What Are the Key Questions Ravens Must Answer to Win the Super Bowl?
The Ravens enter Week 1 of the season tied for the fourth-best odds to win the Super Bowl, per Caesars Sportsbook.
There's no doubt the Ravens have one of the most-talented rosters in the league, but after early exits in the playoffs the past three seasons, what will it take for them to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Los Angeles on Feb. 13?
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker came up with 20 questions the Ravens must answer to win the third Super Bowl in franchise history. Here's five of them:
Will Lamar Jackson play with greater poise in the playoffs?
"Here we go, the one question to rule them all. Jackson takes absurd criticism from fans and analysts who overlook his many accomplishments as a passer and forget how much he's lifted the Ravens in the NFL's big picture. But he would be the first to say he hasn't played his best football — 68.3 passer rating, five interceptions, 19 sacks, 1-3 record — in the playoffs. It's not all his fault; he needs more help from his offensive line and pass catchers. But he also needs to develop greater mastery of his position so he has answers when a defense clogs his running lanes or swarms his favorite targets.
"In a low-scoring game against the Bills, there were reads he could have made to give the Ravens a better chance. Instead, Buffalo's pressure ruled the day. Jackson is a 24-year-old wizard who understands his legacy will be measured by Super Bowls. Will this be the year he takes his next major step forward? There aren't many more interesting stories in the sport."
Can the Ravens beat the Kansas City Chiefs?
"The road to the Super Bowl is more difficult on the AFC side. The Bills are formidable as are the star-studded Browns. The Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers are rising. The Titans will light up the scoreboard while the Indianapolis Colts will play sound all-around football. The Steelers can never be dismissed. All of that said, the Chiefs remain the boss you have to fight at the end of the video game.
"Yes, Tampa Bay smacked them around in the Super Bowl, but as long as the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes throwing magical passes to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in an offense designed by Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy, they'll be problem No. 1. Not to mention they've beaten the Ravens three years in a row and routed them in 2020. Though a Week 2 rematch at M&T Bank Stadium won't give us a final verdict on where the Ravens are headed, a victory would eliminate at least one psychological hurdle on their Super Bowl quest."
Can the rushing offense still be the NFL's best without J.K. Dobbins?
"The Ravens will have to replace his production with Gus Edwards and surprise training camp star Ty'Son Williams, who spent most of last season on the practice squad. As good as Dobbins is, Jackson is the one indispensable piece at the heart of Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's running attack. We've seen him thrive with a rotating crew of backs over the last three seasons, so don't be surprised if the ground game rolls on relatively unaffected, with the 6-foot, 220-pound Williams producing more than anyone could have envisioned two months ago."
Will the offense look notably different in 2021?
"Roman faced criticism from several prominent analysts who said his passing concepts were too rudimentary to free up the team's wide receivers. [John] Harbaugh defended his coordinator's game plans, but pressure will ratchet up if the Ravens run into familiar roadblocks this year. Can Roman adjust, as critics have suggested he did not in previous stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Bills? It's a question fans will ask from Week 1 until January."
Will they survive a tough late-season schedule?
"November was the brutal month in 2020 as the Ravens played their most difficult stretch of opponents at the same time they confronted injuries to essential players and a COVID-19 outbreak. Had they not faced an easier stretch over their last five games, they might not have recovered to make the playoffs.
"They won't have that luxury this time around, with two games against the Cleveland Browns, one against the Pittsburgh Steelers and one against the Green Bay Packers between Weeks 12 and 15. To top it off, they'll close out with the Los Angeles Rams and the Steelers rematch. That's quite a run of rough sledding at a time when rosters are generally frayed by injuries, so the Ravens will need luck on top of everything else to compete for a high seed."
Kyle Brandt: Lamar Jackson Will Beat the Odds, Win MVP Award
Jackson has made it clear that he's more concerned with winning Super Bowls than MVP awards, but could this be the season the 2019 unanimous NFL MVP does both?
