Every NFL team puts faith in its offensive and defensive coordinators, but I can't imagine there's another team counting on their OC and DC more than the Ravens in 2019.
Greg Roman, in his first year as OC, and Don (Wink) Martindale, in his second year as DC, both figure extra prominently in the calculus for success the organization has devised.
Yes, it's ultimately a players' game. And yes, Head Coach John Harbaugh ultimately is in charge.
But Roman and Martindale are EIP – extremely important people – surpassed by few as potential difference-makers in the Ravens' efforts this season.
The big news about the team, of course, is the reimagining of the offense in the wake of the change from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The pro football world is closely monitoring this shift from a generally pass-oriented attack to a more run-centric brand that takes advantage of Jackson's unique skills. It's a pretty radical move, and at the risk of oversimplifying, the Ravens basically handed the project to Roman and said, "Here, you do it."
He'll protest that depiction – his staff testifies to his desire for collaboration as one of his strengths. No doubt, the ideas and fingerprints of assistant coach David Culley, hired as a passing-game architect, will also be evident this fall, as well as contributions from others.
Nonetheless, the new offense is irrefutably Roman's baby, very much a "G-Ro" production (to use his nickname).
He is being given an opportunity to wield his creativity partly because of his prior OC stints in San Francisco and Buffalo, where he also worked with mobile quarterbacks. But to hear him tell it, those experiences were just warm-up acts philosophically. What he is doing here, building an offense around Jackson, is "definitely a next-level type thing compared to what has been done in the past," Roman said last weekend.
The Ravens are counting on their Roman-designed unconventionality working in their favor, and the early returns are promising. In a recent NFL Network poll of "league insiders," the Ravens were the overwhelming top choice as the AFC team that opponents were least excited to prepare for.
That's not just because of the offense, of course. Martindale's defense was pretty much a nightmare for opposing OCs and quarterbacks in 2018. It was partly due to the talent on the unit, but more importantly, players at all three levels jumped around confusingly before the snap, disguising their intentions and leaving opponents mystified as to where pressure might come from and how various coverages would unfold.
Remember the excitement CBS' Tony Romo displayed on the air upon seeing the defense for the first time? "No one else is doing this stuff!" he exclaimed.
Martindale has been tabbed as the league's top DC by Michael Lombardi, a former GM who is now a prominent analyst.
This year, Martindale's unit is dealing with major personnel subtractions, including two of last year's top three pass rushers. Some national analysts question how the Ravens will pressure opposing quarterbacks in 2019.
It's a fair question, but the Ravens don't seem concerned. Martindale's complex schemes were central to the pressure they generated a year ago – even more central than the individual talent of the players, one could argue, as there weren't a ton of sacks emanating strictly from players winning one-on-one battles.
In any case, the Ravens are counting on Martindale continuing to perform his version of magic, just as they're counting on Roman's offensive vision taking flight.
Second-guessing coordinators is in-season rite in most NFL locales, and Baltimore isn't excluded. It's what happens now, right? If and when you lose a game, you'd better duck.
But with Roman and Martindale, the Ravens are as armed as they've ever been for such criticism. Both are accomplished and creative coaches. Both have a distinct philosophy, know what they want to see.
I'm sure the organization isn't fretting over whether its considerable faith in them is misplaced.