Two Concepts From 2019 Could Help Jackson Return to MVP Form
The Ravens' offseason strategy has appeared to take a few things from the past. They've loaded up on offensive talent to help Lamar Jackson, as well as open running lanes for their stable of running backs. They also replenished the tight end room, drafting two on Day 3 of the 2021 draft.
According to The Athletic's Nate Tice, taking specific things from the Ravens' 2019 season could also bring Jackson back to his MVP form as a passer.
"Jackson was simply devastating out of empty formations in 2019," Tice wrote. "According to TruMedia, no quarterback has generated more EPA out of such formations since. The gap between Jackson's 2019 and the QB who produced the second-most EPA out of empty during this span (Deshaun Watson in 2020) is nearly the same as the gap between Watson and the 22nd-ranked Matthew Stafford during his 2020 season."
Tice compared the empty formation usage from the Ravens' 2021 season to the more successful 2019 season and offered a potential fix for the pending season.
"Jackson can help himself by trusting other answers that a play might have in these situations, and it's on offensive coordinator Greg Roman to present those answers," Tice wrote. "Modern defenses have a better understanding of offensive rules than ever before; they want the quarterback to get rid of the ball so they can tackle and force a punt. So quarterbacks (and play designers) have to have the confidence to hang in the pocket and deliver throws outside or more downfield, even with a potential free-running defender bearing down."
Jackson versus man coverage and blitzes
"Defenses are traditionally hesitant to play man coverage against a quarterback who can effectively use his legs because it leaves them vulnerable to a quarterback run while defenders are more focused on their coverage assignment," Tice wrote. "It can also let the quarterback easily identify his best matchup and attack defenses that way. Jackson absolutely shredded man coverage and blitzes during his 2019 season before crashing back to Earth hard in 2021."
Once more, Tice compared the two seasons and offered a fix for 2022. Part of it is simply getting players back from injury.
"This is where injuries to Ravens offensive players had an effect on Jackson's performance. Losing running backs hurts the running game and pass protection. Understanding protection rules takes time," Tice wrote. "The Ravens' rotating cast of receivers and tight ends also continuously suffered from improper route spacing that left Jackson holding onto the ball with few appealing options. Jackson justifiably doesn't want to rip a ball on time when the route displacement looks [poor]."
The 2019 season is something the Ravens have appeared to keep in mind this offseason and Tice believes utilizing what worked then with new wrinkles in the scheme and a more improved quarterback could be the answer for a better offense this season.
"In 2022, it's all about how the Ravens can make Jackson's life easier through scheme and sheer health luck, and how Jackson can help himself with better timing and more trust in the play design," Tice wrote.
NBC Sports' Peter King listed Jackson as one of the 22 most influential people of the 2022 NFL season.
"If Jackson stays healthy, I believe Baltimore will challenge Cincinnati for AFC North supremacy," King wrote. "I also think there is still a question about how much money the team should pay him in his next contract. Jackson, through four seasons, has been a marvelous regular-season quarterback and a C-minus postseason quarterback."
Patrick Ricard Could See an Increased Role
Returning for the Ravens this season is three-time Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard. Throughout his offensive tenure with the Ravens, he's been a highly regarded blocker, but Ebony Bird’s Kristen Wong is expecting more from "Pancake Pat" in 2022.
"…Ricard could lend a hand as a receiver to get crucial downs and even the occasional touchdown," Wong wrote.
Ricard wasn't utilized frequently in the passing game last season, but with upgrades on the offensive line, Ricard may be relieved from pass-blocking to pass-catching. Ricard was on the field for 57% of the Ravens' offensive snaps in 2021, but only saw 13 targets.
Though his pass-catching opportunities may grow, Wong sees a resurgence in the Ravens' rushing game with Ricard sticking with what he's best at.
"With the anticipated returns of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, Ricard — along with the Ravens' O-line — will play a vital role in facilitating the rushing attack," Wong wrote.
Can Rashod Bateman Break Through the Ceiling?
No Raven has a greater opportunity to become a star in 2022 than wide receiver Rashod Bateman. With the Ravens trading wide receiver Marquise Brown, they showed their confidence in Bateman taking the traditional sophomore leap. But can Bateman be "the guy?"
According to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Fabiano, who approaches Bateman's production from a fantasy football standpoint, there's a ceiling for Bateman.
"Among the Ravens' 20 best PPR fantasy seasons in franchise history among wide receivers, Marquise Brown (2021) is the lone one who has made that list in the last five years," Fabiano wrote. "Furthermore, no other wideout has produced a top-10 season for the team since 2015. Rashod Bateman remains a breakout player, but history shows he has a ceiling."
While Fabiano sees it as a challenge for Bateman, Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski is expecting Bateman to ascend to star status in his second year.
"Now, [Bateman will] be the featured target among the team's wide receivers. Bateman has the speed, versatility and creativity after the catch to be a true No. 1 target," Sobleski wrote. "The Ravens offense may feature a unique ground attack, but Jackson was well on his way to setting a new personal record in pass attempts last season if not for an injured ankle."
- PFF's Conor McQuiston ranked Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh No. 2 in 2022 NFL head coach rankings. "Harbaugh's head coaching career includes many iterations of offenses helmed by the typically solid yet unspectacular Joe Flacco that generally lacked upper-echelon talent," McQuiston wrote. "Despite this, the Ravens have always fielded above-average offenses — and tremendous defenses."