When then-rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson got a chance to turn cameo appearances into full-time starting, the Ravens threw the NFL a curveball, turning the offense into a run-heavy attack.
Jackson’s first start included a whopping 26 rushing attempts. (In contrast, Joe Flacco had 19 total rushing attempts in his nine 2018 starts.) Through seven 2019 starts, six of which the Ravens won, Jackson ran the ball 119 times — an average of 17 per game. He also gained 556 yards on the ground in those seven starts.
The success of both Jackson and the team has created the impression that the Ravens will do more of the same in 2019. But the Ravens have done a nice job of clouding the issue, from swapping out Marty Mornhinweg for Greg Roman at offensive coordinator to adding a pair of fleet-footed receivers in the draft (after being unable to attract any quality wideouts in free agency) to making it clear via owner Steve Bisciotti that Jackson won’t run the ball 20 times per game to strongly hinting via G.M. Eric DeCosta that a far more diverse attack will be used to, most recently, the vow from backup quarterback Robert Griffin III that the new offense will “shock some people.”
It’s still not clear what the Ravens will do, and that’s good news for the Ravens. Whether it’s the Dolphins in Week One or the Cardinals in Week Two or come Week Three a rematch of an epic 2018 regular-season battle in Kansas City with the Chiefs, those early-season foes may be on their heels as they try to figure out whether the pre-snap looks are hinting at a run or a pass.
Until the Ravens tip their hands by generating several games of film, opposing defenses would be wise to look at 49ers games played with Roman as the offensive coordinator. The Ravens in turn would be wise to use some of those 49ers games as the basis for making what once was a pass into a run, and vice versa.
However it turns out, the fact that no one quite knows what the Ravens precisely will be doing on offense is a bonus for Baltimore. It becomes a bigger bonus if Jackson, who ran the ball last year nearly as well as he did at Louisville, can begin throwing the ball like he did in college.
Through it all, the overriding goal should be ensuring that Jackson doesn’t run the ball so much that he gets injured. In the NFL, that’s the biggest reason why teams choose to avoid putting their quarterbacks at risk by repeatedly subjecting him to the kinds of hits that usually only running backs absorb.