Pundit Says Ravens Offense Needs Philosophy Change to Be Elite
The Ravens have scored a lot of points and won a lot of games the past two seasons, but ESPN's Booger McFarland said they need to change their philosophy to be an elite offense.
"Everyone focuses on Lamar [Jackson], and I get it, but to me it's more of a philosophical thing," McFarland said. "The Ravens want to run the football. They want to pound and ground and be physically dominant, but they have to change their mindset. How do you become more explosive? How do you become less predictable? How do you put your quarterback in some advantageous situations?
"Early on, throw the football. The best down to throw the football in the NFL is first down. Throw it on first down, give your quarterback some very easy looks and then become more explosive. … Until they change that, it's really going to be unfair to blame Lamar or blame the receivers."
It's unclear what exactly Jackson and the receivers are being blamed for. Is it for scoring more points than any other team the past two seasons (999, 31.2 per game) while going 25-7 (.781)? That seems like an elite level to me.
Having had that much success, changing their philosophy doesn't make sense. The offense is built around Jackson and his game-changing running ability.
To McFarland's point, the Ravens threw the ball a league-low 42.6 percent of the time on first down. The Ravens and New England Patriots were the only two teams under 50 percent.
The Ravens are fully aware that they need to develop a more consistent and dangerous passing attack. That's why the organization signed wide receiver Sammy Watkins, drafted wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace and bolstered the offensive line.
Too many times last season the Ravens couldn't make defenses pay when they had opportunities to throw the ball deep. That's why Jackson said he's putting a "big emphasis" on being more consistent on his deep throws.
In other words, it's more about execution than anything else.
It's also worth noting that even though the Ravens ranked last in the league in passing last season, they weren't as unbalanced as it appears on the surface. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman pointed out earlier this offseason that he actually called more passing plays than running plays in 2020.
It's no secret that the Ravens' high-scoring offense has sputtered in the playoffs, but there are a variety of reasons for that. It seems like an overreaction to say they need a philosophical shift.
"I understand that the playoffs are a different animal, but if you are good enough to win 25 of 32 regular-season games, you're good enough to make a postseason run," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "They just need to perform better when it truly matters. And that's everybody.
"That's Lamar Jackson. That's the coaches. That's the offensive line, which has been overmatched in the past two divisional defeats. That's the receivers, obviously. That's certain guys on defense. The Ravens have gotten to the playoffs the past two years and they've just made too many mistakes and lost too many individual matchups."
Don't Overlook Impact of Nick Boyle's Return This Season
Ravens fans understandably are excited about the new weapons on offense and the prospect of an improved passing attack, but the impact of bruising tight end Nick Boyle returning after suffering a season-ending knee injury should also be cause for excitement, Russell Street Report's Darin McCann wrote.
Boyle, arguably the best blocking tight end in the NFL, was limited to nine games last year and underwent major knee surgery this offseason. Head Coach John Harbaugh has said Boyle is on track to return for training camp.
"The tight end's expected return to the Ravens lineup is not accompanied by the same gusto as the new arrivals in the receivers room, but it might be just as impactful," McCann wrote. "When the Ravens fielded a historic offense in the 2019 season, it was Lamar Jackson who stole the headlines, and with good reason as he generated an MVP season. But Boyle and fullback Patrick Ricard brought the X-Factor nasty. And they brought it by the bucket.
"The 2020 Ravens offense never really seemed to re-capture that same magic in an up-and-down season — though they were still a good unit. The injury to Ronnie Stanley certainly figured in, as did the retirement of franchise icon Marshal Yanda, but the 2019 Ravens came at opponents with two 'honorary offensive linemen' in Boyle and Ricard. The coaches moved them around before the snap, collapsed defense's edges with one or the other and generally bashed the senses out of anyone who got in their way. While some teams zig, others zag. The Ravens bashed. And beat. And stole people's lunch money. And the bulliest bully in the cafeteria was Boyle."
Boyle's contribution to the overwhelming success of the Ravens' running game cannot be overstated.
"With Jackson's unicorn speed and agility at quarterback, and the tandem of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, the pieces are there in abundance in the backfield," McCann wrote. "A reworked line, gargantuan fullback Ricard and the return of Boyle to obliterate opposing edges is enough to make a Ravens fan salivate at the possibilities.
"If that revamped passing offense can do what the optimistic among us believe it can, that running game should be even more efficient. And it will often be led by their Bully-in-Chief."
Bradley Bozeman Tabbed as Ravens' Second-Most Important Player
Another player who doesn't generate many headlines but will play an important role is Bradley Bozeman, who is switching to center this year after starting every game at left guard the past two seasons.
"If the Ravens' most important player is Lamar Jackson, their second-most important might be the amiable Alabama center turned NFL left guard now entrusted with getting the ball to the quarterback without incident," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "Or at least it feels that way after a season in which the Ravens' pistol and shotgun snaps were no longer the formality they'd been in years past."
The Ravens' issues with errant snaps last season are well-documented. The most notable miscue occurred in the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, when Jackson was knocked out of the game after suffering a concussion while trying to salvage a snap that soared over his head.
Bozeman, who played his entire college career at center, has been working hard on snapping the ball this offseason.
"With Bozeman entering the final year of his rookie contract, this season could shape his future in Baltimore," Shaffer wrote. "If Bozeman's ascent continues at center, he'll be due a big raise; his salary cap hit in 2021 is just $2.2 million. And the Ravens need only to look back at last season to see just how costly the position can be."
Lamar Jackson Ranked Most Difficult Quarterback to Sack
NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril ranked his top 5 most difficult quarterbacks to sack entering the 2021 season, and — surprise! — Jackson was No. 1.
Rushing for over a thousand yards, he does so many great things with his feet," Avril said. "But it's not just the run game, it's in the passing game. You know somebody has to spy, you have to account for him in the passing game because you know he's going to go down deep.
"It's electrifying how he moves, his agility, just being able to get out of things. And then in the run game as we all know, they add one more extra blocker because the quarterback's the doggone runner, so it just makes it that much harder to get after him. So, Lamar Jackson? Oh, I'd hate to play against him."
Maurice Jones-Drew agreed with Avril's rankings.
"The two at the top (Jackson and Kyler Murray), they're the most elusive guys in the game right now," Jones-Drew said.
ESPN, Fox Reportedly in Bidding War for Robert Griffin III As Analyst
It remains to be seen whether former Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III plays again in the NFL, but he won't have to worry about getting a job after his playing days are over.
Griffin has emerged the top free agent in the football broadcaster market at a major network, according to a report by OutKick's Bobby Burack.
"ESPN and Fox Sports have interest in signing Robert Griffin III after he recently completed auditions at both networks," Burack wrote. "At either network, Griffin could pop up in various NFL and college football roles, sources note. ESPN and Fox share the Big 12, the conference in which Griffin played college QB."
The New York Post's Adam Marchand wrote that ESPN and Fox are in a bidding war to sign Griffin.
"Griffin really excelled in his auditions for ESPN and Fox. Sources from both networks were blown away by Griffin; some said Griffin's was among the top tryouts they have ever viewed," Marchand wrote.
"ESPN has upped its offer after Fox showed heavy interest in Griffin as an NFL and college football analyst, Now both networks are waiting to see whether Griffin will try to play again or retires from the NFL to move into TV. Even if Griffin does decide to play, TV will be waiting for him when he ultimately retires."