The Ravens ran the ball more than any NFL team last season after Lamar Jackson replaced Joe Flacco at quarterback. Most of the football world expects more of the same in 2019.
Even though Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is rebuilding and reimagining his unit, Jackson’s unique running ability suggests it’ll still look and operate a lot like it did last year.
In the end, though, the Ravens might not be as run-oriented as expected. There’s mounting evidence that they’re determined to roll out a much more substantial passing game than they showcased down the stretch in 2018.
Do you think they drafted wide receivers with two of their first three picks last week with the idea of bolstering their ground game?
Marquise (Hollywood) Brown and Miles Boykin won’t be excused from blocking for Jackson and the running backs, but they were drafted with the hope that they’d raise the threat level of the passing game – immediately, if possible.
The Ravens also quietly added a respected passing-game expert in January when they hired David Culley to coach their wide receivers. Culley has worked with receivers and quarterbacks during his long career as an NFL assistant, and Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh wants him to map out a passing game for inclusion in Roman’s offense. His job description includes the title “pass coordinator.”
Harbaugh asked Roman to work similar magic with the running game in 2017. It had slipped to near the bottom of the league in production the year before. Roman, a run-game expert, was hired to get it rolling again for then-Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. It has been solid ever since.
The organization hasn’t shorted Culley on promising, young material to work with as he attempts to similarly re-boot the passing game. Brown, Boykin and tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst are all high picks from the past two drafts, and to repeat, while blocking is certainly part of what they’ll be asked to do, they’re here primarily to catch the ball, making the offense more than just a run-centric unit.
Of course, any plan to solidify the passing game depends largely on how much Jackson improves as a passer in his second pro season. While he made some plays with his arm as a rookie, he wasn’t as consistently accurate as anyone wanted. He acknowledged to reporters earlier this month that he knew his mechanics needed work.
Jackson said he has been working on those mechanics and other aspects of his passing since February. Ravens officials never express anything other than complete confidence in him.
“I think Lamar is an excellent passer who is going to get better and better,” General Manager Eric DeCosta said over the weekend. “We all talk about it, but he’s working his butt off, and he’s going to get better. All these young quarterbacks improve.”
The state of the passing game will be heavily scrutinized as the Ravens churn through spring practices and minicamps, training camp and the preseason.
But regardless of how it evolves, there’s no doubt where the Ravens want it to go. They want it be more of a presence, more of a threat, more productive.
It’s no surprise, really. The Los Angeles Chargers showed the rest of the league how to beat last season’s run-heavy Ravens in their playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium in January. The Chargers filled the box with fast defenders to shut down Jackson’s running and dared the Ravens to win in the air. They couldn’t.
It was evident Baltimore’s passing game was limited and an offense so focused on the run could only carry you so far. Something had to change.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m sure the offense will still start with the running game and largely look the same, with Jackson in shotgun sets, one back beside him and run-pass options called. You’ll see a lot of Jackson bounding downfield and various backs hitting various holes.
But the Ravens’ goal is to be more balanced than a year ago, and by definition, that means more passing.