Any offensive changes the Ravens make in 2019 will have Lamar Jackson in mind, as they move forward with their new franchise quarterback.
A Jackson-led offense operates far differently than an offense led by Joe Flacco, who started for 10-plus seasons until Jackson took over in Week 11. Instead of coveting weapons that suit Flacco's style as a traditional pocket passer, the Ravens will embark on a new journey plotting their offseason strategy, building an offense around Jackson's unconventional but explosive playmaking ability.
Head Coach John Harbaugh's decision to promote Greg Roman to offensive coordinator Friday was one step in the process. With his expertise in the running game, Roman will look to take full advantage of Jackson being the NFL's fastest and most elusive quarterback.
Developing Jackson as a passer and cutting down on his fumbling will remain priorities, both for Jackson and for the offensive coaches. But here are some ingredients the Ravens and new General Manager Eric DeCosta will need as they look to create a Lamar-friendly offense via the draft, free agency or trades:
A physical offensive line
The running game is the key to this offense, whether it's Jackson or the running backs carrying the football. It was disheartening for the Ravens that they rushed for just 90 yards during their playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers often played seven defensive backs to counter Jackson's speed, yet the Ravens had little success running between the tackles and Jackson was sacked seven times.
The Ravens have two talented young offensive tackles in Ronnie Stanley (left tackle) and Orlando Brown Jr. (right tackle), while veteran right guard Marshal Yanda is as good as there is, making the Pro Bowl for the seventh time in 2018. However, left guard James Hurst struggled in the playoff loss and was replaced by rookie Bradley Bozeman during the game. Alex Lewis began the season as the starting left guard, but he was sidetracked by neck and shoulder injuries and did not play after Dec. 2. Center Matt Skura started every game, but according to Pro Football Focus, he did not rank among the top 30 centers in run blocking or pass blocking.
Bozeman may compete for a starting role either at guard or center next season. But the Ravens will covet physical linemen who can create running lanes for Jackson and the running backs. More opponents may try what the Chargers did, going to smaller and faster personnel groups against Baltimore as a strategy to contain Jackson. The Ravens can counter by building a more physical offensive line that can power block more effectively, while pass-protecting well for Jackson.
Pass-catchers who thrive between the numbers
From the pocket, Jackson seems most comfortable throwing between the numbers, whether the target is a wide receiver or a tight end. Jackson had good chemistry with wide receiver Willie Snead IV, who loves making plays in traffic and led the Ravens in receptions (62). Jackson also clicked with rookie tight end Mark Andrews (34 catches, 552 yards), the team's leading pass-catcher at that position.
Snead, Jackson, and tight end Hayden Hurst seem like good fits for Jackson moving forward. The Ravens overhauled their wide receiver corps last offseason, acquiring Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown. More changes at wide receiver could be forthcoming. Unless Jackson quickly becomes a more accurate passer, possession receivers who get open for 10-to-15-yard catches, and who can absorb contact, are seemingly more valuable than deep threats like Brown, who was rarely targeted once Jackson became the starter. Then again, if the Ravens are going to give Jackson the ability to stretch the field, they still need some speed outside. It's a delicate balance.
Straight-ahead, power running backs
Gus Edwards' physical running style is a terrific fit for this offense. He proved it by rushing for at least 80 yards in five of Jackson's seven starts, and the Ravens were 5-0 when Edwards rushed for 80-plus. Edwards is a 23-year-old back heading into his second season, so he doesn't have much mileage on his legs. However, running backs can wear down quickly, especially physical backs who absorb punishment. While Kenneth Dixon played well down the stretch, staying healthy and on the field has been an issue for him. Another workhorse back who is effective as in inside runner would be a boost for this offense.
Blocking tight ends
Andrews and Hurst developed as blockers during the season, but Boyle was the team's best blocking tight end. Boyle will be a free agent and seems to be a good fit if he and the Ravens can agree to terms. Maxx Williams is also a free agent, but the Ravens may choose not to dress four tight ends consistently in 2019 as they did this season. Still, he could be a candidate to return as well. Jackson likes throwing to tight ends, but any tight end in this offense will be asked to run block in a variety of ways.
The Ravens are excited about their future, handing Jackson the keys to the offense. But with a new offensive coordinator, improvement from Jackson, and the right pieces around him, the Ravens hope next year's offense runs even smoother.