Eisenberg: These Ravens Have Undergone Quite a Transformation


The last time the Ravens played a game that counted, they gave up a late touchdown that cost them a trip to the playoffs. But a lot has happened since that disappointing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

A whole lot has happened.

At first glance, it's easy to assume the Baltimore team set for Sunday's 2018 season opener isn't much different from the one that lost the 2017 finale. Same quarterback. Same running backs. Same big names leading the defense. In fact, every defensive starter is back.

But that first glance is misleading. If you look closely, you'll see that the Ravens have experienced quite a transformation in the past eight months.

They're younger. Faster. Deeper. Healthier.

The result is a team with a higher upside, certainly more unpredictable and interesting than the one that fell just short of the playoffs a year ago.

We'll see how things unfold starting Sunday, but if the season that's beginning bears any resemblance to the offseason that's ending in terms of positive change, the Ravens have every right to be optimistic about what lies ahead.

Their move toward a younger roster was overdue. A year ago, they had the NFL's eighth-oldest season-opening 53-man roster, according to Phillyvoice.com, which has tracked that metric since 2012. In 2016, they had the league's sixth-oldest season-opening roster.

But as far back as April, when the Ravens selected a dozen players in the 2018 NFL Draft, it was evident the situation likely would be changing this year. Sure enough, their 53-man roster at Saturday's cutdown deadline included a dozen first-year players. They chose an undrafted rookie linebacker (Chris Board) over a popular veteran (Albert McClellan) and also took a rookie defensive lineman (Zach Seiler) over a fourth-year guy (Carl Davis).

The team is still led by veterans such as Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, Joe Flacco and Marshal Yanda, all well past 30, so it isn't a full-fledged youth movement. But Baltimore's 2018 roster is No. 18 in the league in terms of youth, according to Phillyvoice.com. That's a step in the right direction.

The Ravens' improved overall speed isn't as easily quantifiable, but you can plainly see it. John Brown, one of the league's fastest wide receivers, was a training camp standout. Hayden Hurst was drafted to provide downfield playmaking at the tight end position. Lamar Jackson displayed his speed throughout the preseason. On defense, Tavon Young's return certainly makes the secondary faster.

It's also hard to definitively quantify that the team is deeper overall, but again, my eyes tell me it is. The training camp roster was stacked with quality tight ends, cornerbacks, outside linebackers, safeties and defensive linemen. The overall talent level of the quarterback depth chart has skyrocketed.

If anything, the Ravens' strong preseason was a testament to the superior quality of their backups, who took most of the snaps. Week after week, they rolled over their opponents' backups.

As for the team's improved health, that's primarily a reflection of Flacco's status.

A year ago this week, he was gingerly taking snaps for the first time after sitting out all of training camp and the preseason with a bad back. His absence in those weeks slowed the development of the passing game, Head Coach John Harbaugh said recently. It never really recovered.

Flacco's situation couldn't be more different this year. He is healthy, mobile and seemingly energized by the tacit challenge of the organization drafting anther quarterback with a first-round pick. The Ravens are expecting a more productive passing game.

Aside from Flacco, the team has been healthier in general, losing fewer expected contributors than in recent years. Hurst and defensive lineman Willie Henry are the only projected starters who'll miss Sunday's opener due to injury (cornerback Jimmy Smith is suspended) and both are expected back relatively soon.

I'll be honest: When the Ravens lost that season finale eight months ago, I saw them at a low ebb of sorts. Although they had posted a winning record in 2017, they were out of the playoffs for a third straight year and their public was palpably frustrated with their status quo. Their narrative needed a change.

Eight months later, there's quarterback intrigue, a new set of receiving targets, a younger roster, more speed. In ways big and small, that narrative has indeed changed.

Related Content