Ravens want Lamar Jackson long term, won't adjust offense to appease pass-happy fans

The Baltimore Ravens have built their identity around the rare talents of their quarterback, one they want to be a Raven for many years to come.

That comes as no surprise, but to be clear, yes, John Harbaugh likes Lamar Jackson very much.

“Of course. Absolutely we want Lamar to sign a long-term deal and be with us,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “I’m totally certain that’s going to happen. When it happens, that’s the details.”

Harbaugh would be a fool to not extend Jackson, the reigning MVP who helped lead a late-season turnaround that propelled the Ravens to the Divisional Round. What might not be foolish, however, is a re-evaluation of how his team’s offense is run.

Baltimore is fantastic at running the ball, finishing first in the league in yards per game for a second straight season. For much of the final month-plus of the regular season, the Ravens looked nearly unstoppable, asserting their rushing will on opposing defenses.

But when the playoffs arrived, the Ravens met another familiar fate. Sure, this time around, Baltimore won a playoff game before arriving at the Divisional Round, but the Ravens were again shut down by a hungry defense in an elimination game, burned again by untimely turnovers.

Something needs to change, it seems, but the answer isn’t as clear. Baltimore wasn’t a stellar passing team in 2020 primarily because it didn’t need to be, and it showed it can move the ball when necessary (see: the Ravens’ thrilling Monday night win over the Browns). Some have pointed to the Ravens’ lack of a true No. 1 receiver — something the team that defeated Baltimore, the Buffalo Bills, went out and acquired in early 2020, transforming its offense into a spectacular aerial attack — as its biggest problem holding it back.

Furthermore, Baltimore’s run-first offense might even be a deterrent to attracting a premier receiver.

Harbaugh had an answer for that.

“I’m not going to beg anyone to be here,” Harbaugh said. … “If you’re all about stats and numbers and your stat line and how many balls you catch, there are a lot of other teams you can play for and we’ll look forward to playing against you.”

Baltimore’s passing game has lagged behind its running game (the Ravens finished dead last in passing yards per game while leading the NFL in rushing), and it’s not an indictment of Jackson’s ability to throw the football. He’s fully capable of directing an effective air attack; the Ravens just decide that isn’t their primary approach.

It’s difficult to argue with them, considering the results — 25-7 in the last two regular seasons, one division crown, two playoff appearances — but it’s fair to wonder if there’s more for the Ravens to discover offensively. Jackson even said it himself midway through the season: Baltimore had become predictable with the football.

Complexities aren’t always necessary, but could be welcomed in Baltimore — if they decided to, you know, expand their horizons.

“We’re not going to be as complex as Pittsburgh, who throws the ball 40 times a game,” Harbaugh said in reference to an assertion Baltimore didn’t run as many route variations as other teams, via ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “That stands to reason.”

Baltimore doesn’t need to throw 40 times a game. But the Ravens could use a little more offensive diversity. When the Ravens fell behind 17-3 late in the third quarter of their Divisional Round loss to Buffalo, it felt as if the game was over with a quarter left to play. And once Jackson exited due to a concussion, their chances dropped even more drastically.

Baltimore can win a ton of games playing its current style, sure, but to take the next great step toward a title, the Ravens need some offensive depth. We’ll see if Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman decide to open their minds in 2021 — before signing Jackson to that lucrative deal.

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