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Ravens Plan to Stay Ahead Schematically


After a record-setting year, the Ravens won't rest on their accomplishments.

Baltimore had the NFL's most prolific offense during the 2019 season, leading the league in scoring and setting the single season record for rushing yards. But their offense is still evolving. Lamar Jackson has only had one full season as the starting quarterback, and it was Greg Roman's first season as offensive coordinator. 

The Ravens' offensive evolution will continue during the offseason. Just as opponents will search for new ways to contain Jackson and Baltimore's offense, the Ravens will be working to expand the foundation they've built. You'll see some plays next season that you didn't see in 2019, featuring new formations to create favorable matchups. The Ravens' offense took the NFL by storm, and Head Coach John Harbaugh wants more lightening to strike in 2020.

"We are not going to be sitting on our hands, schematically," Harbaugh said. "We are not going to be saying 'OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.' We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball, by every single team in the league, very thoroughly. We will be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas – expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward. We will be working on that real hard in the offseason."

The Ravens lived up to their promise to be revolutionary offensively. They had the most rushing attempts (596) and fewest passing attempts (440) of any team in the NFL. Their offense was explosive both on the ground and through the air, as they became the first team in league history to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in a single season. With 3,296 rushing yards, the Ravens broke the single season record that had stood for 41 years, set by the 1978 New England Patriots (3,165 rushing yards).

The key was Jackson, who led the league in touchdown passes (36) while setting the single season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,206). Even when Jackson is defended well, his dual threat ability can create something spectacular.

However, for the second straight season, the Ravens' regular season explosiveness didn't carry into the postseason. In the 28-12 divisional playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens were held to fewer than 20 points for the first time despite 530 yards of total offense. The Titans front seven played disciplined and physical football, clogging inside running lanes and sacking Jackson four times. When he did run, Jackson was often forced toward the sidelines, instead of running upfield decisively for positive yards.

"Don't let him (Jackson) get going downhill," Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said after the game. "The whole game plan was to get him going sideline to sideline as much as we could."

The Titans and San Francisco 49ers were the only opponents to hold Baltimore to 20 points or less, and teams will study those videotapes to see if there's anything they can borrow to slow down the Ravens. However, Harbaugh disputes the notion that there's a foolproof defense to thwart Baltimore.

"They (the Titans) didn't do anything that we hadn't seen before this year or in previous games, or years or whatever," Harbaugh said. "It wasn't like they re-invented football. Give them credit, they executed very well, and that's it. So, I think a lot will be made of that like it was last year, and I'll probably answer the question the same way without trying to get annoyed. It's football. It's Xs and Os, and if we're really good at what we do, then we're going to score points and win games. And if we're not good at what we do, we won't."

It will be interesting to see if Jackson runs the ball as frequently (176 carries) next season. He's the most dynamic runner ever at the quarterback position and he has been durable during his young career. Jackson's elusiveness often allows him to avoid defenders, but whether he's in the pocket or running in the open field, the Ravens want to limit the big hits that Jackson takes. Jackson had 67 more carries than the next closest quarterback, Buffalo's Josh Allen who had 109 carries.

"I'm going to give you a firm, 'I don't know yet,"' Harbaugh said when asked about Baltimore's potential run-pass ratio for next season. "Is that OK? Because what we did was pretty darn good, and if we can play that way in games, we're going to want to. Who carries it, how many times they carry it, how much Lamar carries it – all those kind of things (are up in the air). Sometimes we drop back and throw, and he's carrying it a lot because that's how people play him. So, it's hard to predict that. It's a great question. We're going to try to be as unpredictable as we can."

The Ravens were both unpredictable and explosive in 2019, but things change quickly in the NFL. The Los Angeles Rams had the NFC's highest scoring offense in 2018 and reached the Super Bowl, but this season they didn't make the playoffs and their scoring average dropped from 32.9 to 24.6 with basically the same personnel and Head Coach Sean McVay still calling the plays.

Baltimore has a tough act to follow offensively, but Harbaugh is raising the bar. In the NFL, it's the only way to stay ahead of the competition.

"If you think anybody has the answer in football, just wait until the next week and you'll find out," Harbaugh said. "How many times has that been proven? We proved a lot of that this year."

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