Eisenberg: Expect the Unexpected With the 2021 Ravens

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Head Coach John Harbaugh

In case you missed it, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh went full-on pollster after Monday night's dramatic win.

In his locker room speech, he asked the players what they would select as the Ravens' most improbable win of 2021 – the late comeback against the Chiefs, Justin Tucker's 66-yard buzzer-beater in Detroit or the comeback from 19 down against the Colts.

It was a great barstool question, the kind fans spend hours debating, and of course, there isn't a right answer because all three wins were wildly improbable.

Harbaugh and the players didn't single one out, he said; they decided just to "expect the unexpected" going forward and believe their most improbable win would be "the next one."

It's good advice. I think they're on to something.

What lies ahead for the Ravens might be just as crazy as what's already happened, and that's not just because they play in such an unpredictable league.

As they wade into their season, some unusual qualities about the Ravens are coming into focus. Their running game isn't up to its usual caliber. And they're struggling on defense.

Check out Shawn Hubbard's favorite photos from the Baltimore Ravens' 31-25 comeback overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts on 'Monday Night Football' at M&T Bank Stadium.

Shawn Hubbard

Team Photographer

They've been able to stack some wins despite those issues largely because their MVP-caliber quarterback, Lamar Jackson, is in the process of expanding his range of ways to make magic happen.

We're almost at the point where his name is an adjective, as in, "You got Lamar'd." That certainly describes what happened to the Colts Monday night when they totaled 513 yards of offense, led by 19 points and lost as Jackson set a slew of passing records.

Yes, fate also had a role in the outcome. The Colts' kicker experienced game-night physical issues that came in handy. Their head coach instantly regretted his conservative play-calling before a potential game-winning field goal that sailed wide.

The win overshadowed the issues the Ravens experienced during the game, but the issues are still around and in need of attention.

The defense's struggles are impossible to miss. Baltimore is ranked No. 24 in total defense and No. 29 against the pass after being shredded by the Colts' modestly-ranked offense.

The falloff in the ground game isn't so easily quantified with the Ravens still ranked No. 4 in rushing, but lately, the usual holes and explosiveness simply aren't there.

A lot of factors are involved, but if you thought the Ravens were just going to sail through a debilitating run of injuries without being impacted, think again.

Tote it up. From their original blueprint for the season, the Ravens lined up Monday night without cornerback Marcus Peters, safety DeShon Elliott, inside linebacker L.J. Fort, D-lineman Derek Wolfe, tackle Ronnie Stanley, tight end Nick Boyle, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and other expected contributors such as wide receiver Rashod Bateman, tackle Tyre Phillips, cornerback Chris Westry and linebackers Jaylon Ferguson and Daelin Hayes. Two more players, receiver Sammy Watkins and guard Ben Cleveland, left the game with injuries.

I know every team deals with it and the Ravens preach "next man up," but having that many varied and key subtractions is bound to exact a toll in certain areas. I think you're seeing it.

Injuries aren't the whole story, of course. The Ravens' starting inside linebackers are among the NFL's lowest-ranked, according to Pro Football Focus.

But whatever the cause, the struggles of the defense and running game are having a destabilizing effect, putting a greater onus on Jackson to do his thing, which fortunately for the Ravens, is only becoming more and more remarkable.

When Harbaugh said we should "expect the unexpected," he meant it optimistically, tacitly reinforcing the idea that the Ravens will always have a chance to overcome odds and find ways to win if Jackson is taking snaps from center.

No one will argue with that after his performance against the Colts.

"I mean, this is crazy, what he's capable of doing," veteran D-lineman Calais Campbell said of Jackson.

It's obvious the Ravens are going to need to run the ball better and round into a semblance of shape on defense. But Jackson's maturation foretells a season guaranteed to surprise and amaze, regardless of those issues. Yes, I think you can expect it.

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