After three playoff teams from Washington, Seattle and San Francisco mystified defenses last season with their variations of read-option running attacks, some NFL teams sent coaches back to college to try to learn how to stop it. Other teams studied it because they wanted to use it, too. The NFL is a copycat league, after all.
The Ravens were apparently one of those teams that wanted to add the option to their offensive repertoire.
Every few days, the Ravens spend one practice period working on read-option plays with backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor going up against the starting defense. At first, I thought it might have been more of an exercise for the defense to make sure they are ready should a team bust out the read-option offense against them this season. But last Thursday’s preseason opener in Tampa Bay showed that the Ravens may have more in mind than that.
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I don’t think we will see the Ravens running many option plays with their starting quarterback, a 6-foot-6 pocket passer named Joe Flacco. But option runs are a way to utilize the talents of Taylor, who some say is the best athlete on the team.
“He’s a pretty versatile guy. He does just a little bit of everything. He can throw the ball well [and] get out of the pocket,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “We just tried a couple of things with him to see if it suited the system, and he’s been able to do quite well with it. We’ve been experimenting a little bit, and we’ll see how it goes.”
By my count, the Ravens ran six option plays with Taylor in the 44-16 win over the Buccaneers. One was a speed option where Taylor pitched it to the back. Another was an old-school triple option. And then I counted four read-option runs -- three out of the shotgun and one out of the pistol -- though it’s possible some of those runs were designated keepers or handoffs where Taylor wasn’t asked to make a decision.
One of those option runs was wiped out by an offensive penalty, but the Ravens gained 26 rushing yards on the other five plays.
“We try to make certain we put him in the best possible position to demonstrate his talents and abilities,” Caldwell explained.
Taylor, who completed 13 of his 23 attempts last Thursday for 154 yards and two touchdowns, focused this offseason on improving as a passer and getting the ball out quicker. But he said he enjoyed running the option package last week.
“Yeah, it definitely throws the defense off,” said Taylor, who rushed for 27 yards in the win. “[We wanted to] get a good look at it on film. That’s what we wanted to do versus Tampa, and maybe in the future as well. So, as long as we get a chance to get it on film [and] see what we did well about it and see what we don’t like about it, [we can] build from there.”
It was just a handful of plays, but I’m sure the Ravens probably saw enough of the good on tape to continue sprinkling in the option plays while Taylor is on the field in the preseason.
If it continues to go well, we could see it in the regular season in certain situations, though that would require taking the ball out of the hands of the reigning Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, so maybe not.
At least, the Ravens have made the rest of the NFL aware that they have it up their sleeves, which may force opponents to waste some of their precious practice time to prepare for it.