Two-time NFL MVP and current NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner has recently been critical of the Ravens’ passing game, but he doesn’t think there is a system better suited for quarterback Lamar Jackson than the one he’s been in the past two years under offensive coordinator Greg Roman — though Warner cautions that it’ll be difficult to attract a top free-agent receiver to Baltimore.
Following the Ravens’ 20-13 victory against the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round Jan. 10, Warner released a video breaking down why he thought Baltimore wasn’t giving Jackson in the best opportunity to succeed in the passing game and lamented the lack of options Jackson had on certain plays. Warner pointed mostly to route combinations, though it’s unclear whether the errors he detected were due to play design or receivers running the wrong routes. (Ravens head coach John Harbaugh doesn’t buy any of it, however.)
Roman has piloted a productive offense in Baltimore since taking over as offensive coordinator after the 2018 season. The Ravens piled up the most rushing yards ever (3,296 yards) in a single season in 2019 and, despite losing left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle to midseason injuries, again posted the top rushing offense in the league (3,071 yards) in 2020.
Roman’s run-heavy system, which has helped Jackson put together two straight 1,000-plus yard rushing seasons, is still the best one moving forward for the quarterback, according to Warner, despite the team’s lackluster production in the passing game, particularly in the playoffs.
“I can’t believe that there’s another system that overall is going to be better for him at this point in his career,” Warner said on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 19. “You’d love to see if he is able to do more in the passing game. You’d love to see the evolution of this offense to allow him to do more or have some pieces that you can put out there and play a little different way when need be if he’s at that stage. But it’s just hard for me to say because we haven’t really seen him in that type of system, obviously, at this level.”
Baltimore combined to score 999 points the past two seasons — most in the NFL during that period — but sputtered in the playoffs. The Ravens have scored 12, 17 and 3 points in their three playoff games the past two years, often struggling when their opponents aggressively committed to stopping the run.
That has naturally brought the conversation back around to Roman, who has not directed a prolific dropback passing attack anywhere he’s been as an offensive coordinator, including San Francisco (2011-2014) and Buffalo (2015-2016). This year, Roman was criticized for a passing offense that ranked last in the NFL in yards per game (171.2). To be fair, Jackson was No. 19 among 35 qualified quarterbacks in yards per attempt (7.3) and the team was middle of the pack in terms of passing efficiency.
“The bottom line is, most teams when you get to the playoffs, you’re going to have to win a game away from your strength,” said Warner, the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV. “That’s going to be the question. Can they win a game away from their strength? It’s hard because you’re building an offense around Lamar Jackson. That takes specific types of wide receivers.”
The Ravens just aren’t inclined to throw all that much; their 406 attempts in 2020 ranked last in the NFL. But in the playoffs, well-coached defenses devise ways to stop Baltimore’s dominant rushing attack and put the Ravens in third-and-long situations, an area they don’t do well in.
The teams set to play in conference championship games — the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — all feature pass-heavy offenses.
“Would this offense be better,” Warner asked, “if [the Ravens] could pound you with their two and three tight ends and their fullback and do what they do, and then have a four-wide-receiver set that they can go to or a five-wide-receiver set and spread you out and attack you in the passing game that way? I mean, of course.
“I think the more multiple any team can be, the more effective and the harder it is for a defense to stop them. But again, it’s about building those components. One of, I think, the stickiest types of things when you run this type of offense is going to be to solicit big-time receivers from other places to come play a brand of football that is so different than what the league is all about.”
The Ravens’ receiving corps in 2020 featured Marquise Brown (58 catches, 769 yards), Willie Snead (33, 432), Miles Boykin (19, 266) and Devin Duvernay (20, 201). Mark Andrews (58, 701) was again the team’s top pass-catching tight end, while Boyle caught 14 passes for 113 yards before his season-ending injury.
The top receivers scheduled to hit the free-agent market are Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Corey Davis, all of whom should attract plenty of interest assuming they’re not franchise tagged. Would any of them consider Baltimore? Warner said it would take a receiver solely concerned about winning, something echoed by Harbaugh.
“It takes a unique player to say, ‘Hey, I want to play with Lamar Jackson. I love what they’re building there. It’s unique and it’s different, but I think they can win championships. I think I can be a piece of that, but it’s not going to look like me going to some other place and playing with Patrick Mahomes and [posting] 1,200 or 1,300 yards every year,'” Warner said. “It’s going to be a different brand of football and you’ve got to buy into that.”
For more from Warner, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox