Doubling efforts on offense Tone, chances change with Ravens' switch to two-back setup


It seems so simplistic, but at the same time it changes an entire team's psyche.

The Ravens are going from a one-back to a two-back offensive set for the 1998 season. Translation: They are about to roll up their sleeves and get downright nasty with a running game instead of playing finesse and dodge with a passing attack.

Gone are the days when the Ravens had an abundance of depth at the receiver position, lining up with three of them and then letting quarterback Vinny Testaverde drop straight back. Instead, the game plan calls for new quarterback Jim Harbaugh to establish the running game with halfbacks Jay Graham and Errict Rhett and fullback Roosevelt Potts first, then set up the passing game off play-action passes.

It's a whole new look for the Ravens' offense, whereas the defense will remain in a 4-3 alignment but blitz more often with linebackers Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Jamie Sharper as well as new cornerback Rod Woodson. Quarterback pressure has become the key to stopping opposing teams from undressing a suspect defense.

"Defensively, we're basically the same as last year, only this season we know who we got compared to last year when we had to start three rookies," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, whose teams have used the two-back formation except for when he was the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills in the late 1980s.

"I've always been a two-back guy, but we had to play the one-back out of necessity. We only had one fullback last season and we didn't even know if Kenyon Cotton, who was a free-agent rookie, could make our ballclub."

There are some other reasons for the switch. The Ravens went from 357.7 yards per game in 1996 to 330.7 last year and converted only 36.1 percent of third-down plays, compared to 43.8 percent in 1996. The Ravens also dropped in rushing from 109.1 yards to 99.3 last season.

After a season in which the Ravens couldn't decide if they were a running or a passing team, Marchibroda committed to the two-back set. He traded for Harbaugh on Feb. 14 and then both Rhett and Potts soon afterward. His quantity of quality receivers dipped to two when Derrick Alexander signed with Kansas City.

The Ravens then rearranged their offense, putting in more traps and sweeps, and will have Harbaugh throw more off bootlegs and sprint-outs, which is the quarterback's forte.

"It's more of a diversified look," Marchibroda said. "It also gives teams much more to prepare for because we can still go with three receivers, two and sometimes three tight ends. It also allows us to be more physical."

The one-back was a predictable offense. Most teams have to run the tight-end or strong side because the slot receiver on the weak side is usually too small to block an outside linebacker. Last year, if the Ravens wanted to run to the weak side, 5-foot-7 and 172-pound Jermaine Lewis had to block a 220- to 240-pound linebacker.

Guess who was favored to win that matchup?

Basically, the Ravens were outnumbered near the line of scrimmage six to seven in the one-back set. The 250-pound Potts has become the equalizer.

"There was nobody to lead block on the weak side," said quarterbacks coach Don Strock. "Now that we have a fullback, we have somebody to lead block on the safety or cornerback. We can run both sides. The more power football you play, the better it sets up the play-action [passes]."

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, said, "In the one-back set, defenses could sneak in the seventh man. Now, it's seven-on-seven with the two-back. If they try to go eight-on-seven, then you're able to throw outside on them."

Throwing will be the afterthought in this offense. The Ravens have two solid running backs in Graham and Rhett, with Potts as their escort. Graham likes the new look and so do the offensive linemen, who strongly pounded the ball at the defense in yesterday's morning session.

"I've always liked running out of the two-back set. I ran out of it in college," Graham said. "We've got a lot more schemes, sets and formations now. The numbering system is different from a year ago, but it's not difficult to learn."

Neither is the passing game. It will be composed of short to mid-range passes, but with speedy receivers like Lewis and Patrick Johnson, the team still has the ability to stretch the field vertically.

"We'll still have the straight drop back, but not quite as much," Marchibroda said. "We'll roll and play-action more, use more of the shotgun because last year at this time we didn't have a center we had full confidence in."

Defensively, the Ravens won't have much of a different look at all. But their strategy is to blitz often, which they had a lot of success with in the last half of the 1997 season. The Ravens want to get the initial pressure from defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary, both of whom were bothered by knee injuries last season.

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