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Football NFL

NFL Team Previews: Baltimore Ravens

f Jackson continues to improve, I can see the Ravens winning 10 games.

2018 Season Review: 10-6 (AFC North Champions)

The Ravens had quite the 2018 from the NFL Draft on. They made a splash in the NFL Draft by going offense heavy, picking TE’s Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrew, OT Orlando Brown, and most importantly, they traded back up into the first round and took QB Lamar Jackson #32 overall to be their QB of the future.

Ideally the Ravens would have liked to sit Jackson all year to learn behind Flacco. Flacco still has enough in the tank to take a team to the playoffs with a good defense and good weapons around him. Early on, it looked like that plan would work. The Ravens were 4-2 at one point and lost a very close game at home to the Saints who were one of the best teams in the league. After that game though, they lost the next two and went into their Week 10 bye at 4-5. Flacco wasn’t performing well, he threw for 2,465 yards with 12 TDs and 6 INT. He had a QB rating of only 84.2 and was completing just 61.2% of his passes, the Ravens needed a change and they made it by putting in Lamar Jackson as the starter for the last 7 games of the year.

Jackson led the Ravens to a 6-1 record, and 10-6 overall to win the AFC North. Jackson ran this gimmicky, run heavy offense that teams were not used to all. Case in point was Week 16 at the Los Angeles Chargers where the Ravens won 22-10. Also, you can look to Jacksons passing stats, he only completed 58.2% of his passes for 1,201 yards with 6 TDS and 3 INTs. Rushing wise however, Jackson ran for 695 yards and 5 TDs in 16 total games. He was first on the team in rushing attempts, thanks to injuries the Ravens using a ton of RBs, and ended second in yards. He had one issue however, fumbling. Jackson fumbled the ball a total of 12 times and the Ravens as a team lost 11 fumbles and threw 9 INTs.

Most importantly for the Ravens and Jackson, is they beat some good team sin the Chargers and Browns. They also took the Chiefs to OT in Kansas City as their only regular season loss under Jackson. They did get lucky however, by playing some bad teams in the second half of the year that included the Bengals, Raiders, Falcons, and Buccaneers. Even with such a heavy rushing attack, the Ravens managed to average 25.1 PPG with Jackson starting versus 23.6 PPG with Flacco starting. However, the last five games under Flacco the Ravens failed to score more than 23 points and that number is inflated by a Week 1 47-3 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills.

The Rushing was key for the Ravens. Gus Edwards ran for 718 YDS and 2 TDS in 11 games, Alex Collins ran for 411 YDS and 7 TDs in 10 games, Kenneth Dixon ran for 333 YDS and 2 TDs in 6 games, and Javorius Allen ran for 110 YDS and 3 TDs in 14 games. The Ravens finished the year second in yards per game rushing with 152.6 and 2,441 on the season.

But with Jacksons poor passing, his accuracy was limited, the knowledge of the offense was limited, and he failed to really push the ball downfield. Flacco helped pad the passing numbers in 9 games but the Ravens finished 22nd in the league with 222.4 passing yards per game. The receiving core struggled once Jackson was put in, for obvious reasons. John Brown was having somewhat of a resurgence with Joe Flacco at QB, but once Jackson started he cooled down. Brown looked like he could have hit 1,000 yards but he only got to 715 YDS on 42 catches with 5 TDs. Willie Snead had 651 YDS and 1 TD, Michael Crabtree had 607 YDS and 3 TDs, and rookie TE Mark Andrews had 552 YDS and 3 TDs. The RBs on the Ravens surprisingly didn’t catch a lot of passes, Javorius Allen led the RBs with 35 catches for 196 yards and 2 TDs. I say surprising because with Jackson at QB and his throwing issues, you would think the Ravens would give him easy dump downs but they were so good at running the ball with Jackson, they didn’t need too.

In the NFL, the QB gets all the credit and everything revolves around that position. However, this team won a lot of games because of how good their defense was and that is getting overlooked in their 2018 season, and their 2019 outlook.

