They say the NFL is a copycat league, and it looks the Ravens copied the Patriots play that so baffled and angered them in the playoffs last year. Well, not exactly, but close.
On the Ravens first touchdown on Sunday at Oakland, tight end Crockett Gillmore was lined up as the left tackle, with James Hurst lined up at left guard. Meanwhile, right guard Marshal Yanda lined up in the slot on the right side.
When the ball was snapped, Yanda simply drifted backward, and Gillmore ran pretty much unchecked off the line of scrimmage. Flacco hit the wide-open Gillmore down the middle, and he raced in for a 26-yard touchdown.
Patriots fans and media were among the many people that noticed:
So, uh, check out the #Ravens first TD yesterday. Watch the TE at the bottom and the slot WR at the top https://t.co/FNrbuMnFpt
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) September 22, 2015
The formation brings back memories of the Patriots game, when they placed tight end Michael Hoomanawanui at left tackle. While the confused Ravens were busing covering the ineligible Shane Vereen in the slot, a wide-open Hoomanawanui caught a pass that led to a Patriots touchdown.
The Ravens had complained furiously about the formation, how the Patriots juggled which receivers were eligible and ineligible and the manner in which the Ravens were notified of that.
In fact, it led to a rule change this offseason; now, any player wearing an eligible number who reports as ineligible must line up in the tackle box.
But there are a couple of important differences that made the Ravens play legal. First, Yanda, wearing No. 73, was not an eligible receiver reporting as ineligible, as was the case with Vereen. Second, Gillmore, was lined up next to the left tackle, with no other player to his left on the line of scrimmage, so he is eligible. There should have never been any question about which receivers were eligible and which were not.
The Raiders, though, appeared to have been duped much as the Ravens were; they correctly left Yanda alone, but no one paid much attention to Gillmore at the snap, either. Deception? Sure. Harbaugh complained vehemently about it last year, but deception is part of the game, just as a surprise onside kick or flea-flicker pass is.
As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Publicly, Harbaugh was incensed by the Patriots formation last year. But considering he pretty much copied it, it appears he admired it as well.