Even Greg Roman Fans Admit: He Had to Go28 min read
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By: Jim Zipcode
Ravens Pass-Catchers Through 2023
The Ravens played their hearts out in an epic playoff matchup; a true battle in a rivalry game, that showcased toughness and desire and physicality. They lost on a devastating & disastrous big-play turnover, a play that will be remembered for years around the NFL.
Tyler Huntley had his best overall game of the year, and one of the two best of his career (he also had an impressive game against Green Bay last season.) Huntley finished 17 of 29 (59%) for 226 yards with 2 TDs and an INT, for a passer rating of 92. His yards-per-attempt of 7.79 is the highest of his career: coming up big on the big stage. He also rushed for 54 yards. He kept his team in the game, had a chance to win.
As complimentary as I want to be, it’s also true that we’re grading on a curve. Huntley is a 3rd-year pro. This same wild card weekend, Trevor Lawrence passed for 288 yards and four TDs leading a comeback win. Josh Allen passed for 350 and three. The ageless wonder Tom Brady also passed for 350, with two TDs. Dak Prescott had 330 yards and three TDs. And rookie Brock Purdy, Mister Irrelevant in the last draft, passed for 330 with three TDs.
Now, it is true that all of those other quarterbacks had more receiving talent around them than Huntley had – which is one of the main themes of this Ravens season. But it’s also true that they are more talented and played better. Huntley competed hard; but his athletic limitations were also showcased. That’s probably most obvious when he runs – we compare him to Lamar Jackson, unfortunately for him – but it’s also true on some passes.
That play at the goal line, 1st-&-goal from the two, when Huntley faked the handoff to JK Dobbins and threw to Pat Ricard: Huntley had to jump-spin against his momentum, set his feet, and then fire the throw to Ricard. It’s an extremely athletic play, that maybe doesn’t seem like it. Huntley couldn’t make that play.
There quite a few plays where I caught myself thinking, “that’s a touchdown if Lamar is playing.” (Sorry Tyler.)
I will say though, this was a miracle:
What a play by Tyler Huntley pic.twitter.com/JmIe36dApG
— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) January 16, 2023
It’s fascinating that the Ravens did NOT play the full-ground-&-pound game. Instead they went with a balanced attack. Huntley’s 29 pass attempts + 3 sacks + 2 scrambles give 34 dropbacks, to 33 non-scramble rush attempts. That’s an almost-perfect 50-50 run/pass split. Not at all what I expected. And it almost worked.
Here are your receiving stats for the game:
Way back in week 6, which feels like a lifetime ago, I floated a definition for a “good” game from a receiver: multiple catches with at least 7.0 yards-per-target. I’m not sure that’s a perfect definition, but let’s go ahead and use it for a moment. The Ravens had four receivers with “good” games Sunday: Demarcus Robinson, Josh Oliver, Dobbins, and Mark Andrews.
Conspicuous by his absence here is Isaiah Likely, who had 100 yards last week versus this same opponent in the same stadium, but played only 26 snaps on Sunday. Seems very weird. It wasn’t injury; he got snaps in every drive (except the first). I don’t know if Likely would have been “the” difference maker; the Ravens did move the ball pretty well.
But it’s strange.
“YTS” or Yards Times Success is the product of yards-per-carry average time Success Rate. A YTS of 2 is fairly close to the league average, maybe a tiny bit over. So these rushing stats are solid or pretty good. The Bengals defensive front is strong, especially Nose Tackle D.J. Reader, who can be dominant.
But they are not the kind of dominating performance that Ravens expected would be necessary for the team to win. Not like the numbers the backs put up in games 13 thru 16. I thought they’d need a dominant rushing day from Dobbins or Gus Edwards to get the win. Just one more TD in this one….
RIP to the Greg Roman Era
At the support group meeting: “Hi, my name’s Jim and I’m a Greg Roman fan.” (Group: Hi Jim!)
Sunday’s game turned me around. Before that I was solidly on his side; Sunday put me in the camp that Greg had to go.
When you say that you think Roman has been a good Offensive Coordinator for the Ravens, people think you’re crazy. You have to start by admitting that yes, you DO see some things to criticize, or people won’t listen.
