With Lamar Jackson now set as the franchise quarterback, the Ravens have spent the off-season shaping the offense around him. Baltimore is now a run-heavy team with a solid defense, even though they lost some quality starters in free agency, and they once again look the part of an AFC contender.
Baltimore boasts perhaps the most dangerous running game in the NFL as of today. After the emergence of Lamar Jackson as the starter, the Ravens finished the season 6-1 and a lot of that success was owed to how efficiently Baltimore ran the ball. Jackson was extremely hard to stop, both on designed runs and scrambles, and UDFA Gus Edwards broke onto the scene late in the season, rushing for 718 yards, with an excellent 5.2 YPC. As if that weren’t enough, Baltimore added former Saints running back Mark Ingram, who could form a nasty 1-2 punch with Edwards. The Ravens also have a very solid offensive line, featuring players like Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley. With new offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens are expected to become one of the best rushing teams in the League.
Besides their potent running game, the Ravens also have one of the stingiest defenses in the league. Baltimore allowed the fewest yards per game in the NFL, and it was nearly impossible to establish a running game against them. The Ravens game plan is simple, yet effective: Run the ball, stop the opponent from running the ball. In that way, Baltimore controls the tempo of the game, wearing down the opposing defense while resting theirs. The Ravens actually lead the league in time of possession, with 32:17 per game. What is interesting about the Ravens defense is that they are so great without relying on forcing turnovers or getting to the quarterback. They ranked just 13th in sacks and T-22nd in takeaways.
The Ravens took full advantage of this off-season to help shape the offense around Lamar Jackson, adding speedy receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, previously mentioned thumper Mark Ingram, and uber-athletic Miles Boykin, who will immediately become Jackson’s favorite red-zone target right away. The end result is an offense that will rely heavily on the running game and quick passes to keep the ball moving, a style that fits Jackson’s abilities perfectly.
The main weakness of the Ravens is how one-dimensional their offense became once Lamar Jackson took over. For all the damage he can cause on the ground, his arm is rather erratic. Jackson had just 6 passing touchdowns on 7 starts, and his completion rate ranks in the bottom 5 of the League, only above Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Blake Bortles. His YPA and passing yards per game were also among the worst in the NFL. To his credit, though, Jackson does a fine job of taking care of the ball and limiting turnovers.
Another knock on Jackson is his poor pocket-awareness and how often he is sacked. On his 7 starts he was sacked on 8.6% of his passing attempts, which ranks among the worst in the NFL, when projected to a full season. This was also clearly evident in the Ravens’ wild card game against the Chargers, were Jackson was sacked an absurd 7 times.
Of course, not all the sacks are Lamar Jackson’s fault, and the Chargers defensive line is among the best in the NFL, but Jackson has not shown the pocket-presence elite quarterbacks have.
The Ravens also had a very tough off-season on defense, losing their best two pass-rushers (Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith), star linebacker C.J Mosley, and veteran safety Eric Weddle. Earl Thomas was signed to cover the hole Weddle left, but he suffered a season ending injury last season and just turned 30. Baltimore lost too much talent on defense and did not add enough players to help cover the holes, either in free-agency or in the Draft. The Ravens now have a huge deficit at one of the most important positions on their defense: middle-linebacker, with Kenny Young penciled in as the starter replacing C.J Mosley. Young was impressive in limited action last season, but whether he can replace Mosley adequately remains to be seen.
Third round pick pass-rusher Jaylon Ferguson has an outstanding college resumé, but he apparently botched his interviews and tested horribly in his pro-day. He has big shoes to fill, and it does not seem like he is likely to be able to, at least in his rookie season. Ferguson and Matt Judon look set to be the team’s main pass-rushers, as backup Tim Williams has not shown a lot in his first two seasons. Overall, the Ravens pass rush seems like the weak point of the defense.
How they match up with the Colts
Of the other 5 teams that made the AFC playoffs last season, the Ravens are the team that least worries me. Their biggest strength is running the ball, and the Colts were excellent at stopping the run last season, stuffing elite running backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and a red-hot Derrick Henry. If Jackson is forced to beat the Colts with his arm, then the Ravens are in big trouble. Baltimore does not have a single proven receiver on their roster. The best they have is Willie Snead, who posted a 62/651/1 line last season. After Snead, the Ravens have mostly rookies. Their tight ends are Nick Boyle, who in 4 seasons never had more than 250 receiving yards, and has no career touchdowns, and also Hayden Hurst, whose rookie season was uninspiring to say the least. #3 tight end Mark Andrews was solid, but for whatever reason he is listed as the Ravens third tight end. It is also worth noting that Ballard’s decision to stock up on athletes in the front 7 would limit Jackson’s success on scrambles in a potential match up, severely limiting the Ravens offense.
Baltimore’s defense is not as scary as it was last season, and it is reasonable to expect them to drop-off, at least from the top 5. Their pass-rush does not have the level of talent it had before, and the defense is filled with doubts right now. Will Earl Thomas return from his injury in form? Will the unproven pass-rush duo of Ferguson and Judon be effective? Will Kenny Young fill the hole Mosley left?
Overall this Colts team looks perfectly prepared to deal with the pesky Ravens, and should they eventually meet in the playoffs, Indy seems to have the upper-hand on the match up.