Jackson is Kyle Brandt's pick for MVP on "Good Morning Football." Brandt compared the Ravens quarterback to the indomitable John McClane of the "Die Hard" film franchise.
"I don't know if he has the help he needs. I don't know if he has the health he needs. But know this. Here's the poster: Eleven tacklers. One hero. The odds are against him. The odds are against Lamar Jackson. And that's just the way he likes it!" Brandt said. "He's back. He's going to do it all himself. I don't care who's hurt. I don't care who's gone. Lamar is back for two MVPs. Yippee-ki-yay, it's going to happen!"
On a side note, Jackson was No. 5 in NFL.com’s quarterback rankings entering Week 1.
"Since 2018, Next Gen Stats has Lamar Jackson gaining 300-plus more yards over expected than the next-closest rusher, Derrick Henry. Jackson is the primary reason why the Ravens had a historic rushing attack followed by a mortal top-three rushing attack," NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal wrote. "That baseline of excellence is underrated in its impact, giving Jackson such an edge that it's hard to rank him much lower than this if his passing numbers just remain average."
The quarterbacks ranked ahead of Jackson were: Mahomes, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Buffalo's Josh Allen and Tampa Bay's Tom Brady.
Latavius Murray Expresses Interest in Playing for Ravens
Over the past two days, the Ravens added needed depth at running back by signing Le'Veon Bell to the practice squad and Trenton Cannon to the 53-man roster.
Given those additions, would the Ravens consider bringing in veteran running back Latavius Murray, who was cut by the New Orleans Saints earlier this week?
Judging by what Murray told USA Today's Josina Anderson, he would be all for it.
"I'm willing to discuss an opportunity with anyone interested in me. At the same time, Baltimore is a team that was impacted by injuries, has a great chance of winning and a great coaching staff," Murray said. "I just want to get to work."
Murray, who was projected to be No. 3 on New Orleans' depth chart behind Alvin Kamara and Tony Jones Jr., was cut after reportedly declining to take a pay cut. Releasing Murray will save the Saints $3.17 million in immediate cap space, according to NFL.com’s Nick Shook.
It didn't take long after Murray's release for media members to link him to the Ravens.
Murray, 31, rushed for 656 yards and four touchdowns and averaged a career-best 4.5 yards per carry with the Saints last season. With the Raiders, he ran for 1,066 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015 and rushed for 12 touchdowns in 2016.
Murray has been durable throughout his career. He played 15 games last year and has missed just four games over his seven seasons.
"There should be a market for Murray's services — whether it's the Ravens or any other team who could use a steady, veteran presence in their backfield," Pro Football Talk’s Myles Simmons wrote.
Brandon Stephens Reflects on Unlikely Journey to NFL
As rookie defensive back Brandon Stephens prepares to make his NFL regular-season debut Monday night against the Las Vegas Raiders, the former college running back spoke with The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec and reflected on taking a road less traveled to the NFL.
After spending two seasons as a running back at UCLA, Stephens decided he wanted to be a cornerback and transferred to SMU. His gamble paid off when the Ravens drafted him in the third round.
"Every day I come through the parking lot and go through the gates, I always just think about my journey and how blessed I am to be here," Stephens said last week. "It's been a long road. Still have work to do. The job is not finished."
Stephens said he told his mother on the morning of Day 2 of the draft that he had a premonition he was going to the Ravens.
"Unbeknownst to him, his mother had the same feeling," Zrebiec wrote. "She had bought the flags of two teams she believed her son was most likely to get drafted by. After Stephens spoke to [General Manager Eric] DeCosta and Harbaugh, he turned around to see his mother unfurl a purple flag with the Ravens' logo on it.
'We going to B-More,' Stephens said after the reality had set in. 'They don't even know what's coming.'"
Wide receiver James Proche II, Stephens' teammate at SMU, does know what's coming.
"You could be around him for 10 minutes and know that he's a Raven. He's that type of guy," Proche said.