Three of the Ravens’ biggest passing games this season have at least as much in common: No one bothered to guard the wide receiver who ran down the field.
In Week 2, it was Marquise “Hollywood” Brown who was left unmarked as he ran a vertical route against the Kansas City Chiefs on a 42-yard jump-pass touchdown from quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In Week 4, it was James Proche II who had an undisturbed path across the field on a 32-yard catch-and-run to help put the Denver Broncos away in the fourth quarter.
And on Sunday, it was Sammy Watkins who the Chicago Bears forgot to pick up on a crucial 29-yard catch late in the fourth quarter, kicking off Devonta Freeman’s 3-yard touchdown run a game later.
All three finishes came in third place. All three came in the second half. And all three had a similar origin: with the wide-open wide receiver starting the game in a “pile” formation to the right of the quarterback.
Against Chicago, Tyler Huntley faced third-and-12 and a 13-9 deficit in the final minute of regulation as he waved wide receiver Tylan Wallace over from outside for a reduced split. That left the Ravens with a “trips-bunch” look on one side – tight end Mark Andrews closest to Huntley, Wallace furthest and Watkins in the middle of the cluster – and wide receiver Rashod Bateman isolated on the other.
At the snap, Andrews attracted the most attention, as he usually does; Bears safety Marqui Christian picked up tight end in man coverage over the middle, and cornerback Duke Shelley appeared to lurk in zone coverage right behind him. Cornerback Kindle Vildor was left after a bit of a snap point to pick up Wallace, who also came free on a shallow cross after Vildor was redirected by Andrews’ route.
The Bears had another defensive back in coverage, Deon Bush, but the safety played 20 yards from the scrimmage line. As soon as Watkins realized he was open, he reached out to get Huntley’s attention. Huntley saw him and got his pass just in time. External linebacker Robert Quinn had easily beaten left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and approached sack No. 4 ½.
“They came after me, man, so I was just about to read my readings, and they just fell by accident [Watkins], and he was wide open, ” Huntley said after the 16-13 victory. “I was glad I saw him. I wish I would have given him the ball faster and the game would probably have been in our hands a little faster, but it all went the way it went.”
The flock formation is a favorite among Raven’s offensive coordinator Greg Romans. According to Sports Info Solutions, only the Arizona Cardinals ‘Kyler Murray and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger had more drop-backs out of the “right” look last season than Jackson, who finished 17-to-22 in 245 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the formation. As he went into Sunday’s game, he was 11-to-15 for 130 yards and a touchdown out of the flock right.
“Flock formations are tough,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We also deal with them all the time in defense. Especially if you move in and out, or you switch guys to and from the ball, or you change who’s lining up where, mess it up with your matchups.”
Defense often changes how they defend clusters of recipients, Harbaugh said, but sometimes wires can be crossed, “especially when things happen quickly on the run, or if you get out of the cluster like we were and go without changing clothes. They messed up. just the communication, and two guys covered a guy, and Sammy jumped up. ”
During his two-plus seasons starting in Baltimore, Chuck Clark has led the Ravens’ defense without much fanfare. He stands in line everywhere from a deep center fielder to an edge rusher to a box safety, he has tackled well, covered well and communicated well. Splash games have eluded Clark – he has only three interceptions in his career – but few players in the Ravens’ locker room have garnered more respect than the soft veteran who wears the green dot.
After an impressive start to the season, however, Clark has found himself in the middle of explosive play after explosive play. The Ravens have allowed the NFL worst 23 games over 30 yards this year, with the normally reliable Clark at times leaving the defense exposed. On some plays he has been to blame. On others, others have taken on more responsibility. Just look at Clark’s last month:
- Week 7: Clark bit hard on a fake screen, leaving Cincinnati Bengals tight-end CJ Uzomah wide open on a possible 32-yard touchdown. Later, he could not get the broadband receiver Ja’Marr Chase down into the open field and stop his 82-yard score.
- Week 9: Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson came behind Clark and cornerback Marlon Humprey on a 50-yard touchdown. (“It’s just something we had a mess of,” Clark said days later.) Later, the returning Dalvin Cook ran past Clark on a 66-yard carry, even though he overtook the open field.
- Week 10: Clark missed a tackle on Miami Dolphins wide receiver Isaiah Ford’s 52-yard catch-and-run, which came after a cover bust. As a deep-seated safety, he was also left to knock wide receiver Albert Wilson off the field after another cover bust on a 64-yard catch-and-run.
- Week 11: Clark missed a tackle on Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney on his 60-yard catch-and-run score, knocking over second safety Brandon Stephens in the process.
According to Pro Football Focus, Clark has seven missed tackles this season, setting him on to break his career high of nine, set in 2019. He also has the lowest pass rate in his career. Clark’s fights have become inseparable from the secondary.
“I think when you see us, in practice and different things, I think we practice right, we do things right,” Humphrey said after the loss to the Dolphins. “It looks like we’re getting to the fight and there’s a kind of interruption at times. At times. I would not say we have not done good things before, offensively and defensively. But it seems , that there are certain series or plays that in a way get us, and the certain errors that I think can be corrected. ”
But with only seven games left in the regular season, Clark and the Ravens are running out of time to find solutions.
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