Ravens: The Hypothetical Uses of Two-Quarterback Sets In Baltimore
One of the major storylines of Baltimore’s training camp is the idea of a two-quarterback set. Some of this comes from the people that talk up Lamar Jackson as a future wide receiver, and can thus be safely ignored. However, when we’re as far gone down the path as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg talking up Joe Flacco’s “moving and grooving,” and coach John Harbaugh talk about how Jackson will be on the field “one way or another,” the warning signs are there for some oddball sets.
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For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the wildcat — a formation in which a quarterback splits out wide and the ball is directly snapped to a different back — the usage of it in the NFL essentially died off. The 2008 Dolphins, under the recently departed Tony Sparano, created some major upsets with the package by being willing to give opponents different looks. Running back Ronnie Brown threw three passes, completing two, one of which was a touchdown. They also were able to successfully run statue/quarterback Chad Pennington into a few option situations where a target ran free wide open down the field.
The 2008 Dolphins used the threat of the wildcat formation to improve from 1-15 to 11-5 in the year that Tom Brady was out for the season after 11 passes. It was the last time anybody not named New England won the AFC East. The NFL being what it is, immediately a bunch of copycat knockoffs came together and we quickly learned that a) most NFL head coaches circa 2010 had the creative instincts of an ant and b) the ones that were creative enough to implement the wildcat had some hilarious growing pains with what to expect from their players. Your author has a soft spot in his heart for the ludicrous Chris Brown halfback pass that Gary Kubiak called against the Jaguars in 2009. I only wish there was an easy-to-show video of it.
The Wildcat has mostly stayed dormant since then, a staple of coaches trying too hard. Jay Cutler tried to kill it entirely this last season when he just stood at the snap as if they’d never even whistled the play to start.
However … I’d agree that this Lamar Jackson/Joe Flacco wildcat idea should excite Ravens fans.
Even when the wildcat became popular around the NFL, not many teams had two quarterbacks with the ability to make someone pay for a mistake deep on the field. Some running backs have decent-to-good arms — even receivers like Mohamed Sanu have shown prowess on trick plays. But nobody has ever embraced a true positionless football mentality at the NFL level. These Ravens could become a forefather to a lot of interesting innovations if done right.
To give one example, one of the college plays that hit on some NFL success in the last few years was the “pop” pass. Seattle used it with Percy Harvin against the Broncos in the Super Bowl. The concept in and of itself isn’t all that new — have a mobile quarterback rush the line of scrimmage and suddenly defenders are worried about him instead of their coverage assignments. Drawing the play around it entirely, though, was new.
And when you think about Jackson, he’s got all the tools to be excellent in this role. When you start stacking concepts on concepts, you’re starting to create real innovation. A wildcat that has two capable throwers can pick on more defenders than one that can’t. A wildcat where the mobile quarterback on the edge can throw a pop pass off a screen is something that I’m not sure the NFL will instantly be prepared for. At the very least, it can occupy a lot of defensive coordinator brainspace.
When Greg Roman got more involved with Baltimore’s run game last year, the results were evident and creative. He’s always been one of the more interesting offensive minds in the game. Adding this layer could expand a lot of Baltimore’s offense. And, even if worst case it’s not all that effective in the long-term, stealing a few touchdowns here and there can make a world of difference for this specific team. This is the team that can continually create good defenses. Even a few oddball touchdowns in the right places would have boosted them into the playoffs last season.
All training camp talk is training camp talk until it isn’t. Player X is in the best shape of his life, and Player Y has a great background story as he tries to beat out the odds to make the team. But the talk of putting Flacco and Jackson on the field at the same time is exciting because, at the very least, it’s showing a level of creativity that should encourage optimism about Baltimore’s offense. Too often, last season devolved into a slow of Flacco checkdowns to nowhere. Adding deep threats is imperative, and this at least shows me that the Ravens are interested in generating some out of the normal confines of the offense.