Ravens Look To Zig While The Rest Of The NFL Zags
No one can accuse John Harbaugh and the Ravens coaching staff of falling in line with the rest of their NFL competitors. Baltimore is looking to create an offense that will set them apart from nearly every other team in football.
NFL offenses continue to throw the ball more and more as times goes by. That’s not what the Ravens are going to do in 2019. Instead, look for them to attack opponents with a unique ground attack designed to pressure defenses in an innovative fashion.
Harbaugh’s ground attack won’t be anchored by a franchise running back. Instead, the impetus behind the running revolution in Baltimore is quarterback Lamar Jackson. The former Louisville standout certainly has a big arm, but it’s his ability to make plays with his legs that really differentiates him from other starting quarterbacks.
The Ravens gave the world a glimpse of their future plans by giving Jackson seven starts last season. When he took over for Joe Flacco the team’s offense changed dramatically. Suddenly, defensive coordinators needed to focus tons of their attention on containing Jackson. When he was able to escape the pocket, he was able to produce big plays for Baltimore.
The 21-year-old quarterback managed to lead his team in rushing attempts despite his limited time as a starter. He carried the ball 147 times for 695 yards and five touchdowns on the campaign. Look for him to blow past those numbers in 2019 if he can stay healthy for a full 16-game slate.
Just how many carries Jackson might get on a weekly basis is really the biggest question Harbaugh and his staff need to answer. He’s absolutely the most dynamic player in their offensive backfield, but they can’t afford to expose him to a ton of hits. The Ravens will need to emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to their young quarterback’s workload.
That means he’ll predominantly get chances to attack defenses on the perimeter. Look for the Ravens to incorporate some form of option attack into their playbook. That doesn’t mean Baltimore is going to line up and run the triple option against NFL defenses, but it does mean Jackson is going to get a lot of chances to pressure the edge before making a decision on whether or not he should carry the ball forward.
Signing Mark Ingram to be the team’s feature running back is another indication that the Ravens are going to commit heavily to the ground game in 2019. Unlike Jackson, he is a pretty standard sort of player for his position. Ingram has the ability to grind out yards in between the tackles and make some nice plays on the outside. He won’t be expected to bludgeon opposing defenses into submission, but his ability to produce yards in the middle of the field will be crucial to setting up Jackson for success on the outside.
If Ingram doesn’t produce above average production, the Ravens will turn to Gus Edwards to grind out yards. He doesn’t have Ingram’s ability to produce big plays, but he was a steady performer for Baltimore in 2018. Even if Ingram plays well, Edwards is still going to get a ton of work.
Part of the Ravens playbook will also be focused on getting the ball to their receivers in space. Jackson is going to get a lot of RPO opportunities this season. Small receivers like Willie Snead, Seth Roberts and rookie Marquise Brown will be required to make yards after the catch. Expect to see a variety of reverses and screens designed to keep defenses off balance.
The central thesis here is that the Ravens are going to be one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL. That doesn’t mean Harbaugh is planning a boring or predictable offense. Expect Baltimore to devise a complicated system of running plays designed to pressure defenses in unconventional ways. In particular, the Ravens are going to force cornerbacks to make a lot of plays against the run.
At the very least, the Ravens organization deserves credit for trying to do something different. The front office is clearly trying to build a winning team that’s entirely different from the competition. Over time, that should allow the Ravens to take advantage of inefficiencies in the draft and free agency. Simply put, they’ll be shopping for a different sort of player than everyone else.
In the meantime, that will make Baltimore one of the most difficult teams for opponents to plan for in 2019. It will also makes them one of the most unpredictable teams in the league. Oddsmakers are pretty split over their opinions about the team’s near future. Their over/under win total of 8.5 for next season is a perfect representation of that uncertainty. If the team’s unconventional offensive plan works, the Ravens could be a surprise playoff team. If it fails, Harbaugh and company could end up as one of the worst teams in the league.