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Mike Tanier: Ravens Will Incorporate RPO Concepts Into Run-First Offense

June 21, 2019
There's been one all-encompassing question surrounding the Baltimore Ravens heading into the upcoming NFL season: what will the offense look like under the leadership of sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson?

Mike Tanier, Bleacher Report's lead national NFL writer, pondered this question as well, so he decided to stop by Ravens minicamp recently and see what Baltimore was doing to help its young quarterback and run-first offense thrive in this era of prolific passing.

"We go where the players are exciting, and Lamar Jackson is an exciting player. ... We want to see his development, we want to see the next level, so I got a chance to go out and look at that a little bit," Tanier said on Glenn Clark Radio June 13. "I'm hearing so much about putting this new offense in with Greg Roman that's going to really be built around Lamar Jackson's talent and I wanted to have a peek at that as well."

Roman, Baltimore's newly appointed offensive coordinator, believes strongly in the viability of a run-centric attack. He spent the past two seasons in charge of the team's running game as assistant head coach and tight ends coach. Previously, he was offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers (2011-14) and Buffalo Bills (2015-16) and worked with mobile quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor.

In his five full seasons as an offensive coordinator, Roman's teams never ranked lower than eighth in rushing, and this past season the Ravens rushed for at least 190 yards in five straight games, the first NFL team to do that since the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. Now that he has full reign of the offense, Tanier says Roman went back to "square-zero" in effort to maximize Jackson's running talent.

"We got used to a vanilla offense that was run [last season]. ... Now it's going to be a rocky-road offense," Tanier said. "In the past, with a lot of running quarterbacks, it was like, 'Let's get away from this as fast as we can.' ... Now [the Ravens] are incorporating it a little more organically into the other things they're going to do offensively."

It's clear Roman was promoted to take Jackson to the next level and make the Ravens' running game less one-dimensional than it was last season, but Tanier says it'd be foolish to think Baltimore will run nearly 30 times a game like NFL teams of old.

Tanier thinks instead that Roman is looking to run-pass options similarly to how Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Carson Wentz do, which would give Jackson the ability to adapt to defensive schemes with only a handful of designed quarterback running plays per game.

"I think what we're going to see is an RPO-type of thing like the Eagles do ... that fake handoff, turn and throw, set up by the fact that they're handing off a lot as well," Tanier said. "Some of those throws are going to look like option plays at the beginning ... you'll see the shotgun, you'll see the fake handoff, maybe you'll see him roll a little bit. You won't know what's coming and then, bang, it goes to [Gus] Edwards."

"That's going to be a core, fundamental part of that offense," he added.

Even with the Ravens' new offense, which Tanier describes as "experimental" with some "exotic" formations, he believes it will be a success because these new styles give the Ravens a "puncher's chance of winning a Super Bowl" if done correctly.

His skepticism lies on the other side of the field, however, with his main concern aimed at the team's defensive pass rush, or lack thereof. Tanier said he saw Baltimore's receivers "blanketed" by cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith during his visit, but since the NFL is so pass-heavy, the Ravens will need to put pressure on opposing teams and cut their possessions short so they can control the tempo of the game with their running attack.

"If it's an OK defense with a ball-control offense that doesn't throw the ball well, that's your formula for going 8-8 and kind of hanging around all season and not quite be there, and that's not what the Ravens want to do," Tanier said.

To help balance their rushing game, Jackson will also need the help of an unproven receiving core, specifically 2019 first-round pick Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. Tanier sees him as more of a DeSean Jackson-type of big-play, speedy receiver rather than a true go-to guy, so he says it will need to be a group effort by the wideouts to help Lamar succeed through the air.

"You need to see that balance of [receivers], that sort of preponderance of guys, so that there's enough people there to run this offense, and that's something this team wants to see develop as they enter training camp," Tanier said. "I don't know how well it'll work, but we've seen enough examples of other teams using [styles] like this to beat playoff teams, including the Ravens last year, that I'm curious about how it's going to turn out."

For more from Tanier, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox