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Late for Work 1/31: Top Offseason Priority? Improving Injury Prevention

RB Gus Edwards

Ravens Must Improve Injury Prevention in 2022

It was a tough season for the Ravens as they battled through injuries week after week. By season's end, they were missing multiple All-Pro players and their MVP, Lamar Jackson.

The Cincinnati Bengals are headed to Super Bowl LVI after a season in which they largely dodged the injury bug. They only have eight players on Injured Reserve, and two of the best, right tackle Riley Reiff and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, didn't go on until December and January, respectively.

Who knows how far the Ravens could have gone had they not suffered an onslaught of injuries.

It's eliminating, or at least decreasing, those injuries that ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler sees as the team's top requirement for the 2022 season.

"Priorities this offseason: Figure out why Ravens players are getting hurt at an alarming rate," Fowler wrote. "Baltimore finished the year with 18 players on injured reserve. Those are numbers that prompt internal reviews on injury-prevention seminars. Broken bones turned a contending team to a middle-of-the-road finisher. Maybe this is an anomaly, but Baltimore needs to figure it out – and fast."

Fowler wasn't the only one this weekend to cite the Ravens' injury issues, as The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer also put "get healthy" as his first way the Ravens can model the four teams playing in Championship Sunday, as three teams that played saw improvement in their injury prevention from the season prior.

"The 49ers' turnaround, not surprisingly, has coincided with a positive injury regression," Shaffer wrote. "They're not alone, either. The Chiefs rebuilt their depleted offensive line and finished with the NFL's fourth-best adjusted sack rate, according to Football Outsiders. In Cincinnati, quarterback Joe Burrow is back from the knee injury that ended his rookie season, and running back Joe Mixon, left tackle Jonah Williams and defensive tackle D.J. Reader, all limited in 2020, have helped out."

Though injuries can't all be prevented, finding a way to curb the abundance of them would certainly give the 2022 Ravens a leg up.

Three Ravens in PFF Top 100 Free Agents List

The Ravens front office has its work cut out for it as three pending Ravens free agents rank among PFF’s Top 100 free agents.

However, the two highest ranked free agents, defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebacker Justin Houston, are seasoned veterans who were last caught sitting on the bench soaking up the final moments of their 2021 season.

Calais Campbell
PFF Rank: 30
"The ageless wonder Calais Campbell is in the midst of another very strong season now at 35 years of age, with his 86.6 grade well above any of the other pending free agent interior defenders. He's a better run defender at this stage in his career than he is a pass-rusher, but he can still win his one-on-one matchup and get upfield in a hurry now and then. Much like his former teammate Larry Fitzgerald, Campbell will likely continue to play on strong one-year deals until he decides to hang up the cleats."

Justin Houston
PFF Rank: 37
"After grading below 79.0 just once in eight seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs — his rookie season — Houston signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. He debuted with 60 quarterback pressures for the Colts but posted a career-low 64.4 pass-rush grade in 2020. It was the first sub-70.0 mark of his career, and his 32 quarterback pressures were his fewest in a full season since his rookie season in 2011. The salary cap drop of the 2020 offseason could not have come at a worse time, and Houston eventually agreed to sign with the Baltimore Ravens for less than what several other teams were reportedly offering. His seven quarterback hits halfway through the 2021 season rank tied for ninth among edge rushers. He should be able to bounce back in a better market."

Sammy Watkins
PFF Rank: 100
"Watkins may be on his third team in as many seasons, finishing the 2021 season lower on the depth chart than where he started. His 394 receiving yards this year marks the lowest total of his career. The former No. 4 overall pick will always present an intriguing option to teams, but at this stage in his career, he is purely a depth receiver that hopefully can command the defense's attention to free up the top playmakers."

A rather surprising omission from the top 100 list is center Bradley Bozeman, who helped anchor the Ravens offensive line this season. Bozeman, according to PFF, comes in at No. 123. The final Raven on PFF's list of free agents is safety DeShon Elliott (No. 136), who suffered a season-ending biceps and pectoral injury in early November.

Staff Changes Could Continue for the Ravens

This weekend, the Ravens saw Tight Ends Coach Bobby Engram sign on as the Wisconsin Badgers new offensive coordinator, leaving a new position for Head Coach John Harbaugh to fill.

This absence may not be the end of their staffing changes either, as defensive line coach and run game coordinator Anthony Weaver has been requested for an interview by the Denver Broncos on Saturday.

Weaver was interviewed last week for the Ravens' defensive coordinator position, before the team ultimately brought back Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator and former linebackers coach Mike Macdonald.

Though Weaver's been requested for an interview, there's a report that he may not be the leading candidate, meaning the Ravens could end up retaining him.

Macdonald Hiring Could Benefit Pass Rushers Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser

Michigan saw significant improvements to its pass rush and overall defense after hiring Macdonald. With Macdonald headed back to Baltimore, Justin Fried believes his presence will be beneficial for outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh.

"Macdonald was able to completely transform Michigan's defense in 2021 and he oversaw the rise of two potential top-10 players in the 2022 NFL Draft, pass rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo," Fried wrote. "Bowser, to his credit, put together the best pass-rush season of his career this past season. He finished with a career-high seven sacks pacing the team in pass-rush productivity. It's easy to see Bowser continuing to improve under Macdonald's watch. Once Bowser returns from injury, expect him to pick up right where he left off in 2021, provided the recovery process goes according to plan.

"Ravens fans have to be eager to see what Macdonald can do with Oweh," Fried wrote. "The 31st overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Oweh's NFL career got off to a hot start as he wasted little time making an impact with three sacks in his first five games. … It was a promising rookie season from the young pass rusher, but it's clear that he hasn't even come close to reaching his ceiling. That's where Macdonald can come into play."

The excitement for the pass rushers seems warranted, as Hutchinson and Ojabo dominated in 2021, combining for 25.0 sacks. This type of improvement would be welcomed in Baltimore, as the Ravens' trio of Bowser, Oweh and veteran Houston combined for 16.5 sacks in 2021.

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