The Ravens were second in scoring defense, giving up only 17.9 PPG. They were great against the run, giving up only 82.9 yards per game which was 4th in the league, and they were just as good against the pass, giving up only 210 yards per game which was 5th in the league. The Ravens defense held teams to under 20 points nine times during the year, including giving up only 3 points to Buffalo, and a shutout on the road of the Tennessee Titans. High flying offenses like the Falcons, Buccaneers, Chargers, and Steelers were all held under 20 points.

The odd thing is Baltimore didn’t create as many turnovers as you might think for a top defense in the NFL, something they might want to change in 2019. In 2018 they only forced 17 turnovers which was tied for 22nd i the league with teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay. Still, they didn’t let teams score, and they got off the field on third down. They only gave up 34.1% of third down conversions which was second behind the Bears in 2018.

The Ravens were also average in sacking the QB. They were tied for 11th with 43 on the year. The individual sacks were split between four guys mainly: Za’Darius Smith had 8.5, Matt Judon and Terrell Suggs both had 7.0, and Patrick Onwuasor had 5.5. Smith had a great year, he also had 10 TFL and 25 QB hits which earned him a big contract from the Green Bay Packers. Even at his older age, Suggs finished with 13 TFL and 15 QB hits himself.

The other standouts for the Ravens were Pro Bowlers S Eric Weddle, MLB C.J. Mosley, and DT Brandon Williams. Weddle and Mosley are going in 2019. In the secondary, the Ravens also got great play out of Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Marlon Humphrey really came into his own also.

The Ravens fell short in the playoffs in the Wild Card round in a home game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers saw Lamar Jackson and that rushing attack just two weeks earlier, and made the adjustments to stifle that offensive attack for most of the game. Jackson made it interesting by bringing the Ravens back in the 4th quarter from a 23-3 deficit. The defense kept the Ravens in the game, by force the Chargers to kick four field goals before the Chargers finally scored a TD in the 4th quarter to bust the game open.

At halftime, John Harbaugh reportedly asked his OC and Joe Flacco if they should make the switch at QB and put Flacco in. Apparently both guys said no, keep Jackson in and see what he can do. Jackson didn’t disappoint. And although you can say the Chargers played more a prevent defense, Jackson still passed for 194 yards and 2 TDs to get the Ravens back in the game. He also led the team in rushing with 54 yards. Sadly it wasn’t enough and they feel to the Chargers 23-17 ending their season.

Key Off Season Acquisitions

S Earl Thomas (4 Years, $55 Million)

They lose Eric Weddle in FA and upgrade with Earl Thomas. Thomas is going to take over as the leader of this defense with Weddle and Mosley and gone. If Thomas is healthy, he’s still one of the best safeties in the league and this Ravens secondary is still going to be nasty.

RB Mark Ingram (3 Years, $15 Million)

The Ravens went out and got a quality starting RB that can stay healthy. Ingram split carries in New Orleans with Alvin Kamara and in Baltimore, he’ll get the opportunity to be the #1 guy for a run heavy team. Ingram will get the majority of the carries but I don’t think he’ll get as many as other think.

OLB Shane Ray (1 Year, $1.2 Million)

Ray was a first round pick so he has the talent, but he never broke out in Denver and has had some off field issues. This is a cheap signing for the Ravens and they get some talent they can try to mold into something. Ray won’t start for the Ravens most likely, but he’ll have a chance to revive his career here under good defensive coaching.

DE Pernell McPhee (1 year, $1.03 million)

McPhee comes back to Baltimore where he started his career. Just like Ray he’s here to help the pass rush they lost in free agency. McPhee should start right away for the Ravens on the DL.

2019 Draft

Round 1 Pick #25: WR Marquise Brown

John Brown and Michael Crabtree are both off this team. The Ravens needed some WR help and they took the best WR in 2018 with Marquise Brown. Brown is small at just 5’9 but he is fast and a game breaker. He is the cousin of Antonio Brown and built in that same mold. His biggest issue going into 2019 is staying healthy.

