submitted by Aidan Griesser
Watching the Ravens game last Thursday night, I was super excited to get my first glance at the new-look offense that the team is building for sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson. I knew he’d only be in for a few series if that, but I still thought it’d offer insight on his improvement and the type of offense Greg Roman had put together this offseason.
I was right about the first thing – in my mind, Jackson impressed in his cameo. However, I was disappointed in what I saw from the first team unit, the running game in particular.
Though certain members of the first team may have played more or less than Jackson, in his three drives the Ravens tallied just 14 yards rushing on eight carries. Clearly, those kinds of numbers will not get the job done for a team that expects to be run heavy.
Of course, especially in the preseason, there are a number of factors that lead to a sluggish running game or a slow-looking offense in general.
But for those complaining, I want to expand upon some realizations I had shortly after my knee-jerk reactions.
First and foremost, the obvious excuse for the offensive unit looking somewhat unchanged compared to the one even Joe Flacco ran is that the Ravens simply don’t want to show anything to other teams. It was just Week 1 of the preseason, so things were extra vanilla as far as play calling goes.
In a similarly straightforward way, the Ravens were also missing key players on the offense such as Marshal Yanda. With Yanda’s return to the first team O-Line, there should be significantly better push on running plays, hiding Matt Skura’s deficiencies and helping Zeus Jr. tremendously.
There’s no doubt the offensive line was poor, but adding Yanda to that group will instantly boost it a good bit.
Another missing player who all Ravens fans should be excited about is Hollywood Brown.
Coming off his Lisfranc injury, Baltimore has taken it slow with Brown, playing the long game to ensure he’s fully healthy by the time the regular season rolls around. That being said, he did join 11-on-11 drills at Saturday’s practice, flashing the speed that Roman and Harbaugh must be salivating over.
Essentially, I see Brown’s insertion into the offense as a simple replacement of Chris Moore. Before I go any further, I’m not saying Moore shouldn’t have a role on the team because I do think he will, as he played quite well with Jackson on Thursday night. What I’m saying instead is that any route Moore was running could be Brown, basically just offering further separation and YAC ability to that role. Seeing how it worked with Moore, we should be very excited about that.
If Brown and budding star Miles Boykin are fully immersed in the offense say after Week 4 or so, I think we could be looking at a surprisingly solid unit through the air.
With those two manning the outside and Willie Snead IV running over the middle with Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, Jackson will have a number of receiving weapons at his disposal, not to mention the speedy and shifty running back option he’ll occasionally have in Justice Hill.
And, as we know, having a more successful passing game will naturally open up the run.
Even still, I don’t expect the Ravens to lean toward the passing game over their ground-and-pound identity at any point in the season. With that in mind, they can’t rely on that group’s development to help grow the running game.
Luckily, despite the first team showing against Jacksonville, they shouldn’t have to.
The way I see it, the most important aspect of the running game – even if the stats don’t reflect it – is Lamar Jackson’s ability to pull it down and take off himself.
No matter what anyone says post game or at practice press conferences, the Ravens absolutely have told Jackson not to put himself in harm’s way by running the ball. Everyone knows Baltimore will have RPOs in their system, so not running at least some of those plays isn’t at all about hiding it from opponents. Rather, it’s about ensuring that Jackson stay healthy on his way to Hard Rock Stadium in Week 1.
Knowing that, I think it becomes clear what may have held the first team running game back on Thursday night. While poor blocking, vanilla calls and a growing receiving game all were factors, the defense’s ability to simply lock-in on Edwards or Dixon made it much easier for them. They knew Lamar wasn’t going to be risking taking hits in the preseason, so they sold out chasing the backs.
So, if you’re expecting this run attack to be dominant throughout the four preseason games, you might be in for a bit of a shock. You’ve been warned, but don’t worry, once things count I expect the results to be much different than what we saw from the Ravens last week.
In the regular season, I believe Jackson takes the ball on a number of those plays, and this rushing offense will once again take the league by storm.