Maybe in a normal week Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale might spend three straight 12-hour days in preparation for the upcoming offense before shortening his work schedule as game day approaches.
But this week isn’t normal.
It is Kansas City week and few head coaches are respected as much as the Chiefs’ Andy Reid for the way he builds offenses. The Chiefs are ranked No. 1 in passing (407), No. 4 in points (34.0) and No. 3 in total yards (479.0) per game.
Some offenses are easy to prepare for because of a certain characteristic but Kansas City is multi-faceted. They got a little bit of everything.
“Andy Reid, to me — we talk about all these young, innovative offensive coordinators — he’s — I hope he doesn’t get mad at me saying this — he’s the grandfather,” Martindale said. “He’s the O.G. of the innovators of offense. And the offense that he has there in Kansas City, everybody steals from.
“He’s the king of the RPO [run-pass option]. He’s the king of the shots. He’s the king of the screens. He runs the whole thing,” Martindale said. “And when having a quarterback like [Patrick] Mahomes, as smart as he is and making checks and things like that, it’s a tough out. I think we’re just the men for the job, but it’s a tough out.”
Martindale is in his second year as coordinator after leading the Ravens to the No. 1 ranking last season allowing only 292.2 yards per game. The Ravens lost to Kansas City, 27-24, in overtime in Game 13 in 2018 as the Chiefs passed for 347 yards and rushed for 94.
It’s safe to say Martindale still has nightmares about that game. Reid’s offense can have that kind of effect on people.
“It’s a culmination compared to other offenses,” Martindale said. “Andy Dalton [Cincinnati quarterback] is at his best when running RPOs. You have some screen teams like New England. You have some deep passing teams like the Rams.
“Now, it’s like taking a section from different game plans in the past and trying to find the best balance between them.”
A busy week has become busier. It’s intriguing how coordinators come up with game plans and how every small detail is covered. The preparation time required is unbelievable.
According to Martindale, each assistant coach has his own area. For example, defensive line coach Joe Cullen dissects the opponents’ first- and second-down run plays. Secondary coach Chris Hewitt does first- and second-down pass plays.
Another coach is responsible for primary red zone plays and another for short-yardage red zone plays and it goes on and on. The coaches meet as a whole later, discuss and then come up with the orders the night before implementing parts of the game plan each day.
With Kansas City a complicated process is even more difficult.
“Andy has been doing it a long time,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “One of the things that he’s known for, one of the things that’s made his offenses so successful is the fact that he evolves it. He morphs it. He takes plays from where he can get them, and he tries to build it around the players that he has. He’s done a great job with that.”
The trend in the NFL is to have more mobile quarterbacks. The Chiefs have one in Mahomes, the reigning league MVP, and so do the Ravens in second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson.
It’s a result of the college game where more schools are opening the passing game using more run-pass option plays for quarterbacks who can become ball carriers.
The problem is that college coaches are not giving them many reads and straight drop-back plays. That’s why versatile quarterbacks such as Mahomes and Jackson struggle in year one. They aren’t dumb; they just don’t have football smarts yet because they weren’t taught properly.
Jackson and Mahomes have learned the game. The Chiefs have more weapons and experience than the Ravens, especially in receivers Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins and tight end Travis Kelce.
Martindale has been known to come up with a lot of blitzes and pressures, and had reasonable success against Kansas City last year despite the loss.
But the Ravens can’t run the same exact packages as a year ago.
“Last year was harder than this year because it was the first year of a new system,” said Martindale, who lost key veterans such as safety Eric Weddle and linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley during the offseason. “Now, the new guys are executing it this year. We’re just disguising it and trying to change the picture.”
The Ravens have had problems in the secondary the past two weeks. If they recur against Kansas City, it will be a long afternoon. The Ravens still need to grow up, but it is more mental than physical.
“We’re making some headway,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “There are some new names. But it’s Ravens football so guys know what to expect when they come into this locker room and the dark side of football. I think we’re just scratching the surface of our potential. We have a whole season to get this thing nailed in and be playing our best football when it’s time.”