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Eisenberg: Offensive Upgrade in Progress

Left: WR Sammy Watkins; Right: G Kevin Zeitler
Left: WR Sammy Watkins; Right: G Kevin Zeitler

The Ravens' offense ranked in the NFL's top ten in many statistical categories in 2020. They were No. 1 in rushing, No. 7 in scoring and No. 8 in average yards gained per play, just to name a few.

Still, the front office saw room for improvement and so did many others after the Ravens generated just three points in their playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills.

What did the organization hope to achieve during the offseason to improve the offense in 2021?

One goal was to upgrade the line, make it better and more consistent. Another goal was to add primary receiving targets that quarterback Lamar Jackson could utilize to diversify the passing game.

In the first weeks of free agency, the Ravens have taken steps toward achieving both goals.

The signing of veteran lineman Kevin Zeitler was crucial. From the moment the New York Giants made him a salary cap casualty, I thought he fit the Ravens' needs. It turned out they felt the same way.

A durable, dependable performer already acclimatized to the AFC North thanks to his years with the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, Zeitler will take over the right guard slot Marshal Yanda vacated. The Ravens struggled to fill that hole in 2020, but there's no reason to think Zeitler will be anything other than exactly what is needed.

Several other questions about the line remain unanswered. Will Bradley Bozeman move from left guard to center? Will the Ravens trade Orlando Brown Jr. or keep him at right tackle for another year? Will Ronnie Stanley be fully recovered from his ankle injury? Are any of the team's young linemen developed enough to start?

But regardless of the answers to those questions, Zeitler's addition raises the caliber and consistency of the whole unit. That's big.

The unit would truly be on the verge of something special if the Ravens take a lineman with a high pick, perhaps even the No. 27 overall selection, in next month's draft. I'd be for that, even knowing the team has other needs to address.

The Ravens have rebuilt their identity around having a strong running game and giving Jackson the time and space to make magic happen. Investing heavily in the O-line makes total sense. Your money and draft picks are relevant on every play.

The signing of veteran wide receiver Sammy Watkins last weekend was similarly crucial.

Although the passing game produced some touchstone moments in 2020, bottom line, it was too predictable. Hollywood Brown and Mark Andrews were targeted 188 times combined; all other wide receivers and tight ends were targeted 154 times combined.

As terrific as Brown and Andrews are, there's a clear need for other primary targets who'll occupy defenses. Although the Ravens reportedly took a run at several other guys first, Watkins is much like Zeitler up front – an ideal fit for the team's needs.

He is big and strong enough to make contested catches and block. He is fast enough to get downfield. Opposing defenses will pay attention to where he lines up and devote resources to seeing that he doesn't beat them because, well, he can.

That should help Brown and Andrews, and if Jackson becomes comfortable throwing to Watkins outside the hash marks, it's another step toward making the passing game less predictable.

The only real question about Watkins is his durability, as he has dealt with some injuries. But at 27, he is hardly a codger.

Bringing in Watkins on a one-year deal is a classic "right player, right price" move. The Ravens only had so much cap flexibility after signing Zeitler (I was fine with that being the priority, by the way) and were looking for part of a solution, not THE solution.

They're getting close if they can add another dependable producer along the lines of Brown, Andrews and Watkins. They'll look for possibilities among their stable of young wideouts already on hand. The draft might bring another.

The 2021 offense is still a work in progress, with more additions and changes coming because the offseason is long and that's how these things work. But the Ravens are working on it.

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