Columnist Mike Preston gives his final grades for the Ravens' season. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Greg Roman has been promoted to Ravens offensive coordinator, the team announced Friday, marking the end of Marty Mornhinweg’s tenure on coach John Harbaugh’s staff and the embrace of a new era under quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Roman, 46, joined the Ravens in 2017 as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach and was promoted to assistant head coach before this past season. He was widely credited with helping to rejuvenate the Ravens’ running game last year with running back Alex Collins and this season after Jackson took over as starter in Week 11.
Roman’s promotion, which came on Eric DeCosta’s first day as Ravens general manager, is expected to solidify Harbaugh’s future in Baltimore. The team announced in late December that Harbaugh would return as coach next season, his last under his current contract, but they have yet to agree to a long-term extension.
Mornhinweg, 56, the offensive coordinator since October 2016 and Harbaugh’s fifth since taking over in 2008, had the option of remaining on a reorganized staff but declined, Harbaugh said in a team-issued release. With Roman’s move, wide receivers coach Bobby Engram will now oversee tight ends, a team spokesman said.
“Increasing Greg’s responsibilities will help us get where we’re going on offense,” Harbaugh said. “His role with our offense has already been significant and substantial. His understanding of the run game we are building — which we saw some of in the second half of the season — and how it integrates with a consistent and big-play passing game is exciting.”
While Mornhinweg ably pivoted from a pass-heavy formula to a run-reliant offense after Joe Flacco suffered a midseason hip injury — the team’s longtime starter led the NFL through the season’s first nine weeks with 379 pass attempts — Roman coached the offense’s most productive group (tight ends) and oversaw its most successful elements. The Ravens’ mix of college spread-style and pro-style running concepts proved difficult to prepare for during the regular season, keeping opponents off-guard and the team’s defense off the field for long stretches.
Over the final seven games of the regular season, the Ravens rushed on over 62 percent of their plays (excluding kneel-downs) and totaled an NFL-best 1,607 rushing yards, over 400 more yards than the runner-up Seattle Seahawks in that period. While Collins struggled to recapture his 2017 magic, running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon emerged as dependable backfield partners next to Jackson.
With a variety of quarterback-designed runs, zone-read-option plays and misdirection, the Ravens took advantage of Jackson’s athleticism in ways that resembled Roman’s deployment of quarterback Colin Kaepernick with the San Francisco 49ers, his first stop as an NFL offensive coordinator.
After four up-and-down years there under Jim Harbaugh, John’s younger brother, whom he had followed from Stanford, Roman served as offensive coordinator for a little over a full season with the Buffalo Bills. He was fired in mid-September 2016, after just two games, the lowlight a season-opening loss to the Ravens in which the Bills were held to just 160 yards of total offense.
While Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor ranked eighth overall in passer rating in 2015, just three years after San Francisco’s Alex Smith and Kaepernick finished with similarly high marks, Roman’s offenses have been known more for their ground-and-pound approach. In his five full seasons as offensive coordinator, he’s never finished lower than eighth overall in rushing yards per game or lower than ninth in total carries.
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In 2018, the Ravens finished the regular season No. 9 overall in yards per game and No. 2 in rushing offense. Ronnie Stanley on Monday called Roman a “genius in the run game as well as the pass game,” echoing the praise heaped on him years earlier by another linchpin offensive tackle.
"I've never been around a coordinator who understands everything,” longtime 49ers left tackle Joe Staley told Yahoo Sports in 2013. “Not just X's and O's and how you draw it up, but the bigger picture, too. Watching games [on tape], I find myself saying, 'This is a perfect call here.' It seems seamless to him. There are a lot of guys who are really smart with plays and who run creative schemes, but it's the way you call those plays that makes all the difference. He's great at both. He's very innovative."
Roman’s promotion seems to only widen the Ravens’ divergence from leaguewide trends. While head coaching candidates with ties to Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay and passing-game pedigrees have become in vogue this offseason, the Ravens appear to be moving in another direction with their quarterback and signal-caller.
Jackson never attempted more than 25 passes in a game this season until the Ravens’ AFC wild-card-round loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers, perhaps his worst performance as a starter. His career high in passing is 204 yards. While the Ravens have stressed their commitment to, and faith in, developing Jackson as a pocket passer, Roman’s offenses have finished only as high as No. 29 in the NFL in passing attempts.
In his lone news conference this season, held in early November, he was asked about his tight ends’ blocking ability, an asset that would come into clearer focus with Jackson’s takeover. Roman ended his response with a metaphor that proved prescient then and might endure now.