Coach Fredo: Using The Godfather to explain the Ravens’ weak link

Ravens, Greg Roman (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Ravens, Greg Roman (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Ever since the release of The Godfather movies, Fredo, the weak brother of the Corleone crime family, has turned into a punch line for being the weak link in the chain.

Well, it turns out the Baltimore Ravens have a Fredo on their hands. But instead of shipping him off so he won’t hurt the team, Greg Roman has been allowed to maintain control of the offense, turning the Ravens into a sloppy unit that has little structure to their passing game and continuously shoots themselves in the leg.

Now, before we get too deep into this metaphor, let me make something clear: No, I do not think the Ravens should take Greg Roman himself on a fishing trip and shoot him out on the lake (sorry for the spoiler, but the truth is, if that is a spoiler, that’s on you).

But we are going to use three quotes/moments from the two greatest movies ever made to show why Greg Roman is truly the Fredo of the Baltimore Ravens.

“Every Time I Said A Hail Mary, I Caught A Fish.” – Fredo Corleone

This quote from The Godfather Part II is perhaps the best explanation one could give for Roman’s passing philosophy.

He has consistently cost the Ravens games, with Sunday’s loss against Buffalo being perhaps the worst example of Roman’s malfeasance. While it has been beaten to death, the problems with Roman’s passing game must again be regurgitated.

Roman has historically had good passing games in his first year with a team, as his innovative run offenses help keep the offenses ahead of the sticks and in easier passing downs, leading to greater efficiency in the passing game.

But as defenses adjust, Roman has no counter punch in the passing game, and the simplicities of his scheme wind up getting exploited.

Throughout his career, there has been a dramatic drop in his offense’s Passing DVOA from his first full year with a quarterback to his second full year with a quarterback.

In San Francisco, that drop with Colin Kaepernick was a drop from fourth to 14th. With Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo, that drop was from ninth to 17th. With Lamar Jackson, that drop was from first to 17th.

The difference is that with his other teams Roman’s head coaches wound up getting fired after his second full year with a quarterback, with his struggling passing games often serving as a tangential reason, and he had never been given a year three.

But John Harbaugh is a Canton-bound head coach whose position is rightfully not in any danger, and Roman is now in his fourth year as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator.

And considering the degree to which passing offenses have developed since his previous stops, Roman’s simplicity looks even starker and puts even more of a strain on Lamar Jackson to bail him out.

In many ways, this quote actually serves as the exact opposite of Roman’s passing game. Rather than relying on Hail Marys, Roman relies on simple concepts before his players need to create explosives to bail him out.

Consider the route tree for Rashod Bateman so far this year. Bateman, a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, has shown flashes of brilliance and has been incredibly efficient but has been limited to basic route concepts.

And this simplicity extends to the entire offense. One of Roman’s best qualities is his use of pre-snap motion, something which has helped the running game over the years.

But in the passing game he often just winds up doing a lot of window dressing without any payoff, almost like a joke without a punch line. He does a lot of normally useful extracurricular activity before the snap, only for route concepts to wind up looking like this.

And yet despite all the simplicity, or really because of it, Lamar Jackson is forced to unnecessarily push the ball down the field.

Jackson finished last year second in the NFL with an average of 9.6 air yards per attempt, as he was consistently put behind the chains and forced to improvise on his own.

His number so far this year after all the promised changes of how Roman would call his passing offense different this year? 9.6, good for fifth-highest in the league this year.

The final drive against Buffalo serves as the perfect example of Jackson being forced to bail the Ravens out.

The offense had little structure but was bailed out on a long third-down conversion by Mark Andrews and a scramble by Lamar Jackson on third and 12.

In fact, according to Next Gen Stats, since 2019 Mark Andrews has six games with a target rate of over 50%, while the rest of the NFL’s tight ends have a combined seven such games, showing the degree to which Roman often needs Jackson and Andrews to improvise.

Roman seems to be as good at calling a passing offense as Fredo is at fishing — and his best hope is to say a Hail Mary and rely on his players.

Fredo drops the gun

This is not as much of a quote as it is a moment. The earliest example of Fredo being someone who could not be trusted came when a hit is put on Don Corleone, and as the assassins are shooting him Fredo comes out of the car and fumbles his gun, allowing them to escape.

Similarly, Greg Roman is someone who is consistently foiled in big moments, often due to sloppiness and poor decision-making.

Remember, this is the man whose season ended one year trying a fade into the back right corner of the end zone (thanks for the Super Bowl my guy), and then tried the exact same thing with his season on the line the next year, except this time he decided to test Richard Sherman.

