Baltimore Ravens' Offense Must Evolve Despite Lamar Jackson's MVP Resurgence
The Baltimore Ravens entered the 2021 season with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Boasting the 2019 NFL MVP in Lamar Jackson certainly helped that claim, but a rebuilt wide receiver room and deep defensive unit also contributed to the optimism surrounding the franchise.
Through seven weeks of the season, the Ravens have excelled to a 5-2 record but not for the same reasons we had anticipated.
The supposed toughest task for the Ravens' 2021 season was to overhaul an effective run-first offense into a unit that could more easily come back from early deficits. For all of the explosive performances over the last three seasons, the Ravens' formula was predictable even if effective. Their playoff losses continued to show the weaknesses with their approach.
That approach has worked so far this season, but Baltimore will need even more improvement if they want to win the Super Bowl this season.
Ravens' New Offense is Flying High
Investing in wideouts Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, and Tylan Wallace was supposed to help a receiver room that had the explosive but inconsistent Marquise Brown and star tight end Mark Andrews. Introducing Jackson to more varied passing schemes without exposing his struggles throwing outside of the numbers was going to be a tall task but an inevitable bridge the franchise would eventually face anyways. The anticipated issues have been minor, and new threats have emerged.
The Ravens have lost much of the effectiveness from their running back room after season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Jackson easily leads the team in rushing with 480 yards with an absurd 6.3 yards per tote. The elderly trio of Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, and Le'Veon Bell have been minimally successful while youngster Ty'Son Williams has been demoted after fumbling problems.
The passing game has taken flight, though, saving this Ravens squad from the disaster that would've come as the passing defense has dropped to 29th in the league due to injuries. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has given his receivers more freedom on option routes and the entire unit has answered despite limited contributions from Bateman, Watkins, and Wallace.
Watkins has provided chunk plays but has missed two games, so it's been the Hollywood Brown show in his third season. Brown has compiled 566 yards and six touchdowns. Drops do remain a problem for Brown, but his improvement is very noticeable.
I especially love when Lamar Jackson and Hollywood Brown prove doubters wrong.— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) October 24, 2021
A quarterback who’s constantly told he can’t throw connecting on a beautiful pass with a receiver who is constantly told he can’t catch. #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/qLNnuZq6vw
Jackson has answered the call even more as the running game has slowed. He's dicing up defenses with a 65% completion rate and an insane 13.3 yards per completion. He's tied for second in the league with Russell Wilson at that mark, and just behind Joe Burrow for first despite being mocked as a running back playing quarterback by critics.
His passing motion and touch have become more consistent outside of the numbers at a rapid pace. With a running back room that has been decimated with injuries, this is exactly what the Ravens needed from Jackson this season.
The numbers have become undeniable, and defenses are stretched to the limits trying to deal with Jackson's passing and rushing ability along with the pure speed of his receivers. The offense would only get better if they could add a top-rushing threat like Saquon Barkley, but money is tight.
The Lamar Jackson Show
The Problem with the Ravens' "new-look" offense is that they have become too reliant on Jackson's athleticism. In October, Jackson accounted for 96%, 95%, and 83% of their total offense, respectively. The overall recipe has resulted in five straight wins for the Ravens until the team was smacked by Burrow and the red-hot Bengals.
The big loss brought the obvious issue to the forefront of the Ravens' season. Their defense has personnel issues not easily fixable even with the trade deadline looming, and the offensive identity is too reliant on their star playmaker to be healthy. Their upside is limitless if they can establish an offensive system less dependent on Jackson.
With games against the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears in November, the Ravens have time to test out a more balanced team against a fairly easy stretch.
If the Ravens don't try to evolve beyond Jackson, they'll be on track for more monstrous games from him and maybe another MVP award. However, a playoff exit will almost be a guarantee as better teams await them in late January and February.
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