Here are some of the criticisms that even I have to admit are fair.
Getting play calls in late / occasional delay of game penalties
This is different from snapping the ball with one second left on the play clock. That’s a deliberate choice: Roman is milking the clock and keeping the other team’s offense off the field. In the course of 60 or 70 offensive snaps, the difference between snapping the ball with six seconds on the play clock versus one second on the play clock can add up to more than 5½ minutes of game time.
That’s a whole possession! Or even two.
That’s one or two possessions that Joe Burrow or Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes are not on the field carving up your defense. Winning the time-of-possession battle is an old-fashioned notion these days. But keeping those guys off the field seems like a damn good idea.
In this past playoff game versus the Bengals, Roman orchestrated a 10-minute touchdown drive in the second quarter: 17 plays for 75 yards. The Bengals ran a grand total of seven offensive plays in the second quarter because Roman played keep-away with the ball.
That’s helping out your defense: complementary football.
No, what I’m talking about is when the Ravens break the huddle with only ~10 seconds on the play clock and barely have time to get lined up (and go in motion!) before time runs out. Sometimes they’ve had to burn a timeout to avoid a penalty. They took EIGHT Delay Of Game penalties this season. You may recall Lamar flipping his lid and throwing the football in frustration in Tampa over a Delay Of Game. In Week 15 vs the Browns, they got a Delay Of Game coming out of a timeout (27 secs left in the first half).
How the hell does that happen?!?
This has always been an issue for Roman. Buffalo fans commented on it when he was OC there in 2015. The Niners felt they lost the Super Bowl in 2012 because of this: they felt they had the perfect play call to take advantage of the defensive alignment on either second or third down during that late-game goal-line stand. But they had to burn a timeout to avoid a Delay Of Game, and when they lined back up the Ravens had changed the defense and the chance was gone.
It’s the single most annoying thing about Greg Roman ball.
Only using tempo one way: never using no-huddle to break a stalemate
Tempo is a weapon. Controlling time of possession to keep the other team’s offense off the field is one way to use it.
The other way to use it is to speed up the game: go no-huddle, limit the other team’s ability to substitute on defense, simplify the reads for your quarterback, and jump-start your offense out of a sluggish start. Roman NEVER does that. It’s a tactic the Ravens defense sees all the time, when other teams try to wake up their sluggish offenses. But Roman is very, very, very hesitant to use it, outside of two-minute situations. He clings like grim death to the “use up the play-clock” tactic, at the cost of being open to this other tactic.
That’s especially weird because his actual two-minute offense is usually pretty good! The Ravens have scored in a ton of end-of-half situations; Lamar is very comfortable in no-huddle. That makes the stubbornness more annoying. I feel like several games have been closer than they should have been, or even lost, because Roman was stubborn about trying the no-huddle for even a single series in the first or second quarter to shake things up and get things moving.
Overuse of multiple personnel groups/never riding the hot hand
This is the flip side of a strength that I will mention below. Roman likes to use everybody, and he likes to challenge defenses by making them react to multiple personnel groupings. That’s great, strategically.
But one side-effect is that it can be tough for players (other than Mark Andrews) to get into a rhythm. Running backs will bust a big gain and then go to the sideline. Wide Receivers will make a big play and then rotate off. It leads to a shared load/committee approach; everyone is both fresh and sharp.
But sometimes it seems to take a long time to get things moving. I often wonder if a lack of continuity between plays is part of the reason.
Dobbins complained about being “held back” after the wild card loss, and I think this is what he’s talking about.
Now on the one hand, from a big-picture view it’s hard to complain about the Ravens holding Dobbins to a pitch count, just a few weeks removed from knee “clean-up” surgery – be thankful he’s champing at the bit to do more, rather than in the blue tent because he did too much.
But on the other hand, Dobbins had a game in 2020 versus the Bengals (Week 5) where hes had one single carry – for 34 yards! It was in the second quarter. Dobbins busted that one big run. And they never handed him the ball again for the rest of the game.
What’s that about?!? Dobbins did catch a few passes; and the Ravens won handily, 27-3.
But explain the usage pattern? Mark Ingram led the team in carries. He was 31 yrs old and the game was in control. Why not let the rookie have a second carry? See if the yards-per-carry is a fluke.
