The Baltimore Ravens made progress in 2018. Head coach John Harbaugh changed the team’s offensive mindset from stalling, play-action dependent to a two-headed lethal rushing attack. While the offense went through a makeover, the defense continued to play Ravens’ physical, fast, and calculated football.
In the offseason, the team continued the overhaul of their offensive mindset as they brought in Mark Ingram to lead the rushing game. They also lost a few key defenders and signed a few more. Instead of re-signing C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and Terrell Suggs, the team let the three defenders walk. Though they added their fair share of stars, the Ravens will rely on these three X-factors to take them back to NFL playoffs in 2019.
3. The new look defense
With the loss of Mosley, Smith, Suggs, and release of Eric Weddle, the Ravens had to negate their lack of familiar talent with a bevy of new faces. To replace Weddle, the team brought in none other than Earl Thomas III; an injury-prone, game-changing free safety with a Hall of Fame resume. Though ET3 will cost more than Weddle, it’s an upgrade by all means.
Thomas III will usher in a new generation of Ravens defenders. To replace Smith and Suggs, the team brought in a slew of younger pass-rushers, including rookie Jaylon Ferguson and former first-round pick Shane Ray. The three aforementioned players with join Mathew Judon, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and a talented secondary led by Marlon Humphrey.
To put this in layman’s terms, the Ravens defense lost good pieces and will substitute them for younger talent and a potential Hall of Famer. This new look defense will need to continue the Ravens’ trend of physical, relentless style of play. If not, we may not see a repeat playoff team.
2. The receivers
Many praised the Ravens’ selection of Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown at pick No. 25 overall. And for a good reason. For years, the Baltimore offense has been brought down by subpar play from receivers. Brown will bring speed, route-running finesse, and deep-ball tracking to the squad, but the rest of the group will have to step up as well.
Luckily, for the Ravens, the team didn’t stop at Brown in the ’19 NFL Draft. In the third round, the team drafted Notre Dame’s hyper-athletic Miles Boykin to supplement Brown. The two additions bring speed to the table, but they may not be enough.
In order for the Ravens to exceed expectations next season, they will need to see tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews take the next step. Veterans Willie Snead and Michael Floyd will also be relied upon. If this new-look group can perform like we can expect them to, the Ravens will surely reap the benefits. If not, the team will have some critical decisions to make.
1. Lamar Jackson’s development
The Ravens live and die by Lamar Jackson’s development. Though the former Heisman Trophy winner led the team to the playoffs in his rookie year, there is much to be desired in his game.
Jackson was electrifying in ’19. He finished his rookie season with a 6-2 starting record (including playoffs) and gave a boost of energy to the team and its fanbase. In the regular season, the dual-threat quarterback tallied 1,896 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. But he also had 12 fumbles and three interceptions.
If you remove Jackson’s 695 rushing yards and five touchdowns, you get a fairly shoddy stat line from the quarterback. His passing stats totaled just 1,201 yards and six touchdowns. In a pass-driven modern NFL, that won’t cut it, no matter how good the QB is at evading pressure and creating highlight-worthy runs.
Jackson has a good arm, actually an outstanding one. But, for him to take the next step, he’ll need to develop the nuances of his game and shake his bad habits. Far too often, Jackson found himself in trouble due to staring down a read or taking improper steps in the pocket. If he can cut down on his bad habits and develop his game, we won’t be talking about Jackson as just a running shot-caller. Instead, he’ll just be a good quarterback.