Sun, 23 Jan 2022

Evolution Continues for Ravens Offense

Baltimore Ravens
12 Jan 2022, 22:25 GMT+10

Clifton Brown

Only two teams that finished in the top 10 in total offense missed the NFL playoffs - the Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers.

Baltimore finished sixth, averaging 378.8 yards per game, but will join the Chargers, who finished fourth (390.2 yards), as outsiders when the playoffs begin Saturday.

Finishing No. 6 in offense is an accomplishment during a season in which Lamar Jackson missed five games, Ronnie Stanley missed all but one game and J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards missed the entire season. And there were other key absences, too.

However, there were plenty of frustrating moments for the Ravens' offense, particularly during the season-ending six-game losing streak that cost them a playoff berth.

The Ravens only reached 30 points once in their final nine games. They were already slumping offensively before Jackson's ankle injury on Dec. 12, and slow starts were an issue all season. In eight of their 17 games, the Ravens were shutout in the first quarter. Baltimore didn't make opponents pay enough for blitzing them heavily, and deep ball success virtually disappeared from the offense down the stretch. Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was held below 50 yards receiving in each of his last five games, despite having his first 1,000-yard season.

Despite a career year for Mark Andrews, who became the NFL's most productive tight end, the Ravens head into the offseason knowing their offense must continue to evolve.

"As an offense, I don't feel like we really played to our potential all season - running, passing," Brown said. "I feel like we got a lot left. Guys came in and helped us out tremendously. But losing Gus and J.K., that was a big hit for us. I know going forward, it gives the offense a lot of courage and a lot of excitement knowing that we didn't play our best ball and we found ways to win however we had to do it - if it was games where we had to run more, games we had to up-tempo, games we had to pass. I feel like we showed we could do a lot of stuff with this offense. Putting it all together, putting the pieces, adding people back, and getting more people is going to be exciting."

The Ravens will take a hard look at examining the success that opponents had blitzing Jackson more frequently, which began Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins. Jackson couldn't put his finger on why the offense began to sputter in the second half of the season, even before he was injured.

"To be honest with you, I really don't know," Jackson said. "I got sick at the Miami game, actually, and I played horrible [in] the Cleveland game. We still had the same guys, we've just got to be consistent."

However, what Baltimore accomplished missing so many key offensive pieces shouldn't be taken for granted. The Ravens finished third in the NFL in rushing and they haven't finished out of the league's top three teams in rushing since 2017. The ability of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman to find effective ways to utilize multiple runners continued, even in a season when superb blocking tight end Nick Boyle missed 12 games and Pro Bowl fullback Pat Ricard missed four.

Latavius Murray gashed the Steelers for 150 yards rushing in the season finale, Devonta Freeman led the running backs with 576 yards after being signed off the street, and Jackson (767) was on his way to another 1,000-yard rushing season before his injury.

Meanwhile, the Ravens moved up from dead last (No. 32) in the NFL in passing in 2020 to 13th in passing in 2021. That bodes well for how Baltimore's passing game can continue to improve once Jackson returns to health and young receivers Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II and Tylan Wallace gain more experience.

Jackson made it clear he wants to continue working with Roman.

"Coach Greg Roman has been great for us for these last couple years since he stepped in," Jackson said. "He's a great coach, and we're glad he's here."

Getting Dobbins and Edwards back in 2022 will benefit the entire offense, creating more balance. An offense that has Dobbins or Edwards in the game with Jackson, Andrews, Brown and Bateman is an offense with multiple playmakers who can cause real problems for a defense.

Another key component will be an offensive line that has undergone dramatic change since 2019 when the Ravens set the league's season-single rushing record. Baltimore had two healthy Pro Bowl tackles in 2019 in Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., and Hall of Fame-worthy right guard Marshal Yanda.

Kevin Zeitler solidified the right guard position this season and versatile Patrick Mekari was signed to an extension after starting at right tackle, and he is capable of playing all five offensive line positions.

The Ravens hope Stanley will return 100 percent next season after multiple ankle surgeries, but starting center Bradley Bozeman is a free agent and the Ravens will likely look to improve their offensive line depth, particularly after an injury-plagued season. However, Bozeman believes the Ravens' running game could return to being a dominant force in 2022.

"I think we're close," Bozeman said. "We'll build back next year. We'll see what happens, but I know those guys will be out here bound and determined to get back to running the football. Kevin Zeitler is the ultimate teammate. He's a 10-year vet that acts like he's in Year 4. The guy will be around for a really long time. So, I think Baltimore is in good hands with him, for sure."

Jackson is still a young quarterback who turned 25 on Jan. 7, and this past season became his most challenging. He plans on using it as a learning experience, and as the leader of Baltimore's offense, he's looking forward with optimism.

"I care about our season, what happened, but I don't care, because it's over with now," Jackson said. "I've got to worry about getting better [for] this season coming up now - getting our guys right so we can see things happening before it happens, beating everybody to the punch against us. [I'll be] just trying to get my guys, all of us, one unit, together this offseason - not just the receivers and tight ends; offensive line and all. We'll just try to get those guys, all in one unit, to be together so we can have real team bonding, and we can start fresh."

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