The Baltimore Ravens offense has been among the league’s best over the last two seasons under Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman since Lamar Jackson became the full-time starter at quarterback.
The Ravens rank among the top in scoring and dominate time of possession with their punishing rushing attack that has put up historic numbers and shattered several longstanding regular-season records during that span.
However, the unit has faced heavy scrutiny in the media since their latest premature postseason exit where they fell in the divisional round to the Buffalo Bills 17-3.
The defense played lights out, outside of the opening drive of the third quarter, but the offense failed to reach the end zone once or eclipse 20 points in quarterback Lamar Jackson’s fourth career playoff game.
Both their scheme and personnel have been under siege. The offense has been put under a microscope as many continue to wonder why they can’t seem to conform to the norm or at least be able to consistently flip their run-first script and throw their way back when behind by double digits.
The reigning league MVP himself had been heavily scrutinized all season for the team’s lack of a consistent passing attack. Following the game, former Raven and probable future Hall of Fame wide receiver, Steve Smith, blamed Baltimore’s bottom-ranked passing offense on the man calling plays.
“Greg Roman’s a fantastic coordinator,” Smith said. “However, that fantastic coordinator needs to start looking for a job somewhere else because I believe that his time has expired on this offense [in Baltimore]. If you want Lamar Jackson to continue to be a stellar quarterback, an MVP-type of quarterback, you need to implement a second notch or a third level of the passing game that makes it a little bit more complicated because it’s not very complicated.”
Smith went as far as to say that his six-year-old, sleeping in the other room at the time he was on the air, could likely run Roman’s offense at a proficient level.
His fellow NFL Network colleague and class of 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, Kurt Warner, who appeared in three Superbowls and won one, concurred with the analysis and cited a lack of innovation and complexity in the route variation as a reason for the lack of passing success as well.
“I believe the entirety of the Ravens passing game has to get better,” Warner said. “Has to get more detailed, has to get more, has to get more innovative if they’re going to have a great deal of success.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh came to the defense of both Roman and Jackson and vowed that the offense would not go back to the drawing board but admitted that there is room for improvement.
“It goes back to the same criticism that we’ve heard the last three years about not being the type of offense or type of quarterback that some people want to see,” Harbaugh said. “They’re just going to live with it because Lamar Jackson has won a lot of football games here and our offense has won us a lot of football games here, and we’re not going to apologize for that for one second.
“We’re going to improve it, no question about it. We’re going to work to be more precise, more efficient, be better at what we do. That’s what we have to do is be better at it.”
I believe that the Ravens’ loss to the Bills and their other previous shortcomings in the playoffs have largely been due to a lack of adjustments and overall execution of the offensive game plan, compounded by untimely and costly turnovers more than it was the scheme itself or an indictment of a shortage of talented pass catchers and Jackson’s ability as a passer.
In the three playoff losses since Jackson became the starter, the Ravens failed to consistently take advantage of what the opposing defenses gave them through the air. Instead, they opted to go full steam ahead to their original plan of attack on the ground and rudimentary passing concepts.
However, these issues with the passing game that have crept up and cost the Ravens multiple opportunities to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs aren’t fundamental flaws like Smith, Warner, and others continuously lament.
With a few tweaks and additional wrinkles to the playbooks, coupled with consistent execution and better pass protection, this offense could be just as dangerous and dynamic passing as they are rushing.
The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of league where what happened in the past has nothing to do with the here and now. But it would serve those same hypercritical pundits and disgruntled fans well to reflect on the time before Jackson’s arrival when the team had made the playoffs just once in five years following their 2012 Superbowl winning season.
Before Jackson and Roman came along, the Ravens’ weren’t known for any sort of offensive prowess. They struggled to average 20 points a game and couldn’t run or pass the ball consistently. Harbaugh was on the hot seat following the 2017 season after three straight years of missing the playoffs.
Not only did the Ravens deliver on their promise to unveil a revolutionary offense when Roman became the play-caller and Jackson ascended into full-time starter status, but they vastly exceed any preconceived expectations of what they could become.
“Let’s not forget, now, that we have a running attack that’s probably the best in football, and probably the best in the history of football,” General Manager Eric DeCosta said. “That’s to our credit. We want to be good at everything.”
Every team leans more heavily to their areas of strength on both sides of the ball and when a team is historically the best to ever do it at a particular aspect of the game and it is leading to wins, it only makes sense to stick with it and make minor but not sweeping changes to the scheme.
“We throw the ball a lot less than a lot of other teams do. That’s by design. We’re a running football team,” DeCosta said. “We want to be precise, for sure. We want to be more efficient.”
I wholeheartedly believe that the Ravens offense could greatly benefit from implanting some west coast concepts, specifically in the play-action passing game where Jackson could have targets to choose from at every level of the defense.
However, efficiency, execution, consistency, and lack of in-game adjustments have been what has held the Ravens’ offense back in every regular and postseason loss in the last two seasons. None of those are fundamental flaws of Roman’s scheme and can be remedied.
The Ravens are a relatively young team at every position on both sides of the ball with exception of the defensive line and they are continuing to infuse more youth each year.
Without a COVID-19 condensed offseason that is almost completely virtual like it was last year, expect the 2021 team to not be as rusty to start the season and show greater discipline in their technique and execution of the game plan.
While every offense should strive for more balance and the optics of ranking dead last in passing yards and attempts among the 32 teams last season looks bad, the Ravens’ 27 passing touchdowns ranked in the top 15 (tied for 13th) and their 11 intercepted passes was in the bottom 15 (tied for 24th).
That means that they were not only making the most of the limited opportunities they had to pass but took better care than those teams that aired it out on a much more frequent basis.
The most important stat, more than any passing or rushing metric, is winning. The Ravens have been doing a lot more winning since their offense began dominating on the ground, while still maintaining a productive passing attack that will continue to improve as Jackson matures and his arsenal of weapons grow.