OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The major storyline for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason is whether they will strike a mega-contract extension with quarterback Lamar Jackson that would pay him more than $40 million per season.
The best move the Ravens can make is not investing in Jackson right now but investing around him, starting with a No. 1 wide receiver like Allen Robinson.
Saturday’s 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional playoffs served as another reminder the Ravens’ formula needs to change. The combination of a historically dominant running game and a stingy defense has resulted in one playoff victory and loads of disappointment the past three years.
If Baltimore wants to advance past the divisional round for the first time since the Mile High Miracle, the Ravens need to upgrade the NFL's worst passing attack around Lamar Jackson by adding a proven top target, bringing in another pass-catching tight end and bolstering the pass protection.
"They weren’t really doing anything special,” Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead said after losing to the Bills. "They were just playing top-down coverage, a lot of Cover-4, a lot of zone. They just eliminated the run, and they tried to make us one-dimensional in the passing game. We just didn’t take advantage of what they were giving us.”
In 2019, Buffalo ranked 26th in passing because Allen’s No. 1 receiver was John Brown. The Bills were aggressive in trading for Diggs, who elevated their passing attack to No. 3 in the NFL this season.
The challenge for Baltimore is this free-agent wide receiver class isn’t a strong one. But the Ravens have to do more than this past offseason, when the biggest veteran addition at wide receiver was Dez Bryant, who hadn't played in two seasons.
Robinson, 27, is considered the top wide receiver available this offseason after totaling 200 catches for 2,397 yards over the past two seasons for the Chicago Bears. He is a great route runner who catches nearly everything within his reach. It was interesting to see that Robinson recently liked a tweet from a reporter who wrote: “The Ravens should just hand Allen Robinson a blank check. He’s everything Lamar needs in 2021.”
A playmaker on the outside can take the attention away from wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, as well as help negate mistakes. One reason why Baltimore lost in Buffalo was because too many drives stalled after a sack, pre-snap penalty or bad snap.
"We didn’t do enough,” Andrews said. "We’ll come back and work. We’re going to all work hard. This is going to be fuel for the fire, and [we’ll] be ready to go. We’ll remember it.”
Not doing enough has been a recurring postseason theme for the Ravens. In the regular season, Jackson and Baltimore has scored more than 20 points in 34 of his 37 starts (only the Kansas City Chiefs have produced more over that span). In the postseason, the Ravens have been held under 20 points in all four of Jackson’s postseason starts (the most in the playoffs since 2018).
Jackson and the Ravens have averaged 30.6 points during the regular season. In the postseason, Baltimore has totaled 32 points in its three losses with Jackson, which includes a franchise-tying low three points Saturday.
The struggles in the postseason have ramped up the criticism of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
"You got to look at the body of work he’s put in all year,” Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard said in defense of Roman. "There were certain plays that didn’t go our way and changed the shape of the game and the way you have to call a game. You can’t let one game, regardless of what happens, critique who you are. It has to be the whole season."
The Ravens' offense will get stronger with the return of All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle. Both suffered season-ending injuries midway through the season.
The other factor is Jackson himself has to take another step forward as a passer. On throws of 15 yards or longer, his 32 completions were 23rd in the league and his 41% completion rate was 26th in 2020.
“He knows that he can get better,” Snead said. "He sees the plays afterwards; he knows that he has to be better at reading through zones and stuff like that. But he’s doing alright. He’s going to be good. I just know that he’s going to get better from this, like he always does; proving people wrong and just trying to take that next step in his journey.”
Last offseason, the Ravens revamped their front seven after allowing 195 yards rushing to Derrick Henry in the playoffs. Baltimore traded for defensive end Calais Campbell, signed defensive end Derek Wolfe and drafted middle linebacker Patrick Queen in the first round.
This offseason, the focus must shift to the offense and ratchet up the supporting cast around Jackson. The Ravens’ postseason fortunes won’t change if they’re held below 20 points again.
"What kept us from going further is just not executing,” Brown said. "We’ve got to execute. We’ve got to pick up first downs. We’ve got to convert on third down. We’ve got to protect our quarterback. We’ve got to get open for our quarterback. We’ve got to make the right reads. So, it’s a team effort.”