BALTIMORE — John Harbaugh wants a Ravens offense with a historically good rushing attack. He wants an offense with improved line play and a more accurate passing game. He wants an offense in which receivers get open more often and catch the ball more regularly. He wants an offense that has more diversity and scores more points.
What John Harbaugh wants from his 2021 offense, as outlined in Wednesday’s season-ending news conference, is not necessarily fantasy. Because what he wants sounds a lot like what he had in 2019.
It won’t be easy to reclaim. Salary cap crunches and injuries and defensive geniuses come for every offensive juggernaut, and that Ravens attack was in many ways a modern-football miracle, a ground-game behemoth that had not only the NFL’s most efficient rushing offense but also its most efficient passing offense. How many other teams this century will lead the NFL in both rushing attempts and points, as the 2019 Ravens did?
The 2021 Ravens might never approach those heights. Few do. But Harbaugh indicated Wednesday that the offense is in a good place — that, with coordinator Greg Roman and quarterback Lamar Jackson returning, it’s in good hands.
After the Ravens’ season ended Saturday with a whimper of a loss to the Buffalo Bills, a second straight divisional-round exit once again headlined by a maddening offensive performance, Harbaugh could’ve demanded a teardown. Instead, he has committed to a buildup.
“We want to be a winning offense,” Harbaugh said. “We want to build an offense that wins and scores points. In a lot of ways, we’ve done that.” He pointed to the evolution of what he suggested was “the best run offense in the history of football in the last two years.”
But Harbaugh also acknowledged that there was considerable room for growth. “We need to protect better. We need to throw better. We need to catch better. We need to get open better. We need to do everything more efficiently. We need to improve what we’re doing, and the better you do that, then the more success you’ll have doing it.”
Over a 45-minute question-and-answer session, Harbaugh addressed the Ravens’ chances of signing Jackson to a long-term extension (“Totally certain”), his interest in adding a splashy free-agent wide receiver (“Can we afford it?”) and the franchise’s next steps in the offseason amid a coronavirus pandemic (“If it has to go virtual, it has to go virtual”), among other topics.
But no subject sparked greater interest than Roman’s offense, and in particular a passing attack that Kurt Warner and former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., both NFL Network analysts, had recently criticized as being overly simple. In his second season under Roman, Jackson struggled at times, finishing with 10 fewer passing touchdowns and three more interceptions than in 2019, when he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Over his past three playoff games, too, he’s thrown just one touchdown and four interceptions, the last of which Buffalo returned for a pivotal touchdown Saturday night. The play call underscored fans’ frustrations with Roman’s offense; on third-and-goal from the Bills’ 9-yard line, all four receivers had run fairly linear routes to the end zone.