Round 3 Pick #85: DE Jaylon Ferguson

The Ravens lost Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, and they only had 43 sacks in 2018. Enter the FBS record-holder in sacks with 45. He played all four years at Louisiana Tech and finished his senior year with 17.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss. Ferguson won’t have to start right away so he has the chance to be a pass rushing specialist early on. Although don’t be surprised if he ends up starting for the Ravens.

Round 3 Pick #93: WR Miles Boykin

Marquise Brown is short and fast, Miles Boykin is the opposite of that standing at 6’4″ and 220 pounds. He still ran a 4.42 40 yard dash however. Boykin, like Brown, is going to get every chance to start at WR. He has the ability to be a very good WR, but never showed dominance in college which led to his third round draft slot.

Round 4 Pick #113: RB Justice Hill

Hill is on this list because I believe he’ll eventually crack the RB rotation in Baltimore. A fourth round pick the Ravens don’t need to push him to play, but I think he has the skills to be a solid third down back early on. He isn’t the biggest buy, nor does he have great speed was he was a solid as you can get for Oklahoma St.

Key Off Season Departures

S Eric Weddle (via free agency to the Los Angeles Rams)

Weddle played three years in Baltimore and had three Pro Bowl years. He had 10 INTs, 3 sacks, and 220 tackles during his time in Baltimore and was the leader of the secondary. He was savy vet that made everybody better around him.

OLB Za’Darius Smith (via free agency to the Green Bay Packers)

Smith was the best pressure guy the Ravens had last year. He came into his own last year, in the previous three years Smith had 10 total sacks, he had 8.5 last year. Like Mosley, the Ravens would have loved to keep Smith but the Packers just offered him too much money.

WR John Brown (via free agency to the Buffalo Bills)

Brown was on his way to 1,000 yards but I don’t think him and Lamar Jackson fit well together. He also got a pretty good contract after from the Bills that he couldn’t pass up, and the Ravens didn’t think he was worth the money. This loss isn’t huge but he was the best WR the Ravens had last year. If Marquise Brown is healthy, he could be able to fill in John Browns production.

ILB C.J. Mosley (via free agency to the New York Jets)

Mosley was the replacement for Ray Lewis and didn’t disappoint. He is regarded as one of the best linebackers in the league but the Ravens just couldn’t match what the Jets offered. Out of all the losses the Ravens have on defense, this could be the biggest one.

OLB Terrell Suggs (via free agency to the Arizona Cardinals)

Suggs has been a Ravens staple for what seems like forever. His departure is mostly due to his age, and the Ravens not wanting to pay a 36 OLB. Suggs still has some left in the tank. More importantly, the Ravens lose one of their best leaders on defense.

WR Michael Crabtree

Another loss from the receiving core that is important to note, but might not have the biggest impact on the team. Crabtree was third in the team in receiving but was showing signs of slowing down. Which is evident in the fact that he is still unsigned.

2019 Season Preview

Just like the Seahawks, the Ravens are a good team to peg to miss the playoffs after making them last year. We’ll get to Lamar Jackson second but this team lost a lot on defense. I understand they’ve shown they can replace guys year after year but the front seven is going to be very different in 2019 than it was in 2018. First lets start with the unit we know is going to be good, and thats the secondary.

Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmy Smith could potentially be the best three CB group in the NFL. Combine those guys with SS Tony Jefferson whose been in Baltimore the past two years, and then you add in FS Earl Thomas and you have one of the best secondary groups in the league. It is going to be hard to pass against the Ravens and the Ravens need that kind of secondary in a division where you see A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, JuJu, Jarvis Landry, and now Odell Beckam Jr.

The questions come up front, specifically the pass rush. The interior defensive line is pretty set with Brandon Williams, Pernell McPhee and Chris Wormley. Those three guys combined for 2.0 sacks year. They also return Matt Judon who had 7.0 sacks last year, and Patrick Onwuasor who had 5.5 sacks. But they lost Za’Darius, Suggs, Mosley, and Weddle who combined for 18 of the 43 sacks the Ravens had.

