Zrebiec: "No More Excuses" For Ravens Pass Game
This offseason, the Ravens have supplied Lamar Jackson with a litany of weapons, beginning with the hiring of Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. From there, it stemmed into signing two free agent wide receivers, Nelson Agholor and Odell Beckham Jr., before drafting wide receiver Zay Flowers.
These moves, in addition with the offensive firepower already on the Ravens' roster, has The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec saying the Ravens have "no more excuses."
"A strong case could be made that this is the deepest and most talented group of targets the organization has had in years," Zrebiec wrote. "There's absolutely no reason they shouldn't have a dynamic and balanced offense. There's no reason Jackson shouldn't have one of his best years — his 2019 MVP season is hard to top — and show significant improvement as a passer. There's no reason why the Ravens shouldn't boast a productive receiving group."
Zrebiec says the pressure is on for the Ravens, including Monken.
"[Greg] Roman did some good things in his four-year run as the team's offensive coordinator, but the offense had clearly gone stale. A new offensive voice — and approach — felt long overdue when the Ravens and Roman parted ways and Monken was hired after a thorough search," Zrebiec wrote. "But if Roman's departure frees up Jackson and the rest of the offense from a football perspective, it also will undoubtedly open others up to blame if things aren't going well. Roman, for the past two years, became a lightning rod for criticism with the finger-pointing, at least from the outside, zeroed in on him for his pass-game design and situational play calling."
And also, quarterback Lamar Jackson.
"And nobody will shoulder [the expectations] as much as Jackson, the new owner of the richest contract in NFL history," Zrebiec wrote. "… Jackson is healthy again and no longer playing under the dark cloud of an uncertain future in Baltimore. The receiver group has improved significantly. A more balanced offense that can challenge every area of the field is being put in place."
Local Media Power Rank Ravens 2023 Opponents
With the NFL schedule released, local media power ranked which opponents will be the most challenging for the Ravens. They all see Week 16, Christmas Day against the San Francisco 49ers, as the Ravens' greatest challenge.
"Talk about coal in the stocking," The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker wrote. "This isn't the Christmas present the Ravens were hoping for with a Dec. 25 night game at Levi's Stadium against a 49ers team that last season had the league's best defense, recorded the fifth-most yards per game on offense and reached the NFC championship."
"They have a star on every unit of their offense: running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle, left tackle Trent Williams," The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "They have a star at every level of their defense: end Joey Bosa, tackle Javon Hargrave, inside linebacker Fred Warner, safety Talanoa Hufanga."
"Despite questions at quarterback, they're undoubtedly one of the top teams in the NFC," Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko wrote. "The Ravens have never played the 49ers on the road in the Lamar Jackson era, so this will be a first. The stakes of this matchup will be huge."
They also (mostly) agree with the second-most challenging opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. Both Wacker and Shaffer have the two Bengals matchups as No. 2 and No. 3 on their list, with Platko ranking them No. 3 and No. 4, behind the Miami Dolphins.
"Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has a 4-2 career mark against Baltimore, which includes setting an NFL record in 2021 for the most passing yards (941) against one team in a season," Wacker wrote. "Cincinnati has won its past three home games against the Ravens, though Jackson didn't play in any of them because he was injured. Also of note: Burrow was held to 215, 217 and 209 passing yards and one touchdown in each of his past three games against Baltimore."
"Cincinnati's won its past three home games against the Ravens, but Jackson didn't play a snap in any of them," Shaffer wrote. "A game this early doesn't have much bearing on the standings, but it could shake up the AFC's pecking order. Cincinnati is considered the biggest threat to the Kansas City Chiefs' conference supremacy, especially after a narrow loss in the AFC championship game. But two weeks earlier in the playoffs, the Jackson-less Ravens limped into Paycor Stadium and nearly upset the Bengals."
The trio also agreed on the Houston Texans in Week 1 being the Ravens' easiest opponent.
"The Texans have a promising young first-year coach in DeMeco Ryans. They have a promising rookie quarterback in C.J. Stroud, whom they drafted second overall out of Ohio State. They have a potential future star in defensive end and No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson out of Alabama," Wacker wrote. "As for their chances against an experienced Ravens team that has one of the league's top defenses, they don't have much of any, particularly in the first week of the season."
"Ravens defenses rarely make life easy for rookie quarterbacks," Shaffer wrote. "So how much can Houston realistically get out of No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud in his first career start, much less a road start?"
"The Ravens' season opener profiles as their easiest matchup of the season on paper. They're at home, for one, against a Texans team that won just three games last year and four games in each of the prior two seasons," Platko wrote. "On top of that, Houston will be starting first-round pick C.J. Stroud at quarterback. Traditionally, M&T Bank Stadium has not been a friendly place for rookie signal-callers. Baltimore has a significant talent and experience advantage in this matchup across the board."
Patrick Queen, J.K. Dobbins Entering "Make or Break" Year
With both linebacker Patrick Queen and running back J.K. Dobbins being in the final year of their contracts, pundits believe it's a "make or break" year for both playmakers. PFF’s William Moy sees Queen having a real shot at "making a ton of money on the open market with a big year or re-sign."
"From Week 9 through the end of last season, though, with [Roquan] Smith in the lineup, Queen compiled a 75.5 overall grade to go with a 74.6 run-defense grade and a 70.7 coverage grade," Moy wrote. "Over the same span, Queen posted the highest positive run-defense grade rate of his career (15.8%) along with his lowest negative grade rate at (11.7%). In coverage, his prior career average of 1.13 yards allowed per coverage snap dropped to 0.92."
Ebony Bird’s Parker Hurley sees Dobbins also having a great chance at a strong fourth season, on account of fewer eight-man fronts.
"Last season, [Dobbins] saw eight defenders in the box on 36% of his rushing attempts. That ranked fourth in the NFL behind Cordarelle Patterson, Tyler Allgier, and Derrick Henry," Hurley wrote. "… If Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham can stay healthy, and they can utilize Zay Flowers out of the slot, teams will have to defend the Ravens completely differently. It is no surprise that the statistics show that most teams are far more successful out of 11-personnel, which is three wideouts, one tight end, and one running back. With Todd Monken as offensive coordinator, and the Ravens paying big and drafting high at wide receiver, you have to think that this is the plan. If this is the case, the boxes will be lighter, and things will get easier for Dobbins."
Hurley also expressed confidence in how Dobbins finished the 2022 season.
"Once Dobbins found his footing he took off and finished the season strong. In fact, he was one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL last season," Hurley wrote. "He finished third in first down rate among backs with 100 rushes behind just Cordarelle Patterson and Josh Jacobs. Also, he was fifth in breakaway run rate behind Kenyan Drake, Tony Pollard, Ken Walker, and James Cook. So, he was churning out yards and moving the sticks, but he was also hitting the big ones."