Back in training camp, I wrote a story about how the Ravens had joined the growing trend in the NFL of using three-receiver sets. The Ravens used their 11 personnel -- one back, one tight end and three wide receivers -- on 43 percent of their snaps last season, up from 25 percent in 2011. Still, 22 teams used three-receiver sets more often, as 11 personnel was used on 51 percent of the NFL’s plays last season.
Their use of 11 personnel paid off in the playoffs, as eight of quarterback Joe Flacco’s record-tying 11 postseason touchdown passes came when the Ravens had three wide receivers and a tight end on the field.
This season, the Ravens have used their 11 personnel even more, particularly in their past two games.
Based on my charting throughout the games -- which is probably not exact, but still pretty reliable -- the Ravens have used three-receiver sets on 63.6 of their offensive plays this season. I said after two games that this is what they wanted their identity to be and players started to acknowledge that after the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In that Week 7 loss, the Ravens used their 11 personnel on 55 of their 61 plays. In their loss to the Browns last week, they used it on 64 of their 67 offensive plays.
The player it has hurt most has been fullback Vonta Leach, who has played just 14 snaps in the past two games. Leach has played just 27 percent of the snaps overall.
Last season, the Ravens used two running backs on about 40 percent of their plays, according to Football Outsiders, which ranked among the highest figures in the league. This season, they have used their 21 personnel -- two backs, one tight end and two wide receivers -- on 17.9 percent of their plays, making it their second-most popular personnel grouping but still nowhere near as prevalent as their 11 personnel.
With tight end Dennis Pitta sidelined, the Ravens have used their 12 personnel -- one back, two tight ends and two wide receivers -- on just 50 of their 541 offensive plays.
Asked Wednesday about his offensive philosophy, coach John Harbaugh said it will change from game to game. But three-receiver sets will remain a big part of what they do, especially if they keep falling behind in games. The same goes with many other NFL teams, but the Ravens are closing the gap on the most frequent users of 11 personnel.