What Can We Expect From the Baltimore Ravens' Offense Under Marc Trestman?
There’s still much to know about the Baltimore Ravens' offense in 2015. Torrey Smith might not be back. Justin Forsett is a free agent, too. Steve Smith might finally play as his age would suggest he should. There’s plenty left to figure out about what Baltimore could look like next year, but we can use what we currently know to create a picture for what it might be.
What we do know is Gary Kubiak won't be coordinating the offense in 2015. Baltimore was able to keep Kubiak away from one head coaching opportunity earlier this offseason, but couldn’t keep him away from the Denver Broncos. In his one year with the Ravens, Kubiak helped turn around the sixth worst offense by Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) in 2013 into the eighth best offense in 2014. Now, Kubiak’s season of success and an opportune opening in Denver left Baltimore looking for another offensive coordinator.
Enter the recently hired Marc Trestman.
A Step Forward
Kubiak left the offensive coordinator position in Baltimore in much better condition than he found it. In 2013, Baltimore ranked last in run efficiency per Adjusted NEP behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Kubiak came in, installed his zone-blocking scheme, and the rushing offense moved to 12th in Adjusted NEP this season.
Kubiak also helped Joe Flacco have the best season of his career by NEP. Flacco was aided by an increase in play action passes and bootleg rollouts, giving him more time to throw. Flacco was also aided by a limited number of reads he had to make. The system basically featured three receivers, both Smiths and tight end Owen Daniels. Daniels was third of the three with 78 targets last season, while no other player on the team had over 60.
If It Ain’t Broke
While Trestman’s offense differed greatly from Kubiak’s in Chicago, his early statements suggest he’s not inclined to change much about what worked for Baltimore last season. That includes the zone-blocking scheme run so well by the team last season. Trestman has hinted he would like to add a few more draw and power plays to the playbook, but would like to keep the zone scheme as the base of the running game. That alone is an encouraging sign for what Trestman could bring to the offense. Fitting a scheme to the strengths of players instead of forcing a scheme on them seems like it would be obvious, but happens less often than one would think in the NFL.
The question of how much the Ravens will run still remains. Under Trestman, the Bears were one of the most pass-happy teams in the league. Last season, only Oakland had a higher pass to run ratio than Chicago. As noted the last time we discussed Trestman and the Chicago offense, much of that was due to the deficit the Bears faced in games forcing them to throw. In 2013, when the Chicago offense was ninth in Adjusted NEP, the Bears had the 11th-highest pass-to-run ratio in the league. That's still more pass heavy than the 2014 Ravens, who were 24th in that category.
Ravens running backs might be even more important to the offense next season with Trestman’s previous reliance on them in the passing game. Matt Forte was the most targeted running back in football last season with 130 targets. Justin Forsett had 44 receptions on 59 targets out of the backfield for Baltimore last season. If Forsett leaves as a free agent, the draw of the volume of touches could make the Ravens a top destination for other backs. Even an under the radar signing of a player like Shane Vereen could be a huge asset in this type of offense.
Much of what the passing game looks like will be determined on whether Torrey Smith is re-signed. While Steve Smith took over as the number-one receiver last year, Torrey was still Baltimore’s biggest deep threat. The Ravens had no problem trying to stretch the field in the passing game last year. Flacco ended up with the ninth highest total air yards in 2014, though he was just 15th in air yards per attempt. Last season, Jay Cutler was just 30th in air yards per attempt, averaging less than three yards in the air per pass. However, Cutler was at 4.5 the year before.
Flacco’s 2014 was 89.35 Passing NEP better than any other season in his career. More screens and swing passes to running backs could even help boost that again with safer throws.
Baltimore’s offense took a significant step forward last season. It seems Marc Trestman wants to build upon that step instead of knocking it down and building a new one. That might be the best thing the Ravens could ask for.