Harbaugh Has a 'Hall of Fame Case' in Latest Rankings
When talking about the NFL's best head coaches, John Harbaugh is one of the leaders in the conversation.
That's why it wasn't surprising when Pro Football Focus’ Eric Eager ranked Harbaugh his second-best head coach ahead of the 2021 season, with the belief he could eventually go down as one of the greats.
"Harbaugh is the second-most tenured coach in the NFL, and he will forever have a place in lists like these after getting a team quarterbacked by Joe Flacco across the finish line in 2012," Eager wrote. "What is most impressive about Harbaugh is how much he's adapted to the needs of the NFL circa 2021.
"Whether it's by building defenses from back to front, adapting his team to suit the needs of a once-in-a-generation talent at the quarterback position or listening to the math on fourth-down decision-making (he went for it 64% of the time when he should have in 2020, among the league's highest rates), Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the league currently and has a Hall of Fame case to make."
At a job where teams often struggle to find continuity, that hasn't been the case for Harbaugh and the Ravens. Entering his 14th season in Baltimore, Harbaugh's track record speaks for itself. He's led the Ravens to nine playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl title in 2012.
As Eager noted, perhaps the most impressive part of Harbaugh's campaign is the transition from the Flacco era to Lamar Jackson. The Ravens completely shifted their offensive philosophy and have put themselves in contention again.
"The Ravens have played January ball 9-of-13 years on Harbaugh's watch, winning at least one game seven times," NBC Sports’ Patrick Daugherty wrote, who had Harbaugh fourth in his head coach rankings. "As is the case with any long-term head coach, it is easy to point to seasons where there should have been more. The disappointment comes part and parcel with the triumph. You only get to lose big games when you are consistently playing in them. That is the case year in and year out for Harbaugh, who has mastered the CEO role like few others. In a league with 32 teams, Harbaugh may never win another Super Bowl. He will also never stop putting his team in position to reach them."
Pundits Believe Running Backs' Involvement in Passing Game Should Increase
J.K. Dobbins' receiving skills at practice on Tuesday sparked conversation about the role of the Ravens’ running backs in the passing game.
Although The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer pointed out that throws to running backs are statistically the least efficient throw a quarterback can make, he believes Jackson would benefit from a bigger receiving role from his running backs.
"[W]hen the Ravens traveled to Buffalo, Jackson's blind spot turned into a liability," Shaffer wrote. "On nearly two-thirds of his drop-backs, Jackson faced a Cover 4 defense, a common coverage in which two cornerbacks typically patrol the outside deep zones and two safeties handle the inside deep zones. The defense allowed the Bills to bring up their safeties in run support and deter long passes.
"Where it left them shorthanded was underneath. Depending on the routes of the Ravens' outside receivers, Buffalo often had only three defenders in zone coverage to handle the Ravens' short- and intermediate-range options. But rather than widen out to the sideline when the Ravens sent receivers to the flats, Bills linebackers and inside cornerbacks concerned themselves mostly with routes run between the numbers. That's where Jackson is at his best."
It's not just Dobbins who could emerge as a receiving threat.
Shaffer noted that Gus Edwards has continually improved catching the ball every season. Edwards caught nine passes for 129 yards in 2020. Justice Hill also has experience as a pass-catcher at Oklahoma State.
"The Ravens don't need Jackson to feature running backs in their passing game for it to take off, just as Dobbins doesn't need to become Alvin Kamara to threaten defenses," Shaffer wrote. "But the more they can do — Jackson as a passer, Dobbins as a receiver — the harder they'll be to stop in 2021."
How Will Backup Quarterback Shape Out?
There's no doubt who the Ravens' starting quarterback will be this season, but his primary backup has yet to be decided.
It has emerged as an interesting position battle following Robert Griffin III's departure, giving the opportunity for two young quarterbacks in Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley to battle it out.
"The No. 2 quarterback battle between Huntley and McSorley will be one of the more intriguing competitions in camp," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Huntley has probably been the sharper quarterback in the three OTAs open to the media, but it's still early."
Both quarterbacks showed flashes in limited opportunities last season. Even without a veteran quarterback on the roster, the Ravens have expressed confidence in their young signal callers.
"I'm very comfortable with both Trace and Tyler," Quarterbacks Coach James Urban said. "They both approach it the way you have to as a backup in this league; they approach it like they're starters. That's how they're working, [and] that's how they prepare every day. I'm very comfortable with that. The only thing that is left … And hopefully, time will tell, [but] the one thing they just haven't had is great opportunity. [With] no preseason last year, we didn't get to see much."
Ravens Still Among Top AFC Contenders After Julio Jones Trade
Even after not trading for Julio Jones, pundits still expect the Ravens to be in contention among the AFC's best.
In fact, Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport ranked Baltimore third behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in his power structure of the conference. The Titans were fifth after acquiring Jones.
"They are led by maybe the most dynamic player in the league in Jackson," Davenport wrote. "Jackson was the 2019 MVP and has topped 1,000 yards on the ground in each of the last two years, and, with Dobbins and Edwards, the Ravens run the ball as well as any team in the league.
"We also know the Ravens have a well-earned reputation for being stout defensively. Led by a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, they ranked seventh in total defense in 2020, sixth against the pass and eighth against the run and led the AFC in scoring defense. But there are questions. … The margin separating the Ravens and Browns in the AFC North is razor-thin."