Keyshawn Johnson: Ravens Are 'Poised to Shock a Lot of People'
One of the main takeaways from the Ravens' 2021 schedule is the brutal second half of the season, as seven of their final eight games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, and five are versus AFC North foes.
ESPN analysts debated whether the Ravens could overcome the tough back end of the schedule, and Keyshawn Johnson was confident they could, largely because of the upgrades the team made to the passing game this offseason.
Not only was Johnson high on the selection of wide receiver Rashod Bateman in the first round and signing of veteran Sammy Watkins in free agency, but the former Pro Bowl receiver also praised the Ravens for bringing in coaches to elevate the passing game.
"They also went and got a terrific guy, a guy named Keith Williams, an ex-receiver coach in college who trained people like Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, adding him to the room, [and] Tee Martin, from Tennessee, receiver coach," Johnson said. "So I think the passing game for the Baltimore Ravens will be much better than it was a couple years and even a year ago, with Lamar Jackson.
"I think this team is poised to shock a lot of people still."
Williams, whose title with the Ravens is pass game specialist, coached wide receivers for 18 years at the collegiate level and has worked as Watkins' personal coach. Martin, the Ravens' wide receivers coach, spent the past two seasons as assistant head coach/passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach at the University of Tennessee.
The Ravens' schedule from Weeks 12-18 is daunting, but they've played well down the stretch in recent years. With Jackson as the starter, the Ravens have a 21-4 regular-season record in the months of November, December and January.
When Calais Campbell was asked about the challenging second-half schedule, the veteran defensive end said: "I feel like that's going to be a grind toward the end. But that's what we're built for. We have to earn the right, find a way to get to the playoffs."
Bold Prediction: Odafe Oweh Will Lead All Rookies in Sacks
Can first-round pick Odafe Oweh go from zero to hero?
Asked to make a bold prediction about one player in this year's draft, ESPN's Matt Bowen wrote that Oweh, who did not have a sack with Penn State last season, will lead all rookies in sacks in 2021.
"Oweh has the explosive traits to be schemed as a pass rusher," Bowen wrote. "Create one-on-one edge matchups, while also utilizing Oweh's short-area speed on twists and stunts to get home to the quarterback."
The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Oweh has only been playing football for five years, but he's already shown in minicamp why such predictions aren't far-fetched.
"When you watch Oweh and see his frame and athleticism, it's easy to imagine the possibilities," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "There surely will be growing pains, too. His progress over the next three months ahead of the start of the season will be fascinating to monitor. There's a confidence and seriousness about him that suggests he understands how good he could ultimately become if he puts in the work."
Another Top Veteran Pass Rusher Comes Off the Market
Speaking of pass rushers, another of the top remaining free agents at the position came off the market yesterday when Ryan Kerrigan signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite re-signing Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee and drafting Oweh and Daelin Hayes, it's widely believed the Ravens, who also have Jaylon Ferguson returning for his third season, would like to add a proven veteran pass rusher.
The biggest names still available are Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, Olivier Vernon and Everson Griffin. Houston reportedly visited the Ravens last month. According to Zrebiec, "there appears to be a good bit of separation between Houston's asking price and what the Ravens are willing to offer."
"Overall, the Ravens have plenty of talent at the edge position," Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher wrote. "However, despite having players who can set the edge and drop back into coverage, right now it doesn't seem like the team has any pure pass rushers who can be 10-12 sack players.
"That's not to say that the pass rushers currently on Baltimore's roster can't develop into a sack artist with increased snaps, but the safer option could be to add a veteran who has proven that they can get to the quarterback consistently."
Is Lamar Jackson Way Too Low in PFF's QB Rankings?
Jackson was the second unanimous league MVP in history in 2019, is 30-7 (.811) as a starter, has led the Ravens to the playoffs in all three of his seasons, and is the only quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in multiple seasons.
So where does Jackson rank in Pro Football Focus' quarterback rankings ahead of the 2021 season? Top three? Top five?
Shockingly, Jackson's ranking is the same as his No. 8 jersey number.
"Regression is likely when coming off an MVP campaign, and we saw that from Jackson," PFF's Bruce Gradkowski wrote. "The Ravens' offense was less effective in the run game and the offensive line struggled at times this past season."
