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Greg Roman, Future Head Coach?

A deep dive into Greg Roman, where he comes from, what he does with the Ravens offense, and his prospects as an NFL head coach.

Greg Roman NFL Head Coach
Photo: BaltimoreRavens.com

Next up in the series of potential head coaching candidates for the upcoming offseason is the Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Previously, I looked at Kellen Moore and Brian Daboll.

Who is Greg Roman?

Greg Roman when he was the 49ers Offensive Coordinator

Background

Greg Roman was born in New Jersey in 1972. He was the youngest of three boys, and was raised by his mother after his parents divorced. After the divorce, Roman never had much of a relationship with his father. At the age of 10, with his family struggling financially, Roman got his first job as a paperboy. During the summer months, he would work as a runner on the beaches of south Jersey in order to support the family.

In his early years, Roman would go to Veterans Stadium to watch the Eagles, and also worked as a ball boy for the Bengals for a summer. By his teenage years, he had an opportunity to spend a summer with his uncle, who was a writer covering Bengals training camp. Roman’s uncle actually co-authored the Bengals founder’s autobiography, “PB: The Paul Brown Story”. This clearly had an influence on Roman, as he has mentioned Paul Brown as his inspiration for getting into coaching.

“I feel like if I’ve seen him in the grocery store, the first thing he’d talk to me about is running power and gap schemes and my footwork.”

– Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr.

He graduated from Holy Cross High School, where he was named to the All-Jersey Team in his senior year. Football led to a scholarship at John Carroll University, where he started on the defensive line his junior and senior seasons. Despite his small size (5-foot-8), Roman earned Honorable mention All-Conference honors his senior year. In that same year, his team earned a share of the conference championship.

The Path of an NFL Coach

At the age of 22, Roman found his way into a Quality Control position on Dom Capers coaching staff with the expansion Carolina Panthers. He was working alongside some very highly regarded position coaches in Don Breaux (Joe Gibbs’ right-hand man), Chick Harris (RB coach under Chuck Knox), and Richard Williamson (Bear Bryant’s former assistant coach). Roman spent his first seven NFL years in Carolina learning from these seasoned football veterans. Spending so much time with these coaches who began their careers in the 1960s, Roman picked up a more old-school approach to his coaching and football vocabulary.

After earning his keep in Carolina under Dom Capers and George Seifert, Roman was let go along with the rest of the coaching staff after a disastrous 1-15 season. How about another expansion team? Roman traveled down to Houston to rejoin Capers in Houston for the Texans’ inaugural season. 

After a few difficult years in Houston, he joined the Baltimore Ravens under Brian Billick. He would only last two years in Baltimore, as his second season there was derailed by injuries to QB Steve McNair, among other players. It was at this point that Roman decided to take a step back and join the coaching staff of his alma mater high school, Holy Cross. This one-year stint was followed by two years at Stanford with Jim Harbaugh, bringing us into the modern era of the NFL.

Roman followed Harbaugh to San Francisco, where the team enjoyed great success for the first three years of his tenure. In the fourth year, the team went wayward, and the staff was let go after the season. This led to a two-year stint in Buffalo, and then to a gig in Baltimore on John Harbaugh’s coaching staff.

“For me, I almost see him as a dad figure. He doesn’t get mad at you. He’s a disappointed dad. He’s going to get on you. He wants the most out of you. And when you mess up, he’s just like, ‘Come on, man.’”

– Ravens FB Patrick Ricard

Greg Roman’s Offensive Scheme

Coaching History:

Roman has 26 years of NFL coaching history, with significant success in coordinating the run game.
Greg Roman’s NFL coaching history

Greg Roman has a history of working with mobile quarterbacks, including Colin Kaepernick, Tyrod Taylor, and Lamar Jackson. In San Francisco, Roman’s zone-read concepts allowed for Kaepernick to capitalize on his game-changing athleticism. In Buffalo, his Tyrod Taylor-led attack topped the NFL in rushing yards. Then, he helped Lamar Jackson lead one of the top offensive attacks in the NFL over the past three seasons.

“What he’s (Roman) done such a great job of, is he’s adjusted the scheme to fit the personnel and to maximize guys’ opportunities to make plays and do what they do best.”

– Rams HC Sean McVay

Roman has been able to shape and mold his scheme to three different athletic quarterbacks by capitalizing on their abilities and using their athletic traits as an equalizer in the run game. He disguises the offense’s intentions extremely well through play design and personnel flexibility. That is not to say that he is without his flaws. Football extremism comes at a cost. But I am slowly being turned to the dark side of football extremism myself.

Building a Coaching Staff

Greg Roman has built a massive coaching network to pull from in building his staff if he is hired as a head coach.
Greg Roman’s extensive NFL coaching network

In addition to the QB’s Roman has worked with, I also made note of the coaches he worked alongside over the course of his time in the NFL. He has spent many years alongside Vic Fangio, the Ryan twins, and the Harbaugh brothers. Because of his extensive time in the league with multi-year stops on multiple staffs, Roman likely has the clout and network to put together a high-quality coaching staff. He has worked with many respected coaches, multiple of whom have extensive coaching trees themselves.

