NFL Films executive producer Greg Cosell says his recent viral comments about the Ravens’ passing game weren’t meant to be a shot at quarterback Lamar Jackson, but he does believe that in order to win a Super Bowl the Ravens’ offense must evolve to a point where the team can move the ball through the air in obvious passing situations.
Cosell, also an analyst on ESPN’s “NFL Matchup,” recently said on the Ross Tucker Podcast that the Ravens “do not want to throw the ball unless they absolutely have to.” Cosell was asked on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 28 whether the Ravens’ run-heavy approach is indicative of what the team thinks of Jackson as a passer.
“I think that is probably a debatable point, even within the coaching community. And by saying that, no one is saying, including myself, that he’s incapable of throwing the football,” Cosell said. “You know how social media works. That’s the way these things are taken. They’re taken as purely end-of-the-spectrum issues — either someone’s great or someone stinks, either he can do something really well or he can’t do it at all. That’s not the point. The point is what he does best is run. What he doesn’t do as well as run is throw.”
In 2020, the Ravens ranked last in the NFL in passing attempts (406) and passing offense (171.2 yards per game), leaning instead on a prolific running game made possible by Jackson’s unique skill set. The Ravens are 30-7 with Jackson at quarterback during the regular season, but they’ve won just one playoff game since 2018.
Cosell compared the Ravens to the Eric Dickerson-led Los Angeles Rams, who went to the playoffs each year from 1983-1986. Dickerson racked up 6,968 rushing yards during that time and powered the Rams to a combined 40 regular-season wins. Still, Los Angeles won a total of two playoff games during that period.
“They would get into the playoffs and teams would stop the run game and they had nothing else to do because they didn’t have a pass game that was independent of the run game,” Cosell said. “To be a great offense that wins in the playoffs and gets to Super Bowls – which is the goal – I’ve learned that the run game and the pass game need to operate independently of one another on any given Sunday.”
The Ravens have had by far the best rushing offense in the league the past two years, posting 3,296 yards in 2019 and 3,071 yards in 2020. Cosell called Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman “maybe the best run-game coach in the NFL” due to his creativity, which continued throughout 2020 even after left tackle Ronnie Stanley and top blocking tight end Nick Boyle suffered season-ending injuries.
But in their four playoff games since 2018, the Ravens have scored 17, 12, 20 and 3 points, struggling when their opponent forced them out of their preferred offense by committing to stopping the run or securing a two-score lead.
Cosell mentioned that on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first drive of the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers, the Bucs converted three third downs with dropback passes by Tom Brady on their way to a 7-0 lead. The Ravens have to be able to do that to get to the next level, according to Cosell.
“There are going to be, in every game, long-yardage situations,” Cosell said. “Now, we know Lamar can make unbelievable runs. That touchdown run he had against Tennessee for 48 yards … that was third-and-9. Lamar can do that. He does it often enough that you wouldn’t say it’s random, but yet I don’t think you could say you could count on that on third-and-long every time.”
Could better receivers help in those obvious passing situations? The Ravens are scheduled to return receivers Marquise Brown (58 catches, 769 yards in 2020), Miles Boykin (19, 266) and Devin Duvernay (20, 201) as well as tight ends Mark Andrews (58, 701) and Nick Boyle (14, 113).
NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner has cautioned that the Ravens may not be a preferred destination among free-agent receivers. Cosell doesn’t think better receivers are necessarily an elixir anyway, pointing to the job Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert did with receivers Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton late in the year.
“Late in the season, [Herbert] had injuries at wide receiver and he’s playing with two guys named Johnson and Guyton that nobody has heard of and they still throw the ball exceptionally well and gain a lot of yards, so that becomes debatable,” Cosell said. “That’s an easy answer. The easy answer is, ‘Well, we don’t have good receivers.’ That’s easy. Could it be true? It could be. But I think that that requires a lot more nuanced breakdown than just to say the receivers aren’t good enough.”
What about a better scheme? Cosell said the Ravens’ passing game is limited conceptually, but it takes a full offseason to address that – something they didn’t have in 2020 and may not have in 2021.
“By the way, they’re aware of this. There was no offseason last year. They wanted to do this,” Cosell said. “We don’t know where this offseason is going because as of right now, we’re still in a pandemic that some say could get worse for two or three months before it gets better. They need an offseason to do this. I can tell you for a fact they wanted to do this last offseason, but it wasn’t a real offseason.”
If the Ravens essentially run the same offense as they have the past two years – the one that’s produced so much regular-season success – can they win a Super Bowl that way?
“I think this is a hard row to hoe if you just do this – if this is what you do every year,” Cosell said. “Let’s put it this way: I don’t think you can get caught up in the coach’s mantra of, ‘Well, we just have to execute better.’ In my view, [they have to evolve], for whatever’s it’s worth.”
For more from Cosell, listen to the full interview here:
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