It seems as regular as clockwork: After a Ravens loss — admittedly a rare occurrence in the Lamar Jackson era — questions surface about the Ravens’ play-calling and whether offensive coordinator Greg Roman veered too quickly from the running game that defines this offense.
At his regular Wednesday news conference Sept. 30, head coach John Harbaugh came to Roman’s defense, calling him “one of the best play-callers in the National Football League.”
Roman’s play-calling came under scrutiny once again after the Ravens’ 34-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs before a national television audience on “Monday Night Football” Sept. 28.
Facing a Chiefs defense that had been susceptible to the run early this season, the Ravens, who last year set an NFL record for rushing yardage in a season, marched 67 yards on their opening possession, chewing up 60 yards on the ground on six carries. The biggest was a 30-yard scamper by Jackson.
But then on second-and-3 from the Chiefs’ 8-yard line, Jackson threw incomplete, and on third-and 3, Jackson passed to Willie Snead for no gain. Justin Tucker came on for a chip-shot field goal for a 3-0 lead, but that lead — the Ravens’ only one in the game — lasted less than three minutes once Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes got the ball in his hands.
“We needed to score a touchdown there, I think, once we got in the red zone,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve looked at those plays really hard. Greg has, especially hard. Nobody looks at the play-calling more than Greg Roman, who in my opinion is one of the best play-callers in the National Football League and has proven that.”
Throughout the remainder of the first half, Roman and the Ravens’ offensive plan turned to the air; they ran the ball on three of their 15 other offensive snaps.
One particularly unproductive sequence occurred after the Ravens’ defense had forced the first Chiefs punt of the game, and the Ravens took over at their own 27-yard line. Jackson threw three straight incompletions, and the Ravens punted the ball back to the Chiefs. Mahomes promptly marched them the field for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead.
The Ravens had considerable success running in the second half in limited doses as they tried to erase a 17-point halftime deficit, and the Chiefs were probably content with allowing the Ravens to chew up time.
Overall, the Ravens finished with 21 carries for 158 yards, averaging 7.5 yards a carry. Jackson led the way with 83 yards on nine carries, while Gus Edwards totaled 39 yards on four carries. The passing game, meanwhile, struggled to find any traction. Jackson averaged 3.5 yards per pass attempt, completing 15 of 28 passes for 97 yards, his lowest total in 24 regular-season games as a starter.
For the season, the Ravens’ run-pass distribution has been exactly equal, with 88 running plays and 88 pass plays — 78 passes plus 10 sacks — though it’s skewed slightly toward the pass since some designed passes have turned into runs with Jackson’s scrambling.
Through three games, the Ravens have interspersed their three running backs, with all seeing some measure of success. (Justice Hill, the fourth running back on the 53-man roster, has been a game day inactive in the first three games.
Mark Ingram leads the running backs in carries with 26, for 114 yards (4.4 avg.). Gus Edwards (18-129, 7.2 avg.) and rookie J.K. Dobbins (10-76, 7.6 avg.) are each averaging better than 7 yards a carry in limited work. Jackson remains the team’s leading rusher with 32 carries for 182 yards (5.7 avg.).
The Ravens average 5.67 yards a carry, second best in the league, so while score and game situation dictate some play calls, Harbaugh reiterated that the Ravens’ identity is firmly rooted to the ground.
“We’re a running team. We want to run the ball as much as we can,” he said. “We also want to be productive in the passing game and complete passes and keep drives alive. The more first downs you get, the more drives you extend, the more opportunities you have to both run and pass.
“We’re not going to get away from being a running team,” he added. “That’s something that we think is very important.”
RAVENS ADD VETERAN SAFETY TO PRACTICE SQUAD: The Ravens have signed veteran safety Marcus Gilchrist to the practice squad. Gilchrist, 31, was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft by the San Diego Chargers. He has started 98 games in his career, including all 16 games for the Oakland Raiders in 2018. Last year, Gilchrist played in three games for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Gilchrist takes the practice squad spot of defensive back Jordan Richards, who was promoted to the 53-man roster when cornerback Tavon Young (knee) was placed on injured reserve.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox