Eric DeCosta Becoming Popular Pick for Top Executive Award
A record-tying 12 Ravens were named to the Pro Bowl yesterday. Lamar Jackson is the MVP front-runner, and John Harbaugh is a top candidate for Coach of the Year.
However, it's not just those who wear jerseys or headsets who are deserving of recognition for the AFC North champions' success. Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta, in his first year in the position after longtime GM and current Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome stepped aside, is the NFL Executive of the Year in the opinion of "Good Morning Football's" Peter Schrager.
"I think Eric DeCosta in Baltimore is my pick," Schrager said. "Not only because of what they're doing on the field, but to think about the guys they lost, whether it be [Terrell] Suggs or Za'Darius Smith or saying goodbye to [Michael] Crabtree and John Brown, and they have found a way overnight to rebuild this entire team. You get contributions from Mark Ingram, you get contributions from the rookies, Marquise Brown, and I love what they're getting on defense from Earl Thomas.
"I think Ozzie Newsome laid the groundwork, but Eric DeCosta hit a home run this offseason; all those moves are working."
Former GM Scott Pioli agreed with Schrager's choice. Pioli was part of the team that hired DeCosta as a player personnel assistant in 1996 when Pioli was the Ravens' Pro Personnel Coordinator.
"When he came in, first of all, he's brilliant," Pioli said. "He's very unassumingly intelligent, one of the hardest workers, grinders. … He got to learn under Ozzie, who's an incredible mentor, incredible man, was a great tight end. Eric learned at the hand of a tremendous guy, but Eric has started to cut his own path."
Pioli said DeCosta landing Ingram in free agency was the best move for any team this offseason.
"Lamar Jackson is great, but if there's not an additional threat, that gets muted a little bit," Pioli said. "That was such a great marriage. Those two players help one another so much. Mark Ingram is terrific. Remember all the noise and excitement over Antonio Brown, Le'Veon and [Odell Beckham Jr.]? Fools gold sometimes."
Heavy.com’s Max DeMara echoed those sentiments.
"Most might have figured Ingram was the component of his offense in New Orleans, but it's clear he's as good as they come at running back and also a phenomenal leader," DeMara wrote. "If the Ravens manage to have playoff success, Ingram and his leadership will be a big reason why. To that end, he was one of the true steals of free agency, and one of the reasons DeCosta deserves a ton of credit for the team he built in 2019."
DeMara also credited DeCosta for engineering a trade with the Los Angeles Rams for Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters during the season, a move that has contributed to the resurgence of the Ravens defense.
"Many wondered if Peters could give the Ravens anything after the mild impact he was making with the Rams, but it's clear that has been the case in a big way for Baltimore," DeMara wrote. "Peters has been a seriously good addition for the team down the stretch, and his move could pay even more dividends if the Ravens can continue winning and make a playoff run.
"As a whole, DeCosta has done a ton of things right including these two moves and plenty of others. That makes him an easy pick as a top GM in the minds of many."
Marquise Brown Playing Key Role in Offense
Not only did DeCosta make a splash in free agency (signing Ingram and Thomas) and during the season (trading for Peters), but he also hit on his first-round draft pick by selecting wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer contended that the speedy Brown might be the most intriguing piece in the Ravens' high-powered offense.
"When Brown produces, the Ravens offense typically thrives — or maybe when the Ravens offense thrives, Brown typically produces," Shaffer wrote.
Despite undergoing foot surgery in the offseason and battling an ankle injury, Brown has proven to be everything the team hoped he would be when it selected him with the 25th-overall pick. Despite missing two games, Brown is second on the team is receptions (43), receiving yards (563) and touchdown catches (seven). His seven receiving TDs are tied for the most by a rookie in franchise history.
Brown has been especially productive during the second half of the season.
"Since Week 9, he's averaged 8.5 yards per target, with a catch rate of 78.6 percent," Shaffer wrote. "Among receivers with over 400 yards, only New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler have reached those thresholds this season. Not bad company."
