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Ravens 2023 offense could be harder to defend than record-breaking 2019 season

This year’s unit could be even more dangerous even if they’re not quite revolutionary

Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Four years ago, the Baltimore Ravens took the league by storm. While playing dominant defense had been how they largely won in the past and was the driving force for the first Super Bowl title in franchise history, they did it with a revolutionary offense in the 2019 season.

The main catalyst for their success on that side of the ball was quarterback Lamar Jackson who was just in his second year in the league and first as the full-time starter after the team moved on from former face of the franchise Joe Flacco that offseason. Jackson would go on to be voted the league’s most valuable player and lead the team to a league-best 14-2 record and homefield-advantage in the AFC playoffs.

The mastermind behind the Ravens revolutionary run-based offense that was built to accentuate the strengths of their electrifying dual-threat quarterback was former offensive coordinator Greg Roman. His unit rewrote NFL record books by breaking single-season team and quarterback rushing records and also helped Jackson lead the league in passing touchdowns.

While they haven’t completely fallen off a cliff since then, the Ravens have yet to surpass, replicate, or come close to that same level of success on offense or as a team since that memorable season.

Key injuries at premium positions over that span played a major factor in them not being able to get over the proverbial hump. The most notable and damaging were to Jackson down the stretch of the past two season, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley who has missed 31 of a possible 43 games since midway through the 2020 season, and the entire running back depth chart, along with three-fourths of the starting secondary in 2021.

There are some similar parallels and stark differences between the 2019 Ravens and this year’s team heading into 2023 season. However, one thing could prove to be true about both. The league won’t know what hit them and aside from their divisional opponents, they won’t have ample time or film to prepare for them adequately before they face off against each other.

Jackson is far removed from the relatively unknown commodity he was at the NFL level in his first year as the starter now that he’s entering his fifth. Even though the entire league has seen what he can do first hand at this point, they don’t know what he and the rest of his unit will look like on the field now that Roman is no longer the team’s play caller and designer.

The Ravens hired veteran coach Todd Monken to replace him as their new offensive coordinator this offseason with the expectation that he’d prioritize and feature the passing game more then his predecessor did in the years following the record-breaking 2019 season.

At his introductory press conference and every other media session since, he has talked about how they plan to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers in space as well as to stretch out and force opposing defenses to defend every blade of grass on the field.

The adoption of spread concepts and utilization of more 10 and 11 personnel which include sets of three or more receivers isn’t anything new in the NFL. Many of the most explosive offenses in the league deploy three or more receivers and/or a pass-catching tight end as their primary personnel packages whereas in Baltimore under Roman, 12 and 13 personnel featuring two or more tight ends was much more the norm.

In a recent appearance on Fox Sports talk show ‘Speak’ former NFL receiver turned analyst, James Jones, said that he had a chance to come to town and visit the team facility and shared some encouraging insight from Monken that got Ravens fans everywhere excited after a clip from the segment went viral.

“He said we’re taking Lamar Action Jackson back to Louisville,” Jones quoted. “It’s four-wide, come get it, he’s going to get the ball out of his hands, he’s going to throw this thang, make the right reads, and it’s not going to be nine people in the box that he’s got to juke.”

Another staple of Roman’s offense was operating out of condensed formations which gave opposing defense less ground to cover and in a sense, made their jobs easier at times when the Ravens blocking wasn’t on point or receivers failed to get open.

Now that they’ll be running more spread formations and stretching defensive alignments more horizontally, Jones eluded that there will inevitably less defenders in the box near the line of scrimmage.

“If he does chose to scramble, it’s going to be five people in the box,” he said. “He got to make one miss to do what he does.”

When he said that Monken intends to take Jackson back to Louisville, it was in reference to the sixth-year veteran quarterback’s college days when he won a Heisman Trophy and established himself as arguably the best dual threat playmaker at the position in the history or college football.

What made Jackson’s time leading the Cardinals offense under head coach Bobby Petrino so awe-inspiring was the fact that he got it done with his arm and not just his legs.

According to Sport Reference, Jackson threw for over 3,500 yards and produced passing efficiency ratings north or 146 in each of his last two season in college and combined for 57 touchdowns to 19 interceptions over that span. He ran for over 1,500 yards and scored 39 total touchdowns on the ground in both of those seasons as well.

Monken helped turn former walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett into a Heisman Trophy finalist and led the Georgia Bulldogs to back-to-back national titles in 2021 and 2022. In his return to the NFL, he’ll have a former league MVP, the best dual-threat in the game under center, with a revamped arsenal of weapons to help further evolve the offense.

Running a more traditional pro-style offense isn’t revolutionary by any means. But, operating such a scheme with Jackson at the helm for more than just a series or two when trailing late or just before halftime in a two-minute situation is something that the league has yet to see and could very well struggle to defend this year.

Perhaps the closest glimpse that we’ve seen to what that might look like now that Jackson will have more autonomy to change plays at the line as he sees fit was the Ravens’ miraculous comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football in Week 5 of the 2021 season.

He led the team on a charge to erase a 19-point deficit in the second half and ultimately win in overtime. They ran a lot of tempo and just let Jackson grip and rip it all over the field. He carved up what was a stout Colts defense that year to the tune of 37-of-43 for 442 passing yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions and added another 62 yards on the ground.

To expect Jackson to light up opposing defenses to that extent every week isn’t realistic. However, the 2023 Ravens offense has the potential to put opposing defenses in bigger binds on a down-to-down basis than the historic 2019 unit simply because they will have more ground and better weapons to cover. There’s also the fact that Jackson is more seasoned and can’t wait to deliver on the record-setting contract he was given this offseason by hopefully winning a Super Bowl championship.