I have always felt that some guys could have big days/some games could have been broken open earlier, if Roman didn’t use such a strict platoon and instead let his dawgs eat when they were hitting their stride.
Related: maybe he sticks with his pre-conceived ideas about what he wanted to achieve with his play calls, instead of just moving the ball and scoring
Never easing his quarterback in with easy throws
This is related to a strength that I’ll discuss in detail below. Short version: Roman does not love to dink-&-dunk. He doesn’t want to waste throws, he wants to hit chunks. As a side effect, he doesn’t script easy throws for his quarterback. Lots of teams build in a couple of “easy” throws for their quarterback in the first quarter. Ease him into the game, get him warmed up: like a basketball coach trying to heat up his shooter by getting him an easy score early. Roman doesn’t do that. He gets right to the meaty stuff.
Lamar has probably had the smallest number of “easy” throws these past four years of any quarterback in the league. Lamar is streaky as hell. Getting him hot early with an easy short completion would seem like a nice idea.
Overly complicated passing game and playbook
That’s right, OVERLY complicated.
The notion that Roman’s passing game is “simplistic” and doesn’t have “sophisticated concepts” in it had taken root. That was always ridiculous. Roman began his NFL coaching career with the Carolina Panthers of the 90’s with Dom Capers and George Seifert, when they were a pure West Coast Offense shop under OC’s Joe Pendry, Gil Haskell and Bill Musgrave.
Roman had a full NFL West Coast Offense playbook back in 1998 as Offensive Quality Control coach. He had another one when he coached Tight Ends and then Quarterbacks with the Texans in 2002-5 with Capers again and OC Chris Palmer. Then a couple years with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, where the standard is the Bill Walsh Offense. Roman knows the West Coast Offense quite thoroughly.
Roman is a lot like former Ravens OC Greg Kubiak: a distinctive rushing attack paired with a fairly classic West Coast Offense passing attack. Kubiak’s rushing attack is/was the Alex Gibbs Outside Zone; Roman’s is more point-of-attack based, with a lot of pullers and a lot of Duo, some wham blocks.
But both play-callers are run-first + WCO passing. Over the years Roman has added some Air Raid concepts from college (most obviously the use of mesh concepts) and some RPO stuff, plus whatever he steals from the Chiefs. Frankly, Kubiak’s offense is simpler. Roman’s big fat playbook has everything.
And that can be a problem. On offense the Ravens do some of everything. And it leads to some risk of them being “Jack of all trades, master of none.” There are nuances. If you watch JT O’Sullivan’s YouTube channel The QB School, when he breaks down plays he will say things like, when he learned a particular play this route was designated as “MOR” meaning Must Outside Release, to leave room on the inside for another player’s route. Or a route should be run “flat” across the QB’s line of sight, rather than at an angle. Those nuances sometimes seemed to be missed by Ravens players.
It’s easy to believe youth was a factor: you’ve got young receivers running option routes and sometimes messing up the reads, or at least not being on the same page as the quarterback. There is also some freelancing. Andrews does most of the freelancing, and that’s fine because he’s awesome and has an almost-telepathic connection with Lamar. But sometimes his freelancing messes up routes for other players, and clogs up spacing.
It’s not that the “concepts” aren’t “sophisticated”; but maybe the players’ grasp of nuances isn’t sophisticated. I’m not calling the players dumb, I’m saying that maybe the nuances weren’t taught thoroughly enough, possibly because of trying to do too much.
The opposite of a big over-complicated playbook is a small playbook perfectly executed. What might a small playbook look like in the NFL? Ten years ago Chris Brown of the Smart Football website did a breakdown of the Peyton Manning offense in Indy, and his finding was that it was basically twelve plays. But the twelve plays all fit together and complemented each other. Elegant simplicity. This piece Is available on the web archive, and is a football education. Well worth reading.
The Indy way isn’t the only way to do it, clearly. And of course it helps when you have Hall Of Famers all over the field, from Manning to Marvin Harrison to Reggie Wayne to Edgerrin James. But the point is, when you look at THAT, you can realize where some of the Ravens’ route-running mistakes come from.
