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Late for Work 7/26: Ravens Have AFC's Most Difficult Offense to Prepare For


Are Ravens Toughest Offense in AFC to Prepare For?

When Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman was asked last month what to expect from the team's reimagined offense in 2019, he basically said to expect the unexpected.

Apparently, opposing teams are expecting to have some sleepless nights trying to game plan for the Lamar Jackson-led offense. At least that's what an informal survey of NFL folks, conducted recently by NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund, indicated.

The question she posed was about which team people were least excited to prepare for.

"Among AFC teams, the Ravens were by far the No. 1 answer," Frelund wrote.

Frelund used that bit of information to illustrate her larger point that the "the ground game's demise" is a misconception, and analytics should not be regarded in absolutes.

"Obviously, Baltimore's style of play, with Lamar Jackson as the triggerman, runs counter to all pass-happy league averages," Frelund wrote.

Frelund noted that zigging when everyone else is zagging – a phrase often used to describe the Ravens offense – can really pay off.

"Last season, passing plays were used on more first-down snaps (50.1 percent, to be exact) than rushing plays for the first time since at least 1991," Frelund wrote. "Just when everyone else is passing on first down, the Patriots start running more: New England averaged a whopping 23.7 rushing attempts per game on first down in last season's playoffs. And yeah, the Pats ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy (again), so … "

Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler had a similar take.

"The two Super Bowl teams from last year (Patriots, Los Angeles Rams) both ran the ball effectively," Schisler wrote. "Running the football works because everyone is worried about quarterbacks and wide receivers. … The Ravens might be the best rushing offense in the NFL this season. Running the rock at an above-average level of success has a high correlation with a playoff appearance."

As previously stated, the key for the Ravens' success on offense will be to keep opposing defenses guessing.

"We have a lot of different boxes we can pull things out of," Roman said. "You're going to see some elements of things you've seen in the past. You'll see some new stuff, some new stuff that looks like old stuff. We would like to be pretty multiple in the problems we can try to create for a defense."

The Athletic's Ted Nguyen wrote an article headlined, "Teams don't have to establish the run to win games, and the analytics prove it. But the run isn't dead, either." The Ravens are intend on reviving the run, and changing the NFL's offensive formula in the process.

"I expect to change the way offensive football is played in the National Football League," Head Coach John Harbaugh told The Athletic's Dan Pompei. "Not that everybody is going to take on this style. But I expect us to create something that hasn't been seen before. It's elements and concepts that aren't new to football. But the way we apply them and put them together and decide how much we use in the course of a game or a season — five step, three step, seven step, play action, RPOs, double options, triple options, downhill runs, all the audibles you can run, directional runs — all of that is part of it. I think we're going to be in more elements than any team has ever been."

Said Schisler: "The Ravens run game is going to be hard to stop because it's not just about loading up the tackle box. The Ravens run game is going to be hard to stop because it may just be the one running game in the NFL that's truly creative. Most importantly, the Ravens run game's invincibility is built on the fact that the fastest quarterback in football touches the ball every single play. The 2019 Ravens will have an answer for everything. They may just have the most exciting offense Baltimore has ever seen."

NFL Insiders: Ravens Two Years Away From Contending for Super Bowl

You might want to think about traveling to Los Angeles – the site of Super Bowl 56 – in 2022. At least that's the consensus reached by a panel of 52 NFL insiders who were asked by ESPN to place all 32 teams into Super Bowl timeline tiers.

The Ravens were slotted as a team that's two years away from being a serious threat to win a championship.

"Lamar Jackson is entering his first full season as a starting NFL quarterback, and he showed there will be a learning curve after a rocky postseason debut in 2018," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "It will take some time to build the supporting cast around Jackson and his unique skills. Plus, the Ravens' traditionally strong defense has to retool after losing Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle. Baltimore is trending up, but this could be a transitional season."

As for the other teams in the AFC North: the Pittsburgh Steelers were deemed to be one year away; the Cleveland Browns, tabbed by many as the division favorite, joined the Ravens in the "two years away" category; and the Cincinnati Bengals were at the bottom of the list as the only team projected to be at least five years away.

There were no surprises as far as the teams regarded as clear-cut contenders. The teams in that category were the four who played in last season's conference championship games: the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints.

It goes without saying that these types of lists shouldn't be taken too seriously. If, however, you need a reason to feel better about the Ravens' chances of contending for a title before the 2021 season, consider the words of Schisler.

"The Ravens were rebuilding the team this year. That doesn't mean they don't want to win now," Schisler wrote. "John Harbaugh has every intention of punching another ticket to the playoffs. It's a competitive rebuild that the Ravens have started to accomplish. It's about 2019 and it's about the future as well."

Kenneth Dixon Off to Good Start

In addition to Jackson, Mark Ingram II obviously is the other name mentioned most often when discussing the Ravens' running game. Gus Edwards, who led the team in rushing last season as a rookie, and third-round draft pick Justice Hill also get their share of recognition.

The one player rarely mentioned – unless it's in a story about players on the bubble – is running back Kenneth Dixon. It's certainly way too early to reach any conclusions (training camp just started yesterday, after all) but Dixon seems to be in a good place physically and mentally.

"Running back Kenneth Dixon appears to be in excellent shape and running with the same burst that he finished last season with," our Clifton Brown wrote. "When healthy and available, Dixon has performed well for the Ravens, and appears to be starting training camp on the right foot."

Dixon's talent has never been in question, but injuries and suspensions have limited his playing time throughout three seasons. A spot on the 53-man roster isn't a guarantee.

A powerful runner who's difficult to bring down, Dixon played a significant role in the Ravens' strong running attack during the second half of last season. He finished the year with 333 rushing yards (5.6 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns in six games. He ran for a career-high 117 yards on 12 carries (9.8 yards per attempt) in the Ravens' division-clinching win over the Browns in the final game of the regular season.

"Dixon carries the talent of a top running back, and he's displayed flashes of it at times during his three NFL seasons, most notably when he partnered with Gus Edwards to create a bruising duo down the stretch of last season's playoff run," Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "Despite his ability as a powerful and quick runner, Dixon hasn't cemented a spot on the roster."

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