The Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator carousel turned yet again this winter, with Greg Roman replacing Marty Mornhinweg as the Ravens’ primary play caller and architect of the offense.
Roman becomes the Ravens’ sixth offensive coordinator since 2012, and he assumes command at a pivotal time in the franchise, as the Ravens embark on a new approach centered around dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson’s ascension as a rookie last season accelerated the departure of Joe Flacco.
This will be the third time Roman, 46, has held an offensive coordinator position in the NFL, and each stop has featured a dynamic, dual-threat quarterback. Roman worked with Colin Kaepernick as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2014, and then with Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo Bills in 2015 and 2016. (Roman was fired two games into the 2016 season.)
Roman’s offenses have consistently ranked among the best in the league in rushing, but the passing numbers have not been as pretty, and as the Ravens set about rebuilding their offense “from the ground up,” as Roman said, the onus is on him to find the right balance.
No one is sure what exactly that will look like. The Ravens lack a dominant back. The wide receiver corps is in flux for the second straight year. And the interior of the offensive line remains a concern.
Roman, who has been with the Ravens for the past two years, will surely draw on his past experience, but he suggested that he has wiped the playbook clean.
“We’re in the throes right now … of pretty much reimagining our offense,” Roman said at his introductory news conference.
“How do we want to move forward with Lamar Jackson?” Roman added. “He’s a unique player with a unique skill set, so let’s build an offense that really accommodates that, as opposed to try to fit him into something that other people had once done.”
Run Game Guru
In announcing Roman’s promotion — Mornhinweg subsequently declined a different position in the organization — head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens’ system would be built from the run game outward, “and that’s Greg’s role.”
The run game was at the heart of the Ravens’ success in 2018 as they won six of their final seven regular-season games to finish 10-6 and win the AFC North title.
Shifting gears midseason once Jackson replaced the injured Flacco, the Ravens unleashed an old-school, ground-and-pound offense that perplexed opponents with little time to prepare for it. Jackson’s elusiveness and threat as an outside runner exposed openings up the middle for rookie running back Gus Edwards, whose emergence corresponded with Jackson’s move into the starting role.
The Ravens topped 200 rushing yards in five of Jackson’s seven regular-season starts and finished the season ranked No. 2 in the league in rushing with 152.6 yards a game.
That kind of success is not unusual for Roman. His 49ers teams ranked in the top four each year from 2012-2014 once Kaepernick became the starting quarterback. When Roman moved to Buffalo, the Bills led the league in rushing in 2015.
Kaepernick averaged 86 carries and 526 rushing yards per season from 2012-2014 with Roman calling the plays. Then in Buffalo, Roman watched Taylor carry 104 times for 568 yards in 2015.
This past season, Jackson set an NFL record for carries by a quarterback with 147 — and he didn’t even start until Week 11. So while the Ravens stress they are rebooting their offense, there’s little doubt that Jackson’s legs will be a big part of it.
A new running back could also make an impact. On March 13, the Ravens agreed to a three-year deal with former New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram, who rushed for 6,007 yards and 50 touchdowns and contributed in the passing game during his eight seasons with the Saints. Ingram joins a running back group that also includes Edwards, Kenneth Dixon — whose career has been marred by injuries and suspensions — De’Lance Turner, who had one carry last year, and practice squad player Tyler Ervin.
With such a heavy emphasis on the run game, it’s understandable the Ravens want to upgrade the interior of their offensive line, even if All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda returns for his 13th season.
“We’ve got to have a strong, powerful offensive line,” Roman said. “That’s where it all starts, is domination up front. … Unless you want to be throwing one-step screen passes the whole game, you better be able to block people. And I don’t care what back you [have], if there’s no space to run, he’s going to be fighting an uphill battle. So it all starts up front.”
Passing Game Concerns
For all of Roman’s ground-game success, his offenses have posted some pedestrian passing numbers. In four of his five full seasons as an offensive coordinator, Roman’s teams ranked 28th or lower in passing; the 2012 49ers, which reached the Super Bowl, ranked 23rd.
Roman acknowledged those numbers but said, “If you look at efficiency, wins and losses and yards per attempt, things like that, more relevant stats, I think if you dig deeper, you’ll find that it really added up to a really good, winning formula.”
The 49ers went 44-19-1 during Roman’s four seasons there, with three straight playoff berths and a Super Bowl appearance against the Ravens. On those teams, a potent run game was complemented by a passing attack that featured two names familiar to Ravens fans: Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.
Crabtree has been let go after one disappointing season in Baltimore during which he made 54 catches for 607 yards, among the lowest totals of his career. If John Brown (42 catches, team-high 715 yards) leaves as a free agent, the Ravens again will be staring at an overhaul of the wide receiver position at the same time they are working to help Jackson make strides as an NFL passer.
The Ravens do, however, return a pair of second-year tight ends: first-round pick Hayden Hurst and third-rounder Mark Andrews. Baltimore also re-signed Nick Boyle, who emerged as a key blocker in the Ravens’ run-heavy offense in 2018. Tight ends are integral to Roman’s scheme both as receivers and blockers.
During his rookie season, Jackson flashed potential but also had issues with mechanics and accuracy. It will be up to Roman and his staff — including quarterbacks coach James Urban and new passing game coach David Culley — to advance Jackson this season.
“The OTAs will be a critical step for him,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “… He made great strides last year, I think, from training camp all the way through to the end of the season, and we expect that to continue.”
DeCosta is in the midst of reshaping the Ravens’ roster in his first offseason as general manager. Moves will be made to complement an emerging offense that the Ravens understand — even hope — will buck the trend in the NFL.
Roman likened the process to putting together IKEA furniture: “If you make one wrong move, you’ve got to take the whole thing apart and start over again.”
“It’s a time-intensive thing. … It’s a real grind, and a lot of fun. We’re working our way through it right now. We’re really looking at this as a completely new beginning.”
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 252: March 2019