Roman has found a way to teach his rushing offense. It is rich and complex with a ton of moving parts, but everyone seems to know exactly what to do. Roman does not seem to teach the passing game as well. All the concepts are there, but the execution often isn’t. Youth is probably a factor: when the Ravens have plugged-in an accomplished veteran WCO receiver like Sammy Watkins or DeSean Jackson, that player has been remarkably efficient. Watkins was over 9.0 yards-per-target with the Ravens over the past two seasons combined, and Jackson was also this year.
But when you have young players who don’t know everything, the task is to simplify and make things accessible & graspable.
Does he get too cute?
Sure, Greg Roman outsmarts himself sometimes. “I can do this, but they’ll be expecting it so I’ll this instead I’ll do that. But maybe they know I’ll do that, so I should go back to this. But if they know that I know that they know I’ll switch to that, they’ll expect me to do this, so really I should do that.”
For all of the perception of Roman’s offense as Cro-Magnon ball, run-run-run, he is actually obsessed with deception and fooling defenders out of position. Rarely do they just go hat-on-hat and push the defense back. Usually there’s motion and a puller and eye-candy to mess up the Linebackers’ reads.
Unless it’s 4th-&- goal.
And sometimes this focus on fooling the defense bites him in the ass.
The thing is, ALL the clever offensive coordinators get too cute sometimes. They add a new wrinkle, and often it works, and sometimes it craters. The only ones who don’t get too cute are the ones who never try anything. Or the ones who work for Bill Belichick, because Belichick doesn’t do “cute”.
Roman gets too cute sometimes, but I don’t think he does it significantly more than other clever coordinators do.
The support group asks: with all those are the criticisms, what was there to like?
First and foremost, the results
Yes, results. Not how it looks or where the team ranks in passing yards, but the results that matter. The job of the offense is to move the ball, score points, and win games. Roman’s offenses have done that damn well over the years.
In Roman’s first two seasons as Offensive Coordinator, the Ravens ranked 1st and 9th in points-per-drive. The past two injury-plagued seasons, the Ravens offensive efficiency plummeted – all the way down to average. They were 17th this year in points-per-drive, 18th last year. That’s with everything going wrong, the O-line ravaged, the QB missing a quarter of the games, the Running Back corps wiped-out, Rashod Bateman missing games and Marquise Brown dropping passes, etc etc.
With all of that, the Ravens were middle-of-the-pack in scoring. If you add up all the drives and points over the past two seasons, the Ravens are 17th in points-per-drive. Perfectly average. I’m not saying average is the standard: of course it’s not. But achieving average in the face of all the injuries is actually quite an accomplishment.
And of course, when healthy they were great. 2019 was probably the most fun regular season of my football-watching life. 2020 was less awesome but still very good: top 10 in points-per-drive, a playoff win. In 2021, through 11 games the Ravens were 8-3 and the #1 seed in the AFC, before Lamar got hurt. The first four games of this year the Ravens were a top-5 touchdown-producing offense. The highs for the Greg Roman offense were very high: remember the game vs Indy when Lamar put up 440 yards and 4 TDs?
The floor of the Roman offense in Baltimore was “average”, and the ceiling was the best offense in the league.
That’s pretty good.
To research this piece, I put together a couple of tables comparing Roman’s points-per-drive and scoring percentage with Kyle Shanahan’s. Those are the two drive stats that I think are important: how often you score (rather than punt or turn it over), and how many points you get per drive. I chose Shanahan because for my money he’s the best offensive tactician in the game right now. I actually think he’s one of the best ever.
I went over Shanahan’s career both as Offensive Coordinator and as Head Coach, and pulled the drive data from each of those seasons. Then I cherry-picked it to remove his rebuilding years (first two years in Washington, first two years in San Francisco, the pit stop in Cleveland). Then I compared these “best of” Kyle Shanahan’s years with the drive data for Greg Roman’s Ravens. I decided to spare you the tables and graphs – this piece is dense enough as it is – but the punchline is this: even if you take out 2019, Roman’s Ravens have been very comparable on offense (by points-per-drive and scoring percentage) to Shanahan’s career. Roman’s Ravens have scored slightly more often (41% to 39%) and about the same points-per-drive (2.13 to 2.14) as Shanahan’s teams over the cherry-picked, good part of his career.