Personnel Usage

Greg Roman runs plays out of a wide variety of personnel packages to high degrees of rushing success. His offenses throw the ball well out of heavier sets, but do not excel throwing out of lighter sets.
Roman has a wide variety of personnel packages and ways to use them, and he is not afraid to change his trends.

Roman does not follow the typical personnel rules of today’s NFL. Ever since Lamar Jackson became the Ravens’ starting QB, Roman has shifted their offense to heavier personnel. He typically only opts for “11” personnel in must-pass situations.

The Ravens do not run any personnel grouping very heavily. Their most common grouping is 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) which they use 37% of the time. They use 21 (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) 29% of the time. This two-RB set has a ton going on for it. For example, they will often use a true RB and FB combination with the FB in some type of split-back formation.

Under Roman, the Ravens have run the ball well out of every personnel package they use with frequency, except for “20” personnel. I think it is especially notable how well they run the ball out of heavier sets relative to NFL averages. NFL defenses know that they are going to run the ball in many of these spots and still cannot stop it. This is especially impressive in 2021, as the Ravens offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and a big off-season departure.

“We want to come smack the defenses in the mouth; that’s what he’s been telling us. Not just certain teams, but he’s been saying that all year. That’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to be aggressive this year. He’s been showing it, and I love it right now…”

– Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

Offensive Philosophies

Greg Roman runs a heavy play action offense with a power gap run scheme that packs a punch.
A look at the Ravens offensive trends and stats with Roman as play-caller (2019-2021). In 2018, he was TE coach and assistant head coach.

Power. Speed. Motion. Explosive. Conflict. These are a few words that describe Roman’s offense. This is the most run-heavy and play-action-heavy offense in the NFL, and it lives to pound the rock and generate explosive plays.

The Ravens have incredible ability to motion into and out of formations when using 21 and 12 personnel. They have used their FB as a WR, TE, FB, and RB, and he is capable of moving from anywhere to anywhere. Although, he is primarily used as a blocker. Additionally, they utilize motions with their tight ends and wide receivers often. The WRs include multiple vertical threats with game-changing speed.

In a recent game preview article, I reviewed Baltimore’s game against the Denver Broncos defense to get a feel for how Roman would attack a Vic Fangio two-high safety style defense. In this game, the Ravens looked to create conflict for defenders as often as possible. Lots of trapping and crackback blocks, with pullers all over the blocking scheme. Their pass protection is married to the run game very well, especially on play-action. In other words, their run blocking and pass blocking are not easily differentiated within a second of snapping the football.

They are highly effective using read options and RPOs, although they do not use them all that often. When Roman does use RPOs, it tends to be on first down to play into the Ravens’ run tendency. They consistently played out of heavy sets, leading to seven- or eight-man boxes when looking to take deep shots off PA. It is not out of the ordinary to see them run a six- or seven-man protection.

When the defense is playing eight in the box, they only have four defenders remaining in the secondary. This is what Roman aims to create, getting Mark Andrews, Marquise Brown, and Sammy Watkins into three on four. Their speed leads to CBs playing off coverage, and the Ravens love to eat up that cushion with short yards and YAC. Another tendency I noticed, the Ravens like to find the deepest man in coverage and motion their fastest WR to him for an in-breaking route.

Greg Roman Summary

Pros:

  • 26 years of NFL coaching experience with a strong resume and large network to build a staff.
  • Offense has proven to be effective in his last three stops.
  • Not afraid to adjust to the talent he has on the roster and “win ugly”.
  • Proven success with mobile QBs. Oversaw Lamar Jackson rise to MVP in 2019.
  • Successful ground attack everywhere he goes. One of the brightest NFL minds in the run game.
  • Has seen well-run organizations and poorly run organizations, giving him an understanding of how both function.

Cons:

  • Questionable ability to run an offense for a pass-first QB.
  • Lack of playoff success outside of one year in SF with the league’s top ranked defense. How far can a run-first offense go in the modern NFL?
  • Lack of history in developing QB talent without taking a run-first approach to the position.
  • Lackluster pass game production as OC.
  • May be too simple in pass game concepts with difficulty in attacking outside the hashes.

Final Words on Greg Roman

Greg Roman with Ravens QBs Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III

I personally believe that Greg Roman is one of the more undervalued assets in the NFL coaching world. His offense could be paired well with the athleticism and deep passing abilities of Justin Fields. I do question how well Fields could operate an RPO-heavy offense, but Roman has not run RPOs at a high rate in 2021.

However, I do believe that Fields could excel in the read-option game under Roman. And the idea of pairing Fields with the explosiveness of a Greg Roman offense is very enticing. As of now, I truly believe that Roman might be the best coach for the Bears’ current situation, as far as the offensive candidates go. However, I am not sure that he will have the same traction due to league trends toward the passing game. Unfortunately, the same concerns have held Roman back from head coach openings in the past.

Ultimately though, I think he would bring a powerful staff with him in Chicago and make the Bears competitive for the long haul.

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