While Brown is known for being a deep threat, Shaffer pointed out that Brown's greatest success this season has come over the middle.
"Of the 14 slant routes he's run, he's been targeted eight times and made seven catches, averaging 6.9 yards per target," Shaffer wrote. "The risk-reward calculus is obvious: When cornerbacks play off Brown, it's tougher to defend shorter throws. (Even when they have inside leverage, as Los Angeles Rams cornerback Troy Hill did near the goal line in the fourth quarter of Week 12, Brown can still beat them inside for a near-touchdown.)"
Shaffer noted that Brown's role continues to evolve.
"As the Ravens offense has evolved this season, unveiling a helpful wrinkle whenever it's called for, Brown's potential usage has expanded with it," Shaffer wrote. "At the beginning of the season, he was primarily a deep-ball threat. At midseason, he became an option on pre-snap jet motion, taking a shovel pass from just behind the line of scrimmage for a 26-yard gain against the Patriots. In the third quarter Thursday, he got a touchdown out of a third-quarter corner route and an easy 7-yard completion a stick route, in which he read the zone coverage underneath before pivoting to Jackson."
Gregg Rosenthal: Lamar Jackson, John Harbaugh Deserve Awards
As mentioned above, Jackson continues to be the MVP front-runner, and Harbaugh is firmly in the Coach of the Year conversation. NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal had them at the top of his lists for the respective awards.
"Perhaps the greatest red zone weapon I've ever seen, Jackson also has a deep ball that really sets him apart," Rosenthal wrote. "There's simply never been a season quite like this, with a record-breaking rushing campaign supported by a league lead in touchdown passes. [Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell] Wilson's fantastic season has steadily lost a little ground to Jackson's each week, to the point where it's hard to imagine Russ now making up the difference."
For Coach of the Year, Rosenthal went with Harbaugh ahead of the 49ers' Kyle Shanahan, New Orleans Saints' Sean Payton, Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin and Seahawks' Pete Carroll.
"The Ravens are one of the best regular-season teams since 1985 according to DVOA," Rosenthal wrote. "They are doing it with an offense that looks like no other and took genuine vision to even attempt. The defense is similarly unique, valuing the secondary over the pass rush and blitzing like crazy. Harbaugh put this staff in place. If they are the most creative team and the most effective team, how can you not reward Harbaugh?"
Power Rankings: Ravens Unanimous No. 1 for Third Straight Week
The Ravens' 42-21 win over the New York Jets on "Thursday Night Football" ran their winning streak to 10 games and solidified their hold on the top spot in the power rankings of the seven publications considered. Baltimore (12-2), which can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs this weekend, has been the unanimous No. 1 team for three consecutive weeks.
After winning their two previous games by a combined 10 points (over the playoff-bound San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills), the Ravens scored 40-plus points for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in their past six games. It was the Ravens' seventh victory by 14-plus points and their fifth by 21-plus points.
Against the Jets, Jackson's brilliance was on full display under the bright lights, as the MVP front-runner threw five touchdown passes and rushed for 86 yards. Jackson's 1,103 rushing yards broke Michael Vick's single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and his 33 touchdown passes tied Vinny Testaverde's record for most touchdown passes in a season in franchise history.
After the game, Jets players lined up to swap jerseys with Jackson.
"Before you judge Jets players for going full fanboy on Jackson after the game, keep in mind the guy handing out autographed jerseys is on pace to throw 38 touchdowns and rush for 1,200 yards," NFL.com’s Dan Hanzsus wrote. "It's been as historic an individual season as we've seen this century, so let's excuse his vanquished opponents for soaking in the moment."
The Ravens defense also turned in another solid effort, holding the Jets to seven points entering the fourth quarter and forcing two turnovers.
"Jackson's dominance makes it easy to miss how great the Ravens have been as a whole during their 10-game winning streak," Hanzus wrote. "That includes the defense, which has allowed just 14.6 points per game since Week 7. This is the clear Super Bowl favorite."