The Ravens have been less consistent; over the last four years, the Shanahan Niners have been steadier. The Ravens were better the first two seasons, not as good the last two.
“About as effective as the Kyle Shanahan offense” is a damn good standard, in my opinion.
When QB1 was available, the Ravens were winning games. They are 39-15 (.722) with Lamar and Greg Roman together. Roman was a winner in San Francisco too: three trips to the NFCCC, almost won the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick. That second half of the Super Bowl, after the lights came back on the Niners scored 23 points in something like 12 mins of game time, grinding up the Ravens defense like the 2019 offense would grind up opponents seven years later.
When the Greg Roman offense was clicking, it was a huge problem for opponents.
Commitment to balance; being dangerous in both pass and run
Many other OCs don’t value the run game at all; they let the Offensive Line coach install it. Roman forces defense to respect the run His emphasis on the run game is echoed by other great OCs including Kyle Shanahan and every other student of the Kubiak school like Sean McVay. We’ve also seen other smart coaches make investments in run game in recent years, including Belichick (who won the Super Bowl behind Sony Michel’s 330 postseason rushing yards) and Andy Reid (who drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round).
In NFL history, the foremost advocate of the passing game is Hall Of Famer Bill Walsh In his article “A Method for Planning a Game” Walsh said this:
If you are talking about offensive football, the running game is the most vital part of the game, but when you talk about your running game, what you are saying is you have to be able to run through tough situations. On the professional level, the forward pass dominates the rest of the game. But if you can’t run in tough situations, your chances of success are minimal.
That’s Bill Walsh saying that! (H/T to Michael Crawford for the quote!)
I like a balanced approach. Teams that can run and pass are more fun to watch than teams that are one-dimensional. I think they’re more difficult to defend, too.
People perceive Roman’s offense as run-heavy, but that’s not right. “Balanced” is the word. Yes, in 2019 they rushed more than they threw But they were winning blowouts and running out the clock a lot. After that season, over the past three years if you add up the pass attempts and sacks and scrambles to get “dropbacks” (and subtract the scrambles from the rushes to get “designed runs”), the Ravens dropped back on 55.6% of plays, and called a run on 44.4% of plays.
That’s a perfectly appropriate modern run/pass balance.
Not a dink-&-dunk attack
This is related to a weakness mentioned above, where there aren’t a lot of “easy” throws in the Greg Roman offense. He goes for chunk plays in the passing game. And I like that a lot.
When we think of passing offenses we think of the excellent ones, like Mahomes throwing to Travis Kelce or Josh Allen throwing to Stephon Diggs etc.
But there are a lot of crappy pass offenses in the NFL. I don’t like watching dink-&-dunk offenses that noodle around. There is such a thing as an “unsuccessful” completed pass. I don’t believe in seven-yard passes on 3rd-&-10, that pump up your quarterback’s passer rating but don’t help the team win games. I don’t believe in quarterbacks playing like Checkdown Charlie.
Lamar could stand to check-down a bit more than he does. But on the whole, I like that the Roman offense attacks the mid-range and deep parts of the field, rather than providing a steady diet of short three-yard slants & hitches.
Personnel groups and play style are challenging for opposing Defenses to prepare for
This is the flip side of a weakness mentioned above, rotating guys too often and not letting a hot hand ride. Defenses have to prepare for A LOT when they face the Roman offense. Lots of different personnel groups, lots of different formations. Sometimes we’ve had TV announcers (informed ones like Cris Colinsworth or Tony Romo) laugh & shake their head in the first quarter of Ravens games, at how many things the offense was throwing at the defense in the first quarter.
Occasionally brilliant play sequencing
I read a 2013 interview with Roman (after the Super Bowl loss) where he described his job as creating sequences of event. Maybe a little pretentious: but you see him use things to set up other things. The CLEAREST example I can remember – and I am NOT saying Roman hasn’t done it in three years, this one just really jumped out and stuck in the mind – was 2019 vs Arizona in the first quarter. Roman called two short passes to Hollywood Brown, then a fake to him and a deep throw to a wide-open Andrews for a touchdown.The defense wasn’t even in the TV frame when Andrews caught the pass.
