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Eisenberg: Sky Isn't Falling on the Ravens Offense

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman

If you're a worrier by nature, a Nervous Nellie concerned that the sky is falling on a cloudless day, you've had some reason to fret about the Ravens' offense lately.

Their defense is looking strong and most analysts expect them to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season in 2021, but their offense has been the subject of unsettling speculation.

The NFL Network's Brian Baldinger predicted we'll see the "same, old Ravens" on that side of the ball, meaning a relentlessly run-heavy attack, as opposed to the more balanced offense they've sought to roll out to help them go deeper into the playoffs.

They'll "default to who they are," Baldinger said, due to a run of injuries and absences among key offensive personnel during training camp.

Those injuries and absences have been such a setback in terms of important practice time lost, ESPN's Jeff Saturday said, that it's already too late for them to fold in their envisioned changes to the passing attack.

"They're not going to be able to progress this thing like they want," Saturday said.

There you go – all the fodder you need to believe the sky is falling.

Being the "same, old Ravens" on offense isn't exactly a disaster, mind you. In 2020, they were No. 1 in the league in rushing for a second straight year, No. 7 in scoring and No. 10 in average yards per play.

But they were No. 32 in passing yardage, No. 24 in first downs and No. 19 in net yards per game, and after losing a divisional-round playoff game for the second straight year, they acknowledged the need for more balance and diversity.

The organization has invested a lot in making that happen, overhauling the offensive line, which struggled against quality opposition, and adding several new receivers. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman hinted at an expanded playbook and stressed the importance of melding the various pieces and ideas into a functioning unit before the regular season begins.

"Training camp is really a time when we've got to create an identity on offense," Roman said in late July.

Circumstances have gotten in the way of that, or so it seems. Heading into the Ravens' preseason finale against the Washington Football Team Saturday night, we still know little, if anything, about how their offense might evolve in 2021.

That's partly by design, of course. The Ravens aren't about to show off any new wrinkles before the season begins.

But it's fair to ask: Are those new wrinkles still, in fact, coming?

I think so. With respect to Baldinger and Saturday, who know football, I refuse to believe the Ravens' chance to make substantive changes has already come and gone.

We're still almost two weeks away from Labor Day, almost six months out from the Super Bowl. I know pro football is a complex, process-driven realm, but c'mon, let's not overthink it.

It matters little, if anything, that the offense's central figure, quarterback Lamar Jackson, went on the COVID-19 list as training camp began and hasn't played in the preseason. He has taken hundreds of practice reps since he returned. That's plenty of time for him to grasp the strategic and philosophical changes Roman wants.

Uncertainty in the offensive line has been a genuine cause for concern, but guard Kevin Zeitler's return from a foot injury helped stabilize the group last week and the steady increase in All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley's practice load is a huge step in the right direction.

The continued absence of the team's top wide receivers from practice is also a genuine concern, but a 16-day break between the preseason finale and the regular season opener offers a great opportunity for the Ravens to get things in order.

We're not talking about a comprehensive overhaul. My guess is the new wrinkles will include Jackson stepping under center more, throwing more to running backs, diversifying his targets and attempting more passes outside the hash marks.

Calibrating the right run-pass balance might take some time, but that was going to the case, anyway.

As Ray Lewis always said, the season is a journey. It isn't over before it begins.

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