Sustainability is the buzz word in Baltimore this offseason as the discussion centers on Lamar Jackson and the future of the Ravens' offense.
The Ravens went 6-1 under Jackson in the regular season, turning a read-option, run-heavy attack into a wave of momentum that they rode to the AFC North title and a playoff berth.
But the wave broke in a playoff loss to the Chargers in which the offense struggled for three-and-a-half quarters, reigniting questions about whether Baltimore can have long-term success with Jackson and such a model.
New Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is one of the central figures in making sure the Ravens keep the ball rolling on offense, and he doesn't think the Chargers loss proved much.
He believes Baltimore can win again with an offense that runs counter to what most of the NFL is doing and a quarterback unlike anyone has ever seen. The Ravens plan to zig while everyone else zags, right?
"Yes and no," Roman said. "I like people believing that."
A lot was made of Los Angeles using seven defensive backs in the wild-card game. The Chargers were without nose tackle Brandon Mebane and outside linebacker Jatavis Brown, so they went with a slightly smaller lineup, hoping the extra speed would also help them slow down Jackson.
Roman said the impact of that change on the game was overblown, and that the Chargers were very similar in their scheme and formations to the first time they played the Ravens.
"They made some decisions that they were going to let our backs carry the ball more than our quarterback. That's fine, and other teams have made that decision," Roman said. "We were just able to do a little bit better blocking them and hitting the hole and ball security and whatnot. But credit to them."
Roman knows, in order to stay ahead of the curve, he'll have to reinvent his attack – at least to some degree. It's always a cat and mouse game in the NFL. One team debuts something new and innovative (Jackson's speed), opponents adjust, and then teams adjust to the adjustments.
The Ravens' entire offensive coaching staff is going through that re-adjustment/re-building process now. They've been going at it since Jan. 11. Roman made an analogy to baking bread; they're kneading the dough, tossing in the flour, breaking out the rolling pin.
"We're literally redefining everything we do," Roman said. "Literally everything – every formation, every route, every run, every route concept."
Roman said he's gone through this re-building process before in his previous offensive coordinator stints in San Francisco and Buffalo, but said, "I really feel like this is going to be the best version of it. I know it is, actually. It already is."
The other parts of the sustainability debate are Jackson and the Ravens' ability to get more out of their passing game and Jackson's ability to stay healthy. Roman has confidence in both.
The Ravens want to develop a passing game that can hit big plays (opponents will likely drop their safeties toward the line of scrimmage) and take advantage of play-action passing when linebackers are keyed in on Jackson and Baltimore's running backs.
During the regular-season game in Los Angeles, Baltimore hit one such long touchdown against the Chargers on a perfect strike from Jackson to fellow rookie Mark Andrews that dropped in right behind a linebacker.
Roman also believes the Ravens will get chunk plays when Jackson breaks free of pressure and makes plays outside the pocket. Those aren't part of the plan, but they'll happen.
"Everybody wants you to have to fight left handed. The best thing we can do is be able to fight with both hands," Roman said. "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."
When it comes to Jackson's health, Roman, like Head Coach John Harbaugh, said they Ravens won't be afraid to let Jackson run. It's part of what makes Jackson so unique, and the Ravens don't want to take it away.
Baltimore believes the upside of Jackson's running ability outweighs the potential for downside (injury), even though the quarterback is the most important position on the field. Roman cast doubt on the notion that a running quarterback is in more danger than one in the pocket.
Joe Flacco's ACL was torn when one of his own blockers was pushed into him. Flacco's hip was hurt this past season when he fell hard on it in the pocket. The only injury Jackson suffered (a tweaked ankle in Kansas City) came when he was behind the line of scrimmage.
"When a quarterback decides to run, he's in control," Roman said.