Sometimes Roman’s sequencing is beautiful. There’s plenty of clunkiness, but also the occasional really sweet strike.
I think a lot of Ravens fans believe in a myth of a perfect Offensive Coordinator, who never calls the wrong play and whose teams never punt. That, of course, is bullshit. Offense in the NFL is like hitting in baseball. You don’t get a hit every time up to bat, and neither do you score on every drive. The very best offenses in the league score less than half the time: 46% for this year’s Chiefs, 45% for the Bills. The median NFL team scored on 36% of drives this year; it was 38.75% last year. Every offense is going to stall and punt.
If you’re not ready for that, you will ultimately be as disappointed in the next guy’s offense as you were with Roman.
Before the playoff game, I was against moving on from Roman, partially because I was sure that IF Bateman hadn’t gotten injured, then this wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation. Or if Eric DeCosta had drafted George Pickens & Romeo Doubs instead of David Ojabo & Jordan Stout; or maybe even (after Sunday) if Tyler Huntley had gone low instead of high on the QB sneak to the end zone – then the Ravens are still contending and the seat is not hot. But that’s not how it played out.
The support group asks: well Jim, if you love the Greg Roman offense so damned much, what tipped you over to the other side on Sunday?
In the NFL, you have to make the case to keep your job basically every day, or every game Roman had become controversial; the fan take on him was overwhelmingly toxic. On Sunday the glare was at its brightest, the heat on full blast. For the most part Roman called a pretty effective game. But the two most important situations in the game are Red Zone and Two Minute.
And Roman stepped on his dick and face-planted in those most critical situations.
- The first and goal series in the Red Zone that ended with Huntley’s fumble
- The two minute drill at the end of the game
JK Dobbins, in a heated moment after the game, pointed out that the goal-line possession should never have come down to the quarterback sneak:
Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins said the offense never should’ve been been in the position where it needed a QB sneak.
“I didn’t get a single carry” in the red zone.
He adds: “I should be the guy” down close to the goal. He is pissed. pic.twitter.com/ZNJIYunNRa
— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) January 16, 2023
He’s right. They had 1st-&-goal from the two, and Roman got too cute. He didn’t give it to his best guy. That should’ve been three hand-offs to Dobbins. At least they tried once with Gus (who has been a great short yardage back over his career). Dobbins is their most explosive back. Gus is their “big” back; it would be tough to complain if they had tried three times with Gus in that situation, especially with is 67% Success Rate on the day.
But I liked their chances on the edge better than up the middle, and Dobbins has the best burst to the edge, by far.
They got a little cute, and failed.
The fumble-and-return was devastating.
But the end-of-game two-minute drill was enraging. Here’s the whole possession in play-by-play table form:
Three minutes to play down a touchdown is a very surmountable lead in the NFL. And they got down to the Cincy 17 in seven plays, so they were moving the ball. But look the time! How can they have been so profligate with the time?!? From the 3:10 mark they burned a minute and 40 seconds running just three plays! (The 4th play was snapped at 1:26.) That’s your hurry-up???
Remember last season, when Justin Tucker set the NFL record for longest Field Goal in Detroit? To open that drive, the Ravens ran four plays in 38 seconds. That’s a hurry-up. I don’t know what this was.
The Ravens burned yet another 40+ seconds without running a play after the 1:17 mark. How on earth do you do that when your whole season has come down to that desperate moment?? It was shocking. It was insane.
The only thing I can think is, they were trying to leave no time on the clock when they scored. I get the idea. But you gotta score first! Instead what they did was leave no time on the clock before they scored. It was a massive fail. It was incompetent. At least get stopped by the opponent’s defense: don’t stop yourself.
Before this game, Roman was already a distraction, a flashpoint for media and a fan scapegoat. Through three quarters he executed a pretty good game. The Ravens were poised to take the 4th-quarter lead in a game they were universally picked to lose.
But you can’t put this out there on that stage – you just can’t.
