The Baltimore Ravens’ run game and inherent success isn’t a secret—it’s been historically revered for seasons on end. An offensive scheme headlined by success out of the pistol littered with triple-option tendencies has labeled Baltimore’s offense as a throwback approach on the offensive side of the football with unique modern tendencies.
For most of the past two decades, the Ravens have been defined by their smashmouth defensive units. Over the past two seasons, however, the script has been flipped. Under electric fourth-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have one of the most exciting, and unstoppable offenses in football.
It stems from the pistol, where Jackson and second-year running back J.K. Dobbins align the most, by far, of any team in football. In 2019—even with Dobbins still in college—the Ravens took a league-leading 579 snaps out of the pistol, by far the most in the NFL ahead of the Arizona Cardinals who took just 62 snaps out of the formation in Kyler Murray’s rookie season.
It’s more of a tribute to what Jackson is as a dual-threat quarterback, and the diversified skill set he offers for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to deploy. It’s not as if Roman is stuck on lining up in pistol—don’t forget that Jackson ran a pro-style drop back offense at Louisville—rather, it’s half bulldozer, half Lamborghini, in that the forward-thinking Roman is able to use Jackson in space as both a passer and thrower while accruing the necessary carries to the 212-pound bowling ball in Dobbins to take opposing defenses’ lunch money. With 2021 selections Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace now in the building, a progressing, more traditional style of offense—similar to Louisville—could be used to further create mismatches for Baltimore’s one-of-a-kind offense, and Jackson’s all-world skill set.
A look back to 2019, where Jackson lines up here in the pistol with Gus Edwards and H-back Nick Boyle behind the right tackle. Off the jump, Baltimore presents a jet motion concept across the formation to stagger the free defensive end who has to account for Edwards and Jackson as potential ball carriers. As the play progresses, you see Boyle ignore No. 59 Whitney Mercilus, turning his shoulders upfield to account for the MIKE linebacker creeping down into the gap with the left tackle turned to seal off the backside of the play. A simple concept, but the threat of Jackson’s legs here left Mercilus, and the entire second level of the defense, in no man's land for a 25-yard gain.
Similar concept here with Boyle to the right but Mark Ingram now in the backfield. As you often see with the Kansas City Chiefs where Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman will be sent in motion to drag the high safety opposite, the Ravens do the same thing here to the playside, but where it differs is where Boyle attacks the LOS and who takes his role as lead blocker (first clip). Here, Boyle is tasked with sealing the backside defensive end, and No. 13 Devin Duvernay is in charge of leading the way. He fails terribly, as Washington linebacker No. 53 Jon Bostic slips through—but because the right guard gets a last-ditch reach on Bostic, he’s out of his lane, which allows Ingram to gain grass. Not as clean of a play, but it shows how Roman will adjust runs out of the pistol from week to week.
This is where Baltimore thrives, where Jackson initially lines up in empty before motioning Dobbins into the formation. A simple quarterback power read, where traditionally there is a fullback in play to kick out the defensive end, Roman opts to leave the end unblocked, trusting the eyes of Jackson to make the right read. On this play, No. 52 Ryan Anderson bends inside as if he was pursuing a run in the opposite direction. Washington attempted a gap exchange here with the linebacker going wide to account for Dobbins, but Anderson’s incorrect read results in six for Baltimore. Also, look at left guard Bradley Bozeman (No. 77) get upfield here. Big uglies in space are beautiful.
So, how will the Ravens progress in 2021 with big, sure-handed wideouts in Bateman and Wallace joining a rather underwhelming passing offense who accumulated a league-worst 171 passing yards per game? For Jackson, it’s a breath of fresh air with Bateman and Wallace joining Sammy Watkins, who comes over in free agency. There’s a small conundrum with Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay, and James Proche all working for targets, but Roman had ideas of expanding Jackson’s level of talent on the boundary, and Jackson’s arm should thrive this fall.
Enter Bateman, general manager Eric Decosta’s first-round selection who brings elite route-running, ideal length, and a surprising burst on the outside. However, he isn’t limited to the boundary, as he also has experience working in the slot to create nightmare matchups during his time as a Golden Gopher. Jackson’s ability as a pure passer has been undervalued due to the underlying success of the run game, and that’s completely fine, but the presence of Bateman, a true X wideout, provides Jackson an elite target hog he simply has not had.
As prior mentioned, the narrative of Jackson as simply a run-first quarterback is, well, lazy. If you have the ability to run, run—and for the sake of Baltimore’s offense, his tape at Louisville offers a small glimpse into what he can truly become as a thrower of the football. Whether he’s lined up in empty stretching the seam, or hitting the running back off play-action on a wheel route out of the backfield, Jackson has the arm talent to make every throw in the book. Is his motion a tad unconventional? Sure, so was Peyton Manning’s, but it doesn’t mean No. 8 can’t sling it around the yard.
Wallace’s traits as of this point in career are undeveloped when microscoping his overall ability. He was limited to one side of the field at Oklahoma State, but man, did he showcase his raw ability as a pass-catcher with sure hands and outstanding skills in the air. His selection could mark the end of Boykin or Proche’s slim tenure in Baltimore, and rightly so.
With a similar build to Bateman (6-foot-2), Wallace (6-foot) will work all over the formation to create mismatches across the board both in the run and pass game. A premier 50/50 ball talent, Roman’s 11-personnel groupings inside the 10-yard line would create nightmares for opposing coordinators with Bateman, Wallace, and tight end Mark Andrews each presenting a threat in the pass game to couple with Jackson and Dobbins in the run game.
The Ravens attempted to make magic happen last season, but changes in the passing game didn't consistently materialize early. For Roman, the onus of relieving the pressure on Jackson to run has been a primary focus this offseason, and he envisions a unique look to his offense come Week 1 with Bateman and Wallace now in place.
"The field is about 53 yards wide and I think people are going to have to defend all 53 yards of it.”