NEW YORK, N.Y.- Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, described the NFL best when he said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Nothing speaks truer about the parity, turnover and landscape of the NFL. Change is rampant, from players to coaches to philosophy.
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay has been at the center of the latest philosophical change in the NFL, engineering a pass-happy, wide-open offensive system that took the league by storm and helped guide the Rams to the Super Bowl in just his second season at the helm. At the time of the hire, McVay was the youngest head coach in NFL history, which has since changed the way executives look at head coaching candidates.
NFL offenses have changed dramatically, now geared towards establishing the pass, spreading defenses out with four and five wide receiver sets, and emphasizing speed. Enter the Baltimore Ravens, whose offensive game plans have been the latest change agent in the NFL, deviating from the throwing craze and instead opting for an old-school approach that has been unstoppable up to this point.
The Ravens, led by Lamar Jackson, have not only set the league on fire with their dominant run style, they have changed the way the quarterback position is defined. In an era that is predicated on and dominated by throwing the ball, the quarterback position has become the most important in all of sports. With that comes a certain pigeonholed set of standards that a quarterback must check off in order to succeed in today’s NFL. This was especially the case for the Louisville great during the draft process, as teams continued to quibble over whether they could fit the square peg that was Jackson’s skillset into the round hole of what NFL offenses should be.
What many of us failed to see coming was the latest change in philosophy: the Ravens scrapped the idea of the traditional quarterback and catered their entire offense to fit the style of their first round pick.
After the rookie had his ups and downs in an offense built for Joe Flacco, head coach John Harbaugh decided to go all-in on the style that helped guide Jackson to win the Heisman Trophy and promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator. This decision has helped to reinvigorate the Baltimore franchise and flip the narrative that more passing equals more winning.
This idea of the Ravens zigging when the rest of the league is zagging has paid immediate dividends. The Ravens are currently second in the NFL in total offense, averaging 428 yards per game, while leading the league in rushing yards per game with 203. What makes Baltimore so dynamic is that they aren’t just running the ball with their running backs; they are using Jackson at the point man for the entire operation. The second year starter is the leading rusher on his team and 10th in the entire league in rushing, amassing 781 yards.
With defenses focused on containing the pass game and getting after the quarterback, the Ravens have feasted on a scheme that’s extremely difficult to game plan for and defend on a weekly basis. They’ve swung the pendulum so far in the other direction that while they are the only offense averaging over 30 points per game, the Ravens have actually attempted to throw the ball the least amount of any team in the NFL.
Baltimore has blended the perfect combination of smash mouth football with current speed concepts that has resulted in highlight-worthy runs and spin moves that leave defenders bewildered. While Jackson has been extremely successful with his legs, the 22-year old has actually been more dangerous with his arm.
Lamar is completing 66% of his passes, a percentage that is higher than Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes, which are more than Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson while his five interceptions are the same amount as Tom Brady. His quarterback rating is 106.3, which is good enough for fourth in the NFL. So while the passing attempts may be limited, Jackson is making the most of his opportunities and flat out torching defenses.
Baltimore isn’t just having success against bottom of the barrel teams. Jackson and the Ravens already own wins over the Seahawks in Seattle, the Patriots and most recently the Texans. The big question for the rest of the league is how long will this last? The litmus test for this run heavy, throwback system continues the next few weeks as the Ravens travel to face the Rams, host the 49ers and visit the Bills in consecutive weeks.
There’s no doubt Lamar Jackson with this new offense have changed the fortunes of the Ravens. Sitting in second place in the AFC winners of six in a row, including handing the Patriots their lone defeat of the season, has hopes bright in Baltimore. Not to mention the last pick in the first round of the 2018 draft has catapulted all the way the MVP rankings, currently owning the best odds to take home the award.
Louise Penny once said, “Life is change. If you aren’t growing and evolving, you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead.” It’s safe to say the Ravens have changed, and right now, they are surging ahead of everyone else in the NFL.