Coaching in the NFL is not Madden. It’s a people job. You need to maintain the confidence of the players. With this stacked on top of Marquise Brown wanting out, the rumors about Wide Receivers not wanting to play in the offense, the ongoing questions about whether there’s enough reps for young Wide Receivers to develop their game, the media speculation that Lamar doesn’t want to play in the offense (whether true or false), the frustration from Dobbins – with all that stuff out there, to put THIS on the field at THAT moment – Harbaugh could not keep Roman.
It’s a shame. I still think Greg Roman is a top-quartile Offensive Coordinator. More than that, I think his offense is good for the game. It improves the NFL to have his offense playing in it – I really believe that. But with the situation having deteriorated, and the high profile blunders, he had to go.
It’s sad; the story of the Greg Roman Ravens of 2019-22 should have been a more triumphant one. Injuries and some bizarre roster decisions (Offensive Tackle in 2021, Wide Receiver this year) derailed the train. A reminder, maybe, of how hard it is to win in the NFL; how many things have to break right for you.
I had one other truly random thought about the 2022 season, the Wide Receiver situation, and Roman…
If you look at the three leaders, John Harbaugh & Eric DeCosta & Greg Roman: they’re all team players.
DeCosta is driven to get players the coaches will use. Roman re-channels any urges for eye-popping receiving stats into complementary football that helps maintain possession and keep the defense fresh, etc. Harbaugh eats/drinks/breathes “team”. Right? Each of them is a guy that sort of eschews personal glory for the sake of the team.
Roman has that big ol’ playbook, with the ability to use interchangeable players and positions. He’s got stuff he can run for any group; he’s (justly) proud of his flexibility, his ability to work with any set of personnel. DeCosta comes to him in the 4th round of the draft and asks, “Can you use Isaiah Likely?” Roman says yes sir.
And he can! He did.
There’s something about the situation that reminds me of the very old Alphonse & Gaston cartoon.
Is it possible that there was no one in the chain who would pound the table and say “DAMMIT! WE NEED TWO PERIMETER WIDE RECEIVERS WHO CAN GET OPEN OR I CAN’T RUN MY OFFENSE!” Roman would never say that in a million years. He’s more likely to voice the Statue of Liberty quote: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to block at the point of attack, I lift my lamp beside the goal line.”
DeCosta and Harbaugh both live & breathe servant leadership. Did there need to be a prima donna?
Remember Todd Haley? He was Offensive Coordinator in Pittsburgh after Bruce Arians, 2012-17. Those were Antonio Brown’s big years; also Juju Smith-Schuster’s first years.
Before that he had a failed stint as Head Coach of the Chiefs. And before that he was OC of the Cardinals when they went to the Super Bowl in 2008 with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin. That team had three Wide Receivers over a thousand yards (Fitz, Q, and Steve Breaston). Haley has always seemed like a real asshole. But maybe some asshole energy would have kept the Ravens from going into the season with only one good Wide Receiver.
Who’s next for the Ravens?
I don’t know who Harbaugh is going to hire. But three names jump out to me as representing the three major approaches to the position.
(Promote from Within.)
As a head coach and a manager of coaches, John Harbaugh *has to* give his internal candidates the opportunity to make their case for the job. He just has to. Anything else is disrespectful. It communicates to those assistants that they are not valued, and that their position is a dead end. That they have to leave to get ahead. That’s not the right signal to send.
This is an easy thing for reporters and fans to get confused about. Back in 2014, the year Harbs hired Greg Kubiak, Harbs did a presser late in the hiring cycle, and reporters grilled him on who was on the shortlist. Harbs said he wasn’t going to comment Reporters pressed him: is Jeff Hostler (then WR coach) on the shortlist? Harbs said yeah, he’s on it. Reporters further pressed: is Wade Harman (I think: then TE coach) on it? Harbs said yeah, he’s on it.
Now, understand: Harbs had given nothing to reporters. But when they asked him about two coaches currently on his staff, what could he say? The only possible answer was, yes of course I’m taking them seriously as candidates, of course they’re on the shortlist.
Meaningful? I doubt it. If they were truly what Harbs wanted, they would’ve been picked: remember how fast Harbs named Wink Martindale when Dean Pees left after the 2017 season?
Instead the search had dragged on for weeks. But the next day, the newspapers all said Hostler & Harman were THE 2 finalists.
