Run Game Will Be Centerpiece of Ravens’ Offense
The Ravens’ ground game was seemingly an unstoppable force throughout the second half of the 2018 season with Lamar Jackson under center, but some remain skeptical about the long-term success of the approach.
General Manager Eric DeCosta prioritized speed this offseason, and the offense is transforming with Greg Roman taking over the play-calling duties. But pundits don’t expect the Ravens to veer away from the basic principles that brought them success last season.
The run game is still expected to be the centerpiece of the offense in Baltimore.
“Sure, the Ravens have changed their nomenclature in the passing game and added badly needed speed and twitch at wide receiver through the draft,” CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora wrote.
“But this team is going to pound the ground above all else; it will continue to try to confound and overpower teams with altering mesh-points with an RPO-based offense, and I would fully expect them to lead the NFL in rushing in 2019. They certainly hope to sprinkle the ball around more liberally through the air and are taking a painstaking approach with Jackson to do so. But this team knows what it does best and what provides the clearest path to winning football games, and that ain't changing all that much.”
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio agreed.
“Unless they’re setting up like a rope-a-dope for their opponents and they’re going to come out and throw the ball all over the place ... but we expect to see a run-heavy offense,” Florio said.
Part of featuring a run-heavy attack is getting creative and finding ways to keep opposing defenses on their heels. Roman is well-versed in doing just that, and has shown it throughout his career. The Ravens also brought in former Navy and Georgia Head Coach Paul Johnson to get some more input.
Johnson, a triple-option guru, carried the offense into a pass-happy era of college football and believes it can have success in the NFL.
"I don't think there's any question you can win [with this offense] at the highest level," Johnson said on Glenn Clark Radio. "I think what Coach Harbaugh is looking to do is utilize the strengths of the quarterback that they have. It would be pretty foolish to put Lamar in the same system as Tom Brady. They're two different people."
Johnson acknowledged that the Ravens don’t have to commit to the option game completely, but it can be an integral part of their offense. Johnson also said one of Jackson’s biggest strengths is his ability to avoid big hits from defenders.
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan joined “Good Morning Football” and praised Jackson’s elusiveness.
Jordan, who faced off against Jackson in Week 7 of last season, said the second-year quarterback’s athleticism lived up to the billing.
“Bro, that’s fast,” Jordan said about Jackson’s speed. “My man hit me with the little option play throughout the game [In Week 7 of last season], and I barely got to push him out of bounds. It wasn’t a full form tackle like I wanted to.”
PFT’s Chris Simms still has his doubts after the Ravens’ offense struggled in their Wild Card loss to the Chargers. Simms is a believer in Jackson but said the success of the offense rides on his arm.
“I know you and I both questioned whether they can realistically run that same offense again and be so run dominant and win football games that way,” Simms said. “I would say no, and they’re going to have to rely on [Jackson’s] his arm, his decision making, his accuracy at some point during the year 2019.”
With a full year under his belt, Jackson seems to be improving as a passer with each practice this offseason.
Draft and Develop: Ranking Ravens’ Top Homegrown Talent
Under the reign of Ozzie Newsome and now Eric DeCosta, the Ravens are one of the top teams when it comes to drafting and developing talent.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler ranked each team’s best draft picks still on the roster by Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 picks.
Brugler’s Day 1 selection for the Ravens was Marlon Humphrey, who, entering his third season, has developed into a dynamic presence in the secondary.
“Humphrey showed promise as a rookie, but he showed even better development last season, finishing with 15 passes defended and two interceptions,” Brugler wrote. “Humphrey is one of the best young corners in the league and arguably the best player on the Ravens’ roster.”
The Ravens’ bread and butter has been finding middle-to-late round talent on the offensive line. That holds true with Marshal Yanda, who has quietly put together a Canton-worthy resume in 12 seasons.
“One of the best offensive linemen over the last decade, Yanda made the Pro Bowl seven out of the last eight seasons, including last year at age 33,” Brugler wrote. “He isn’t quite what he used to be, but Yanda is still one of the better interior linemen in the AFC.”
Along with finding gems on the offensive line, the Ravens have had their fair share of success with small-school players. Matthew Judon, Brugler’s Day 3 pick enters a contract year as the face of the pass rush in Baltimore.
“After tearing up the Division II level, Judon has been a productive role player for Baltimore over the last three seasons,” Brugler wrote. “He has combined for 15 sacks the last two years and is expected to see a more expanded role in his fourth season.”
Judon’s 19 career sacks rank fifth among players drafted in 2016. Even more impressive, he was drafted two rounds later than any other player on the list.
Ravens Could Target Another Free-Agent Pass Rusher
Following the pursuit of Gerald McCoy, are the Ravens done in free agency? Pundits believe there are a few options left on the market who could be a fit in Baltimore.
The Ringer’s Danny Kelly listed the top unsigned free-agents and pondered the possibility of the Ravens adding another veteran pass rusher in Nick Perry.
Baltimore could be a serviceable destination for the former Packer who has accumulated 32 sacks, 228 tackles and seven forced fumbles in seven seasons.
“Perry’s career seemed to be ascending after he posted 11 sacks in 2016, and the former first-round pick inked a five-year, $59 million contract extension to stay in Green Bay following that performance,” Kelly wrote. “But that deal guaranteed Perry just $18.5 million, and after struggling badly in performance and with injuries last season (when he grabbed 1.5 sacks in nine games), the team released him. The former Packer is now looking for a new home, and while he may never turn back into a double-digit sack producer, Perry could contribute as a rotational player for a pass-rush-needy team.
“The Ravens, who lost Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith during the offseason, could also be a fit.”
Kelly also mentioned veteran edge rusher Derrick Morgan as a potential free-agent option.
Morgan, a former first-round pick, has experience in a 3-4 defensive scheme and played under former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees in 2018.
Like Perry, Kelly believes Morgan could play in a reserve or rotational role.
Kenny Young Poised for Breakout Season?
With C.J. Mosley gone, second-year linebacker Kenny Young is in line to become a key contributor to the Ravens’ defense.
The Draft Network’s Joe Marino predicted Young as one of his breakout performers in the AFC North this season.
“A fourth-round pick in 2018, Young started three games but was featured in every game as a sub-package defender,” Marino wrote.
“While Young didn’t always fare well in pass coverage, he impressed when given chances to play downhill and rush the passer. The experience he gained as a rookie will serve him well as Young figures to claim a prominent role on the Ravens moving forward. The flashes from 2018 and the opportunity in front of him combined with a versatile skill set and exciting physical traits has Young primed to emerge as a defensive playmaker in 2019.”