NFL Writer: Ravens Have Everything Needed for Super Bowl Run
After going to the playoffs the past three seasons but not getting past the divisional round, it's time for the Ravens to make it to the Super Bowl.
So says NFL.com writer Adam Rank in his in-depth look at the state of the franchise.
"Today is an exciting time to be a fan of the Baltimore Ravens," Rank wrote. "You've got the team. You've got the coach. You've got the quarterback. Everything needed for a Super Bowl run is right there, waiting to be maximized. The only thing left to do is shatter that glass ceiling to get to the next level."
For the Ravens' season to truly be considered a success, making it to the AFC Championship Game won't be enough, Rank said.
"You had that whole 'Lamar [Jackson] can't win a playoff game' thing hanging over him, and now that's gone," Rank wrote. "The next logical step would be a trip to the conference championship game, but I think we're too far down the road. It's like having a child with your significant other, but not thinking that you're enough of a couple for a joint Christmas Card photo. I mean, you're past that point already."
Nine of the Ravens' 17 games this season are against teams that made the playoffs last year, but Rank believes they're up to the challenge.
"I'm bullish on Baltimore this year, despite the fact that the Ravens have one of the league's toughest schedules," Rank wrote. "But as long as the defense can stay in the top 10 — and it's the Ravens, so of course that's going to happen — I look for the offense to improve on last year's No. 19 ranking in total yardage, which could make Baltimore the most dangerous AFC team outside of Kansas City."
Rank identified Head Coach John Harbaugh and Jackson as the Ravens' 2021 VIPs.
"Here's what I love about Harbaugh: He isn't afraid to adjust with the times," Rank wrote. "He's the son of a coach, raised on football. And he could have been that guy who forces his quarterback to adapt to him instead of the other way around. But he embraced change and has allowed Lamar to do his thing.
"Lamar won the MVP award two seasons ago, but he still retained a lot of his detractors. And a lot of those people tried to paint Jackson's 2020 campaign in a negative light. His passer rating dropped 14 points from 2019 to 2020. … Well, we should remember his passer rating went from 113.3 in his MVP campaign to last year's 99.3 mark, which is still pretty damn good. Oh, and dude also rushed for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns. He's awesome. Maybe you're going to need to curb the criticism for a bit."
Mike Garafolo: Jackson Needs to Take Big Step Forward As Passer
Speaking of criticism of Jackson ...
Rank's "State of the Ravens" article was discussed on "Good Morning Football" and NFL Network's Mike Garafolo said he won't believe Baltimore's passing attack will be more productive and better outside the numbers until he sees it in the regular season.
"All the talk coming out of Baltimore this spring is about how great our passing game looks, and we added Rashod Bateman, and Sammy Watkins is really going to help in that department … boy they look great," Garafolo said. "It's fine, but it's April, May and June. I need it to look that way in September through January and February. If you're going to get to February it's going to have to be a big step forward for Lamar Jackson in that department."
Maurice Jones-Drew disagreed. He said there's room for improvement in the passing game, but the Ravens shouldn't deviate from their run-based offense.
"You're great at running the ball. Run the rock and let everything else play off that — the defense, the passing game," Jones-Drew said. "Everyone in this league is throwing the ball. Everyone's zigging, you should zag. And that's what they're doing and that's why they've been able to dominate the AFC North and a lot of these teams they play. They are power, smash-mouth football.
"Yes, you want to be able to throw the ball when you have to and make plays and work on Lamar throwing outside the numbers. But look, he is a fantastic runner. Allow him to be him. He'll continue to get better. But don't forget where your bread is buttered."
If Ravens Don't Land Justin Houston, Would They Trade for a Veteran Edge Rusher?
ESPN's Field Yates identified one last move each team should make this offseason. For the Ravens — and perhaps you've may have heard this before — it's signing free-agent edge rusher Justin Houston.
"Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue landed lucrative deals elsewhere in free agency, leaving Baltimore to reshape its pass rush with the draft selection of Odafe Oweh in the first round as the primary catalyst," Yates wrote. "Some experience and juice in the form of Houston would help round the group out a bit more."
A number of pundits have predicted that Houston will sign with the Ravens. The four-time Pro Bowler reportedly visited the team in April.
However, if the Ravens ultimately don't think it makes financial sense to sign Houston (or three-time Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram, who also is available), The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer speculated that they could trade for a veteran edge rusher.
Shaffer's trade scenario has the Ravens acquiring Whitney Mercilus from the Houston Texans in exchange for a Day 3 pick.
Mercilus, who turns 31 this month, would be a cheaper option, but he hasn't had as much production as Houston or Ingram. Mercilus had four sacks in 13 games last season and was one of Pro Football Focus' lowest-rated edge defenders.
"Mercilus, set to hit free agency next year, wouldn't fetch much. But a trade could set up Texans General Manager Nick Caserio with another draft pick for his rebuild and reinforce the Ravens' pass rush," Shaffer wrote. "Mercilus had 7½ sacks and 16 quarterback hits in 2019, along with four forced fumbles, and has experience dropping into coverage. The finances work, too: After restructuring his contract this offseason, he has a base salary of $4.5 million in 2021, which falls with every game he plays for Houston."
Pundits Predict Breakout Season for Patrick Queen
Inside linebacker Patrick Queen had a strong rookie season last year, good enough to place third in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. He also experienced some growing pains.
Don't be surprised if Queen makes a big leap this season. In addition to having a year of NFL experience under his belt, he will have a full offseason to get ready. There were no OTAs, minicamps or preseason games last year due to the pandemic, and Queen said he came into the season out of shape as a result.
Rank predicted Queen to be Baltimore's breakout star.
"Dude was a 16-game starter. Piled up more than 100 tackles. Logged three sacks. Forced a couple of fumbles. But he's going to be even better in Year 2, as he gets more comfortable in pass coverage," Rank wrote. "Guy has the tools, as a spectacular athlete, but playing linebacker in today's pass-happy NFL ain't easy. He'll get there. Especially now that he's getting a real offseason to prepare."
Russell Street Report's Darin McCann also believes Queen can make a bigger impact this season.
"What Queen did show off last year, even to his harshest critics, is the ability to generate big plays — and not every player in the league has that gift," McCann wrote. "Let's not forget that after Queen's performance against the Bengals in Week 5 of last season he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Not rookie of the week. Not inside linebacker of the week. He was cited as the best defensive player in the entire conference for a week. There's only 17 of them in a season (well, 18, starting this year). That's big stuff."