are playing match to that side, I’m assuming because that’s an isolated receiver). Watch Jackson’s head. His eyes stay locked on Mark Andrews, who is basically running a sit route over the ball. Because Jackson’s eyes are on Andrews, the backside safety nails down on Andrews, unlocking the post. That’s manipulating defenders on an elite level.

This next throw is all about timing, touch and accuracy (not bad for a running back). The Ravens are in a bunch formation vs. cover one, meaning that every receiver has a man covering them and there’s a safety in the middle of the field. Jackson shows decisiveness in getting the ball to Duvernay, who runs a go route, and great touch to nail this throw, and drop it into the bucket.

This long touchdown catch to Rashod Bateman might not have been the best coverage, but it’s a concept that the Ravens can unlock conceptually. Baltimore motions Patrick Ricard from out in the slot to condensed in the formation. This is essentially a two man route, with WR Demarcus Robinson running a deep hook route and Rashod Bateman running a skinny post. The backside safety is too slow getting back over the top and it’s off to the races for Jackson and Bateman.

What excites me the most about this play is how easily accessible it is for the Ravens. Baltimore is one of the best rushing teams in the league, and with Ricard and Mark Andrews on the field you have to play them in base defense or they’ll batter you. This shot play gives them a nice haymaker to throw if defenses get too gun shy about defending the run, a combo breaker Ryu from Street Fighter would love.

This Sunday the Ravens play the Dolphins, a team that gave them fits last year due to their aggressive, blitz heavy scheme. Jackson was sacked four times and pressured on 21 of his 50 dropbacks. Josh Boyer remains Miami’s DC and the Dolphins have a deep stable of defensive backs, so if the Ravens want to leave Sunday with a win, they’ll have to be able to protect Lamar and give him access to the deep passing game.

Detroit Lions’ Run Game

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m kind of a sicko. I like watching bad teams if the teams are fun enough. The Detroit Lions are bad—they lost 38-35 to the Eagles last Sunday—but boy are they fun to watch, and it starts up front. The Lions have built their franchise through the trenches, all five of their starting linemen were drafted by Detroit, with left tackle Taylor Decker being the longest tenured (drafted in 2016). One thing they all have in common though, is they absolutely haul ASS in the run game.

Detroit got after Philadelphia’s defensive front, resulting in 181 yards rushing at a 6.5 yard per carry clip. They did it through multiple run schemes, but where the Lions are at their best are in man and gap schemes. They hit the Eagles with multiple fun versions of Trap and Wham concepts, taking advantage of an aggressive Philly interior:

A popular one for Detroit was Duo, a man blocking scheme designed to create double teams and get upfield, working towards the MIKE linebacker. Watch Penei Sewell, right tackle and certified ass-hauler, do work on Duo:

If that’s not your flavor, then check Sewell out here, pulling on this power play and springing a big run. That’s what a first round tackle looks like folks:

Detroit has Washington up next, a team with certified ass-kickers up front, namely defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. This game could look less like football and more like two giant rams battling for supremacy, whacking each other in the head (sorry, been watching a lot of Nat Geo Wild).

Speaking of the Commanders…

Curtis Samuel’s usage

A team may have found the correct way to use Curtis Samuel, and the coordinator who did it might have been … Scott Turner? What a twist! Samuel got 12 touches, and 11 total targets in the receiving game, finishing with 72 total yards and a touchdown. However, his yards per route run was a mere 1.6, per Sports Info Solutions. So, how can a receiver be being used correctly without actually going deep into the passing concept?

Not all receivers are created equal, and Samuel is more of a YAC, “get the ball in his hands and watch him go” receiver. He needs to be schemed up free releases and favorable matchups. That’s exactly what Scott Turner did in the Commanders week one victory over Jacksonville. As a receiver, Samuel was given free releases by formation and motion usage. On this play, the Commanders are in a diamond quads formation, with Samuel being on the outside.

This is somewhat of a trail or follow concept, with one or two receivers running a drag or short in breaking route, before another receiver “follows” them, running into the vacated space. This is how you scheme Samuel up touches, by creating gaps in the defense that Samuel can exploit.

When Jacksonville went to man coverage, Turner had plays called for that chance too. On the touchdown, Samuel motions from out wide back into the slot before immediately jetting out into the flat. This quick motion into the slot forces the Jaguars to pass off man responsibilities, with the inside corner taking Samuel. The outside receiver vacates the outside CB, leaving Samuel with the end zone as real estate.

Where the Samuel usage really gets cheeky is when Turner would motion him into the backfield as a running back or have him already there. On this play, Samuel starts out as RB alongside RB J.D. McKissic. McKissic then motions into the slot. The linebacker follows him out there, indicating man coverage. Samuel also motions out with a DB following him, and the Commanders run mesh (a Twitter favorite). Samuel crosses with McKissic, creating a natural separation, and Samuel does the rest:

Samuel had four carries in the run game, and three of them were with a second back in the formation. Washington gave him carries as a counter to the passing game, and Samuel was able to find creases like a RB:

Coming out of Ohio State Samuel was this type of player, and it’s really cool seeing a team use him in that way. Washington could be onto something with his usage, and it’s really more of a point that I just want to make to all teams: find ways to put your best 11 on the field, regardless.

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