Positional Grades for Ravens Offense Are In, QBs Get a C+
With the regular season in the books for the Ravens, it's time to hand out some grades.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec began by looking at the offense. Here are some excerpts from Zrebiec's analysis, focusing on three positions:
"Right near the season's midpoint, Lamar Jackson was one of the front-runners for league MVP. Then, came a poor stretch of football for the quarterback followed by an injury that knocked him out of most of the final five games. His backup, Tyler Huntley, performed competently and gave the Ravens chances to win until he played his worst game in a must-win regular-season finale. It would have been hard to expect any better from Jackson over the first six or seven games and from Huntley for much of the final four. But that middle stretch for Jackson was a brutal one and it accelerated the losing streak that ended the Ravens season."
Wide receivers: B-
"There was so much hype about this young and new-look receiving group that it was always going to be tough for it to meet expectations. When Jackson went down, it made it even tougher. Marquise Brown had a 1,000-yard season, Sammy Watkins made two of the biggest offensive plays of the year and Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay and James Proche all had some good games despite uneven opportunities. However, this group seemed capable of more and several factors, some beyond its control, held it back."
Offensive line: C-
"This could have been different if All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley was able to stay healthy and play more than one game, or if other injuries didn't hit this group so hard with Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers, Ben Cleveland and Tyre Phillips all missing extended time. The Ravens were forced to piece together a starting offensive line seemingly every week and it often showed. Ravens quarterbacks were sacked a team-record 57 times, the second-most in football. The run blocking was better, but the Ravens were heavily dependent on the legs of the starting quarterback. This group battled hard and played some strong games, but it looked overwhelmed in too many key spots."
Do Ravens Need to Hit Reset Button on Defense Under Wink Martindale?
It was a strange season for the Ravens in a number of ways, but one of the most surprising — and disappointing — aspects was the subpar performance by the defense.
The Ravens defense finished 25th in yards allowed and 19th in points allowed. The unit was No. 1 against the run but last against the pass.
Since Wink Martindale took over as defensive coordinator in 2018, the defense never ranked below third in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed or sixth against the pass.
As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, the staggering amount of injuries cannot be dismissed when assessing the Ravens' performance on either side of the ball, but is there more to the defense's downward spiral than attrition?
Russell Street Report's Dev Panchwagh believes "it's time to hit the refresh button" on the defense under Martindale.
"The amount of big plays the team yielded was alarming," Panchwagh wrote. "The number of those breakdowns relating to miscommunication isn't really acceptable in any way. The tackling problem overall reared its ugly head time and time again. It came up yet again in the Pittsburgh game.
"Lack of talent obviously played a hand. But when your best players are also missing tackles, missing assignments, and missing the toughness this team has been known for, there is a deeper problem."
The Ravens have always prided themselves on stopping the run, but Panchwagh said that will only get a defense so far.
"The bulk of the tier one offenses pass the ball well," Panchwagh wrote. "If you stop the run on early downs, what good is it when you can't get off the field in third/fourth and long?"
Sidenote: the Ravens were one of the best third-down defenses in the NFL. Regardless, Panchwagh contends that the Ravens need younger, more explosive players on the defensive line.
"The seeds could already be planted," Panchwagh wrote. "I like what I saw from younger defensive tackles Broderick Washington and Isaiah Mack. Justin Madubuike looks like he has the tools to be a more consistent game wrecker but might be confined in this scheme and system.
"Beyond those guys, the front office needs to retool and rethink how they want to rebuild this unit. They need playmakers who can get into the backfield and win their one-on-matchups in passing situations. The draft could yield that type of player or multiple players."
Panchwagh also questioned whether it's time to stop being so blitz-heavy and relying so much on the secondary.
"Ultimately it's not only about achieving higher sack totals. It's about getting pressure consistently when the opposing team must throw the ball," Panchwagh wrote. "The Ravens have fallen short in this department for some time and it'll continue to be a problem, even with [Marcus] Peters and [Marlon] Humphrey back in the fold. The better quarterbacks will continue to decipher their blitzes and have answers in today's pass-friendly NFL."[add]
Panchwagh believes the Ravens have a strong foundation on defense to build on.
"Along with those frontline defenders I mentioned earlier, Brandon Stephens looks like a dynamic defensive back who can play the slot, outside corner and safety, which might be the tonic that Wink needs to defend tight ends and other middle of the field threats," Panchwagh wrote. "Patrick Queen looked more like himself after a bad 2020 season. Daelin Hayes is another rookie edge defender who really fits the part of a Baltimore Raven outside backer.
"And if this season has taught me anything, the team needs to keep Peters at all costs. They needed his playmaking ability in the worst way. It's possible he might have been pound for pound the most glaring loss across the entire team in 2021 aside from Lamar Jackson."
Pundit Says Ravens Should Sign Akiem Hicks in Free Agency
While Panchwagh feels the Ravens need to get younger on the defensive line, Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski thinks the team should sign Chicago Bears veteran defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, a pending free agent.
Hicks, a Pro Bowler in 2018, has started 110 games over 10 seasons with the Bears, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. He was limited to nine games this season due to groin and ankle injuries and one week on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
"When healthy, Hicks is a game-wrecker," Sobleski wrote. "He's so powerful at the point of attack that he overwhelms blockers and often reestablishes the line of scrimmage. At 32, he's a few years younger than [Calais] Campbell while also providing more insurance if/when Brandon Williams leaves in free agency. Baltimore's defensive interior could and should look significantly different in 2022."
Giants Could Use a Do-Over And Hire Martindale
While Baltimore debates how Martindale moves forward with the 2022 defense, there's speculation that Martindale could be moving elsewhere.
Mike Klis, who covers the Broncos for a Denver TV station, suggested the Giants should hire Martindale to be their head coach. Martindale interviewed for the job two years ago, but the Giants hired Joe Judge, who was fired yesterday.
The Giants have also requested permission from the Ravens to interview Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz for their vacant general manager job, New York Daily News' Pat Leonard reported.
Hortiz is in his 24th season with the Ravens and third as director of player personnel. Previously, he was director of college scouting.
Ravens Tumble to No. 22 in NFL.com's Power Rankings
Three outlets released their final power rankings of the regular season. The Ravens (8-9) finished no higher than No. 17. Not surprisingly, the consensus is that injuries derailed a promising season:
"The not-so-fun-fact that defined the season: The Ravens started a franchise record 47 different players and tied another franchise mark by dressing 75 different guys this season. The Football Gods had their way with this team," Dan Hanzus wrote.
Sports Illustrated: No. 17
"The Ravens are undeniably talented, but suffered too many injuries and lost too many close games. There's plenty of reason to assume they'll be right back in the mix next year," MMQB staff wrote.
CBS Sports: No. 18
"This season simply had too much to overcome with all the injuries and COVID issues. They were a depleted team," Pete Prisco wrote.
- Campbell made $2 million in incentives by playing in 56 percent of defensive snaps this season, but Justin Houston was unable to reach six sacks (he had 4.5), so he missed out on $2 million in incentives, according to ESPN.com.