Eisenberg: Ravens Will Keep Swinging to Upgrade Passing Attack

QB Lamar Jackson

One of the Ravens' primary goals for 2021 is to make their passing game more diverse and productive. If that sounds familiar, well, they had the same goal in 2020.

Remember? A year ago at this time, they were coming off a season in which they set an NFL record for team rushing yards in a season, and while that was historic, they wanted more balance. Even though Lamar Jackson had led the league in touchdown passes, a disappointing playoff exit indicated the need for more overall passing pop.

They gave it a shot early in the 2020 season. Jackson ran significantly less and threw more. In a Week 6 win over the Bengals, he ran just twice for three yards and attempted 37 passes.

The Ravens won that day to go to 5-1 for the season, but the offense wasn't in a groove and that soon became an issue during a three-game losing streak.

On the brink of elimination from playoff contention, the Ravens went back to a run-heavy identity down the stretch. Their pass attempts dropped from an average of 28 in their first 10 games to an average of 21 in their last six games. Jackson's per-game rushing average rose from 57 yards to 86 over the same span.

Reverting to a run-heavy formula helped salvage the season, as the Ravens won their last five regular-season games and a first-round playoff game before getting knocked out of the postseason.

But the relative success of that run-heavy identity late in the 2020 season doesn't mean the Ravens are giving up on the idea of developing better offensive balance.

To the contrary, it's a clearer-than-ever need after the Ravens ranked last in the league in pass attempts, completions and passing yardage in 2020.

They've already made a series of moves designed to help the passing game in 2021. They signed guard Kevin Zeitler as part of an effort to upgrade the offensive line and give Jackson better protection. They signed wide receiver Sammy Watkins as part of an effort to give Jackson more viable receiving targets.

The draft will likely bring another receiving target and/or piece of the O-line upgrade. Meanwhile, the Ravens maintain high hopes for several of their young receivers, and they've added a pass-game specialist to the coaching staff with the goal of improving everyone's route-running.

"We've spent the last two and a half years or so building, probably, one of the most creative run games in the history of the National Football League," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said recently. "I don't want to overdramatize it, but it'd be pretty hard to argue against that. And probably the most successful. So, we're certainly very happy about that, and now we want to bring that pass game along as well. It's hard to do everything at once."

The Ravens' attempt to ramp up their passing game gets, cough, a lot of attention. The chatter is interesting, but I think it's important to remember the big picture.

While the Ravens want and need a better passing game, their offense will continue to be defined by the fact that Jackson makes plays with his legs as well as his arm. His unique skillset is what makes the offense special. That isn't changing.

In other words, the Ravens are going to continue to run the ball, probably more than any team, partly because of their quarterback's involvement in that phase.

They would gladly take a top-10 passing game, but they aren't necessarily aiming for that. They just need a passing game productive enough to make opposing defenses play them more honestly and give Jackson more time and space to do his thing.

It's an important goal, and I hope you're ready to see the Ravens take another swing at making it happen in 2021.

It doesn't matter that their efforts to ramp up their passing game didn't really work in 2020. It doesn't matter that they might encounter more bumps in 2021.

The Ravens know where they're trying to go and know it's important to get there. They should keep swinging, and I'm sure they will.

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