What’s more, his offenses are consistently sloppy, and Baltimore’s failures to finish off big drives have been costly.

The Ravens led by two scores at some point during six of their past 15 regular season losses, and have had a sequence where they had second down at the three-yard or closer and failed to score a touchdown in five of their past six defeats.

While the Ravens have scored a couple of short-yardage touchdowns on cool pass designs, it feels like Roman has one cool idea a game and then goes back to the basics.

Sure cough, he used up the shovel pass to JK Dobbins in the first quarter on Sunday, but when the game was tied in the fourth quarter, he had no new answers.

Specifically, on second down Roman called a predictable under-center run to Dobbins that never had a chance of working and wound up losing yards.

Having a weapon such as Lamar Jackson and taking away his running ability as a resource while allowing the defense to be able to fully focus in on Dobbins instead of worrying about two different running threats should not be the call in that situation.

The third down play had no chance of working, and while Devin Duvernay was actually open on fourth down (Jackson said he could not see him over taller bodies), it all comes back to Roman’s play call on second down.

In fact, most of those five goal-line failures were not traditional goal-line stands. Three of them contained plays in which the Ravens lost yardage, as defenses key in on what they are trying to do.

And beyond the inability to respond in big moments, the sloppiness of Fredo dropping a gun also applies to Roman’s offense writ large.

While I have already written about Roman’s problems getting the ball snapped, the sloppiness extends beyond delay of game penalties.

The Ravens’ offense is consistently plagued by process penalties, and on Sunday was flagged for delay of game, holding, ineligible man downfield, and false start penalties, while somehow avoiding the trademark Roman illegal formation.

The Ravens are supposed to be a well-oiled machine, but poor coaching often makes them resemble the buffoon dropping the gun.

“And Fredo … argh.” – Vito Corleone

"“Fredo, you’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend. I don’t want to know you or what you do. I don’t want to see you at the hotels, I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won’t be there. You understand?” – Michael Corleone"

To finish off, we are going to go with a two-for-one to show the dynamic that is currently causing the Ravens to keep Roman on.

The first quote comes from a haunting scene comes at the end of the first movie, when Vito Corleone is talking to his son Michael, who has now taken over the family, about what he wanted for all his kids, and how he regrets that Michael is the one now involved in the life of crime.

The second quote comes from Michael to Fredo after Michael finds out that Fredo unintentionally (or intentionally?) betrayed the family.

And this is where the metaphor really comes together because it shows the fault of everyone who has been involved in the organization when it comes to keeping Roman.

For the purposes of this comparison, we are going to say that the Ravens’ front office is like Michael. They are the calculating people pulling the levers, the group that has consistently been one of the best drafters in the league, and have put together a roster full of blue-chip talent.

John Harbaugh is like Vito Corleone — the genius who has everybody’s respect and has built a culture matched by few in the league.

And if you really want to take the metaphor another step the Ravens even had their Sonny — the reckless blitz-happy Don “Wink” Martindale who refused to play zone even with diminished talent in 2021. Well, Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins left him lying on the Causeway.

The problem with Roman is Harbaugh’s loyalty. While it is generally one of his best qualities, Harbaugh has been loyal to a fault when it comes to offensive coordinators, keeping past play callers like Cam Cameron and Marty Mornhinweg with the team for way too long.

He clearly has not learned from the positive returns that came following the firing of Cameron late in the 2012 season, when the offense carried the team through the playoffs to a Super Bowl victory.

And that inversion of roles is what is keeping the Ravens’ Fredo on board.

Vito never let Fredo into the family business, but was also not willing to send him away — it was not until Michael took over that he was exiled to Las Vegas, and later Cuba to do meaningless work until Michael came and did the real stuff.

And while Vito was at least aware of Fredo’s shortcomings, Harbaugh refuses to face the reality that he has a Coordinator holding the offense back.

Now, this does not mean that it is time for Harbaugh to give over the team the way Vito did to Michael. Harbaugh is still one of the best game managers in the NFL, and few coaches would have been able to coax eight wins out of the backups playing for the Ravens last year.

And of course, comparing the Front Office to Michael is not quite fair either — they are incredibly loyal to their players as well, and the relationship between player and organization is part of the reason ex-Ravens such as Eric Weddle speak so highly of their experiences on the team.

Next. Former NFL coach believes Ravens’ fourth-down call was ‘perfect’. dark

But the reality is that Harbaugh seems to be refusing to do what needs to be done, and it might be time for Eric DeCosta to take Greg Roman’s career on a little fishing trip.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of movies to watch.