On Sunday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens moved to 3-1 on the 2014 NFL season, courtesy of a comfortable 38-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore.
It was the first game of the season that the Ravens′ offense truly clicked with their new offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak, as they put 454 yards on the beleaguered Carolina defense, as well as five touchdowns.
With the exception of a frenetic season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore has looked to be taking significant strides towards developing their offensive identity under Kubiak, with the franchise looking to bounce back from a torrid 2013 campaign.
So what, exactly, is a Kubiak offense?
After his appointment in the offseason, common consensus was that the Ravens would adopt a West Coast-esque offense, combined with a zone blocking scheme in the running game and plenty of play action passes. In theory it plays to the strengths of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, allowing the former Super Bowl MVP to get the ball out of his hands quickly, stretch out defenses with short passes, before using his impressive arm strength to find deep threats like Torrey Smith and Steve Smith down the field.
True to form, Kubiak′s play-calling has tended to follow this pattern and though the numbers haven’t been blowing anyone away, they are winning the Ravens football games. Flacco has a completion rate of 63.4% and 1,055 passing yards through the first four games this season, whilst his seven touchdowns and two interceptions compare very favorably to an eye-watering ratio of 19 touchdowns to 22 interceptions last season. At this rate, Flacco is on pace to finish the season with 4,220 yards, 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
The reinvigorated running game is also playing a big part in Baltimore′s successes, as the trio of Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Bernard Pierce has gouged respected defenses like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Panthers for big gains. Last season, the Ravens finished 30th in the NFL in rushing, but currently sit in the top 10 for rushing yards, average per carry and plays of 20+ yards.
The healthy duo of Kelechi Osemele and Marshall Yanda on the inside of the Ravens′ offensive line have flourished in Kubiak′s scheme, whilst second-year right tackle Ricky Wagner has been a revelation in the running game. The running lanes they have been able to open up have helped journeyman Justin Forsett rack up 255 yards on 44 rushes, at an average of 5.8 yards per carry, and rookie Taliaferro record 149 yards on 33 rushes, at an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
With Ray Rice now infamously cut and Pierce struggling with a hamstring injury, Forsett′s arrival and production has been vital to Baltimore getting off to a fast start this season, whilst fourth-round pick Taliaferro, who′s picked up most of his yards inside the tackles, has been a welcome physical presence to a running game that couldn′t buy a yard at times last season.
The season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta had the potential to derail the Ravens′ season before it even got going, but Owen Daniels stepped up admirably against Carolina with four receptions for 43 yards, two of which were on third down, keeping alive drives which ultimately ended in touchdowns. With fullback Kyle Juszczyk being worked into the passing game more frequently too, Pitta′s injury looks to be survivable, something which the franchise certainly couldn′t say last season.
One small surprise so far in this Kubiak offense may be the relatively small amount of play action calls. On 153 passing attempts so far this season, Kubiak and Flacco have only gone play action on 25 snaps. As the Ravens′ running game begins to earn back its notoriety this season and draw more defensive attention, look for Kubiak to dial up the play action, especially with Torrey Smith able to tear the top off defenses.
The Ravens are certainly not the finished article on offense yet, but the improvement from last season has been truly gargantuan. The arrivals of Steve Smith and Daniels have given the Ravens a depth they sorely lacked last season, whilst the now-healthy offensive line looks to be one of the better units in the NFL, allowing the running game to flourish and doing a very good job of giving Flacco the time in the pocket he needs.
Most importantly, Baltimore now has a definite offensive identity. Players and coaches alike are now able to work together with a focused goal in mind. The NFL season may still be young, but the Ravens have already (re)established themselves as one of the powerhouses of the AFC.
Image credit: Baltimore Ravens via Facebook.com