More often than not, when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco sees defenses crowding the box before the snap, he will check out of a running play -- if that's the original call -- and into a passing play.
The magic number is usually seven and the math is simple. If the Ravens are in a two-wide receiver set and the defense responds with seven men in the box (if the Ravens go three-wide, the number becomes six), they will like their chances running the ball. If the defense puts an eighth guy in the box, their odds aren't as good, so Flacco will switch to a pass play to take advantage of all of that green grass behind those eight defenders.
But the Ravens don't always shy away from running into a stacked box. Sometimes, Flacco may flip the direction of a run away from a blitz. Other times, they simply like the original play called and think they might be able to break a big play. Or maybe they just want to keep the defense from picking up on their tendencies.
So how did the Ravens fare against stacked boxes in 2012?
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Ravens ran the ball into loaded fronts on first or second down 12 percent of the time, which was in the middle of the pack. ESPN Stats and Info defined their box counts as the "number of defenders at the snap who are within five yards of the line of scrimmage and no further than two yards outside the tackles or outermost player attached to the line."
The Ravens averaged 5.3 yards per carry on those 48 loaded-front runs, which was the third-highest average in the league.
They actually were a little less productive running against unloaded fronts, averaging 4.3 yards on 351 such runs in 2012.
Ray Rice got 24 first-down or second-down carries against stacked boxes in 2012, and he averaged 6.3 yards per carry, one of the highest averages among qualifiers. You would think that that average would be inflated by long gains, but Rice only had five rushes of 20 or more yards overall -- as many as Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker, for example -- so that doesn't appear to be the case.
The running backs, fullback Vonta Leach and the big offensive linemen blocking for them deserve most of the credit for the team's success when running into stacked boxes.
In the past, we often talked -- sometimes at great length with raised voices -- about Flacco and audibiling and whether he could and was or wasn't. Not so much anymore, though, and rightfully so. Flacco seems to have a good handle of when to stick with a run and when to audible to a pass (well, there was that one 3rd-and-1 play in the Super Bowl, but you can let him slide for that one).