OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson finally got his long-term deal from the Baltimore Ravens, a $260 million contract over the next five years. The milestone extension marks a pivotal moment for the franchise, whose performance throughout the duration of Jackson’s contract must be maximized — as soon as possible.
The Ravens realized this need as well during the offseason, undergoing an offensive facelift after a handful of static seasons under former coordinator Greg Roman. Baltimore reached into the college ranks to grab Georgia playcaller Todd Monken to run its offense. If there was one coaching change to flip the power balance in the AFC, bringing Monken to Baltimore could be the spark plug that the Ravens have needed.
Monken is most recently known for orchestrating a juggernaut Bulldogs offense to back-to-back national titles, but he has also called plays in the NFL. In 2018, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were throwing the ball all over the yard, with “Fitzmagic” boasting an obscene 9.6 yards per attempt that season — the eighth-highest single-season mark in league history. (Let’s erase the 2019 Cleveland Browns, who also employed Monken, from our collective consciousness.)
Monken’s task is simple, yet colossal: get the Ravens' offense and its video game-like quarterback to become a consistent, defense-razing machine throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.
"You really like the challenge of guys that, one, obviously, you have a tremendous skillset, which [Lamar Jackson] does," Monken said. "And I've been lucky to be around a lot of those guys — that I've been blessed to coach them. They made me a better coach. But the thing you like about Lamar is he's becoming even more diligent. He wants to be great. He wants to be elite. I do not see a guy that signed a contract and said, 'OK, I've arrived.'"
Based on the personnel moves they made in the offseason, it’s clear the Ravens feel like they need to make a major change in the first stop of any offensive philosophy: the types of players they want to put on the field.
Ravens' 2022 offense was unlike most others in the NFL
In-game formations and personnel groupings are largely tied to the available talent and Roman’s offense, with whatever criticisms people had of it, was hampered by a lack of top-end wide receivers last season. Rashod Bateman played in only six games before suffering a season-ending foot injury that forced the Ravens to turn into something they were already predisposed toward being in the first place: an offense that revolves around its tight ends.
Pro Bowler Mark Andrews led the Ravens in targets with 113 — which is a fine target allocation to have considering he’s an elite tight end. After Andrews, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson finished second with 75 targets while rookie tight end Isaiah Likely received 60 targets. Even though Bateman’s season lasted only six games, he still finished fifth on the Ravens in receiving targets, which begins to encapsulate where the Ravens had a lot of room to tinker with their forthcoming offensive evolution.
According to Sports Info Solutions, the Ravens were one of the heaviest offensive teams in the league. They ranked first in usage of 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one wide receiver) on 34% of their snaps; third in 21 personnel (two RBs, one TE, two WRs) usage at 25%; and 10th in 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs and two wide receivers) usage at 23%. Essentially this means the Ravens had an extra running back or tight end — or both — on the field for the majority of their offensive snaps.
A quick reaction to that set of numbers may suggest that the Ravens tried to protect backup quarterback Tyler Huntley a bit more once Jackson was injured in Week 12, but that was who the Ravens were last season. In the 11 weeks when Jackson was the primary quarterback, they were second in 21 personnel usage (32%), first in 22 personnel usage (29%) and 12th in 12 personnel usage (23%). It was in Baltimore's DNA to be this kind of team last year, through its general philosophy and the players that were available.
Whether Jackson was or was not on the field, the Ravens steered away from 11 personnel with three wide receivers more than any other team in the league. Baltimore played just 128 snaps of 11 personnel last season, ranking dead last. The Ravens didn’t even have much success passing out of that specific personnel grouping with Jackson averaging a measly 5.6 yards per attempt in his very limited sample size (69 dropbacks).
Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers, welcome to the Baltimore Ravens. Those two, along with a healthy Bateman, will aggressively transform the Ravens’ offensive approach simply because it’s an injection of wide receiver talent they haven’t had.
The Ravens' next frontier
Beckham, Flowers and Monken are here to be part of Baltimore's offensive revolution. Monken understands the fact that he has an all-time quarterback talent to use as he makes his return to the NFL.
Among the changes that Monken is going to incorporate into this Ravens offense is an increased tempo in regards to how quickly they get plays off. According to data provided by The 33rd Team, Jackson averaged 38.8 seconds to snap the ball. That mark was the second-slowest behind Aaron Rodgers last season among quarterbacks with at least 300 snaps. That’s an area of importance to Monken and getting to the line of scrimmage faster will hopefully help Jackson as well.
