Former Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who ran Baltimore’s offense during Lamar Jackson’s rookie season in 2018, believes the Ravens should open up the offense just a touch during the regular season with an eye toward the postseason and becoming “unstoppable” as a unit.
The Ravens threw 440 and 406 times in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and both marks were last in the league. The Ravens preferred to lean on their league-best running attack. In 2019, the Ravens ran for 3,296 yards — the highest single-season mark in NFL history — and a year later, they ran for 3,071 yards.
The running game is built around the unique abilities of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who combined to run for 2,211 yards from 2019-2020 and makes the Ravens a bear to defend. The Ravens have combined to score 999 points the past two years under the direction of head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
With that said, the Ravens have scored 12, 20 and 3 points in their three playoff games the last two years, prompting discussion about whether such a run-heavy formula can win a Super Bowl. Mornhinweg says throwing the ball a bit more during the season would make a world of difference when it really matters.
“It’s just a little bit of philosophical adjustment, that’s all,” Mornhinweg said on Glenn Clark Radio May 17. “And you’ve got to practice it in the offseason, going into the season, preseason and in league games throughout the year so you’re fully equipped to overcome that 10- or 12- or 14-point deficit late in the game like they will be in two or three games, I would suspect, and they’ll get into one down the stretch and into the playoffs like has happened in the past couple of years.”
In their 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the 2019 playoffs, the Ravens fell behind by two touchdowns early and Jackson threw 59 times en route to an early exit. The Ravens did recover from an early 10-point hole at Tennessee in the wild-card round of the 2020 playoffs, but they fell a week later in the divisional round at Buffalo, where they struggled to finish drives and make plays in obvious passing situations.
Long story short, the Ravens’ offense is less effective when forced to lean on the passing game. The best way to rectify that, according to Mornhinweg, is to open it up during the regular season so that the Ravens are better prepared in January. If the Ravens did that at some point this past year, it was probably when Jackson threw 37 times in a 27-3 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in October.
“I learned this when I was young from Steve Young — if you haven’t practiced it in league games, then what are the odds that you can do it down the stretch and into the playoffs?” Mornhinweg asked. “I think it’s very simple, though. I don’t think it’s a big move. I know this. It’s just a touch of an adjustment philosophically — just a touch. It doesn’t take much to get that passing game rolling.”
Jackson’s strength as a passer is throwing to the middle of the field, with throws outside the numbers posing more of a challenge. The Ravens added veteran receiver Sammy Watkins in free agency and Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman and Oklahoma State receiver Tylan Wallace via the draft, presumably to help expand the passing game.
Watkins has struggled with injuries throughout most of his career, but he did catch 60 passes for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns with Buffalo in 2015, when Roman was the Bills’ offensive coordinator. Bateman was one of the best receivers in college football in 2019, when he caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 scores. Wallace caught 205 passes for 3,434 yards and 26 touchdowns from 2017-2020.
Those three will join holdovers Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche along with tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. Brown (58 catches, 769 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Andrews (58, 701, 7) are the top returners among that group.
“They’ve got plenty, especially with this draft,” Mornhinweg said.
Now it’s time to take advantage of the personnel, according to the coach. The Ravens see more 1-on-1 coverage than any other team because of the threat Jackson poses with his legs, according to Mornhinweg, who said it’s time to exploit that and keep quality defenses off balance.
“I’m not saying they can’t win a Super Bowl doing just as they’re doing, but I think it’s very, very rare that that will happen,” Mornhinweg said, “because typically you are going to run into a team that shuts down your run game just a little bit where you’re not popping the big plays and all 22 eyes are on Lamar Jackson, all those things.”
Mornhinweg called plays for seven games started by Jackson in 2018 — not including the wild-card round game against the Chargers — and the coach pivoted hard from the pass-heavy, West Coast system he was using with Joe Flacco as quarterback. The Ravens averaged about 45 rush attempts a game in those seven Jackson starts.
But by Year Three or Four, an athletic quarterback like Jackson should evolve into more of a pocket passer in part to avoid getting beat up too much, according to Mornhinweg. That doesn’t necessarily require any scheme changes — just a shift in philosophy and being a little more creative.
“We did a heck of a job Lamar’s rookie year and went right to a young quarterback’s strengths, right? Well, they’re still playing directly to his top strengths,” Mornhinweg said. “They’ve got to open it up just a little bit. If they get that thing going, now they’re unstoppable.”
For more from Mornhinweg, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox