Ravens Well-Positioned to Succeed in NFL's Surreal Offseason
A global pandemic has created a unique offseason, but some NFL teams are better positioned than others to succeed in a challenging environment in which offseason team activities will be impacted.
The Ravens are one of those teams, according to multiple NFL pundits.
"I believe the Baltimore Ravens have the best chance of overcoming this historic offseason," NFL.com's Jim Trotter wrote. "The roster is loaded, led by reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson; the coaching staff is outstanding; and the organization is hungry to wash its mouth of last season's one-and-done playoff appearance after a 14-2 season.
"Not only that, Jackson has publicly stated that his singular focus this year is getting his first playoff win after losing each of the last two years. The young man's pride is as immense as his athletic ability, and I believe he will set the course for the rest of the team."
Beyond a talented roster and coaching staff, the Ravens have another key attribute that should serve them well this offseason: continuity. Head Coach John Harbaugh enters his 13th season with nearly all of his team's key players on both sides of the ball returning, as well as Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale.
"That seems to be the theme here: continuity, stability, familiarity," NFL.com's Judy Battista wrote. "This is an especially tough year to have hired a new coach or changed offensive or defensive systems."
Fox Sports Radio's Colin Cowherd expressed a similar sentiment in March, when he touted the Ravens as a team that will have a significant advantage this offseason.
"There's always an advantage for veteran teams that are well run, but I think this year more than ever," Cowherd said. "The well-run organizations: the Baltimores, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots … are just going to flourish because they have stability [and] many of the same people."
One of the Ravens' rivals in the AFC North could have the talent to be an exception. Despite hiring a new head coach, the Cleveland Browns may be in line for a successful campaign, according to NFL.com's Jeffri Chadiha.
"I do think the Browns are under the radar, which is a good place for them," Chadiha wrote. "They found a couple offensive tackles to give Baker Mayfield the protection he sorely needed – with the signing of Jack Conklin and the drafting of Jedrick Wills Jr. – and they still have plenty of overall talent on that roster. We'll see if [Head Coach] Kevin Stefanski can maximize the potential of that group."
Ravens Upgraded on Offense and Defense
The consensus opinion is that the Ravens have a better team on paper than the one that went a franchise-best 14-2 in the regular-season last year.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec took an in-depth look at where Baltimore upgraded, downgraded and stood pat, and his analysis validated the prevailing view.
The only two positions in which Zrebiec believes the Ravens took a step back are interior offensive line (due to the retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda) and tight end (due to trading Hayden Hurst). He wrote that the Ravens "look about the same" at quarterback, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, safety and special teams.
Here are some excerpts regarding the positions in which Zrebiec said the Ravens improved:
Running back: "The entire backfield, which set a record for most rushing yards in a single season, was kept intact and [General Manager Eric] DeCosta couldn't help himself when an opportunity to add to it presented itself. Despite having other needs, the Ravens turned the 55th overall pick into [J.K.] Dobbins, the record-setting Ohio State ball carrier, who was considered one of the top three backs in the draft. Dobbins, a hard runner with good speed and vision, gives the Ravens another weapon to attack and wear down defenses."
Wide receiver: "Beyond Willie Snead IV, they'll be relying extensively on Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, [Devin] Duvernay and [James] Proche, all first or second-year guys. Still, there's more for quarterback Lamar Jackson to work with here than there was in 2019."
Interior defensive line: "[Calais] Campbell has been one of the league's most productive interior defensive lineman. If healthy, [Derek] Wolfe should make a significant impact on the interior pass rush, which has been nonexistent in recent years. … [Justin] Madubuike, who was considered a fringe first-round pick, adds much-needed youth and athleticism up front. He'll push for playing time immediately."
Inside linebacker: "Heading into the draft, the Ravens' depth chart at inside linebacker consisted of L.J. Fort, Chris Board and Otaro Alaka. Fort was the only one who had ever started an NFL game. The Ravens, though, doubled down in the draft, grabbing two of the better inside linebackers available. [First-round pick Patrick[ Queen and [third-round pick Malik] Harrison seem to complement each other well."
Cornerback: "DeCosta didn't have to do anything this offseason to better the cornerback corps. He did what he needed to do last October when he acquired Marcus Peters from the Los Angeles Rams. Peters played extremely well for the Ravens and he should be even more comfortable this year. The Ravens will also benefit from the healthy return of [Tavon] Young. He is their top slot corner and his return will allow Marlon Humphrey to move back outside where he is most comfortable."
LaDainian Tomlinson: Don't Sleep on Justice Hill
As Zrebiec noted, the addition of Dobbins makes a record-setting backfield even stronger. The rookie joins Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram II, who rushed for 1,018 yards and scored a career-high 15 touchdowns last season, and Gus Edwards, who ran for 711 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2019.