Gradkowski did acknowledge that Jackson is arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the league and could be in store for another big season.
"If the Ravens can help him out with a more efficient and effective pass game tied into their run concepts, then I would expect Jackson to get back to MVP form," Gradkowski wrote. "Baltimore has a tough schedule ahead compared to last year, so Jackson will have to shoulder the load to prove he can take the Ravens back to the promised land."
The quarterbacks ranked ahead of Jackson in order are: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen and Dak Prescott. While Jackson is 0-3 in his career against Mahomes, he's 5-0 in the regular season against Brady, Wilson, Watson and Allen.
Ronnie Stanley vs. Joey Bosa Among Top Matchups on Ravens' Schedule
In yesterday's Late for Work, we noted that Bleacher Report listed Marlon Humphrey versus Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase as one of the best wide receiver-cornerback matchups in the league this season.
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer identified some of the other big one-on-one battles on the Ravens' schedule. Here's a look at three:
LT Ronnie Stanley vs. Los Angeles Chargers DE Joey Bosa (Week 6)
"Bosa has 1 ½ sacks in two games against the Ravens, both coming in 2019, both starting on Jackson's blind side. But Stanley was not responsible for either sack; the blame fell to left guard James Hurst, who was beaten badly on both plays. When healthy, Stanley is one of the NFL's best tackles, especially in pass protection. He hasn't allowed a sack over the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. But if Stanley's ankle is still giving him trouble in mid-October, Bosa will only compound the problem."
Jackson vs. Indianapolis Colts ILB Darius Leonard (Week 5)
"The final scoreline at Lucas Oil Stadium [in the Ravens' 24-10 win last season] was somewhat deceiving. The Ravens finished with 266 yards overall, their third fewest all season, and just 2.9 yards per carry. Leonard had a lot to do with that. But he was also picked on in coverage. Of Jackson's 23 attempts, over a third went after Leonard, who allowed six completions on eight targets for 51 yards, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Even with Jackson all but boycotting outside-the-numbers throws, he still finished 19-for-23 for 170 yards."
ILB Patrick Queen vs. Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones (Week 15)
"[Queen] missed 21 tackles in 16 games, according to [Pro Football Reference], the most in the NFL, and had a combined three sacks and quarterback hurries after Week 6. Most notable, though, were Queen's struggles in pass defense, where he'd excelled at LSU. He allowed 366 yards (third most on the team), a 75.9% completion percentage and a 104.4 passer rating when targeted in coverage. Most of Queen's problems came in zone coverage over the middle, but he also surrendered a few important catches to running backs along the sideline. Quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers have no doubt taken note."
Mark Andrews Makes All-Paid Team of Tomorrow
Tight end Mark Andrews made NFL.com's All-Paid Team of Tomorrow, which lists the top candidate to become the next player to push for the rank of highest paid at each position.
NFL.com's Anthony Holzman-Escareno projects Andrews' next contract to average $14 million-plus per year. Andrews is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
"Lamar Jackson's favorite target through the air, Andrews leads Baltimore in targets (186), receptions (122), receiving yards (1,553) and receiving touchdowns (17) over the last two seasons. That receiving touchdown total also puts him first among tight ends and eighth among all players since 2019," Holzman-Escareno wrote. "The only tight ends with more receiving yards than Andrews over that span are Travis Kelce (2,645), Darren Waller (2,341), and George Kittle (1,687) — and that group includes the two-highest paid players at the position (Kittle and Kelce)."
While Wilson was selected as the quarterback on the list (with a projected $45 million-plus average annual salary), Jackson also received mention.
"Anyone still laboring under the misconception that a great runner cannot also be a great passer will struggle to put a proper dollar sign on Jackson's value, but the fact is, the 24-year-old Jackson has proven he can be both," Holzman-Escareno wrote. "Jackson can be retained for two more seasons on his rookie contract, with Baltimore exercising his fifth-year option, but he is an elite quarterback, and the Ravens would be wise to learn from the Cowboys (who waited until the last minute to extend Dak Prescott beyond his rookie deal) and not let negotiations with their franchise quarterback drag out."
General Manager Eric DeCosta said after the draft that he would work "tirelessly" to get a deal done with Jackson.
- The Ravens dropped one spot to No. 6 in ESPN's power rankings.