The Greg Roman Problem: A Lamar Apologist’s POV on the Ravens Offense

I am taking a break from gambling content to, once again, bring you a statistical and logical takedown of some ever-popular Twitter narratives.

NZI has given me a platform to write about gambling, but in all honesty, this Monday Night game was atrocious. The Bucs are good, the Giants aren’t, and rather than bore you with 150 words about that this week, I thought I would touch on a more topical and interesting issue.

After Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I could go the route of breaking down the Ravens game play-by-play, but I think we all saw what happened. I could sit here and nitpick Lamar Jackson for his turnovers, point at some key injuries, or break down undisciplined play that lead to multiple penalties and an unwarranted ejection that led to a loss, but I think that has been — and will be — done to death.

Losing Ronnie Stanley was a huge blow for the season, inserting Patrick Mekari in place of Tyre Phillips might be a wash, and you can pinpoint Matt Judon getting tossed as the moment the Steelers offense woke up. Lamar had four costly turnovers. Lamar also made some incredibly poor decisions with the ball that didn’t cause turnovers, but still hurt in the long run.

Again, you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you’ve watched Twitter and the talking heads give their opinion, and it’s just a waste of time.

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Lamar Jackson is the most polarizing player in the NFL.

This, in and of itself, is the issue with Lamar Jackson. There is no middle ground with Lamar; you’re either seen as a Lamar apologist or a Lamar hater, and rarely does anyone venture to the middle ground where the truth lies.

The truth about Lamar Jackson is that he is — and will continue to be — the most dynamic offensive player in the NFL.

The Ravens live and die by Lamar Jackson on offense, and they died on Sunday. At the end of the game, his four turnovers all proved costly. There isn’t a single person who has denied this claim, and yet, if you start sprinkling any blame elsewhere, you’re labeled an apologist.

Well, I’m going to label that group of people what they are: clowns.

There is a sect of Twitter that sits back and watches every Ravens game in the hopes of crucifying Lamar Jackson, whether deserved or not. The jabs of “That’s your MVP?” come out with every incomplete pass. There is not an NFL QB more criticized than Lamar Jackson, and it all reverts back to the fact that draft analysts were wrong and a certain airheaded Joe Flacco stan can’t accept the past is over. These clowns will bludgeon you with “That was your unanimous MVP!!!” takes every time something goes wrong for Lamar, and if you dare assign blame elsewhere for a loss — like not running the ball enough — they will bludgeon you to death with the antiquated ideal that QBs should only throw the ball.

Well, clowns, why was Lamar Jackson named the 2019 league MVP?

Sure, he led the league in TD passes, but his legs played a huge factor in that MVP award. The Lamar Jackson problem is that people will continue to put him in the traditional QB box. They will only look at passing stats, and completely neglect the effect he has as a whole on the defense. Rather than looking at Lamar’s entire body of work, they like to look at his performances in a bubble on a week-to-week basis. They stay dead silent when Lamar does well, and are the first to thump their chests when he has a bad week.

In short, the Lamar Jackson problem lies with the public narratives.

If you choose to buy into the narrative that Lamar Jackson should be throwing for 300 yards and four TDs on a weekly basis because he won MVP in 2019, you are the problem. If you use traditional QB metrics to box in and judge Lamar Jackson, you are the problem.

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Now, we get to the meat of the article and the real reason I’m writing this: Greg Roman.

Greg Roman is in his eight year as an NFL offensive coordinator. Eight seasons gives you a lot of data, and there is a clear issue with Roman that I think is having a negative effect on the Ravens as a whole.

Greg Roman’s career rankings for each statistical category.
Statistics: Pro Football Reference

Above, I’ve compiled a breakdown of where Greg Roman-coached offenses ranked at the end of each season. It does not take a rocket scientist here to see the trend: Greg Roman-coached offenses excel at running the ball, and pass when necessary. It wasn’t until last year that Greg Roman had a passing offense finish in the top-half of the league in any passing metric other than INTs thrown, which is explained by his constant bottom-ranking in attempts.

A Greg Roman offense can run the ball effectively at will, and is overly conservative passing the ball.

This very obvious conclusion wouldn’t be an issue if Greg Roman’s play calling matched his strengths. What continues to bug me about Roman and his play calling is the ease in which he abandons the run and puts the Ravens in a bad spot.

