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Mailbag: Will the Ravens Throw the Ball More This Season?

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Mink: I expect an increase in passing attempts, but not much more. The key is that Lamar Jackson and the passing game becomes more dangerous, not more prevalent. When teams flood the middle of the field with defenders, the Ravens need to get more wins on the outside. When the Ravens fall behind, they need to be able to score quickly with the passing game. That's the next step in the evolution of this offense, and as the league adjusts to the Ravens, I expect the Ravens to adjust in this direction. I also do expect Jackson will run the ball a little less as his career progresses.

But at their core, the Ravens will still be a run-heavy team featuring a steady diet of Jackson using his most unique talent (his legs) and the running backs toting the rock. That's what Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman does, and what this offense is all about. The Ravens aren't going to stray from their bread and butter. There's an argument to Baltimore even running the ball more than last year if you consider the addition of a game-breaking runner in rookie J.K. Dobbins and the impact of COVID-19 on offenses. Having a sharp passing attack takes a lot of practice reps. Given the lost time of OTAs, etc., it wouldn't be surprising to see all teams, including the Ravens, rely on the run game a little more this season, especially early on as they play catch-up.

Downing: At this point, it's impossible for us to say. Nobody has seen Jackson's offseason workouts other than his throwing coach and the teammates who have spent time with him in Florida. In a normal year, Jackson would have been in Baltimore building chemistry with the rest of the offense through OTAs and minicamp, but those practices didn't take place because of COVID-19.

While I can't speak to Jackson's recent development in the deep passing game because I haven't seen it first-hand, there are a few things we do know. The first is that he's a diligent worker in the offseason. Just look at the steps he took from his rookie season to winning the MVP last year. He's spent time this offseason working with his top deep threat, Hollywood Brown, and the Florida duo already had great chemistry last season. I also think it's worth pointing out that his deep-ball accuracy is already pretty darn good. (Just go watch this pass to Brown from Week 2 if you need a reminder). I've thought since Jackson's rookie season that his deep ball is one of his better throws, and I still think that's the case. Now it wouldn't surprise me if it takes Jackson and the receivers a bit of time early in training camp to re-gain their rhythm. It's been several months since anyone has stepped on the field for a real practice, and every team will be rusty at the start of camp. But once they get some time to get re-acclimated, I expect the deep ball to be an integral piece of the offense this year.

Mink: I think he has a real shot at a significant amount of reps because the Ravens are looking for a big-play threat in the slot. They have Brown on the outside and big-bodied, chain-moving Miles Boykin on the other side. In the slot, they could use some more explosiveness in the slot and deep middle of the field, an area the Ravens feel they can attack more. Duvernay's speed and strong hands are a great fit for that.

But let's also not overlook the contributions Willie Snead IV makes in this offense. Not only is he a reliable safety blanket as a pass catcher, but he's also one of the best blocking wide receivers in the league and big reason for the run game success last season. Duvernay could take some snaps away from Snead and/or Boykin, but the rookie is going to have to prove that he's a good blocker if he's going to see a lot of field time.

Downing: This is a great question and I do think it could have a larger-than-expected impact early in the season. Coaches and players often talk about the value of the offseason workouts for rookies to learn the playbook and start their adjustment to the NFL. Without the traditional offseason program, the rookies will get thrown into the deep end at the start of training camp, and they'll have to learn quickly. The Ravens have several rookies that could quickly step into significant roles – linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison could both be Week 1 starters – but it's a tall order to make that adjustment with limited practice time. Assessing a rookie's readiness could become even more complicated if the preseason is shortened or cancelled, which is reportedly a possibility. If the league decides not to play any preseason games, then maybe the Ravens lean more heavily on veterans like linebacker L.J. Fort early in the year.

Mink: I'm sure Lamar and his mother/agent took notice of that mega-deal. There's a new benchmark. I'm not a contract guru, but from what I've read on it, this is actually a pretty team-friendly deal despite what it appears with those huge numbers. Obviously, Lamar is headed for a massive deal at some point. I think the Ravens will be proactive with those conversations and expect the two sides will work well together. If Lamar wins the Super Bowl in his third season, as Mahomes did, it will obviously make Lamar's price tag go up, as it should (anybody need more evidence after Joe Flacco?). At the end of the day, I think there are so many factors in play here and other contracts coming down the pike that Mahomes' deal won't have that direct of an impact.

Downing: The Ravens have high hopes for Proche as a returner. General Manager Eric DeCosta liked what he saw from Proche as a returner when he watched him at the Senior Bowl back in January, and that was certainly part of the attraction in drafting him. In his college career at SMU, Proche returned 50 punts for a total of 382 yards (7.6-yard average). The punt returner job has mostly been a by-committee approach since the team had Jacoby Jones, but Proche could bring some stability to the position. It sounds simple, but the top priority for that job is to protect the football and make good decisions about what to return. Proche needs to master that part of the craft and then the next step is becoming that "GUY" in the return game.

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