After a nearly four-week search, the Ravens have a new offensive coordinator. But just how new will their offense look under Todd Monken?

As with most of the Ravens’ offseason questions, that answer depends largely on quarterback Lamar Jackson, a pending free agent who’s expected to be designated with the franchise tag in the coming weeks.

Still, Monken’s track record — three years as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ play-caller, plus another three as Georgia’s play-caller — offers some clues. Here’s what his scheme could bring to Baltimore.

Improved QB play

Monken’s offenses haven’t been blessed with supremely talented quarterbacks. But he’s usually gotten more passing production out of them than others have.

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In Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston’s expected points added per drop-back improved every season under Monken, from 0.08 in 2016 (17th among qualifying quarterbacks) to 0.10 in 2017 (13th) to 0.14 in 2018 (10th), which still represents a career high. (EPA is a measure of efficiency that accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and field position.)

In 2017, Winston set what was then a career high for yards per attempt (7.9), and a year later, he finished with the best completion percentage of his career (64.6%).

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During Ryan Fitzpatrick’s eight games in 2018, he graded out even better than Winston, averaging 0.17 EPA per drop-back (seventh among qualifying quarterbacks). His passer rating (100.4) and yards per attempt (9.6) from that season now stand as the best marks of his career, while his completion percentage (66.7%) finished as the second best.

After Monken headed to Cleveland in 2019, there was no such improvement for Baker Mayfield (minus-0.02 EPA per drop-back, career-worst 78.8 passer rating). But that was with Freddie Kitchens calling plays.

Monken’s most impressive work might’ve come at Georgia, where he helped develop Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on and junior-college player, into a Heisman Trophy runner-up. Bennett’s accuracy improved every year under Monken: 55.5% as a part-time starter in 2020, 64.5% as a full-time starter in 2021, 68.3% as a full-time starter in 2022. His interception rate fell every season: 3.9% to 2.4% to 1.5%. And he nearly halved his sack rate from 2021 (4.3%) to 2022 (2.4%).

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Two seasons after finishing 62nd among qualifying Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks in EPA per drop-back (0.01), Stetson finished first in 2022 (0.38), ahead of even Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams.

If the Ravens do keep Jackson in 2023, Monken should have one of the NFL’s most talented players to build his offense around, a record-breaking runner with elite arm talent, despite some mechanical flaws.

Schematic flexibility

Schematic flexibility has been a feature of Monken’s offensive evolution, taking him from one extreme in play-calling (Oklahoma State’s “Air Raid” offense in 2011, a wide-open, pass-first approach) to another (Georgia’s heavy-personnel, run-dominant offense in 2022) in just over a decade.

Here’s how his approach to personnel and play-calling changed over his respective tenures with Tampa Bay and Georgia, according to TruMedia. With the Buccaneers, his offenses became increasingly reliant on passing and on “11″ personnel, the NFL’s most common grouping, in which teams line up with one back, one tight end and three wide receivers. With the Bulldogs, his offenses trended in the other direction.

In Baltimore, the Ravens should enter next season with one of the NFL’s deepest tight end rooms and most established running games. But if the front office can revitalize their wide receiver position this offseason, Monken could have even more flexibility in how he wants the offense to look.

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Play-action success

Play-action passes can be a quarterback’s best friend. And for a brief spell under former coordinator Greg Roman, they were. In 2019, when the Ravens led the NFL in both rushing and passing efficiency, they averaged 0.25 EPA per play-action play, according to TruMedia, the NFL’s seventh-best rate.

Over the next three seasons, though, the efficacy of those run fakes waned. Pass protection was an issue at times. So was the Ravens’ impotent downfield passing game. But the high-value throws that Roman had once found for Jackson largely faded away. In 2020, the Ravens ranked 16th in EPA per play-action play. In 2021, they ranked 24th. Last season, the average Ravens play-action call added little to the offense: just 0.03 EPA per play, 25th best in the NFL, both lows under Roman.

At Georgia, Monken leaned heavily on play-action plays, and to great effect. According to TruMedia, 44.1% of Bennett’s early-down passes over the past two seasons used a run fake. Overall, he went 173-for-258 (67.1%) for 3,102 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions on play-action passes over that span, with just eight sacks taken on 279 drop-backs.

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Run fakes were never more important than in Bennett’s standout 2022 season. He finished fifth in the FBS in play-action passing yards (1,874) and sixth in yards per play-action pass attempt (11.6). Only Tennessee and Southern California generated more total EPA than Georgia on play-action plays in 2022.

Quarterback-driven run game

Bennett wasn’t the most dynamic runner at quarterback. On designed carries, he rushed 34 times for 197 yards (5.8 per attempt) and eight touchdowns last season, according to Sports Info Solutions. On his 12 scrambles, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry.

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But in Bennett, Monken at least had a quarterback athletic enough to be accounted for in Georgia’s read-option attack. While the Bulldogs didn’t have to rely on option plays last season — they accounted for just 22.6% of the team’s total carries last season, excluding kneel-downs — their option game was dangerous when called upon.

Running backs Kenny McIntosh, Kendall Milton and Daijun Edwards combined for 540 yards and 6.4 yards per carry on read-option plays in 2022. (On all other run plays, the trio combined to average 5.7 yards per carry.) Bennett, meanwhile, had just 13 read-option runs for 60 yards last season, but Georgia’s first touchdown in its national championship game demolition of Texas Christian was a 21-yard keeper by Bennett.

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In Baltimore, Monken won’t need to feed Jackson 10-plus carries every game to keep run defenses honest. His mere presence alone is enough to warp how coordinators scheme against the Ravens’ offense. And when Jackson does have to read out defenses on option plays, few are better. He’s averaged 7.4 yards per carry on read-option plays since 2019, according to SIS, while running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards have averaged 5.6 yards per option play in that same span.

RPO reliance

In Monken’s final season as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator, he started to dabble with run-pass-option plays. Winston and Fitzpatrick combined to go 15-for-18 for 186 yards and a touchdown on RPOs, which give quarterbacks the option of handing the ball off or throwing a quick hitter against an out-leveraged defense.

Monken’s embrace of the concept continued in Cleveland the following season. Mayfield finished second in the NFL in RPO attempts, completing 35 of 49 attempts for 360 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, according to SIS.

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Monken’s move back to college football, where the rules are more accommodating to RPO plays, did little to steer him away from the concept. Neither did the emergence of Georgia’s dominant rushing attack. In 2021, Bennett averaged nearly three RPO passes per game, finishing 29-for-39 for 247 yards and six touchdowns. Last season, Bennett averaged over four RPO passes per game, finishing 44-for-63 for 338 yards and a touchdown.

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In Baltimore, even amid rough patches for his passing offense, Roman was largely reluctant to turn to RPOs. In 2020, when the Ravens had the NFL’s No. 3 rushing offense, according to Football Outsiders, Jackson attempted just 27 RPO passes in 14 games (ninth most). In 2021, when the Ravens had the NFL’s No. 11 rushing offense, Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley combined for just 32 RPO attempts. Eleven quarterbacks finished with more.

And last year, when the Ravens had the NFL’s No. 2 rushing offense, Jackson and Huntley combined for just 28 RPO attempts. Seven quarterbacks had more, including MVP front-runners Jalen Hurts (67), Patrick Mahomes (46) and Josh Allen (30).

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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