Should Ravens 'Run It Back' in 2022 or Are Major Changes Needed?
The past three years, the Ravens' main question heading into the offseason was what the franchise needed to do to advance further in the playoffs.
This offseason, which arrived sooner than anticipated, the Ravens have to determine what changes need to be made after ending the season on a six-game losing streak and finishing in last place in the AFC North.
Any discussion of the 2021 Ravens has to start with the staggering number of injuries to key players that began before the season even started and continued throughout the year. Obviously, injuries played a significant role in the Ravens (8-9) finishing with a losing record for just the second time in the past 14 seasons.
The question is: How much weight should the Ravens' brass give to the injuries when assessing the team's performance this season?
"Do [Owner Steve] Bisciotti and [General Manager Eric] DeCosta decide to not make any major changes and run it back, believing that better health was the only thing holding back the 2021 team?" The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Or do the team's top decision-makers conclude that the team's issues go well beyond the injuries and an organizational makeover is needed?
"There will undoubtedly be changes this offseason for the Ravens, but the depth of them will likely depend on how the team's brain trust views the impact of injuries in 2021."
PressBox’s Glenn Clark believes strongly that significant changes do not need to be made.
"It's just not that hard to figure out what happened. They lost half of their football team, most importantly their quarterback," Clark wrote. "They attempted to win football games with the Detroit Lions' roster (except weaker in a few areas). They fought valiantly. They had more chances than could have been reasonably fathomed. But it wasn't meant to be. We don't have to keep trying so hard to find an answer. THAT'S IT."
That said, the Ravens do have questions on both sides of the ball that go beyond the injuries.
A lack of big plays in the passing game was an issue during the second half of the season. Some of it can be attributed to Lamar Jackson being sidelined for nearly six full games, but the offense was slumping before Jackson suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Cleveland Browns in Week 14.
"[Head Coach John] Harbaugh is going to have to decide whether [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Roman is the guy to take the offense and Jackson's game to the next level," Zrebiec wrote. "His decision will say a lot about what kind of offense he wants to have and believes is best suited for Jackson at this stage of his career. If it's still going to be a run-heavy approach, Roman probably isn't going anywhere."
Clark wrote: "I don't always agree with the play calls. I don't always agree with the in-game strategy. But I've overwhelmingly agreed with the results and moreover, I don't agree with shaking things up because we didn't enjoy a stretch of games where THEY DIDN'T HAVE THEIR PLAYERS.
"If the Ravens want to throw the ball 40-plus times a game next season, they'll need a different offensive coordinator. I wouldn't be looking to do that. The Ravens will (presumably) get their running backs back next season and will hopefully have a healthy Lamar Jackson. If they can straighten out their offensive line a bit, I don't know why we couldn't expect them to dominantly run Roman's system again."
On the defense, tackling issues and communication lapses in the secondary were a recurring problem, as was the lack of a consistent pass rush. The Ravens finished last in the NFL passing yards allowed (278.9 per game) and were tied with the third-fewest takeaways in the league (15). Eight teams had fewer sacks than the Ravens (34).
Zrebiec said the Ravens' top priority this offseason needs to be about revamping a defense "that got old in areas and lacked enough game-changing talent."
"The Ravens badly need to get younger or more explosive along the defensive line," Zrebiec wrote. "They need at least one, if not two, difference-making edge rushers. They need to solidify the inside linebacker position alongside Patrick Queen. They need more quality cornerback depth and they've needed a playmaking safety for a few years.
"Essentially, the Ravens need help at every level of their defense and a good chunk of their assets in terms of draft picks and cap space are going to have to be spent on solidifying that group."
Three Players Ravens Could Target With 14th-Overall Pick
The Ravens have the 14th-overall pick in the draft, marking just the second time they've had a top 15 pick in the past 15 years.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer identified five players at positions of need the Ravens could target in the first round. Here's a look at three of them:
Mississippi StateOTCharles Cross
"As an athlete, he's strong, lean and explosive. As a competitor, he plays with brute-force physicality in both pass protection and as a run blocker. Cross played left tackle in college, but he's a good enough prospect to project as a right tackle. Given Ronnie Stanley's injury history, that'd be an asset for the Ravens."
Texas A&MOLKenyon Green
"The 6-4, 325-pound junior has started since he was a true freshman. Just as impressive, he's started everywhere but center along the offensive line. The versatile Green, an impressive run blocker, projects as a guard at the next level and could be the Ravens' answer at left guard. But he's also shown his potential out wide, starting at left tackle in the Aggies' upset win over Alabama."
"It's hard to miss the 6-6, 340-pound senior. Davis has been an immovable run defender for Georgia's top-ranked defense this season, and he was honored last month with the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the sport's best defensive player. On a Ravens defense committed to stopping the run, he'd be a natural successor to Brandon Williams up front. Davis' pass-rush ability is limited, however."
Mark Andrews, Justin Tucker Make Pro Football Focus' All-Pro Team
Tight end Mark Andrews and kicker Justin Tucker were named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Pro Team.
Andrews led all tight ends with 107 receptions for 1,361 yards, both franchise records for all receivers.
"Andrews just continued to produce big numbers at the tight end position, regardless of whether his quarterback was Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley or even journeyman Josh Johnson," PFF's Sam Monson wrote. "He was targeted 10.8 yards downfield on average — an extremely high figure for a tight end that tied for second in the league."
Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, had one of his best seasons yet. He converted 35 of 37 field-goal attempts (94.6 percent), the third-highest conversion percentage in his 10 seasons.
"Tucker hit a game-winning 66-yard NFL record kick back in Week 3 against the Detroit Lions, and that will take a kicker a long way over a season," Monsoon wrote. "He was perfect on extra points, and his only missed field goals (two) came from over 40 yards out."
Meanwhile, edge rusher Odafe Oweh made PFF’s All-Rookie Team.
"Oweh has earned a spot on this team following a season in which he led all rookie edge defenders in quarterback pressures (49)," PFF's Ben Linsey wrote. "While Oweh didn't lead that group in sacks, he did in quarterback hits (10) and forced fumbles (three). His six tackles for loss or no gain against the run ranked third among rookie edge defenders."