The Baltimore Ravens’ revolutionary rushing attack, led by dynamic dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson and orchestrated by innovative offensive coordinator Greg Roman, has helped propel the team to the postseason in each of the last three seasons and rewrote franchise and league record books in the process.
Since Jackson became the full-time starter and Roman began designing and calling plays, the Ravens have been just as proficient moving the ball up and down the field on the ground as some of the other top offenses have been through the air. During that span, the Ravens are an impressive 30-7 in the regular season.
However, as dominant as they have been imposing their will on opposing defenses with a bludgeoning ground game from September to December, it has yet to translate to a deep playoff run come January. The Ravens are 1-3 in the playoffs since 2018 and haven’t made it past the Divisional Round.
Even though they have moved the ball well at times in each of the three postseason shortcomings, their inability to consistently put together drives when the run game isn’t clicking on all cylinders has been arguably the key contributor to their ultimate downfall.
Following their loss to the Buffalo Bills this past January, finding more balance on the offensive side of the ball was something that wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown mentioned in his end of the season press conference as something the team needs to improve on heading into 2021.
“Whenever you’re the No. 1 rushing [offense] and the [No. 32] passing [offense], that’s not right. That’s not balanced” said Brown.
“So, we’ve got to find a way to balance our game. Even with our great rushing attack, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball, we’ve got to be able to move the ball through the air, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to work on and continue to try to implement into the offense more.”
The Ravens’ front office and coaching staff have defended and expressed their desires to remain steadfast on sticking with the offense that has been so potent over the past two seasons. However, they also admitted that improvements to the scheme and roster need to and will be made.
If the Ravens want to strive for more balance on offense without sacrificing their dominant rushing prowess, the Tennessee Titans’ offensive approach the past two years is an ideal one to mimic.
Under former offensive coordinator Arthur Smith who is now the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, the Titans managed to stay extremely balanced despite finishing second and third in the league in rushing yards the past two seasons. During that span, Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry has been the back-to-back rushing champion, quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for over 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns, and they nearly had two wide receivers eclipse 1,000 yards —A.J. Brown (1,075) and Corey Davis (984).
While the Ravens won the last meeting between the bitter rivals when they faced off in the 2020 wildcard round on the road, the Titans bested them in the previous two matchups. Both games were played in Baltimore and included a second-half comeback in Week 11 last season and a stunning upset in the 2019 divisional round when the Ravens held the No.1 seed in the AFC and were heavily favored.
Not only has the Titans’ balanced offensive attack proved to be successful against the Ravens, but it has also helped them achieve two feats that Lamar and Roman have failed to do since coming together.
It got them a win in a shootout with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10 of the 2019 regular season, a hurdle the Ravens have come up short of in their last three tries. It also got them deeper in the playoffs than the Ravens have been in nearly a decade. Their Cinderella story came up one game short of punching a ticket to Superbowl 54 while the Ravens haven’t been back to the AFC Championship since their 2012 title-winning season.
In 2019, the Titans averaged 245.6 passing yards and 160.6 on the ground after Tannehill was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 7. Last season with him under center for the entire year and with an offensive line that, like the Ravens, lost its star left tackle and was arguably in even worse shape, Tennessee still averaged 228.3 yards through the air and 168.1 rushing yards per game.
Both Smith and Roman’s schemes are predicated on using strong ground games to set up their passing attacks. The Ravens have the most electrifying rushing talent at the quarterback position in NFL history with Jackson and while Tannehill isn’t anywhere close to that level, he’s still very mobile.
He isn’t utilized as a runner nearly as often, but last season, the two posted identical stats from a scoring and yards per carry average standpoint. Jackson led the league in yards per carry with 6.3, but Tannehill was right behind him at 6.2 despite having a fraction of his rushing attempts—159 in 15 games to 43 in 16 games. While Jackson had longer scoring runs, both players finished the regular season with seven rushing touchdowns.
I am not proposing that the Ravens offense should become a carbon copy of what the Titans were under Smith. However, putting more of the rushing onus on the running backs and more emphasis on the passing game, especially off play action, will not only elevate Jackson as a quarterback but will also preserve his career in the long run.
A slight shift or adaptation in philosophy would lead to more offensive balance without sweeping schematic changes. It could be achieved by opening up and adding to the playbook as well as improving the personnel. Fortifying the offensive line and adding another pass-catching tight end, as well as another dynamic wide receiver, are among the team’s top offseason priorities.
The pandemic cost the Ravens’ precious practice time last offseason, so the new wrinkles that were on the way couldn’t be properly implemented. They just didn’t have the time prior to the start of the season. With effective protocols now in place, Roman will have the requisite time on the field via mini-camps and OTAs in addition to training camp to improve and expound on his overall scheme.
The complexity of the Ravens’ ground game requires a lot of practice time to teach the new additions and reinforce in the returning players, but the passing attack needs and deserves more attention. The result could mean that when they find themselves behind by double digits and the running game just isn’t clicking, passing their way back from the brink won’t feel like pulling teeth. It could also mean that when they are going up against an elite passing offense like the Chiefs, they are better prepared to win shootouts.