The Ravens were the best running team in the NFL once Lamar Jackson took over.
Their passing attack? It was one of the worst in the league both with Joe Flacco and Jackson under center.
Incoming Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is known for building dominant rushing attacks, and it’s part of the reason why he was put in charge. With Jackson, Baltimore will likely be more run-heavy that most teams, and Roman can maximize that attack.
With that said, Roman knows Baltimore needs to improve its passing game, and he and his staff are in the middle of building a more balance offense for Jackson and Co.
“We’ve got to develop a strong passing attack,” Roman said in his first comments as offensive coordinator on The Lounge podcast. “Lamar’s got to develop and everybody around him has got to get better in that area. Obviously, there will be more emphasis on that.”
As opponents saw Jackson gashing them with his legs, they adjusted. They started to stack the box, forcing Baltimore to throw the ball.
The Ravens had trouble countering at times, and it was evident in their wild-card playoff loss to the Chargers. Baltimore didn’t block well enough up front or get enough out of its rushing game. Los Angeles was daring the Ravens to throw, and Jackson didn’t make them pay until the fourth quarter.
“Everybody wants you to have to fight left handed,” Roman said. “The best thing we can do is be able to fight with both hands. We want to be able to run it and pass it. There will definitely be more of a balance there. That’s how you win – that’s what makes it sustainable.”
Despite being pass-heavy for the first half of the season, the Ravens still finished the year with the most rushing attempts in the NFL. That’s fine to continue moving forward.
Some of the best offenses in the league ran the ball a lot. New England, the L.A. Rams and New Orleans Saints all ranked in the top-10 in rushing attempts and rushing yards last season. But they also had strong passing games to match.
“I definitely think we’ll have more balance,” Roman said. “That’s what we’re pushing to do. I think you’ve seen in very recent history, teams that can run it and throw it effectively, that’s the panacea. That is where you want to be.”
Roman said the Ravens especially want to hit more big plays in the passing game. If the Ravens aren’t going to throw the ball a lot, they need to make it count when they do. That means not dropping passes (they were among the league leaders in that category) and hitting chunk plays.
“That’s another thing we want to do is make a lot more big plays in the passing game,” Roman said. “Take advantage of these looks we’re getting from defenses, who are basically stacking everybody up in there and playing a modified 6-2 defense.”
The biggest factors when it comes to Baltimore having a better passing game in 2019 are Roman’s construction of a passing attack that suits Jackson and his weapons best, the procurement of those weapons, and Jackson’s development as a passer.
In Roman’s five full seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, his passing offenses ranked 29th, 23rd, 30th, 30th and 28th, respectively.
Many factors go into that, but Roman obviously wants those numbers to be higher moving forward. Head Coach John Harbaugh hired David Culley, an Andy Reid disciple, to help, and Roman is confident that he can maximize his staff’s collective brainpower to build a dynamic aerial attack. He also believes the stats from his past aren’t indicative of what he can do in the passing game.
“In those [previous] situations, we were built definitely where the best chance to win was to operate within a specific formula,” Roman said. “But I will say this, games where it was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to score big points in this game or we have good match-ups here,’ then the passing numbers were huge. But if I didn’t have to do that the next week to win, then I wouldn’t.”
Roman called chasing big passing numbers “fool’s gold.”
“The greatest gift is winning. If you look at all the 300-yard passing games this year, tell me how many of those were attached to a win. You might be surprised,” he said.
If the Ravens see another team not respecting Jackson’s legs, they’ll run it. If they see matchups or formations to exploit, they throw against it. Or at least that’s the intention. There will be no prescribed run/pass ratio.
“Very simply, whatever it takes to win the game. Every week, it might be different,” Roman said. “Most games, we’re not going to go into a game saying, ‘Hey, he’s going to tote the rock 30 times.’ Week in and week out. Not at all.”
Roman and his staff are currently in the process of building that passing attack “from the ground up,” as Harbaugh described. Roman said they are imagining everything – every formation, every route.
The Ravens want to hit big plays over the top when opponents drop their safeties. They want to take advantage of linebackers' aggressiveness with play-action passing. Roman also envisions Jackson making a number of unscripted plays when escaping pressure and things break down.
The other part is Jackson becoming a better thrower. That, Roman said, will come from time on task practice. Roman was encouraged by how much Jackson’s throwing improved as his rookie season went on, and feels good about his potential to improve.
“I think he does things at the position that you can’t coach. He can see things,” Roman said. “He’s not one of those guys where you go, ‘Ah, he didn’t see him and he was wide open’ or ‘They dropped coverage on this guy and he didn’t see it.’ That is hugely encouraging because some guys just don’t have that.”
Roman said some quarterbacks are so fundamentally perfect with their balance, read progressions and throwing motion, but they basically become too automatic.
“When you hit play and 22 people are moving, some guys can’t process all that at a high level,” Roman said. “[Jackson] can. Fundamentally is where he needs to make his most strides.
“But I would rather have a guy that can see the field, that can see things, and get him mechanically and fundamentally progressing rather than the guy that’s really, really good fundamentally but just can’t see the field. That’s a big, big thing.”