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Revenge of Roman & Jackson

Lamar Jackson runs in Indianapolis against the Colts
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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In sports, a year might as well be a lifetime. Last season at this time, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the toast of the town. He’s a genius! He’s a mastermind! He’s the next great head coach! The fan base was in love and didn’t want to see him leave for a head coaching position. Roman’s offense was this intricate puzzle the league couldn’t solve. 

A year later, as is typically the case, defenses have caught up. A year of film will make a world of difference. The Ravens haven’t been nearly the same offensive juggernaut in 2020. The passing game in particular reminds us more of the Matt Cavanaugh days. All of a sudden, Roman is this hack and responsible for the offense’s ineptitude. 

Roman seemed to get his sea legs underneath him against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. The Colts controlled the first half on defense and put the Baltimore offense in a box. They were dominating and dictated the pace. 

Roman, to his credit, flipped the script on them in the second half and also sparked his MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson in the process. 

  1. He came out of the half with a mix of play-action passes on first down. 
  2. Those routes were a combination of crossers and in-breaking routes — which hasn’t consistently been there this season and worked so well last year. 
  3. He also emphasized a quick count which seemed to catch the Colts off guard. 

As Jackson got into a rhythm through those play-action completions, you could see him play with better precision and tempo. The ball was out of hands quickly. His ball placement was razor sharp — especially on the seam pattern to Nick Boyle and the 3rd-and-long completion to Mark Andrews. Even when it came to making decisions from the pocket, Jackson’s internal clock was a tick faster. If something wasn’t open, he didn’t move backwards and buy time. He glided out of the pocket and picked up loose yards with his legs. 

The most exciting part about Jackson’s performance? He took what the defense gave him. 

The Colts play a mix of Cover 2 and Cover 3. The Cover 3 with superstar Darius Leonard at ILB is almost akin to the old Tampa 2 with Derrick Brooks splitting the middle of the field. This defense is designed to negate the big play (over the top) and make the offense move the ball a few yards at a time.

Jackson didn’t force the issue and worked the ball methodically. That was what he had to do. And frankly, it’s something he’ll need to do against other upper echelon defenses moving forward. He doesn’t need to make the “big” spectacular play every time. 

Just as people have been crushing Roman all season, the Baltimore OC deserves credit for making second half adjustments and getting the offense back on track. This could be a major turning point in the season, hopefully with Jackson getting more opportunities to attempt high-percentage passes in early-down situations…

Rookie Tag Team 

With defensive end Calais Campbell and linebacker L.J. Fort out of the game with injuries, rookies Malik Harrison and Justin Madubuike gained increased reps and they made the most of it. 

Harrison had an outstanding game, and not only in the box score (where he registered 11 total tackles). He was consistently around the ball, not giving up on plays (even when he was baited out of position on a jet sweep), and violently finishing tackles. Against a Colts offense that really forces defenses to make sure tackles in space, his ability to wrap up and bring ball-carriers down was a major edge. 

The rookie from Ohio State was a key contributor on two of the biggest plays of the game for the defense: the first half strip-fumble of Jonathan Taylor that led to a TD score from Chuck Clark, and the 4th and 3 flush out of Philip Rivers in the fourth quarter to seal the game. On the former, Harrison rallied to hold up Taylor while Marcus Peters stripped the ball out, and he was a free rusher against Rivers on the latter. 

While Harrison notched assists on two of the biggest plays, Madubuike stood out on what was, in my opinion, one of the best defensive plays of the year for the Ravens. 

In the first half, the Colts dialed up a screen to Taylor on 2nd down on the strong side of the field. It looked like a clear pathway for a chunk play. Madubuike not only read the play, he came from behind to chase Taylor down in space and stop him for a short gain. That’s a play you see linebackers make. You don’t see 300-pounders do that. 

Madubuike has logged positive pass-rush snaps when he’s been on the field this season. You can see flashes of the quick first step and athleticism which made him a tantalizing fit in this defense when the Ravens drafted him. The physical ability is all there. 

With Campbell potentially out for anywhere between a couple of weeks to a month, Madubuike will get an uptick in playing time, and he could prove to be a valuable cog in the interior pass-rush scheme. Harrison has clearly earned more playing time with his performance. 

Harrison and Madubuike bring an explosive element to the defense that certainly stood out on Sunday in Indianapolis and could propel the front seven in the second half of the season.

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