The late-season decline of the Ravens' offense was a major factor that led to them missing the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Head Coach John Harbaugh was specific about the team's offensive issues at his postseason press conference, and discussed how the Ravens plan to attack them.
Eleven of the 14 NFL teams that reached the postseason averaged at least 25 points per game. The Ravens averaged just 22.8 to finish 17th in the NFL, after being the league's highest-scoring team in 2019 (33.2) and finishing seventh (29.3) in 2020.
Baltimore only reached 30 points once in its last nine games. Meanwhile, more explosive AFC teams like the Bengals, Chiefs, and Bills have displayed how quickly they can score during the playoffs. Led by young quarterbacks Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen, those teams figure to remain lethal offensively for years, posing a potential roadblock to Baltimore's path to a Super Bowl.
Here are some of the specific offensive issues that the Ravens will address this offseason.
Red Zone Struggles
The Ravens ranked 14th in converting red zone trips into touchdowns (60.71 percent), but that conversion percentage fell to just 42.6 over the final three weeks of the season.
There were some killer moments for Baltimore in the red zone in January. In the season finale, Tyler Huntley was picked off in the end zone by Cam Sutton of the Steelers, keeping them alive for their 16-13 come-from-behind victory. The week before against the Rams, the Ravens led, 16-14, late in the game, but settled for a field goal after driving to first-and-goal at the five. Had the Ravens scored a touchdown, the Rams would have had little time to come back. Instead, Matthew Stafford led a game-winning drive and the Rams won, 20-19.
Despite everything else that happened during the season, just converting those two red zone drives into touchdowns in Weeks 17 and 18 could have vaulted Baltimore into the playoffs. The Ravens have a lethal red zone weapon in Mark Andrews, one of four NFL tight ends who finished with nine touchdown catches. But becoming more efficient overall in the red zone must be an offseason focus.
"We had too many turnovers in the red zone," Harbaugh said. "Field goals are OK, but touchdowns are way better."
Lack of Big Plays
The 2021 season was the first time in franchise history that the Ravens failed to produce a pass or run of 50 yards or more. The Ravens weren't explosive. They were methodical, and in an offense that includes playmakers like Lamar Jackson, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Andrews and hopefully a healthy Dobbins in 2022, producing more big plays is a priority.
"We led the league, or we were near the top of the league in big plays early, but the second half of the season, we didn't have hardly any big plays," Harbaugh said. "Watch all these games now that are being played; it's a challenge to go all the way down the field and make play after play and put the ball in the end zone. You need some big plays, you need some easy scores, [and] we just didn't have those."
Handling the Blitz
Baltimore's offense was never really the same after a 22-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, when the Ravens had no effective answer for Miami's blitz-heavy scheme. Other opponents followed suit by blitzing more frequently, and the Ravens failed to capitalize like they should have.
"We thought we had a plan," Harbaugh said. "We thought we were in good shape with some of our drop-back passing stuff, and we just didn't hit the plays. You could look at each one of them; sometimes the wrong route was run; sometimes a guy wasn't held off long enough on the protection; sometimes the guy got knocked off his route. There's always a little thing. But in the end, that's all execution, that's all being good at it, and we just weren't good at handling it. Those are all things that we've got to get better at. It's been a priority, but it's got to show up on the field in execution, for sure."
Avoiding Major Injuries
The impact of losing Jackson, Nick Boyle, Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards for significant time or the entire season can't be overlooked. If the Ravens simply have better health in 2022, it will dramatically improve their chances of being more dynamic offensively. Harbaugh says the team will be “turning over every stone” regarding injury prevention.
"You get into training camp, and you think you're going to have Ronnie, and then the next thing you know, he's out for another season," Harbaugh said. "You think Nick is going to be back to start the season, and he's not back until the end, and he was never full speed. But I'm confident and excited about the fact that those two guys should be back full speed next year. Those are two great players."
Dominating With The Run Game
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the NFL's most innovative run-game schemers and playcallers. Baltimore set the league record for rushing yards by a team in one season in 2019. Even with the injuries in 2021, the Ravens finished third in rushing, but some of that was because both Jackson and Huntley are elusive runners who gained yards scrambling. Baltimore wants to dominate again with its designed running game.
"Our called run game was the best in history in 2019 and 2020, and this year, it just wasn't," Harbaugh said. "Why? We didn't have the explosive plays."
The Ravens allowed more sacks (57) than any team except the Chicago Bears. They also had the third-most offensive holding penalties with 25. While Jackson and Huntley were occasionally guilty of holding onto the football too long, the Ravens can't make a dramatic improvement offensively unless their offensive line protects the quarterback better.
"We had too many hurries, too many sacks, which kind of negated some of our scramble yards," Harbaugh said. "Yes, you've got to have playmakers…but no skill player can do anything without the lines in front of them doing that work. In our offense especially, it's just critically important that we have a really good offensive line."
A More Precise Passing Game
The Ravens finally have drafted a talented and deep receiving corps led by Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II and Tylan Wallace. But collectively, they are still learning some nuances of route running, which has occasionally led to miscommunication and two receivers ending up in the same vicinity. Andrews and other receivers are often given the freedom to adjust routes, but the receivers and the quarterbacks must all be on the same page to have a passing attack that consistently picks apart the defense. Harbaugh wants to see the precision of the passing attack improve.
"There were a couple fourth-down plays this year – critical fourth-down conversions – that didn't happen, and we had a receiver run the wrong route, and that's just not OK," Harbaugh said. "Internally, we deal with that, and it's something that has to improve, because those are critical situations in the games."
The Ravens tied for the third-most delay-of-game penalties (eight) and tied for the 13th-most false starts (18). Those pre-snap mistakes were often drive killers. Harbaugh says the Ravens are determined not to stop themselves offensively so often in 2021.
"Those are penalties that we just don't need to have happen," Harbaugh said. "We have to look at all that and do much better."