In part 1, I briefly looked at the philosophy of the defense and special teams and talked about some of the successes and failures of the organization, as well as questioning if what they value and want to do is limiting their ceiling as an organization. While I would like to see more pass rush up the middle, I believe the Ravens’ style of defense can win and obviously, their special teams remain elite year in and year out, so that part of the game is solidified.
That brings us to the offense. The focus of this article will be on the Ravens’ offensive philosophy. I would guess that if you asked the average Ravens fan, they would tell you that the offense always seems to be behind the defense and ST. Generally speaking, they would be right. In the years John Harbaugh has been the coach, the Ravens are averaging 15th in total yards, 20th in passing yards, 11th in rushing yards and 12th in points scored. I would say the points scored stat is likely skewed by the fact that the defense and ST are usually so good that they are scoring points and/or giving the offense great field position. It’s not that the offense has been routinely marching up and down the field (with 2019 being the obvious exception) as much as they have the greatest kicker of all time and play great complementary football.
That is the one thing you can say about the Ravens: all facets of the game work together. The offense is helped by the defense and special teams giving them good field position. The effective run game helps keep the defense fresh late in games. The team’s ability to stop the run means less wear and tear on the defensive line as the game goes on. It all works hand in hand and, let’s face it, it has provided 14 years of sustained success.
But does it all limit their potential in the postseason?
The Ravens are 2-4 in the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 47. That is unacceptable and, at the end of the day, it has generally come back to the offense’s inability to produce big plays and move the chains consistently.
So, what can the Ravens do to change things?
The first thing I feel they must do is get rid of Greg Roman. Roman isn’t the only problem, despite what a lot of fans think. After all, he is the architect to one of the greatest running games the sport has ever seen. The concepts are unlike anything seen in the history of the NFL. The problem is, his way doesn’t work when it comes to winning playoff games consistently. The offense has got to be able to throw the ball better and be more creative doing it and Roman just isn’t the guy to make that happen.
Not that total yards are the best measure of a passing offense but, entering this year, Roman has been an OC for three different teams over eight years. The highest he ever placed in passing yards per game is 23rd in the league. Other than that, his teams have ranked anywhere between 27th-32nd in the league. As an OC, his offenses have averaged 28.5th place in the league in passing. In case, you need a reminder, there are only 32 teams in the league, so to say he’s not excelling in this area is an understatement.
Now, he has not always had the type of QB you would associate with big passing numbers. That certainly can’t be overlooked but let’s face it, Lamar Jackson has not really evolved into a consistently above average passer, Colin Kaepernick got worse and he was never able to help develop E.J. Manuel. Now, maybe Manuel was a lost cause from day 1 (he was an overdraft after all) and maybe Lamar and Kaepernick just aren’t good passing QBs. All of that is possible but there is definitely a trend. At some point, you have to stop making excuse after excuse and just call things what they are. Here is an old article discussing Roman’s play calling issues in SF.
Roman may not be THE problem but I don’t see him as a solution either. Many fans want to make him the scapegoat and that’s not fair either, but the fact is that the passing game hasn’t really evolved in the four years that he has been here (remember, the average OC is with their team for less than three years). We are still seeing multiple WR in the same area all the time. We are still seeing players not develop as much as they should. We are still seeing an inefficient passing game, a team that can’t run a proper screen and just an overall issue of making things more difficult than they need to be.
The passing game has to become more dynamic and creative. It needs to be able to attack all levels of the field. We have seen analysts over the last several years tear apart the WR route concepts and mention the team’s failures to adjust to cover zero. Is this all coaching? No. It never is just one thing in the NFL. Lamar (and Joe Flacco before him) is to blame for some of this for sure, and so is the front office for the lack of weapons in previous years. Obviously, injuries have played a part as well but it’s time to bring in an outside OC and someone who can scheme a passing game and develop both Lamar and the talent around him.
They have the guys that can attack all levels of the field. They have guys that you want to give the ball to in space and let them work. They have receivers that can make tough contested catches but they seemingly limit all of them. A guy like Rashod Bateman should have a huge 2022 but it’s hard to imagine that happening with this team’s current philosophy and their inability to use their outside weapons properly (outside of Mark Andrews).
You give guys like Andy Reid, Sean McVay or Sean Payton Baltimore’s weapons and I promise you that the offense would look a lot different. The Ravens have had many years where the weapons on the outside were subpar. That is not the case anymore.
The question is, will Roman get a pass because of the injuries this year? This is where Harbaugh needs to be decisive and move on. Loyalty is a great quality to have and its one that seems to be non-existent in today’s world but sometimes, loyalty can get in the way of smart decision-making and I think that has hurt Harbaugh in the past.
The other thing I feel needs to change for Harbaugh is how he hires coordinators. If they get rid of Roman, maybe they just elevate someone like Tee Martin or James Urban to the OC position and who knows, maybe that will be the correct thing to do.
But I think they should go outside the organization and not worry about losing the candidate to a head coaching job. I am not sure if that is a consideration for Harbaugh or not but his history of coordinator hires seems to be built around guys that aren’t likely bolting for head coaching jobs. He has hired a lot of older coaches or guys that have been coordinators many times. He hasn’t brought in a bright, young mind to man these positions. He has preferred to get the Marc Trestmans and Marty Mornhinwegs of the world as opposed to finding the next Sean McVay. I am not sure why. I have always wondered if he felt it was better for continuity to bring in someone who likely won’t get hired away vs someone who is likely using the position as a stepping stone.
This hire will go a long way in determining if they feel they need to change their philosophy or if they should stay with what they have been doing. It’s the run-first thought process. And yes, while the running game is hugely important, you have to have that passing game to complement it to win in the playoffs. This is what this is all about. I do not want the Ravens to become the Buffalo Bills, a team that doesn’t run it at all and just throws it. I don’t think that is sustainable either. I am not asking for that.
Teams do not respect the Ravens passing game and let’s face it, they really haven’t for much of Harbaugh’s tenure here. Even those big Flacco years, outside of the year where Gary Kubiak was the OC, teams would dare them to throw it. While Harbaugh isn’t calling plays, he is obviously in favor of the offensive strategy. At the end of the day, it falls on him and he needs to change or he needs to go. We shouldn’t allow him to be a guy who lives off of one title and the mantra of “gets players to play hard for him.” While that’s important, there needs to be more. While winning 10-11 games is great, there needs to be more.
So to replace Roman, is Joe Brady, for example, that guy? He had a lot of success with Joe Burrow at LSU. He was a hot name and that fizzled out in Carolina. But that situation seems to be bad down there, he didn’t have a QB and he really never had Christian McCaffrey at his disposal. If not Brady, then who? I would be looking for a guy like that, whether it’s a hot college name or an up and coming member of an NFL staff that has learned under great teachers and on teams with elite passing games.
The Ravens finally seem to have the offensive weapons in place to really take this team to the next level. Will they do it? Can Lamar develop? Should he be signed to an extension?
In the next article in this series, I take a look at the position groups and talk about who should stay, who should go and what the team should be looking to add for 2022.