The Baltimore Ravens have been the role model for the NFL for the past decade. Since the arrival of John Harbaugh in 2008, the team has only had one losing season (2015). Unlike another franchise that was very successful this millennium, this one happened without scandal. The only thing you can blame the club for is that it only won one Super Bowl in all those successful years.
Two years ago, however, the team – looking for a new ring – started a new period of success. Lamar Jackson amazed friend and foe with his performance. Unstoppable on the ground and successful in the air when it had to be. He became the deserved MVP and a new star seemed to be born. However, progress did not continue last year. Jackson was still unstoppable in the running game, but fittingly it was less than in his MVP year. Still, the team advanced one round before being eliminated by the Buffalo Bills. Can the Ravens advance another round this year?
The Ravens have proven in recent years that they have excellent scouting skills and know exactly which players can make the squad better. It is hoped that this will also be the case this year. On the face of it, the Ravens have not gotten any better in free agency. Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue left the squad. It’s a big loss for the team’s defense that these pass rushers are gone, as even with these players, the Ravens struggled to put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. Justin Houston needs to fill this gap. He was captured by the team just before the start of the training camp.
Also on the offensive line there are a few changes in Baltimore. The team did not dare to give Orlando Brown a new contract and opted for a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s the team the Ravens have to go through to finally make it to the Super Bowl again. Alejandro Villanueva must fill the void that Brown leaves behind. The Ravens also managed to capture Kevin Zeitler. The center is the replacement for Marshal Yanda, who ended his career in 2019. Last year the loss of Yanda proved difficult to absorb and with Zeitler this gap must now be filled.
Another Ravens need was an extra receiver. The aerial assault in 2020 was less good than the year before and the idea was to surround Jackson with more weapons. In this way, the attack should be given a new impulse. Sammy Watkins wasn’t the solution Ravens fans had hoped for, but it was what the Ravens leadership came up with. Watkins is injury prone and it remains a question what he can contribute.
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While the Ravens didn’t seem to be able to give Jackson more weapons in free agency, the draft was a completely different story. With their first round pick, Baltimore chose Rashod Bateman. The Minnesota receiver is athletic and fast, and his height makes an excellent asset to the Ravens. He will probably start on the outside, where he can be an important added value for Jackson.
Bateman wasn’t the only receiver picked up by Baltimore, as the Ravens also chose Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace in the fourth round. The receiver was expected to be chosen in the third round, but he was still there for the Ravens in the fourth round. This could be the steal of the draft.
The Chiefs trade gave the Ravens an extra pick late in the first round. This was used to select Odafe Oweh. Penn State’s edge rusher fills an important need for the Ravens, with which the team hopes to make up for the loss of Judon and Ngakoue. By adding guard Ben Cleveland to the squad, the Ravens had one of the best drafts in the NFL. Especially considering the quality of the coaching staff, who have proven for years to get the best out of players.
The Ravens’ attack has been under fire since Jackson’s breakthrough. In a league where everything revolves around the pass, the Ravens are an exception. Last year, the squad ran on nearly 60 percent of all snaps. By far the highest in the National Football League (NFL) and only the Tennessee Titans were also above 50 percent.
The approach had success in the regular season, as Jackson has won 81 percent of his games as a starter. Only after three quick defeats in the play-offs, the criticism swells. Not only from outside the club, because Marquise Brown also announced after the defeat against the Bills that something has to change. “If you’re the number one rushing offense and somewhere in your thirties in the passing game, something isn’t right,” he referred to the 171 passing yards per game, the lowest in the NFL. “That’s not a balance. We have to find a way to bring more balance to our game.”
The Ravens have tried to address this weakness by giving Jackson more weapons. Watkins, Bateman and Wallace are three new receivers that should give Harbaugh more opportunities to develop the attack further. That way, Jackson’s relapse as a passer should be dealt with. There is no doubt about Jackson as a runner, as he is the only quarterback ever to have two 1,000 yards rushing in his career.
A big downer for the Ravens is the loss of JK Dobbins. The running back suffered a serious knee injury in the preseason and for him the season has already ended before it really started. Due to Jackson’s many runs, Dobbins never had more than fifteen carries last year. However, because the Ravens had plans to use the back more in the passing game, it is a significant loss for the Ravens. Gus Edwards will try to replace Dobbins. Jackson may also choose the legs himself more often.
The Ravens’ pass rush is the squad’s biggest question mark. In addition to Judon and Ngakoue, Jihad Ward also left the team. Calais Campbell was the remaining player with the most sacks with four sacks. Justin Houston needs to fill this void. He was committed for a year in early August. Houston has never come close to his record 22 sack season, but he has had at least eight sacks for the past four years. If he can show that in Baltimore too, he could be an important piece in the puzzle.
The Ravens also drafted Oweh for extra pressure, but the rookie didn’t have a single sack in his senior year in college. The Ravens coaches are pleased with his speed and how athletic he is. He is expected to play an important role in the pass rush.
Despite the mediocre pass rush, the Ravens just have a good defense. This is because the secondary is among the best in the NFL. As a result, the Ravens are not dependent on the pass rush, but can make it difficult for teams by being able to follow all receivers. The coverage of the Ravens is extremely good. An important reason to give cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters contract extensions. It is also why the Ravens can expect that the defense will not get into major problems next year.
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Stagnation means decline. The Ravens are the prime example of this. After Jackson’s MVP season, the Ravens looked set to become the Chiefs’ main challenger in the coming years. Last season, however, the Ravens were already overtaken by the Bills. The omens are not much better for next season. The draft was good, but in free agency the team lost some key players.
This does not mean that the Ravens should suddenly start fearing the playoffs. Baltimore still has the most important building blocks for a good season, but making the playoffs is not enough in Baltimore; and that while clubs around the Ravens have gotten better. The Browns seem to be at least as good as the Ravens and the AFC North seems to be one of the best and most exciting divisions again.
Incidentally, the Browns have a good chance of winning that division. Not that it will matter much to the Ravens, because everything in Baltimore is all about the playoffs. With a 1-3 record, all eyes will be on the former MVP in January. Can you make it to the Super Bowl this year? Everything that happens before that is soon forgotten by everyone in Baltimore.