At MLB, Kenny Young is the favorite to take over for Mosley. Young had 51 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year in 16 games. I have no doubt he’ll fill in nicely for Mosley, but he simple put is not C.J. Mosley.

More importantly for the Ravens, they need some leaders on defense to step up. At each level of this defense their leaders are gone, Weddle, Mosley, and Suggs. Will be interesting to see who steps up and takes their places. Obviously, Earl Thomas is going to be one of those guys but who is going to be the other two?

What gets talked about most with the Ravens is offense, offense, offense. The biggest question for the Ravens, and key to their success is the jump Lamar Jackson takes from year one, to year two. Jackson needs to be better at throwing the football, or teams are going to watch that Chargers tape and exploit his arm.

Now let’s be clear here. We saw just a small part of a Lamar Jackson led Ravens offense. What we see Week 1 is going to have so many more wrinkles, and probably look different then what we saw during 2018. The Ravens really had one bye week to revamp their offense to fit Jackson, now they have a full off season. Even so, Jackson needs to be a better QB throwing the ball. They have two solid TEs in Hurst and Andrews, they went out and drafted two young WRs and still have Willie Snead on the team, and they got him a stud RB in Mark Ingram. Not to mention the Ravens have a great offensive line in front of Jackson opening up holes for him. Looking at the tweet below, we are still unsure of what type of offense the Ravens are going to be running until Week 1 at Miami.

If the Ravens want to win the AFC North and make it back to the playoffs, Jackson needs to throw for around 3,000 yards. That’s only 187.5 yards per game, that should be doable for Jackson. As much as I love a team that runs the ball and plays good defense, if Jackson isn’t accurate and there is no threat to stretch the field, teams are going to figure out this offense quick and just stacked the box and stuff the run. The other factor here is the defense. I don’t know if you can count on the Ravens defense to be #2 in scoring again in 2019, which means that Jackson and the offense are going to have to do more.

Schedule

The AFC North plays the AFC East and NFC West this year. The Ravens won the AFC North last year so they also play the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs.

The Ravens have three prime time games this year. Week 9 on Sunday Night Football against the Patriots, Week 12 on Monday Night Football at the Rams, and Week 15 on Thursday Night Football against the Jets. Flex scheduling does so if the Ravens are good again, I’d expect at least one game to get flexed to a later time. They also play at Seattle in Week 7 in the late afternoon slot, that will probably be the marquee match-up that week late.

Overall the Ravens schedule is pretty standard. Their division opponents are pretty standard, although their last two games are at the Browns and vs the Steelers. They play every other home and away actually, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that. Other than that, their bye week comes in Week 8. Very standard and straight forward schedule here. Potential snow games at the Bills and at the Browns later on in the season. Lets get it done Mother Nature.

Fantasy Player You Want

I have to go with Lamar Jackson here. Rushing QBs are what you want in fantasy and Jackson is going later in drafts because of the perception he can’t pass. If anything, he should improve on his passing and HC John Harbaugh has already said Jackson is going to run a lot.

Fantasy Player to Avoid

I’m going with Mark Ingram here. Ingram will be the starter early on but I don’t know hows that going to last. The backfield will have a ton of RBs who touch the ball, plus Jackson getting his fair share of carries. Plus I don’t see Ingram being the primary pass catching back, although he can do that. I’d rather go elsewhere in the fourth round, which is Ingram’s average draft position.

Ceiling

If Jackson continues to improve, I can see the Ravens winning 10 games. I don’t see them winning more than that because to me, the Browns and Steelers are more talented overall. Now they do luck in that they play the AFC East and NFC West which are two of the weaker divisions based on last year. The Ravens will be in the playoff hunt come December.

Floor

If this offense flops, and Jackson doesn’t progress very much, the Ravens are set for disappointment in 2019. I think they win at least 7 games.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
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