Late for Work 6/12: Three Questions Loaded Ravens Need to Answer This Season

061220_LFW
The Baltimore Ravens offense huddles before the snap during an NFL game.

Three Questions Loaded Ravens Need to Answer This Season

Popular opinion is that the Ravens have an even better team heading into 2020 than the squad that went a franchise-best 14-2 last year.

However, no team in the NFL is immune to question marks. In NFL.com's Adam Rank's analysis on the state of the Ravens, he identified three questions the team needs to answer:

Are they able to rally when they fall behind?

"This was a fear going into the playoffs, and indeed, when the Titans jumped out to a 14-0 lead, Baltimore struggled to catch up, while [Lamar] Jackson dropped to 0-2 in the postseason with a passer rating of 68.3," Rank wrote. "Will this be a problem moving forward? I don't think so.

"When you go back and watch the tape, you can't pin the postseason loss completely on Lamar. His first interception bounced off the hands of Mark Andrews, one of the best tight ends last season, while Seth Roberts had a brutal drop on an amazing pass in the second quarter that helped stalled a drive. I've seen enough big-time throws from Lamar to know he's going to come through. He's a better passer than he's given credit for, and I'm looking forward to him proving it this season. Hell, he increased his passer rating by 28.8 points from Year 1 to Year 2. I'm not going to count him out."

Can they find somebody to step up at wide receiver?

"You already know how I feel about Hollywood Brown, and I really love rookie receiver Devin Duvernay, a speedster out of Texas who, like Brown, can really stretch the field," Rank wrote. "But the Ravens still could use a chain-moving receiver who can catch those intermediate passes for those times when the team is behind and opponents aren't forced to stack the box – say, a Julian Edelman type.

"I would love to see Baltimore take a look at Rams WR Josh Reynolds, who could be a great complement to these Ravens wideouts. If the team can't swing a trade, it's up to Andrews to take his game to another level at tight end."

Can they overcome the loss of guard Marshal Yanda?

"The future Hall of Famer retired from the NFL after 13 seasons. He was a two-time first-team All-Pro and a five-time second-teamer. He also was selected to the 2010s All-Decade Team. So let's not overlook how significant his absence could be," Rank wrote. "After all, the offensive line is of great importance, because the Ravens run the ball on nearly every damn play – and they use play-action the rest of the time."

Despite a disappointing end to what had been a magical 2019 season, Rank said Ravens fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about 2020, starting with Head Coach John Harbaugh and Jackson. 

"Let me tell you a little something about John Harbaugh. Dude is a great coach – because he's willing to adapt to the style of his players rather than the other way around. That's the way the good ones do it," Rank wrote. "… You want to view your relationship with your players like, well, a relationship; rather than trying to make someone something they're not, you take what they do best and make them even better. This is likely a big reason Harbaugh has just one losing season (2015) in his 12-year coaching career. He knows what he's doing."

On Jackson, Rank wrote: "I'm a pretty big Lamar Jackson fan, so it is no surprise to me that he's already successful in the NFL. Did I think he was going to be MVP in his second season, his first full year as a starter in the NFL? I have to say I did not. It was a historic effort. Jackson is 19-3 over his two [regular] seasons (including 13-2 last year). And the really scary part is, he's just 23 years old (his birthday is in January). He's younger than 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and already has all of those NFL wins."

With so many pieces in place, Rank concluded that it's Super Bowl or bust for the Ravens.

"You can't go into the season with a top-five-ish coach, the reigning MVP and an offseason addition like [defensive end Calais] Campbell without thinking your ultimate goal should be the Super Bowl," Rank wrote. "Nobody is on the hot seat. Nobody is going to be fired. But anything less than a trip to the Super Bowl is going to feel like a letdown."

Harbaugh Still Isn't Over Playoff Loss to Titans

It's been five months since the Ravens' stunning loss to Tennessee in the divisional round of the playoffs, but Harbaugh said the sting still lingers.

"No, I haven't gotten over it. I hope to never get over it," Harbaugh said on "Inside Access" on 105.7 The Fan. "Any failure is fuel. … We had high hopes but we didn't get the job done. We failed, and we're disappointed in ourselves that we didn't play better. We coached and played our worst game of the year in the most critical moment, and that's a real disappointment. So we better learn from it, and we have and we intend to. I'm very confident that we'll be mentally tougher because of it."

Harbaugh also reiterated that he has high expectations for Jackson to be even better than he was last season.

"The bar is very high, and I expect great progression, great steps," Harbaugh said. "Lamar Jackson's a worker. He's got great drive. He's a self-starter and he wants to be the best. When you work with someone like that you can't help but get excited and enthusiastic. The sky's the limit, and we're not parsing our words. We're not going to talk about under-promising and over-delivering. We're shooting for the moon and I expect him to do everything he can to be the best quarterback in the league."

Other topics Harbaugh discussed on the broadcast included the team's draft class, the challenges of an atypical offseason, and his excitement for a healthy Hollywood Brown.

Will Three AFC North Teams Make the Playoffs?

While the Ravens undoubtedly have had a strong offseason, the two-time defending AFC North champions may not run away with the division title like they did last year, when they won it by six games.

A case can be made that the AFC North will be the toughest division in the NFL in 2020, and with the playoffs expanding to seven teams in each conference instead of six, it wouldn't be surprising if three teams from the division qualified for the postseason.

With Ben Roethlisberger expected to be ready for Week 1 and a stout defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to have a good chance of returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The Cleveland Browns fell well short of preseason expectations last season, but they still have one of the most talented rosters in the league.

The Cincinnati Bengals may not be a playoff contender in 2020, but they should be significantly better than last year's 2-14 team thanks to a strong offseason highlighted by the selection of Burrow.

"If I had to choose a division that could get three teams into the playoffs, I'd go with the AFC North," TribLIVE.com's Tim Benz wrote. "The Ravens are going to be good again. Maybe not 14-2 good. But 11-5 or 12-4 is likely. They'll win the division.

"With Ben Roethlisberger's return at quarterback and most of the Steelers defense back, I bet the Black and Gold is at least two games better. Put them down for 10-6. That would comfortably get a franchise into a seven-team bracket almost any year. The Cleveland Browns are the team that makes it interesting. … If Cleveland has done enough to get to at least .500, that could be enough to sneak in as the last wild-card team at 8-8 or maybe 9-7."

Pro Football Focus' Redraft Yields Surreal Results for Ravens Fans

In Late for Work earlier this week, I wrote about ESPN's reset draft, which saw Jackson going to the Detroit Lions at No. 3 overall and the Ravens selecting Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford at No. 28.

Pro Football Focus has joined in on the redraft fun. In their scenario, Jackson went No. 2 overall to the Washington Redskins, while the Ravens picked Roethlisberger at No. 28.

Jackson in burgundy and gold? Big Ben in purple? Yeah, I think PFF needs to hit the delete button on that reset.

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