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By: Tony Lombardi
No one would deny that the most important stat in all of sports is the “W”, the Dub, the win. Style points don’t count on the scoreboard. No matter the walk of life it will always be substance over style and substance in the NFL lies in the win/loss record. As Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells once reminded us, “You are what your record says you are.”
The Ravens have won four straight, sit atop the AFC North and they are operating within the back end of their schedule that features only one team with a winning record – the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. Yet fans are frustrated by a struggling offense spearheaded by a quarterback who is looking to be the game’s highest paid player in league history.
The frustration is understandable and is rooted in concern – concern over the sustainability of the season given the team’s schizophrenic offense; concerns about whether or not the Ravens offense can carry the team deep into the playoffs. And those concerns are legit.
For years we’ve listened to national media pundits who were once deeply entrenched in the game, criticize offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense. The most vocal of the critics include former Raven Steve Smith, Sr., former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner. They are hardly alone.
Smith once claimed, “My 6-year-old, who is sleeping right now, can probably run [the Ravens] offense as well.” Kurt Warner took a less combative and a more analytical approach to his critique:
Excited about #DivisionalWeekend & have a bunch of #StudyBalls for those that want to dive a little deeper into the matchups! I keep hearing ppl saying @Lj_era8 must improve in pocket, I agree in part, but I also believe he doesn’t get a lot of help w/ scheme! @QBConfidential pic.twitter.com/imzpAbPrMN
— Kurt Warner (@kurt13warner) January 14, 2021
No one questions Roman’s ability to create a productive rushing attack and he’s proven that its effectiveness can help produce a playoff berth. But when the playoffs arrive? The Ravens have averaged 11.7 points per game in playoff competition with Lamar behind center and Roman at the offensive controls. Three points through three quarters against the Panthers 25th-ranked defense AT HOME after two weeks to prepare for such a lowly defense was an unpleasant reminder of Roman’s postseason struggles.
Many believe that the problems stem from the Ravens inability to threaten defenses with their pass catching talent. For the balance of the 2022 season, there’s Mark Andrews and journeyman WR Demarcus Robinson. Devin Duvernay is grossly underutilized. Tylan Wallace has exactly 5 career catches in his 24 NFL games while James Proche, a training camp all-star, can’t even rise to the level of an effective decoy when the games matter.
We’ve all heard, seemingly for decades, how limited the Ravens talent pool is at wide receiver. To improve in that area, given Baltimore’s reputation for being a place where receivers’ careers go to die, the Ravens have to draft the position more effectively or, overspend to land free agent talent. Why would any receiver join Roman’s offense unless he received an above-market contract?
So here we are into year 4 of the Lamar-Roman tag team and not much has changed.
Who’s to blame?
It’s hard to tell, right?
For the past two years I’ve opined that the pairing of Lamar and Roman had to be separated, and the very logical choice to go is Roman. It just seems like he’s taken the team as far as he can. The big issue is, the huge issue is, how good can Lamar be as a passer in the NFL? To become an elite passer something needs to change and not just Lamar’s W-2. How can Steve Bisciotti stroke a check to make Jackson the highest paid player when he really isn’t completely sure that Lamar can play to the level of such a contract?
Let’s be real! Lamar isn’t going to get faster. The wear and tear of life in the NFL for a running quarterback will take its toll and when it does, in order to justify the market-level investment, there needs to be more productivity in the passing game.
If the Ravens hired the right coordinator, they might be able to attract free agent talent whose best days lie ahead. They might be able to develop the talent that they’ve spent significant draft capital on. Not that the answer to the current woes can be addressed by signing Odell Beckham, Jr., but there’s a reason the Ravens aren’t even mentioned by OBJ or the Ravens. OBJ wants to play for his next contract. He can’t get the needed numbers in Baltimore to attract future suitors. The Ravens probably aren’t interested because they know it would just be good money thrown at a bad situation.
Unfortunately, there’s a trickle-down effect at play here. It affects Lamar, the receiving corps and the careers of the offensive coaching staff. It even affects the future of Roquan Smith in Baltimore. If the Ravens haven’t gotten a new deal done by now with Lamar because the negotiations are rooted in uncertainties – uncertainties stemming from the offensive limitations, they may have no choice but to use the exclusive franchise tag which is projected to be $45.4M in 2023, and that could take the Ravens out of the bidding for Roquan. No Roquan, a less effective Patrick Queen, a less effective defense.
An exclusive franchise tag for Lamar Jackson in 2023 currently calculates to $45.4M (thanks in large part to Deshaun Watson’s $55M cap hit).
A tag in 2024 would then be $54.4M.
Russell Wilson just locked in $124M over that span.
— Spotrac (@spotrac) September 6, 2022
Maybe the Ravens figure out a way to earn an attractive seed in the 2022-23 playoffs. Maybe they figure out a way to get past the Bills or the Chiefs. Maybe they punch their ticket to Arizona and Super Bowl 57.
But if they don’t, do we really know any more about Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense? Can the Ravens confidently make Lamar the game’s highest paid player? And if they do, can they afford that needed wide receiver? Can they afford to keep a player who for the moment, looks like an absolute steal, in the form of Roquan Smith?
Maybe they should have asked themselves last year, “Can we afford to keep Greg Roman?”
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Originally posted on Russell Street Report