There will be nothing traditional or ho-hum about the Ravens’ attempt to bounce back from last week’s loss to the Steelers because their opponent is anything but.
If Baltimore needed a look at a normal pro offense to get on track - one where the quarterback remains stationed in the pocket and the running backs scour the line looking for openings - it won’t get it.
In their first year with Robert Griffin III at quarterback, the Washington Redskins have generated much excitement with their success using a college-style option attack.
They lead the NFL in rushing (167.2 yards per game), rank seventh in total offense (383.7) and eighth in scoring (26 yards per game). And that offensive success has Washington as one of the hottest teams in the NFC - at 6-6 following three consecutive wins.
Griffin has been exceptional, having already set a rookie record for rushing yards by a quarterback with a league-best 714 to go with the second-best quarterback rating in the NFL.
He’s as efficient as any passer you’ll find, with the fifth-best completion percentage in the NFL, while matching Tom Brady for fewest interceptions in the league by a passer with 12 starts.
Because the option attack has someone always running nearby available for a pitch, Griffin has even had two fumbles go for Redskins touchdowns. So the Ravens are getting ready to go up against something a little bit different at Washington.
“You try to build your offense around your players and what they’re capable of doing. They’ve done a really nice job of that with their quarterback, with RGIII,” coach John Harbaugh told reporters. “Obviously, he’s smart. He’s got a lot of athletic ability, but he also has a lot of quarterback awareness. They run a basic, fundamentally sound NFL offense with some added juice with the option game, the dive option, the option-pass stuff and all the things he can do with that.”
The closest thing the Ravens have seen to a scheme of that ilk was when they faced Michael Vick and the Eagles in Week 2. Philadelphia doesn’t run the option, but Vick’s ability to run changes how a team defends.
So there’s nothing Baltimore has seen in game action to use as a reference for what the team will face Sunday.
To prepare for it in practice, defensive coordinator Dean Pees has felt fortunate to have two running quarterbacks at his disposal in Tyrod Taylor and Dennis Dixon. Considering that Taylor is the team’s No. 2 quarterback, it’s surprising which has helped done a better job at simulating Griffin.
“Tyrod is good. Dennis Dixon is great,” Pees told reporters. “The guy ran it at Oregon. He is good. I was shocked.
“The good thing about Dennis is I don’t write anything on there. I tell him if it’s double-option or triple-option. Double-option means either keep it or give it. Triple-option means give it, keep it or pitch, and he knows what to do. So we’ll see.”
As for how to defend Griffin, that’s been for the focus for every Redskins opponent. The Steelers and Panthers did the best job so far in wins over Washington.
But Pees has his own theories about how to try to limit the Redskins’ dual threat.
“You have to be aggressive and not cautious,” Pees explained. “You need to still rush the passer. You can’t go in there thinking this guy is going to scramble. You have to come in with the right leverage, the right spot. He may still get out of it because he is such a great athlete. I can’t coach (against) athleticism - you really can’t. If you do that, then you are always going to be tentative, and you’re always going to be cautious, and you’re always going to be guarded, and you’re never going to get there.
“So we’re going to try to tee it up like we always do, but also not be crazy. Not be cautious, not be afraid to be aggressive, but at the same time you just can’t go in there and, ‘OK, I’m going to spin on this guy and know that he is going to go outside.’ There are just certain things like that (where) you have to use common sense.”
Making Griffin all the more dangerous is that opposing defenses have to also be wary of rookie running back Alfred Morris, who is tied for third in the NFL with 1,106 rushing yards, and a talented corps of receivers led by Pierre Garcon.
Harbaugh said there’s a lot to like about Morris.
“He is a tough guy to bring down,” Harbaugh said. “He runs the edges really well, and he also runs between the tackles really well. He knows how to run behind his pads. He is a north-south runner. He is explosive, and he has been, obviously, really well-coached into their scheme.”
In the Ravens’ favor - at least when it comes to the ground game - they’ve shown significant improvement against the run lately, keeping teams to less than 100 rushing yards in three of the last four games.
The Baltimore offense should be able to expose some holes in the Washington defense, as long as the Ravens perform more like they do at home than on the road.
The Redskins are on pace to set an NFL record for passing yards allowed in a single season and own the league’s 29th-ranked defense. So quarterback Joe Flacco, who has two 300-yard passing games in his last four contests, could be in line for a big day if he can connect with Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice and the crew.
Flacco said the team’s lack of offensive consistency has been a bit of a frustration. The last four weeks illustrate that as well as any stretch of the season.
In the two games against the Steelers, Baltimore gained 488 yards combined. The Ravens weren’t far off from matching that total in each of the alternating games during that stretch, racking up 419 on Nov. 11 against the Raiders and 443 on Nov. 25 at the Chargers.
“We are working towards that, and I think we have done it at times, and we haven’t done it at times,” Flacco told reporters. “It’s a combination of a handful of things. We have four games left in the regular season here, and we’re playing some very good opponents. It starts here with Washington, and we have to make sure that, first of all, we do everything we can to win these games and win this game.
“And that’s going to require putting points on the board and getting better and better as each week goes on. We have to make sure that we come out and do all the things we can to do that and get it to the consistent point that we need it.”
Much was made of the fact that the Ravens didn’t get the ball in the hands of Rice, their top playmaker, on any of the team’s eight offensive plays in the fourth quarter against the Steelers last week.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron defended that Thursday, saying Baltimore wasn’t in position to do so.
“That’s our own fault,” he told reporters. “It’s our job on offense to convert on third down. If we convert on third down, we are out there for, hopefully, another three downs. When you don’t convert on third down, you aren’t going to be out there. Our guys know we need to do a better job of converting on third down. Then you get more opportunities.
“For us to be at the lowest we’ve have been in five years in terms of time of possession is strictly on our offense. We need to convert on third down better, and we need to stay on the field longer. We can’t keep putting our defense back out there in critical situations.”
The Ravens have the third-lowest average time of possession in the NFL and convert just 36.3 percent of their third downs.
Those figures go even further to show how uneven Baltimore has been on offense. Perhaps a date with one of the NFL’s most inconsistent (and porous) defenses can help get the Ravens on track.