And even though the offense appeared shaky at first, the two minute drill at the end of the first half was a reassurance that Jay Gruden was calling a vanilla game plan in a meaningless game in order to keep the good stuff off tape. After a first half full of Andy Dalton and Marvin Jones working on their timing, the two minute offense used A.J. Green to set up Jones, shining a light on a potential passing game plan.
On the first play after the two minute warning, on a drive which started on another Jones reception on an out route, Andrew Hawkins and Green lined up wide to the left. The Ravens lined up in Cover 3, with the large, rangy cornerback Cary Williams, whose size matches up nicely with Green, aligned in off coverage on the outside.
Dalton had Green and Hawkins switch spots on the audible. Even with strong safety coverage on Green, that automatically created a mismatch in the slot. It is impossible to say, but something may have indicated a blitz from the safety covering Green in the slot that caused Dalton to make that audible, but the safety blitzes and linebacker Dannell Ellerbee is stuck futilely covering Green while he prays for safety help.
Hawkins occupies Williams on the outside with a comeback, while Dalton hits Green as soon as Ellerbee turns his back to Dalton on the break in the post route and Green emerges into the hole in zone coverage. After another completion to Green, that sets up Jones’ touchdown reception.
This play is designed to put stress on the vertical sideline coverage of the Ravens’ Cover 3. Hawkins, on the outside of the bunch formation, releases towards the back corner of the end zone to stretch out the defense.
Green, as the innermost slot receiver, runs out in the flat which causes the defense to sink down towards him. Jones, the point man in the bunch formation, simply runs a comeback route into the no-man’s-land cushion between the two levels. Of course, he receivers a little help from Paul Kruger, who flies in to cause a pile-up that frees up Jones to run in for the touchdown, but Jones does well when he can operate in space.
When Jones does not excel is more of a situation caused by Gruden’s playcalling.
The Ravens are lined up in Cover 3 zone and have realized that Jones has run almost exclusively out-breaking routes and comebacks against the off-coverage. Without the threat of a downfield shot, the cornerback does not even backpedal. He stays flat-footed, showing no respect for Jones’ ability to go vertical down the sideline. He knows Jones is being utilized as the big-bodied chain mover that Mohamed Sanu was filling earlier in the season.
The cornerback plays with inside leverage, using the sideline as his ally, and breaks downhill as soon as Jones enters the top of his stem on the route. Dalton does show great anticipation throwing the ball before Jones is out of his break, even if a little more velocity could have helped. But the cornerback shows even better anticipation and breaks up the pass. But, again, it could all be a ploy to set up a deep shot whenever the Texans line up soft and off in coverage.
Speaking of off coverage, we have talked about recently how outstanding Leon Hall’s technique is in off coverage. What has allowed for Hall to take on his newfound role that has allowed for his career renaissance is Adam Jones’ outstanding play on the outside. His burst and closing speed have allowed him to excel not only in man-to-man, his previous bread and butter, but in off coverage.