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Late For Work 5/24: Ravens' Most Critical Player Will Surprise You


Judon Is Ravens' 'Player on the Spot'

Who the Ravens' most critical player to success this year?

"Every NFL team has a player who will be on the spot, the focus of fans, media members and their own coaches and teammates," wrote CBS Sports' Pete Prisco.

"How that player responds will go a long way toward deciding whether a team can make major improvements, maybe even win it all."

Prisco's pick for that guy on the Ravens is – brace yourself – outside linebacker Matthew Judon.

"As a rookie last season, he flashed some nice pass-rush potential, getting four sacks in a backup role," Prisco wrote. "With Elvis Dumervil gone and Terrell Suggs getting up in years, they need Judon to become a 10-sack player to help improve a pass rush that wasn't good last season."

Judon was a fifth-round pick out of Grand Valley State last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he played one-third of the team's defensive snaps. As Prisco mentioned, that's likely to rise this year with the departure of Dumervil.

More than just his four sacks, Judon also logged six quarterback hits and 10 hurries. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound converted defensive end logged 27 total tackles.

But he'll have competition once again for snaps this year.

"[The Ravens] also drafted Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams this year, but Judon is a player they are counting on to improve the pass rush," Prisco wrote.

The Ravens have a variety of players in difficult situations at the start of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), from those looking to prove they can come back from injuries to those hoping for a breakout year.

Ravens' Best Offseason Acquisition Is Roman

Re-signing nose tackle Brandon Williams to maintain Baltimore's bullying run defense?

Inking safety Tony Jefferson or cornerback Brandon Carr to solidify the secondary? Signing running back Danny Woodhead to add a versatile offensive weapon out of the backfield?

Drafting Marlon Humphrey and a couple rookie pass rushers to infuse the defense with young talent?

None of those were picked as the Ravens’ best offseason acquisition this year by ESPN's Jamison Hensley. Nope, it was the hiring of Senior Offensive Assistant/Tight Ends Coach Greg Roman.

"Roman's challenge is to get the Ravens' slumping running game on track," Hensley wrote.

"In his past five full seasons as an offensive coordinator, his teams ranked in the top five in rushing four times. How important is the running game to Baltimore? When the Ravens gain over 100 yards rushing, their record is 60-22 (.732), the sixth-best mark over that span."

The Ravens ranked No. 28 in the NFL last year in rushing yards per game (91.4) and No. 21 in rushing yards per attempt (4.0). Only two teams ran the ball fewer times than the Ravens (Cleveland and Detroit).

Baltimore has been clear about its intention to run the ball more often and more effectively this season, and Roman will be a big part of that equation.

Asked about what gets him jacked up about power running, Roman said in our "Coaches In Cars" video interview (below) that he could "talk forever."

"Know who you are. Be that. And whatever that can create for you, exploit all the opportunities that can come from that," he said. "Some teams should be throwing the ball and chucking it all around – I guess. That's who they are."

Roman continued …

"You've got to be yourself. What's your identity? Who are you?" he said. "And that identity can have multiple faces. You can be a multi-dimensional attack. But at the core, who are you? What are you making them respect? They better respect something or it's going to be a long day of figuring it out.

"I'm not into, 'Hey, we're going to line up and smash them.' We want to attack people at a spiritual level. We want to attack their spirit."

Peter King: Ravens Could Go 'Either Way' This Season

MMQB's Peter King has put together his power rankings as teams' rosters are, for the most part, set as they kick off their Organized Team Activities.

King slotted the Ravens at No. 18, which is in the bottom half of the league but the second-best ranking in the AFC North. He has the Steelers at No. 5, Bengals at No. 21 and Browns at No. 31.

The veteran scribe has a good pulse for the Ravens, but he's torn on how they'll do this year.

"As with many teams in the middle of this list, the Ravens could go either way," King wrote. "I could see them win 11; I could see them lose 10."

As King pointed out, the Ravens are 32-34 over their past four seasons with one playoff appearance. He said Baltimore is "in a four-year funk."

"There's no sign owner Steve Bisciotti is considering blowing up anything. He shouldn't; John Harbaugh still has the pulse of this team," King wrote. "Question is, can Joe Flacco, in year two after knee surgery, take this team farther than he has since the Super Bowl?"

My colleague, John Eisenberg, wrote about this yesterday. The Ravens have upgraded their defense, and that will go a long way in helping them win more games, but Baltimore's chances still, in large part, ride on Flacco.

King said the most important factor this year will be the offense "being better than the one that seven times was held under 20 points last season."

"Again, so much of that is up to Flacco," he wrote. "Last year was his most accurate season ever (64.9 percent), but he lost two pairs of sure hands (Smith retired, Juszczyk went to San Francisco) and desperately needs to bond with Woodhead to give Baltimore 80 to 90 easy chains-moving completions."

King says the Ravens' most decisive schedule span is Weeks 11 through 14 coming out of the bye. Two tough road games (at Green Bay and at Pittsburgh) sandwich Houston and Detroit at home.

His prediction in 10 words of less: "A 5-1 finish saves jobs in Baltimore."

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