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In Search of a Mismatch

Ravens passing offense
Photo Credit: Shawn Hubbard, Baltimore Ravens
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The Baltimore Ravens offense may be focusing on matchups more than ever before. Greg Roman and the Ravens get called out on a regular basis for a passing attack that lacks creativity. A lot of this is true. The playbook of Greg Roman will never get confused with the playbook of Mike Martz. Okay, that’s a dated reference. When it comes to the passing game Roman is no Andy Reid. So matchups may be the key. Talent, not creativity is the answer.

The Greg Roman offense is all about efficiency. You earn five to six yards per rushing attempt and you get into favorable third-down situations or avoid third down altogether. The passing game is aided by play-action and the threat of the fastest quarterback in the league taking off. The run game is the foundation of everything but the Ravens have learned that passing the football is important. The Ravens must be able to win more than one way.

With Roman at the offensive controls, keeping it simple is the main mode of operation for the passing game. The Ravens need to win one on one matchups with the defense. They need their skill-position players to cause problems for the opponent.

The Ravens have one big matchup problem for NFL defenses. Mark Andrews is a tight end that basically is a number one wide receiver. No team in the NFL has one player that can neutralize him by themselves. Andrews is the classic matchup problem. He’s too big for defensive backs and way too quick for linebackers. Zone coverage means Andrews gets to show off his sixth sense for finding the open window. Man coverage means the best athlete wins and that battle goes to 89 more often than not.

What if there were more matchup problems? In theory, the Ravens have one more player that can get defensive coordinators scratching their heads and looking for answers.

The theoretical matchup problem is Rashod Bateman. Bateman is now seen as the number one receiver of this offense. If Bateman is going to live up to being the number one he’s going to have to take opposing defensive coordinators out of their comfort zone.

Rashod Bateman
Rashod Bateman at Ravens OTAs (Photo Credit: Shawn Hubbard, Baltimore Ravens)

Bateman is nearly 6’2” and he’s pretty explosive. He had 46 receptions last year in just 12 games. It should be noted that he had to find his role in the offense midway through the season and Marquise Brown got the top billing. Bateman showed the ability to get open and make defenders miss last season. With a little experience and a bigger role in the offense, his natural skill-set can blossom.

When Lamar Jackson drops back, he knows that he’s got a better opportunity for a completion when he’s targeting Bateman or Andrews. According to Pro Football Focus, Andrews caught 107 out of 149 targeted passes to him. That means Andrews caught about 72 percent of the passes that were sent his way. Bateman was targeted 65 times and came away with 46 passes last season. That’s just over a 70 percent success rate for a rookie wide receiver.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Lamar Jackson likes to fixate on his favorite targets and everyone in the stadium knows it. When Jackson has forced passes in his career it has been to Andrews or his departed bestie, Hollywood. If Jackson only has eyes for Andrews and Bateman the defensive coordinator just needs to have his players mob these two targets and make somebody else beat his defense.

This makes it incumbent upon Roman to uncover another problem for opponents – one that can provide the success rate that Jackson has grown accustomed to from Andrews and Bateman. Perhaps this explains why the Ravens would take a shot of Isaiah Likely in the NFL Draft. Likely is a speedy 6’4” pass catcher with the label of “TE”. He’s the kind of tight end who is basically like a big slot receiver. The other tight end the Ravens drafted this year, Charlie Kolar, has a 6’6” frame that makes him a massive target with a nice catch radius. Kolar was drafted after a 62 reception season. The excitement for Likely’s prowess as a receiver may be helping people forget what Kolar brings to the table.

Both tight ends have a chance to be successful in this tight-end friendly offense. It’s not hard to see what the Ravens were looking for though, traits that trigger matchup problems.

It may be the speed of Devin Duvernay in a spot where he has to replace the routes Marquise Brown used to run. It may be the shifty route running of James Proche that becomes Lamar’s third preferred target. Tylan Wallace was dangerous after the catch at Oklahoma State – maybe he could be the answer.

The truth be told, the Ravens’ pass catchers are so unproven behind Andrews and Bateman we have little choice but to make projections. It’s akin to throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. BUT… if they find a hit, it will make a big difference.

The Ravens have been targeting traits in the draft. Every pass-catcher they’ve put out on the practice field in 2022 is there because they have traits that could make them a matchup problem. Even the undrafted free agents the Ravens brought in have at least one trait that gives them potential. Look at Travon Clark from Cal. He’s got a 6’3” frame and he averaged almost 20 yards per reception in the 2021 season. The 6’4” Shemar Bridges from Fort Valley State has a huge frame that includes a 79 ¼” wingspan.

How this will all shake out for the moment, isn’t clear. What is clear is that Roman isn’t going to turn into a passing game genie overnight. He’s the best run game specialist in the league and he knows how to get the tight ends to pad their stats. Creative passing concepts with great spacing are always on the wish list. However, the Ravens’ passing game won’t be boosted because the Ravens had a brand new idea. It will be boosted by the fact that the traits-based projects at wide receiver and tight end will start to gain traction.

If the Ravens find one more player to step up to threaten defenses and effective complement the talents of Andrews and Bateman, it could trigger matchup problems for opponents

And more importantly it could provide a lift to the Ravens passing attack despite its reputation as uninventive.

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