Are Expectations Too High for the Ravens?
It doesn't take much searching to find all of the hype surrounding the Ravens heading into the 2020 season.
Gone are the days of being the underdog. Most oddsmakers have the Ravens as one of the Super Bowl favorites. Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd even predicted a 16-0 regular season.
There's an extremely positive outlook on the Ravens for good reason, but are the expectations too high?
Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski ranked Baltimore as his top team that he thinks will disappoint this season.
"Sometimes a team sets the bar so high, it's impossible to live up to that standard the following year," Sobleski wrote. "The Ravens are in that position, in large part because of Jackson. Not only could Baltimore's regular-season performance be worse this year, but the Ravens also have plenty of competition within their own division to ruin any aspirations of a Super Bowl appearance. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger behind center again. The Browns have so much talent and a new coaching staff, which shouldn't be overwhelmed like last season. Even the Cincinnati Bengals are better. The Ravens will have a tough road after a year of dominance."
Statistics say it's going to be extremely difficult for the Ravens to repeat their record-breaking campaign, but that doesn't define a successful season. Sobleski compared a potential drop-off to the Kansas City Chiefs last season, and they still won a Super Bowl.
"The Ravens’] roster is stacked,” [Kevin Clark said on ‘The Ringer NFL Show’ podcast. They went out and added Calais Campbell. … They know how to build a roster. They know how to build an offense. They know how to build a defense. I love this team. I'm hammering the over [of 12 wins]."
As BR’s Brad Gagnon wrote in June, a successful season for the Ravens is defined by a Super Bowl. And there's way more reason for optimism than disappointment.
"Baltimore is an obvious choice here to win a Super Bowl] given their offensive scheme, which hosted by far the most efficient passing and rushing offense in the league last year,” [Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr wrote. "Jackson will only get better as a passer (and he was certainly good enough a year ago). A gigantic built-in advantage for Baltimore was the way they padded an already solid defense with talented veterans like Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, who, regardless of how their defensive draft picks shake out, should elevate a unit that was fourth in DVOA a year ago."
Head Coach John Harbaugh, General Manager Eric DeCosta, and the entire organization are aware of these expectations. It comes with being one of the best teams in football, but they're focused on staying grounded.
"I get all that. I'm provided with all those things," Harbaugh said. "I've also seen where Pittsburgh is going to win the division. I saw Cleveland has been picked by some people to win the division, as far as the changes they have made there. [I've seen] that Lamar is going to regress [and] our defense is going to regress. So, everybody says a lot of things; so, it doesn't matter."
Harbaugh, DeCosta Ranked as NFL's Best Head Coach-General Manager Duo
Harbaugh and DeCosta are two of the best at their respective positions, but NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks believes they're the best Head Coach-General Manager duo.
"The Ravens have been a postseason one-and-done in each of the past two campaigns, but the team is well-positioned to remain a title contender for the foreseeable future," Brooks wrote. "Baltimore has drafted a league-best six Pro Bowlers since 2016 while also utilizing free agency (Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram) and the trade market (Campbell and Marcus Peters) to add veteran leadership and experience.
"Harbaugh has taken the ingredients and baked a championship-caliber cake by being adaptable and flexible with the team's schemes (see: transitioning to a run-heavy attack with Jackson at QB). With a young, hungry core in place, the Ravens have a chance to own the AFC in the next few seasons."
DeCosta didn't take over as general manager until 2019, but had experience working as the team's Director of College Scouting, Director of Player Personnel, and Assistant General Manager during Harbaugh's tenure.
The relationship between a head coach and general manager is imperative to a team's success, and it's been well documented in Baltimore. Both Harbaugh and DeCosta have their sights set on a Super Bowl, and a successful future with the Ravens.
When DeCosta took over as GM, he said there's no other coach he'd want to work with.
"John's had such a great experience with Ozzie [Newsome], and I think in his heart, he knows it's going to be the same way," DeCosta said. "John's also a very humble person. He just wants to do what's best for the organization. What we've done has worked in the past. He and I have a good relationship. I think he respects me, and I respect him very, very much. I think it will be a great partnership."
Stats Say Brandon Williams at His Best at Nose Tackle
There's a good reason why Brandon Williams is excited about the new additions of Campbell and Derek Wolfe. It allows Williams to move back to a position where the stats say he's at his best.
"According to Pro Football Focus, Williams ranked as the NFL's No. 91 defensive lineman over the past three years when lining up at positions besides nose tackle," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "But at nose tackle, where he started his career, he rated as the NFL's fourth-best lineman and second-best run defender."
The role was previously held by Michael Pierce, who signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason, but chose to opt out for 2020.
At 336 pounds, Williams' size makes him a force for opposing centers and guards to deal with. In 2015, he ranked third among nose tackles with 38 defensive stops.
Pierce believes Williams' move back to his natural position will provide a huge boost to the defense this season.
"Brandon was playing out of position so we could play on the field at the same time," Pierce told Glenn Clark radio in March. "I think he'll have an amazing year now that he'll be back at nose."
Why Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown's Weight Gain Matters
Brown's transformation has been one of the Ravens' biggest offseason storylines.
After entering his rookie season at 157 pounds, Brown has bulked up to 180 pounds, and The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak believes that's significant for Brown's short and long-term future.
"The list of receivers with long-term career success under 180 pounds is frighteningly short over the last two decades," Solak wrote. "Only five players have produced 1,000-yard seasons under that weight line: DeSean Jackson has been the preeminent threat, with five such seasons to his name; then come Emmanuel Sanders (3), John Brown (2), Brian Hartline (2), and one explosive year from Steve Breaston."
Brown still totaled 584 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in a season where he wasn't playing 100 percent.
Now fully healthy and more physically confident, Brown's frame will make a difference on the field.
"Assuming Brown retains his elite speed at his new weight—a reasonable assumption, given the focus of his training to this point—both his full recovery from a terrible injury and his additional bulk spell a strong second season for Brown," Solak wrote. "Critically, a 180-pound Brown neatly slides into the mold of devastating undersized speedsters that have succeeded before him, completing a stunning five-year turnaround from underfed and underdeveloped JUCO track star to NFL-sized WR1."
Ravens Set to Play Houston Texans Without Fans
As the Ravens prepare for the start of the season, they won't be playing in front of any fans during their first road game.
The Texans announced last Friday that their home opener against the Ravens in Week 2 will be played without fans in attendance.
"Whether fans can attend other home games later in the season will depend on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in the greater Houston area, which is currently at the highest threat level (RED)," a statement released from the team said. "The Texans will continue to monitor a variety of metrics and other factors in consultation with local medical and public health officials with the safety and wellbeing of our fans, players, coaches, staff, other personnel and the Houston community as our highest priority."
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas ranks third behind California and Florida in total coronavirus cases (538,838).
The pandemic has left almost every major sports league to play games without fans, and that's becoming a growing reality less than one month away from the start of the NFL season.