As the 2020 Baltimore Ravens offense has taken a major step back from its record-setting 2019 counterpart, questions have surrounded the team. What's the reason for the regression? Is it Lamar Jackson, the play-calling, injuries on the offensive line, or something else? And, most importantly of all, is it fixable?
For NBC Sports analysts Mike Florio and Chris Simms, one element that would go a long way toward restoring the Ravens offense to its previous heights would be getting the wide receivers more involved.
"I sit there every week and I write all these notes and the other thing I always write is lack of wide receiver involvement, do they ever throw the ball outside the numbers or to that part of the field," Simms said to Florio on Tuesday's show. "Baltimore’s the worst in football throwing to outside the numbers. So there they go the run game right at you, Mark Andrews down the middle of the field, then there’s this big faction of the field that you don’t really have to defend when you play Baltimore. Because they don’t get the wide receivers involved and they don’t throw to certain areas of the field. And to me, that is playing hand-to-hand with the issues of their offense."
The numbers bear this out. Marquise Brown leads Ravens receivers with 431 receiving yards, good for just 53rd among all NFL wideouts. By Football Outsiders' DYAR stat (like DVOA, but based on total volume rather than efficiency), Willie Snead has been the Ravens' best receiver but just 35th in the NFL. In the same stat, Brown is tied for 131st.
For Florio, one potential solution to this problem would have been to add veteran Antonio Brown, despite his significant off-field troubles.
"I think the organization wanted nothing to do with Antonio Brown," Florio said. "But maybe they could have used Antonio Brown. Because Antonio Brown maybe would be the guy getting open outside the numbers that Lamar Jackson could throw to."
Brown certainly would have been a no-doubter addition on the field - guys at his level of talent are rarely available for so cheap. But, of course, it was never that simple with Brown. The Ravens established a long time ago a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence from their players, and Brown's fit off the field - even beyond his legal issues - was a major concern in Pittsburgh and Oakland already.
It's no secret that Lamar Jackson loves targeting his tight ends, which is why Mark Andrews leads the team in most receiving categories. But the limited offense has led to too much predictability, and it's also driven away potential veteran additions at receiver.
"The struggles in attracting veteran free agent receivers, that’s well established now," Florio said. "Guys who have options are not going to choose to join on a run-based offense. And when you rely on the draft to get your receivers, how do you ever develop your receivers if you’re not using them in the passing game. It’s the chicken and the egg thing, right? We talk all the time about how the great receivers are coming into the NFL because it’s 7-on-7 from the time they’re seven years old. They get to the NFL, the development stops because they don’t throw the ball enough to let these guys reach their ceiling."
The Ravens have only had this offense established for one offseason, so it's hard to say there's a pattern of free agent receivers not wanting to play with Jackson, specifically. But Florio is correct that big-name receivers typically go to pass-heavy offenses, not attacks based on the rushing game.
It's the run-heavy focus and lack of creativity in getting the ball to his best receivers that has Simms concerned about offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
"I think it’s more Greg Roman and the offensive coaching staff right now," he said. "Hollywood Brown, has he been a little bit of a disappointment as a first-round pick? Definitely. But they can still find ways to cheaply get him the ball and do little things here and there. They don’t even get the ball in his hands, and to me there’s no excuse for that. And that’s their biggest problem is just predictability of where the ball’s going to go and who’s going to have it in their hands, it’s really hurting them right now."