Eisenberg: Ravens Have Put the Pieces Around Lamar Jackson

QB Lamar Jackson

The Ravens have done about as much as they can around Lamar Jackson to make their passing game more productive in 2021.

They used their top pick in last week's draft on wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who adds qualities that were missing in the receiving corps and meshes neatly with Hollywood Brown. The Ravens also added another dynamic college receiver, Tylan Wallace, with their top pick on Day 3.

They reportedly pursued several free agent receivers before landing Sammy Watkins, who figures to be faster and more prominent than any veteran pass-catcher they've added in the past few years.

They brought in a new coach for the receivers, Tee Martin, and a route-running specialist, Keith Williams, hoping new eyes and ideas will energize the position group and enhance production.

They've stated that one of their top goals is to improve the caliber of Jackson's protection, and while the loss of tackle Orlando Brown Jr. didn't help, they've used free-agent dollars and draft capital to add several pieces of what is becoming a major O-line overhaul.

"There are definitely some things that we're doing right now to evolve, and there are definitely some things people are going to see from us that they haven't seen before," Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said over the weekend.

But while they've done about as much as they can around their quarterback, they're also counting on him doing his part.

Jackson's ongoing development as a passer isn't just another factor in the Ravens' effort to improve that aspect of their offense; it's the key to that effort.

"This offense is really one that runs through Lamar," Roman said.

Giving him more and better targets, more time to throw, etc., is all about getting more out of him as a passer.

Jackson has won 30 of 37 regular-season starts for the Ravens, led them to back-to-back-to-back playoff appearances and earned the league Most Valuable Player award in 2019. That year, he threw a league-best 36 touchdown passes.

Yet he is only 24 and the first to admit he needs to grow as a passer. Even during his MVP season, he wasn't among the top 10 in the league in yards per pass attempt, an effective measure of efficiency. He ranked No. 13 that year and dropped to No. 19 in 2020.

He has been more comfortable throwing to targets over the middle rather than outside the hash marks – a habit that opponents have picked up on and used against the Ravens.

Jackson also has been relatively predictable in choosing his targets. Although a lot of good things have come out of his chemistry with Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, their combined 188 targets in 2020 was only slightly less than the combined targets for every other wide receiver, tight end and running back on the team (204).

Given all that, it's pretty clear what needs to happen to make the passing game more efficient and productive. Jackson needs to use more of the field and throw more consistently to a broader array of targets.

The Ravens tried to make it happen last season, but changes in the passing game didn't consistently materialize early and Jackson went back to running more during a late-season push to the playoffs. It was fun to watch, but the playoff exit in Buffalo re-emphasized the importance of becoming more balanced on offense.

Now the Ravens are putting even more into the job of elevating their passing game. Aside from the new personnel and coaches, Roman said he expects he'll change the offensive scheme "moreso this year than we did last year."

They're doing as much as they can for and around Jackson, hoping he takes it from there.

Roman certainly is optimistic. "The field is about 53 yards wide and I think people are going to have to defend all 53 yards of it," he said as the front office kept adding receivers.

Sounds like the Ravens are absolutely counting on seeing their passing game, and their quarterback, become more productive and efficient in 2021.

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