On Sunday, the Ravens ran for 265 yards — clearly, a dominant rushing attack. And yet, in the third quarter with a 17-7 lead, Roman thought it wise to only run the ball five times.

When the Ravens were up 14-7 with three timeouts and 3:44 left on the clock in the half, he decided to call a conservative offense that drained the clock and forced them to settle for three points. It seems, when the situation calls for a rushing attack, Roman is unwilling to answer the call.

Sometimes it’s just best to play the hits. Greg Roman seems to struggle with this concept.

This precedes Sunday’s game, as you can go back to every loss the Ravens have had with Lamar Jackson and see a lot of the same. The Ravens have success on the ground early on, then abandon the run when it isn’t situationally appropriate, and inexplicably start running again, only to end up coming up short.

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I come with both problems and solutions, here.

From a fan on the outside looking-in, I find it irritating that Greg Roman sometimes seems to be calling plays to dispel public narratives rather than win football games.

The Baltimore Ravens are who they are. Lamar Jackson is who he is. No matter who you bring in, the Ravens will always be a team that runs to set up the pass.

Rather than abandoning the run when it’s working, keep playing the hits, Greg. Stop calling pass plays because you want Lamar to defeat a Twitter narrative driven by people who will never give him his due.

The current Ravens have an issue accepting their identity, which is an easy fix. The Ravens are a run-first team. When you look at a team that ran the ball 47 times for 265 yards and your first response is to say “RUN MORE,” some people may treat you like you’re crazy — but the reality is, that is exactly what the Ravens need to do to win more football games.

The reason you used draft picks on Justice Hill and J.K. Dobbins and carry four RBs on the roster is because the Ravens are built to run the football. Between Hill, Dobbins, Mark Ingram (when healthy), Gus Edwards, and Lamar Jackson, there should be no fear of wearing someone down and running the ball 50+ times a game when the situation calls for it. Sunday was one of those situations where the passing game clearly wasn’t working, but the run was — jam the ball down their throats.

The old adage is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and Greg Roman seems to like to try and fix nonexistent issues.

The key issue I see in the passing game is a lack of creativity. The Ravens have built an offense around speed, and just using that speed for straight-line plays is a waste of talent.

Hollywood Brown let off some frustration on Twitter after the game, asking what the point of having “souljas” [sic] is if you don’t use them, and I think he’s onto something. What is the point of a guy like Hollywood Brown if you’re just going to send him on 47 streaks a game, and not make a concerted effort to get him the ball with space in front of him?

Mix in a slant, Greg, for Christ’s sake.

Hollywood has shown he can be an electric talent, and yet, you use one route and one route only for him. Guys like Miles Boykin could create matchup nightmares if used properly, but again, it’s the same vanilla routes that are easily predicted, and therefore, easily stopped. Mark Andrews has his issues with drops, but exclusively sending him on seam and out routes is going to allow the defense to adjust. Devin Duvernay wasn’t drafted to just be a kick returner — it was nice to see him flash for that one big play on Sunday — but again, you’re wasting talent with Pop Warner-level route combinations.

Let the playmakers do what they do best: make plays.  

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I am not here to pitch you the same “Sky is falling, Chicken Little” narrative that you’ll see on Twitter or television.

Ravens fans were inevitably going to face yet another week of questions about Lamar Jackson’s legitimacy at QB and the all-time favorite, “Has Lamar been figured out?” narrative. The truth of the matter is, the Ravens can continue to play the exact same brand of football they have for the past 2+ seasons with Lamar under center, and they can be incredibly successful. Again, you don’t have a 24-7 overall record with the man under center by accident. There is a lot of success to build on, and a lot of positives for this team that you can look at.

I’ll leave you with this: the Ravens have been — and will continue to be — the most scrutinized offense in the NFL. The Lamar Jackson critiques will always get clicks, and will never go away.

Rather than focusing on the ill-formed opinions of sheep, I think the Ravens need to step back and take a deep breath.

You’re 5-2 and a clearly solidified contender.

Stop doubting the identity that got you to this point. Stop doubting the identity that made you 14-2 and the No. 1 seed last year.

Start playing Ravens football again, and let the wins and hardware stack up from there.

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