OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens will unveil their new offense on Sunday when they host the Houston Texans (1 p.m. ET, CBS), ending months of speculation about what this revamped attack around quarterback Lamar Jackson will look like.
With Baltimore adding wide receiver Odell Beckham and offensive coordinator Todd Monken, it seems like the hype has been exceeded only by the investment placed in the offense. The Ravens are spending an NFL-leading $169,221,003 in cash (salaries and signing bonuses) on their offense this year, which is $11 million more than any other team in the league, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System.
The expectation is, according to Baltimore’s players and coaches, that the Ravens offense will once again become the most dangerous in the NFL.
“Hopefully, I have a hot hand this year, and everyone has a hot hand, so defensive coordinators are having nightmares when they see the Ravens on the schedule because we have so many weapons,” Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins said.
The Ravens’ production has declined in each of the last three seasons. Baltimore went from leading the NFL with 30.4 points per game in Jackson’s 2019 MVP season to finishing 16th last year with 20.2 points.
As touchdowns decreased, criticism increased, focusing on the lack of a supporting cast. Over the years, Jackson’s top free-agent additions at wide receiver featured past-their-prime pass-catchers such as Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson.
This offseason, the Ravens spent the most in franchise history on a wide receiver, signing Beckham to a one-year, $15 million deal. Baltimore gave $3.25 million for its No. 4 wide receiver in Nelson Agholor. This is in addition to having among the highest-paid players at their positions in left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Mark Andrews.
The biggest contract went to Jackson, who is making more than any player in the NFL this season. He’s earning $80 million in 2023, which includes a $72.5 million signing bonus, $7.5 million salary this year and heightened expectations.
“I feel the same [level of pressure] I’ve been feeling,” Jackson said. “I don’t feel like I have pressure on my shoulder about anything. I’m playing football.”
The Ravens are banking on this new offense to get Jackson back on track as a passer. Over the last two seasons, he has totaled 33 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. During that same span, Jackson has been sidelined for 10 games.
Team officials and players have seen a different attitude with Jackson in training camp. He’s throwing the ball better. He’s built a rapport with his new wide receivers. And he’s showing a lot of enthusiasm for the new offense.
“He looks really, really good,” Andrews said. “I just think the understanding of the offense, making it his own, seeing the game the right way and making the big-time throws. He’s extremely focused and determined, and it’s going to be a special Lamar season.”
Here’s how Jackson and his new offense could look this season:
More three-wide receiver formations: One of the biggest changes with this year’s offense is how it spreads out defenses. Last year, the Ravens ran 150 plays with three or more receivers, which were less than half as many as any other offense in the league. The Falcons had the second-fewest with 349 plays.
“I think the offense will look very different than it has in years past,” said Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst. “I think years past it would shrink people down. In doing so, [the Ravens] created space. [The Ravens would] go attack that space on the outside.
“I think that it’ll be the opposite this year. It’s gonna be spread people out. In doing so, [the Ravens] will create space and they will attack that space on the inside, both in the pass and the run.”
One of the reasons the Ravens didn’t run more three wide was the lack of receivers. This year, Baltimore’s top four wide receivers are all former first-round selections in Beckham, Agholor, Zay Flowers and Rashod Bateman.
“It’s the first year where other teams have called us looking for receivers,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “I actually thought it was a joke at first. So, that’s kind of cool.”
More up-tempo and audibles: Last year, it took Baltimore an average of 41.8 seconds to get the ball snapped between plays. Only the Packers, Raiders and Dolphins were slower.
This season, the Ravens want Jackson to get to the line as quickly as possible to give him more time to look at the defense. He then has the freedom to audible and get Baltimore into a better play against that alignment.
“Anytime Lamar makes any sort of change or call, we know he’s about to do something magical,” Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler said. “So, [I’m] pretty excited when he does it.”
More passing: Jackson said in the spring that the Ravens will throw the ball more, and Beckham said the same thing in training camp.
“I definitely think [Monken] wants to throw the ball, and we’ve got a lot of talented guys,” Beckham said. “So, I think, just finding ways to get the playmakers the ball in their hands and be an explosive offense – that’s what stands out the most. It’s an explosive team. But specifically with the offense, I think that’s the goal – is to be explosive.”
In Jackson’s first full seasons as an NFL starting quarterback (2019 to 2023), Baltimore called pass plays 54.8% of the time. Only the Tennessee Titans called fewer pass plays over that span at 54.4%.
According to Orlovsky, the biggest challenge will be when defenses take away the deep pass and force Jackson to throw underneath to drive the team downfield.
“There will be moments [when] teams are gonna sit there and say, ‘Lamar, you have never been this efficient guy through the air. We believe defensively, we’ll tackle well in space and you’ll either hold the ball too long or you’ll miss the throw when it should be outside shoulder, you’ll put it on inside shoulder,’” Orlovsky said. “I think the more that Lamar can excel at the efficient pinpoint accuracy … the more unstoppable this offense will lean towards being.”