By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens offense obviously has to undergo some changes in the 2021 season. We’ve spent so much time talking about the ways the Ravens’ offense may change that it’s important to remember what needs to remain the same.
The Ravens have to keep their run game at the top in the NFL. If Baltimore Ravens football tries to clone the Kansas City Chiefs and their attack, you already know how that plays out. The DNA strands are different. Developing a better passing game doesn’t mean changing who you are from a fundamental level.
The efficiency of the Ravens offense is the biggest thing that Greg Roman can hang his hat on. The Ravens converted on 49 percent of their third-down conversions. They were 12-19 on fourth down tries. As a team, they averaged 5.5 yards per rushing attempt and 7.2 yards per passing attempt.
There is a lot of good there. According to Pro Football-Reference, the Ravens had the most third down conversions and the fourth best conversion percentage in the NFL. The Ravens also scored the seventh most points in the league. All of this has to be brought up to remind you that while the Ravens had the lowest passing totals in the league, you weren’t watching a bad offense.
The Ravens need to tinker with the offense. They must attack more of the field in the passing game. Roman must use a more spread-out attack and rely less on heavier personnel packages. The passing game needs to feed off the run game a bit more. The deep shot down the field has to become the reward for running the ball so effectively.
We know that. That’s almost become white noise at this point of the offseason. An article explaining the changes the offense has to make would be fairly short and to the point. You know what needs to be done. The helpful exercise is to focus on what can’t be scrapped. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re building on a car we already like.
Baltimore Ravens must keep opponents worried about Lamar Jackson on the ground
The Ravens have to be careful when it comes to Lamar Jackson in the run game. It’s not caution in the traditional sense where they have to limit his rushing attempts to save him the hits. Jackson regulates that himself. The Baltimore offense needs to make sure that Jackson doesn’t reduce the threat he poses with his running ability.
Lamar Jackson is a better pocket passer than he will ever get credit for, however if you try to make him Tom Brady it’s never going to work. He’s never going to be all that he can be, if you handcuff him by a decision to run him less. It could be argued that Jackson needs to get his rushing yards more organically through the route of scrambling than by designed runs. The threat of Jackson’s legs always needs to be imposed on the opponent.
If Jackson stopped being productive in the run game two negative thing would happen. The run game would be impacted negatively. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards benefit from the style of this offense. If the defense has to worry about Jackson taking off less, the defense loses the hesitation the Ravens like to take advantage of.
The second thing that would happen is that the defense could play the Ravens more like a standard offense. The biggest challenge in playing the Ravens is correctly estimating the impact that Jackson’s talents can have. Jackson is the hardest quarterback to prepare for because he’s the most unique. The Ravens need to keep that going.
The Ravens have to remain a run-first team. The goal isn’t to become the greatest show on turf and have Jackson in the role of Kurt Warner. The goal is to be able to get more out of the passing game and to be less dependent on one way of winning.
Keep splitting the workload for the running backs
One thing the Ravens do masterfully is rotating their running back group. The Baltimore Ravens never use and abuse a running back. Derrick Henry may be asked to run the ball 25-30 times in Tennessee, but the Baltimore backs split the workload.
Their sparing use of Justice Hill and their interest in Todd Gurley, suggest that they may have to use J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards too much over the course of the new 17 game schedule. If Hill isn’t the answer behind the power duo, the Ravens may look for a player to add to the running back group.
It makes sense that they thought of Gurley. Gurley isn’t a workhorse anymore, but in a trio, he could have quick bursts of production. Gurley offers more as a pass catcher and that could be an added element of the offense this year. They could get back to what they did with Mark Ingram even if it’s not as high of a snap count.
Whatever the Ravens decide to do with the third running back situation the idea of splitting the workload is a golden one. A typical game could see Dobbins have 14 carries and Edwards with 10. If both players keep averaging over five yards per carry, that’s a lot of productivity in a playing time distribution that keeps both players fresh for the whole season.
Being able to pass out of run oriented looks
One of the things that made the Baltimore Ravens so effective in the 2019 season is that their formation didn’t tip their hand completely to the play-calling. The Ravens could pass the ball effectively with two backs and two tight ends as well as they could with three wide receivers in the game.
If the Ravens are going to remain a run-first team they have to keep this up. They have to keep making use of Nick Boyle and Pat Ricard. They have to be able to change the passing game while keeping this trait intact. In the 2019 season, the Ravens had three tight ends with at least 30 receptions. Lamar Jackson also led the league in touchdown passes.
When Nick Boyle went down in the 2020 season, the Ravens lost an entire element of their offense. Pat Ricard is versatile, though it is clear that he’s a fullback and not a fill-in tight end. The Ravens will probably use more spread-out looks. They will look to get more out of their wide receivers. That doesn’t mean that the Ravens shouldn’t be willing to pass out of formations more geared to the run.
The Bottom Line for the Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens don’t need to come in with a completely new offense. That’s why Roman is still the offensive coordinator. They don’t need to try to reinvent the wheel, they just need to modify the car.
When looking to make a change, the first part of the process is determining what has to remain the same. Hopefully, the Ravens tinker with their offense rather than overhauling something that mostly works.