Brian Baldinger Expects 'Same Old Ravens' on Offense
Much of the talk surrounding the Ravens this offseason has focused on what is expected to be an improved passing attack and more diverse offense.
However, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger isn't buying it. Even though the Ravens have more weapons in the passing game, Baldinger said he doesn't expect the offense to look much different than it has since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback.
"If you think that they're going to come out there and balance it up, you know, throw for 250 and run for 150, that's not who they're going to be," Baldinger said on the “Baldy’s Breakdowns” podcast. "So my guess is that we're going to see a whole lot of the same old Ravens that we've seen for the last three years.
"They've got to kind of work in Rashod Bateman in the passing game and the downhill throws to Hollywood [Brown]; they're going to lean on Mark Andrews on third down. I think it's going to be more of the same once we start the season in September."
Baldinger's co-host, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, expressed a similar sentiment, saying the Ravens will "default to who they are."
There's no denying that running the football is what the Ravens do better than any team in the league, so of course they're not going to radically change their offense. However, they surely wouldn't have invested a first-round pick in Bateman and signed Sammy Watkins if they weren't committed to making the offense more diverse and, specifically, more effective throwing outside the numbers.
That said, the fact that the Ravens haven't had nearly as much time to get the passing game in sync in training camp as they would've liked is a concern. Jackson missed eight practices due to COVID-19, Bateman is recovering from groin surgery and isn't expected back until next month, and Brown and Miles Boykin have been out with hamstring injuries.
"We would like to say that you can do it once the season begins, but it's very difficult when you shrink the reps significantly," ESPN’s Jeff Saturday said. "You save guys legs for Sunday and Monday. You don't want to push the envelope once the season begins. So this is the time to find that chemistry, to find out, 'Hey, Lamar, when can you fit that ball in, what's the route really going to look like.'
"All of those factors play a huge part in the development of this passing game. It's not going to happen. Basically, what you're going to see is what Baltimore did last season because they're not going to be able to progress this thing like they want."
Baldinger said he has no doubt the Ravens will make the playoffs for a fourth straight season, but how far they can go in the postseason remains to be seen.
"They have depth and they play great defense, and the special teams are always going to be a staple of strength," he said. "To me, they shape up to be a playoff team. How far they go … we've got to see what they can do against Kansas City and Buffalo and probably Cleveland.
"Are they going to be built for January better than they have been over the last three years? The season will dictate that."
Could Ty'Son Williams Win No. 3 Running Back Spot Over Justice Hill?
When Ravens beat writers were making their 53-man roster projections last month, the consensus was that there was little intrigue at running back, with Justice Hill claiming the No. 3 spot behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.
The emergence of Ty'Son Williams, however, may make Hill's spot no longer a sure thing. It's unlikely the Ravens would carry four running backs.
"Williams has certainly given the Ravens coaches something to think about over the past couple of weeks," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Williams' downhill, power running style would seemingly appeal to Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, but the coaching staff would also have to trust him on special teams and in pass protection. Williams has almost two more weeks to prove that he can hold his own in those areas."
Hill has just 70 carries for 285 yards and two touchdowns in 28 career games,[comma] but the 2019 fourth-round pick has made an impact on special teams.
"Hill has become a quality special teams player, which is essential when you're a No. 3 back and you're likely looking at limited touches on game day," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens trust him in blitz pickup, also essential if you're going to be on the field on third downs. Hill has been reasonably productive when given opportunities, averaging 4.1 yards per carry in his career and just under seven yards per catch."
The 6-foot, 200-pound Williams, who signed with the Ravens last year as an undrafted free agent out of BYU and spent almost the entire season on the practice squad, was the more impressive of the two in Saturday's preseason win over the New Orleans Saints.
Williams had 10 carries for 41 yards and a team-high five receptions for 23 yards. Hill finished with five carries for 8 yards and one reception for 4 yards. Hill has missed three consecutive practices with an undisclosed injury, which means he's questionable to play in Saturday night's preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
"The second-year running back out of BYU was shifty in the open field and finished his runs, contrary to Hill who struggled to get much of anything going," Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried wrote.
One of the highlights of yesterday's joint practice with the Panthers was Williams putting linebacker Clay Johnston on his back on a blitz pickup.
"Williams had a relatively quiet start to training camp, but he's been more noticeable since the pads have come on," Zrebiec wrote. "It seems the more physical things get, the more he flashes."
Jackson Doesn't Crack Top 5 in Players 25 and Younger Rankings
Jackson has been No. 1 on multiple top 25-players-under-25 lists, but he came in at No. 7 on NFL.com analyst Maurice Jones-Drew’s rankings of the top 10 players 25 and younger.
The distinction of including 25-year-olds on the list made a huge difference on Jackson's place in the rankings. All six of the players ahead of the 24-year-old Jackson are 25.
Still, even with including players who are 25, are there really six players who should be ahead of Jackson?
The players, in order, are: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, Colts guard Quenton Nelson and Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
Even though Jackson was No. 7 on the list, Jones-Drew was plenty complimentary of him.
"Jackson is the most electrifying player in the league. The 2019 NFL MVP is a nightmare for defenses as a phenomenal rusher and improving passer, and we should see him make a leap in the passing game with more weapons around him in 2021," Jones-Drew wrote. "Jackson is a proven winner, too. [Over the past two seasons], he's posted a 24-6 regular-season record as a starter and helped the Ravens to three straight postseasons, including his first playoff victory last January. As long as Jackson is on the field, Baltimore will have a chance."
Kevin Zeitler Predicted to Have 'Bounce-Back' Season
Right guard Kevin Zeitler's career has been marked by dependability and durability, so it seems odd that he'd be chosen as the Ravens' candidate for a bounce-back season by ESPN and Pro Football Focus.
In actuality, the prediction for a bounce-back season is a testament to Zeitler's consistency.
"Zeitler performed at a quality level relative to the rest of the league's guards in 2020, but it wasn't up to his standards," PFF wrote. "His 65.9 PFF grade was his lowest in nine career seasons by over seven points. Zeitler's start to the 2020 season with the Giants was a key factor in his grade taking a steep hit. He allowed multiple pressures in eight of his 16 starts, and five of those came within the first five weeks. Perhaps a normal offseason playing in a Baltimore system that will also limit his true pass-set opportunities will get him back to the consistent, stout lineman he was before last season."
The Ravens are counting on Zeitler, who signed a three-year deal this offseason, to help solidify the offensive line and bring stability at right guard that has been lacking since Marshal Yanda retired after the 2019 season.
"Zeitler is a mauling blocker whose skill set should mesh perfectly with a Ravens offense that runs the ball more than any other team in the NFL," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "It hasn't been an optimal summer for Zeitler, who has missed a chunk of training camp with a sprained foot. But durability has never been a concern for Zeitler — he has missed one game in the past six seasons."
Zeitler returned to practice on Monday after not having practiced since Aug. 3.
- Rookie left guard Ben Cleveland was identified as the Ravens' biggest X-factor by Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski