The Ravens offense could actually benefit from a COVID-19 condensed offseason
The thought of any team in any sport actually benefiting from the physical restrictions placed on them and the other franchises in their league due a global pandemic sounds farfetched and nonsensical but in the case of the Baltimore Ravens, specifically their offense, it could actually give them an advantage early on in the 2020 season and here’s why:
First, let’s give some context-
Last offseason Ravens’ Head Coach John Harbaugh said that his team would be unveiling an offense unlike any the league had ever seen in 2019 and offensive coordinator Greg Roman made him a man of his word by orchestrating the most prolific and potent rushing attack in NFL history. He built a system and scheme around the strengths of their dynamic and electrifying dual-threat quarterback, Lamar Jackson, that allowed him to unleash the full range of his one of kind skillset and playmaking ability.
Using a myriad of different formations and personnel combinations, Roman’s unit debut a revolutionary offense that broke the 41-year-old single-season team rushing record set by the 1978 New England Patriots by recording 3,296 yards in 16 regular-season games, averaging 206 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry a carry.
Jackson became just the second-ever unanimous league MVP after leading the league in passing touchdowns with 36, including a league-high 25 from the pocket, and finishing sixth in the league in rushing yards—first among quarterbacks. In just 15 games, some of which he didn’t even finish because the team already had the game well in hand at the top of or midway through the fourth quarter, he broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback with 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Ravens started Jackson midway through his rookie season and adjusted the offense on the fly so there was some tape on him heading into the 2019 but no one outside of the organization, the Flock faithful, a few select national media members and Jackson himself anticipated that he would improve light-years from year one to year two like he did last season. With a full season of game film of the offense with Jackson at the helm as the full-time starter, the Ravens will be on everyone’s radar.
“Starting next year, we’re not going to be the iceberg,” Harbaugh said to season ticket holders in a conference call back in May. “People are going to see us. We’re going to be everybody’s most important game.”
Now the comes the reasoning-
While Baltimore won’t be sneaking up on teams this fall, the restrictions placed on them and the other 31 teams around the league this offseason, they could have an advantage over some of their opponents early in the season simply because they haven’t had enough time to get back into the full swing of things and get on the same page defensively after not being able to hold and attend any organized team activities or mini camps. They are both integral parts of the offseason program and where they implement new schemes and concepts for the upcoming season.
Training camp signifies the official start the preseason portion of the offseason where teams get ready for the grind of the regular season and round out their rosters. It is set to open up in late July but while the teams that the Ravens will have to face will have had time to virtually devise and come up with game plans to slow down Jackson and the offense, installing and refining those additions to their game plan might take more time than they have to work with assuming that the regular season starts on time without a hitch.
While the lack of time to prepare applies the Ravens’ offense as well, Roman mentioned in his first appearance with the media since the stunning loss to the Tennessee Titans via video press conference last week that he and the rest of the staff will be tweaking not overhauling or adding substantially to the offense and they will be ‘selective’ in doing so.
“We haven’t had the luxury of the [organized team activities] and whatnot to really kind of test-run certain things, so we have to be really judicious with how we use that time in training camp to experiment,” Roman said. “I think experimenting this year is going to be very selective. Yes, definitely we’ve tweaked, we’ve added, updated, but how much we experiment in training camp, we’re really going to have to be selective with that.”
In addition to having continuity on their coaching staff and with their offensive system, the Ravens are returning 10 of their 11 starters on offense from 2019 with the only question mark being at right guard following the retirement of eight0time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda. That means it will essentially be the same crew that steamrolled almost everyone they came across last season returning to do the same this year.
The high level of continuity and familiarity with one another and another year in Roman’s system could spell doom for the many of the Ravens’ early opponents and help Baltimore fire out of the blocks to start the season.
Of the Ravens first eight opponents on their 2020 schedule, two of them (Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns) have first-year head coaches who have brought in their own staff of coaches including at both coordinator spots, four of them (Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Browns and Redskins) finished with sub .500 records, only three (Houston Texans, Kansas Chiefs, and Philadelphia Eagles) made the playoffs, and only two (Pittsburgh Steelers and Chiefs) had defenses that ranked inside the top 10 in 2019.
While the Ravens would have loved to have been able to reconvene earlier and throughout this offseason to experiment and add several new wrinkles to both their offense and defense, in a weird and unconventional way, the fact that their opponents have lost out on that time as well could wind up tangibly benefiting their top scoring offense from a year ago in terms of having a competitive advantage in the first half of the season.