So, here we are. The revolution begins.
The Ravens aren’t making a big fuss about it. There aren’t promoting it with slogans and banners and tT-shirts.
But if you ask the organization’s top decision-makers if they’re conducting a revolution, they won’t try to talk you out of it.
It sure doesn’t look like any revolution I studied in school. Guerilla armies aren’t in motion. Governments aren’t falling.
Good luck finding a history textbook that labels a run-pass option as evidence of an insurgence. But it’s true that the Ravens are waging war on conventional offensive thought in the NFL.
Most offenses in the league rely on dropback quarterbacks and passing games to do the bulk of their work. Yes, some quarterbacks also run, and some teams still like to pound opponents with their running game now and then. But the degree to which the NFL has become a passing-centric league is staggering.
I looked it up. Last season, the average per-game output for an NFL offense was 352.3 yards. More than two-thirds of that total (67.4 percent) came on passing plays.
Basically, there’s twice as much passing as running in pro football now.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have built their offense around a quarterback, Lamar Jackson, who is more dangerous as a runner than a passer.
He is so fast, electric and unpredictable with his feet that sometimes you can scarcely believe what happens. The only play anyone will remember from the Ravens’ just-concluded preseason is Jackson’s touchdown scramble past Green Bay defenders falling all over themselves.
Jackson, 22, can also make plays with his arm, but he remains a work in progress there as he hones his mechanics and develops his best practices.
The Ravens have made it clear that their offense will depend foremost on Jackson’s legs and the ball-carrying of a stable of running backs headed by veteran Mark Ingram II.
Viva la revolution!
The blueprint began to evolve last season after Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the Ravens’ starting quarterback in November. They let Jackson be Jackson, basically, and started pounding opponents on the ground. It was unusual, for sure, but things went well. A 6-1 record down the stretch gave the Ravens the AFC North title for the first time in six years.
Encouraged, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh asked Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman to rebuild the offense around Jackson in 2019. The front office focused on surrounding him with more weapons, an effort that landed Ingram and a pair of rookie wide receivers, Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin.
Questions persist about the offensive line, and, yes, the blueprint also calls for Jackson to move the ball with passes to tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, the rookie receivers and others. The goal is more balance than a year ago.
But more than any other in the league, it’s a run-centric offense.
You can be sure the rest of the league will monitor the revolution as the Ravens unfurl it in their season opener against the Dolphins Sunday in Miami. Is it working? Can you do that in the NFL?
The questions are fair because, of course, the Dolphins are quite aware of what’s coming and will likely “stack the box” on defense, i.e., flood their front in an effort to stop the run and force Jackson to pass. The Los Angeles Chargers stacked their defense with quick guys who limited Jackson in the playoff defeat that ended the Ravens’ 2018 season.
The Ravens can count on seeing a steady diet of such defenses this season until Jackson demonstrates he can move the ball effectively with his arm, which would force defenses to stop with the stacking and play the Ravens more conventionally. That would benefit a run-centric offense, no doubt.
So, here we are, starting a new season that rests on the answer to the same, fundamental question that has circulated since Jackson was drafted: Can he make opponents pay as much with his arm as with his legs?
The Ravens are counting on it. Jackson has added muscle since last season. He is commanding the offense with more assurance. In practice, his passing has experienced highs and lows while everything about it, from his mechanics to his spirals, is scrutinized ad nauseam. But bottom line, it’s improved.
Can it help a revolutionary offense thrive against defenses stacked to stop it? We’re about to find out.