“Take the over.”
John Harbaugh stated those three words when asked whether Lamar Jackson will (again) surpass Cam Newton’s record for most rushing attempts by a quarterback. I believe him, as Lamar Jackson would only need to carry the rock nine times per game to do so.
However, the way that the Ravens “revolutionary” offense is being debated upon would lead one to think that they will run the ball at least 65% of the time or more in 2019-20. That won’t be the case. Here’s why:
1) Greg Roman’s offenses have never hit a 55% rushing split in his NFL play calling career. The highest, coming from the 2012 49ers, ran the ball 492 out of a possible 928 plays. That’s including kneel downs.
Over Roman’s five (and a few games of six) seasons as an offensive coordinator, he dialed up runs on 2,474 out of a possible 4,803 plays. Right around 51% of the time. The way media pundits describe Roman, you would think that number is around 60%.
2) Throughout training camp there has been major emphasis on the passing game. The daily routine involves passing drills such as:
7-on-7 passing drills, one on one passing, red zone passing, goal line passing, situational/clock management passing (end of half no timeouts) and 11 on 11. Each drill heavily emphasizes Jackson’s arm. I would contest that more time has been spent focusing on the passing offense than vice versa.
3) The Ravens love sending mixed signals and working behind closed doors.
For instance, Dan Pompei of The Athletic wrote an article about how Lamar Jackson came to become the Ravens starting quarterback. In that article he wrote, “At the combine in Indianapolis, the Ravens are determined to find out more about Jackson. But they want to prevent other teams from knowing of their interest, so they purposely do not request a formal combine interview with him.”
Then, Pompei describes, “The Ravens still need an intensive interview with Jackson before they can seriously consider a future with him. The plan is to bring him to Baltimore for a hush-hush visit. It is easier to keep the secret with Jackson than it would be with most prospects because Jackson doesn’t have a traditional agent — he is representing himself, and he is telling people his mother Felicia Jones is his “manager.”
Shortly after Jackson arrives in Baltimore for his visit, DeCosta receives a call from a prominent media member who said he is pretty sure Jackson is at the Under Armour Performance Center. DeCosta will not confirm it. The media member ends up sitting on his information.”
Long story short, the Ravens are sneaky, guarded and private. Those adjectives particularly apply towards Lamar Jackson. Go to an open training camp practice and try to record a play on your phone. Six sets of eyeballs accompanied by red security shirts will promptly ask you to put their phones away, or leave.
Whatever the Ravens are really doing, the public will be the last ones to know.
4) The Ravens (seemingly) have learned from their mistakes.
After years of beating their heads against a wall with a Joe Flacco-led West Coast offense, they saw what happened when the Chargers outmatched their shiny new power read-option game. They simply waited too long to spread things out and pick up the pace. Don’t get me wrong, they want to run the ball down their opponents throat, but they’re fully aware that elite defenses and coaching staffs will find ways to take away their bread and butter.
5) In turn, John Harbaugh, Greg Roman, David Culley and company know that the true key to success is being able to spread defenses out andplay with pace.
If they can’t do that, then they’re one dimensional. If a team is one dimensional, they won’t succeed. Not in a world where Bill Belichick exists.
6) Over the last two years, the Ravens have spent two first-round picks, two third-round picks, a fourth-round pick and a fifth-round pick (good luck in Oakland, Lasley) on tight ends and wide receivers.
Mark Andrews splits out wide as frequently as he does an in-line blocker. This isn’t an accident, they want to throw the ball effectively and have invested in the pieces to do so.
7) Lamar Jackson is eager to make doubters “eat their words.”
Yesterday on ‘The Rich Eisen Show’ Eisen asked Jackson about Harbaugh’s comments regarding the run game. Jackson had this to say.
Lamar Jackson isn’t so sure you should “take the over” on his rushing attempts.— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) August 1, 2019
“I don’t know ... I’ve been throwing a LOT.”
Jackson didn’t run at the 2018 NFL combine. He refused to workout at other positions. He’s dedicated to being known as a quarterback that can run. Not a running quarterback. Has he stopped throwing the ball since February? After working privately in Florida, Jackson worked with throwing mechanical guru Tom House in California. Jackson also hosted Ravens receivers for private workouts in Florida twice before training camp.
8) Eric DeCosta heavily values analytics.
‘NFLscrapR’ twitter has resulted in three new Ravens analytics department hires. It doesn’t take a doctorate in mathematical statistics to know that you must be able to throw the ball effectively. Furthermore, balance is required. ‘The NFL is a matchup league’ and teams must be able to exploit their opponents weaknesses to win.
9) The “revolutionary” part of this offense lies in the Ravens ability to be multiple.
That means to line up with 11, 12, 22 or 21 personnel and run the same concept with an array of dizzying motions. They want to run the same concept, such as a wham, from every which way possible. This will prevent defenses from being able to diagnose what they’re facing. When they have to stop and think, they’re flat-footed. If they’re flat-footed against Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon and company. . . they’re in trouble.
Forcing defenders to engage in this mental warfare pre-snap will result in blown assignments not only on the ground, but through the air. Jackson’s ability to find these blown assignments is crucial. To end practice Thursday, an RPO resulted in Hayden Hurst blowing past coverage and rumbling 50 yards for a touchdown. That’s on day seven of practice against an all-world secondary.
Despite what John Harbaugh or Steve Biscotti have said, they’re keeping their true intentions close to the vest. If you think you know what they’re going to do, you’ve already lost.
There will be many, many hiccups along the way. Anticipate mistakes and growing pains, especially early in the season. It’s impractical to not, considering their destiny is aligned with a 22 year-old quarterback. Whatever those learning curves may be, John Harbaugh and company will try to keep media and coaches guessing until they’re revealed week one in Miami.