Second-year running back Justice Hill also returns, and what he brings to the Ravens' offense shouldn't be overlooked, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson of NFL Network said.
"The reason why they're the best backfield in the league is because of Justice Hill, who rounds out that backfield," Tomlinson said. "I think Justice Hill is a guy that can be a great change-of-pace type of back. He's a 4.3 guy, but he's the guy that you can line up and bring him out of the backfield and have him run routes and catch the ball out of the backfield. He adds a different dimension and makes them more versatile."
Hill, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma State, saw limited action as a rookie, but ran for a touchdown in each of the Ravens' final two regular-season games and caught four passes for 26 yards in the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. In the last three games, including the playoffs, Hill led the backfield in targets.
DeCosta has indicated that all four running backs will have a role in the offense.
"I would equate it to us last year having the tight ends that we had – the three tight ends," DeCosta said during an appearance on "The Lounge" a couple weeks ago. "Greg did an amazing job of taking those tight ends and really creating something special that made us very tough for defenses to play. And now we've got the four running backs and they all do different things well. It just makes us, I think, a really, really well-rounded team that's tough to defend."
Roman, Martindale Top List of Future Head-Coaching Candidates
The Ravens were fortunate to bring back Roman and Martindale this season, but they may not be as lucky next year. Both coordinators made Bleacher Report's Maurice Morton's list of the top six head coaching candidates entering the 2020 season.
"Greg Roman should top the list of any team's head-coaching search," Morton wrote. "Roman has fielded a top-eight ground attack in all seven of his years as an offensive coordinator with three different teams. … Based on Roman's track record, he doesn't just put together strong ground attacks. He pressures opponents on the scoreboard as well. In six out of seven terms, his units have ranked 12th or higher in scoring. Last season, the Ravens recorded a franchise-record 531 points.
"Most importantly, Roman has developed and optimized the skill sets of mobile quarterbacks, including Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Tyrod Taylor and Jackson. That's a key aspect as the position evolves with more athletic signal-callers under center."
Martindale reportedly signed a three-year extension in February, but that won't quell interest from other teams, Morton wrote.
"Over the last two terms under Martindale, Baltimore's defense has ranked top-four in yards and points allowed," Morton wrote. "He's accomplished those feats without a pass-rusher who has hit double-digit sacks. The Ravens play-caller has dialed up blitzes to generate pocket pressure, which keeps opposing quarterbacks on edge and helps the secondary.
"To put Martindale's aggressive approach into perspective, the Ravens blitzed more than any other team in each of the last two seasons. … Martindale could appeal to a club with a solid group of defensive backs and an inconsistent pass rush. His coaching scheme may push a borderline playoff club over the hump."
Ravens' Lack of Home Monday Night Games Is Not Just Your Imagination
As the late Kurt Cobain said, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."
As that relates to the Ravens and their fans, the long-held belief that the team has gotten a raw deal when it comes to home versus road games on "Monday Night Football" is backed up by the numbers.
Since 2008 (the beginning of the Harbaugh era), 12 of the Ravens' 14 "Monday Night Football" games have been played on the road.
Teams such as the Browns (three home, four away), Jacksonville Jaguars (three, one), Buffalo Bills (three, three), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (four, two) and Detroit Lions (four, seven) have had more Monday night home games than the Ravens.
The Washington Redskins, despite having just three winning seasons during that span, have played 18 games on Monday night, 12 of which were at home.
The Ravens will host their first "Monday Night Football" game since 2017 against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.
Could Joe Flacco End Up With an AFC North Rival?
It was strange seeing Joe Flacco in a Denver Broncos uniform last season, but it would be even stranger seeing the former Ravens quarterback wearing the colors of the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals.
Flacco, who underwent neck surgery last month and is expected to be out until around Sept. 1, would be a good fit for the Bengals, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote.
"Cincinnati could use a veteran to help guide rookie Joe Burrow, and who better to do so than a former Super Bowl winner who understands the nuances of the AFC North?" Fowler wrote. "Flacco can help win games if called upon but isn't a threat to a young player at this stage in his career, assuming he's healthy by the time the season begins."
It would be surreal to see Flacco take the field at M&T Bank Stadium in a Bengals uniform, even if he was standing on the sideline holding a clipboard. The Ravens didn't play Flacco and the Broncos last season.
Other potential destinations for Flacco mentioned in the article were the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets.
- Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley was named to NFL.com's All-Paid Team of Tomorrow, which identified a player at each position who is expected to receive the next big-money contract. Humphrey was listed as a player to watch at cornerback behind the Los Angeles Rams' Jalen Ramsey.