Late for Work 1/23: Can the Ravens Reach 14 Wins Again Next Season?

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Are Ravens Likely to Have Fewer Wins Next Season?

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Ravens for next season and beyond, but one ESPN analyst identified them as a top candidate to regress in number of regular-season wins in 2020.

Of course, when a team goes 14-2 as the Ravens did, that's not exactly the boldest of predictions. But ESPN's Ryan Clark believes there are tangible reasons why Baltimore will have difficulty replicating its win total next season.

"Now [opposing teams] will have one more year looking at Lamar Jackson in that offense and trying to figure that out," said Clark, who added that the three other teams in the AFC North are all likely to be improved next season. "I believe that they will still be a good team, but they got on a run this year both defensively and offensively for a while where they were just unconscious. I don't expect to see that same type of year again from them."

While it's true that there's a whole season's worth of game film on Jackson and the Ravens' record-setting offense for defensive coordinators to study, we also heard after last season's playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that teams now had a blueprint for how to stop Jackson, this season's presumptive league MVP.

It's not like the Ravens' coaching staff isn't aware that opposing teams will be dissecting them.

"We are not going to be sitting on our hands, schematically," Head Coach John Harbaugh said during his end-of-season press conference. "We are not going to be saying 'OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.' We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball, by every single team in the league, very thoroughly.

"We will be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas – expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward. We will be working on that real hard in the offseason."

As for Clark's contention that the Pittsburgh Steelers (return of Ben Roethlisberger), Cleveland Browns (new head coach) and Cincinnati Bengals (new rookie quarterback Joe Burrow) all will be better in 2020, the same could very well be said for the Ravens.

Jackson is only 23 (which makes him younger than Heisman Trophy-winning LSU, and likely future Bengals, quarterback Burrow, as Harbaugh has pointed out) and has had just one year in Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's system. Does anyone really doubt how hard Jackson will work to get even better this offseason?

Jackson is one of many young, talented players on the roster. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon is the only player among the Ravens' NFL-record-tying 13 Pro Bowl selections not under contract for next season. It also appears the entire coaching staff will remain intact.

"We're a young team, especially on our offense. We're going to get better," Jackson said following the Ravens' loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC playoffs. "We only can get better. It's only up from here."

Going a franchise-best 14-2 again (or better) won't be easy, but it's also possible the Ravens could win fewer games next season and still be a better team -- and possibly a Super Bowl-winning one.

After the Ravens went 12-4 in 2011 and lost in the AFC Championship Game, they "regressed" to 10-6 in 2012 and won the Super Bowl.

There are a number of other examples of teams winning a Super Bowl after falling short the year before when they had a better regular-season record, including the 2005 Steelers (11-5 after going 15-1), 2006 Indianapolis Colts (12-4 after going 14-2) and 2018 New England Patriots (11-5 after going 13-3).

Advanced Stats Point to More Success for Jackson

Want more reason for optimism about the Ravens' future?

Pro Football Focus analyzed the futures of the first-round quarterbacks of the 2018 draft class, and, well, let's just say Jackson should have his shades handy. PFF's advanced stats indicate Jackson's extraordinary success is indeed sustainable.

Jackson, who was selected by the Ravens with the final pick of the first round after fellow quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen all went in the top 10, received an elite passing efficiency forecast.

"Jackson is the clear standout by EPA (expected points added per dropback) forecast at the end of second season," PFF's Kevin Cole wrote. "What's remarkable about Jackson's forecast is that this doesn't include value that he's added on designed runs. Question of Jackson's ability to sustain efficiency should be quieted some by this analysis, an objective formula that accounts only for plays when Jackson drops back to pass.

"Ignoring the otherworldly numbers for [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback] Patrick Mahomes, Jackson has the strongest EPA forecast following two seasons for any quarterback drafted since 2007."

In terms of PFF's passing grade system, Jackson is clearly trending upward.

"Mayfield started with the highest EPA forecast as the No. 1 pick, with Darnold, Allen, and Jackson trailing in that order," Cole wrote. "Mayfield's passing grade forecast jumped almost immediately after being inserted into NFL action. … Jackson's forecast rose significantly in the last few games of 2018.

"Their second seasons went very differently for Mayfield and Jackson. The former's passing grades lagged his rookie season, with each week providing more evidence that he shouldn't be forecast as an elite passer. Jackson, on the other hand, rocketed up to start the season, fell off some, then took to flight again midseason."

Mock Drafts Have Ravens Picking LSU WR Justin Jefferson

Recent mock drafts have the Ravens selecting Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray or an edge rusher such as Alabama's Terrell Lewis and Wisconsin's Zack Baun, but two others forecast Baltimore selecting LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

The 6-foot-3, 192-pound Jefferson's skill set would complement those of 5-9, 170-pound speedster Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.

"After LSU's national title win, Jefferson jumped to the NFL and could land a spot in the top 32," SB Nation's Dan Kadar wrote. "He has impressive hands, and is coming off a season with 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Ravens may have taken Marquise Brown in the first round last year, but they need another pass catcher."

The Draft Network also has Jefferson going to the Ravens.

"[Jefferson] displays a well above average ability to climb the ladder and snag the ball out of the air," The Draft Network's Jordan Reid wrote. "Adequate body control quickly leads to him being able to adjust to the ball pattern in the air. Shows the ability of having the conscious to track the ball out of the air even when he seems to be in unfavorable situations to make the catch. Trait is glorified in the red zone, where he refuses to be denied the ball and [is] tremendous with keeping his body clean off of the line."

The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon, who listed Jefferson as one of five potential draft targets for the Ravens, wrote: "According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, his 83.6 percent catch rate was by far the best mark among receivers with at least 65 targeted passes. He also broke 22 tackles, tied for the fourth most among wideouts, and would give quarterback Lamar Jackson another talented after-the-catch playmaker."

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