“The idea is to leave the quarterback enough time at the line of scrimmage to assess the defense, make changes and be in control,” Monken said. “I'm a firm believer that [if] you want your quarterback to play his best, you've got to empower him. … If that is getting to the line quicker, then so be it. If it's a situation where we've got some sort of a run-pass option or run-run or pass-pass, then so be it. But I do believe in getting to the line quicker; I think that gives us more time at the line of scrimmage to assess — for the quarterback."
When Jackson is at his best, he’s capable of taking down any defense that steps before him. His extravagant, sensational running style is what people tend to think of, but he’s also one of the most talented throwers in the game. Now that he’s one of the highest-paid players in the history of the sport, it’s really time to start maximizing what he brings to the table. His marriage with Monken, and how Monken distributes Baltimore's revamped personnel, will be the key to the Ravens’ season.
Interestingly enough, Monken doesn’t necessarily have a specific type of offense he's run over the past few years; he has leaned on the type of players that he coached. What he learned during his time at Georgia was a simple truth that applies to any level of football.
“You need good players to score on offense,” Monken said succinctly.
That’s probably why Georgia’s offense that featured Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington at tight end threw the second most passes out of 12 personnel (254) in FBS last season. When Monken was with the Buccaneers in 2018, they ran 70% of their offensive snaps out of 11 personnel — which makes all the sense in the world with a receiver group that featured Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries throughout the season.
“So, scheme is a part of ball distribution, and having enough skill players to where you want to distribute it to them [is also a part of it], because if you don't have enough skill players, you're not trying to create ways to distribute the ball to them,” Monken said. “Everybody earns that right to touch the football. It doesn't matter what sport. You earn the right to get at-bats; you earn the right to get shots; you earn the right to get opportunities. And the better your players understand that and compete that way, and the better your skill players [are], the more fun it is to distribute it."
Andrews and Likely are a great tight end duo for any offense to have, but the additions of Beckham and Flowers suggest that the Ravens won’t be so overly reliant on sets that feature multiple tight ends. The projected strength of their wide receivers room should shift the tide toward more 11 personnel usage.
How OBJ and Flowers change the landscape
Monken had some praise for Flowers, the Ravens’ first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, throughout the early portion of training camp.
"That's a fun little toy right there, isn't it?" Monken said. "I'm just fired up [general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and the boys drafted him."
Flowers seems to think highly of his new offensive coordinator as well.
"Yes, he uses everybody's ability to the best. He puts everybody in places where they are able to make plays,” Flowers said. “So, you let them play outside. I played outside in college 75% of the time, and I said, 'You can let me play outside or inside.' Then, he puts 'O' [Beckham] outside. Then, he'll put Nelson [Agholor], then [Devin Duvernay]. ... We're all just rotating. We all are playmakers. So, he just uses us to the best of our ability."
Jackson has already dubbed Flowers “Joystick” for his speed and ability to maneuver with the ball in his hands.
"Yes, I like it,” Flowers said with a smile. “It's the nickname that ran in my family. My brother had the nickname 'Joystick.' So, I guess I get to take it over now."
Flowers missed the later portion of the first week of training camp, but even in his brief appearance on the first couple days, his speed and playmaking ability were apparent.
Flowers spent his youth watching players like Beckham, Jackson and Andrews become NFL stars, and now they’re his teammates who will be counting on him to help them all reach their long-term goal of winning a Super Bowl.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet,” Flowers said with his trademark, wide smile. “I feel like the first game, it'll sink in when I see them do some crazy stuff. Then, I'll do something crazy. That'll probably be when it sinks in."
Beckham worked with Monken in Cleveland during the Browns' disappointing 2019, when they finished 6-10 and Beckham statistically struggled through a rough season from Baker Mayfield. Now, the two have reunited and are looking to create the success they failed to capture during the last time they worked together.
“I can see that situation may not have been for him or myself. He went to Georgia and wins national championships,” Beckham said. “You can see a level of confidence in him that I like. You walk into the room, you grab the energy. [He's] a dominant force. Obviously he has command of what he's seeing, and I think he knows, not think, but he knows what he wants to do, and he sees what we have here.”
The prospect of the Ravens’ offense is exciting on paper. Jackson is healthy after an injury-plagued 2022 season, Beckham and Flowers are potential big-time additions to a playmaker group that already featured a top-end tight end and they have a malleable offensive coordinator who has a history of calling plays geared toward his talent. However, there’s still a bit of time to go before the games count. Beckham, who hasn't played since tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl in February 2022, isn’t getting too ahead of himself despite the boom potential of this offense.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think that we'll wait when we get to September, and we'll see what we have going," he said.
It’s the first year of this offensive arrangement for the Ravens, but a pivotal one nonetheless. On paper, they have the talent to be great. But like Beckham said, September will be the true test.