The Baltimore Ravens are a little less elite than they used to be. Or are they? Joe Flacco is now a Denver Bronco, so the reins of this offense officially belong to Lamar Jackson. Then again, that’s been the case since Week 10 of last season when Jackson took over as the starter and then never looked back.
Jackson only threw five touchdowns and only completed 58.2% of his passes in those seven starts to end the regular season and really struggled badly in the playoffs against the Chargers, but the Ravens are going with him, which means an offense tailored around running the football. He excelled at that with 556 yards on the ground and 4.7 yards per carry. Is that the right course of action in today’s increasingly quarterback-driven NFL? I guess we’ll find out.
This is annually one of the sharpest and smartest front offices in football, so we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Ravens have always been locked in a competitive division, but the emergence of the Cleveland Browns means that there are no more easy wins on the schedule.
The AFC North is a fascinating division this year and the Ravens are right in the middle of the mix. That means we have a lot to discuss.
Super Bowl Odds: +3300
Odds to Win the AFC: +1600
Odds to Win the AFC North: +375
Season Win Total: 8
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|3||@ Kansas City||+7.5||.22|
|9||New England (SNF)||+2.5||.45|
|12||@ LA Rams (MNF)||+7.5||.22|
|15||NY Jets (TNF)||-5.5||.69|
Total Expected Wins: 8.4
There was a lot more going than coming for the Ravens this offseason. CJ Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, John Brown, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs got fat stacks elsewhere in free agency. The Ravens were able to bring in Earl Thomas from the Seahawks and Mark Ingram from the Saints, so they were able to fill some areas of need.
That is a ton to replace at the second level on defense. The Ravens traditionally draft and develop extremely well at the linebacker position, but Mosley, Smith, and Suggs create some big voids. Smith led the team in sacks with 8.5. Mosley led the team in tackles with 105. Suggs was tied for second in sacks with seven. This is a real changing of the guard moment for the Ravens to guys like Patrick Onwuasor and Matt Judon.
Amazingly, the Ravens didn’t even address the linebacker position at the Draft. They went for speed with wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the first round. They did get sack machine Jaylon Ferguson in the second round and we’ll see if he plays more of a hybrid role for the Ravens.
Add Miles Boykin and Justice Hill to the mix and you can see what the Ravens are going for on offense. They’re going for speed, speed, and more speed. It makes sense with Lamar Jackson, who does have a powerful arm, but isn’t the most accurate throwing downfield. Get guys the ball in space and get guys that can create said space. These aren’t your father’s Ravens anymore.
Let’s see how the Ravens play this. Will we see more no-huddle? Will we see more of a college-style offense that prevents the opposition from substituting? Will we see a lot more option and some more trickeration? I don’t think we give John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg enough credit here. These aren’t spring chickens. These aren’t college coaches just now stepping into the NFL spotlight. These are veterans of the business that are willing to adapt and be flexible. You really have to applaud that.
You also have to wonder how well this all works. It worked for seven games in the regular season, but when the Chargers saw the Ravens for a second time, it didn’t work. Not to rain on the Lamar parade, but the Bengals, Raiders, Falcons, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Chargers, Browns, and Chargers again weren’t exactly the crème de la crème of the NFL. The Bengals were 30th in yards per play allowed. The Raiders were 32nd. The Falcons were 26th. The Chiefs were 24th. The Bucs were 29th. The Chargers and Browns were the best defenses that the Ravens faced in the Lamar era and both teams did a decent job keeping him in check. Again, I appreciate the creativity and they have all offseason to script a plan that fits him and only him, but color me skeptical.
The Ravens may be in an advantageous position in that they can play a ball control style of offense and hide their potential defensive deficiencies. It’s hard to see the best defense in the NFL from a yards per play standpoint falling off the pace that much, but the losses were substantial. Just in Mosley, Smith, and Suggs, the Ravens lost 184 tackles, 16 sacks, 42 quarterback hits, and 13 pass breakups.
The Ravens have a reputation for finding dudes that can ball on this side of the equation, but they didn’t address the back seven much in the NFL Draft or free agency. How much does Earl Thomas have left in the tank after missing 19 games over the last three seasons? Can guys like Matt Judon and Tavon Young keep it up this season? The Ravens only had 17 takeaways last season, so it was the base defense that played well. Some of those key components are gone for Wink Martindale.
Notes & Nuggets
Maybe this is sustainable, maybe it isn’t, but the Ravens were sixth in third-down conversion rate on offense and third in third-down conversion rate on defense. By running the football, the Ravens should face a lot of third-and-short situations, but will they be able to own time of possession to the degree that they did with the new holes on defense?
Here’s a scheduling quirk: The Ravens alternate road/home across all 16 of their games.
The Ravens are all-in with Lamar Jackson. I can’t fault them for that. He’s a dynamic player and they’re doing something that no other teams are doing in what has become a copycat league. You have to like the improved skill position talent with Ingram and the burner wide receivers that they picked up.
You also have to wonder about this defense. You have to wonder about the punishment on Jackson with all the hits he takes running the football. Jackson averaged 17 carries per game over those last seven starts. He was sacked 16 times and ran the ball 147 times. It’s really hard to earn a living in the NFL taking that kind of abuse.
I don’t think Jackson makes it through the year healthy and the entire offensive playbook will be tailored to him. The Ravens defense lost some really key cogs at the second level and on the defensive line and didn’t seem to address those voids.
This is an under pick for me. I’d prefer an 8.5 to an 8 at plus money, but the Ravens face an uphill climb this season in my estimation.