It was egregiously dumb reporting. Kubiak was named like four days later.
Anyway: there are solid reasons to promote from within, behind just appeasing your buddies. Having a coordinator is like a marriage: you are practically living with the guy for six months, August to January. Harbs hasn’t usually brought in “strangers” at the Coordinator level (as opposed to the assistant level) because compatibility is super, super important. You don’t want a weirdo like Marc Trestman, or a backroom politician like Hue Jackson, or some other kind of psycho.
Irate fans might be pissed about it, but Urban is actually a terrific candidate. He was Andy Reid’s QB coach back in Philly (with Michael Vick!); then WR coach for the Bengals under Offensive Coordinators Jay Gruden & Hue Jackson & Ken Zampese (and Marvin Lewis), back when they had A.J. Green & Mohamed Sanu & Marvin Jones (and Andy Dalton). Urban is a passing game specialist, and Lamar has worked closely with him for five years.
If Lamar likes Urban and is happy with him, he might be THE choice. One potential benefit would be that two other assistants currently on-staff would slot nicely into place: Tee Martin to QB coach, and Keith Williams to WR coach. Very logical and orderly.
(The Old Head)
One thing that was clear through Harbaugh’s first decade as head coach: he liked old-head coordinators. The kind of guy who had been in the game forever and seen it all; preferably that coach had college experience as well as pro.
Cam Cameron, Greg Mattison, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees fit all that description; also Gary Kubiak, Marty Mornhinweg, Wink Martindale and Greg Roman (It’s only very recently that Harbs has deviated from that template.)
Frank Reich would fit that mold perfectly. He didn’t coach in college; but he played QB in the NFL for 14 years, and has been coaching in the league for the last 17 years. He’s had two stints as an Offensive Coordinator, winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles in 2017. Most recently he was Indy’s head coach, fired at midseason in what seemed like a hasty move; before that he’d had three winning seasons out of four, with two playoff appearances. He had top-ten offenses in yards & points in Philly as OC and in Indy as HC.
Reich knows his way around an RPO from his time in Philly. He used bell-cow Running Backs as Indy HC (Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack) which would satisfy the requirement to keep the rushing attack chugging along. But Reich is a PASSING coordinator first & foremost. His offenses were top-12 in yards three times in his four years as coordinator in San Diego & Philly; and 2 more times in his years as coach.
Reich seems designed in a lab to fit perfectly as the Baltimore Ravens OC. He grew up in the greater area: high school in Lebanon PA, college at Maryland. He’s a candidate for head coaching jobs this cycle (Arizona has interviewed him); if he doesn’t get one of those, he’ll be a coordinator.
Could be here.
(The Young Protege.)
Young head coaches benefit from having old heads on the coaching staff. Harbaugh’s early preference for the very experienced coach made a lot of sense when he was starting out. But if a young head coach hangs around long enough, he becomes an old head coach. Maybe the old head on the staff is you. Harbaugh departed from the old-head template with his most recent Coordinator hire, Mike MacDonald as Defensive Coordinator. MacDonald was a protege: seven years on Harbaugh’s staff in Baltimore, going from coaching intern to defensive assistant to DB coach to LB coach. Then Harbaugh sent him on a semester abroad at Michigan with his brother, to get some play-calling experience as a college coordinator, before recalling him here and handing him the reins.
This would be like that. Weiss spent 12 years on Harbaugh’s staff in Baltimore, going from assistant to the HC to Defensive Quality Control to CB coach to asst QG coach to WR coach to RB coach. Then he went to the finishing program at Michigan in 2021, where he coached QBs for a season before becoming co-OC this year. If Harbs is purposely growing young & fresh coordinator candidates with a deep background in the “Ravens Way” and recent college experience, then this is the next guy in the pipeline.
The hiccup here is a weird one: Weiss is under investigation by the campus police dept at Michigan – for hacking! Obviously if he’s in jail, he won’t be the hire. But if he’s not, he would fit right in with the rest of the AFC. Maybe he could hack Bill Belichick’s defenses.
A long offseason.
Thanks for reading along this year! I’ve enjoyed writing these columns very much. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.
Enjoy the playoffs; draft season is right around the corner!
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