An explosive running game has been the Ravens’ calling card since Lamar Jackson took over as the starting quarterback. Jackson is perhaps the most electric ball-carrier in the NFL and is a cheat code at the quarterback position. The running back core behind him, led by second-year player J.K. Dobbins is also really good and the offensive line is among the best in the NFL. Head coach John Harbaugh has done a wonderful job creating a game plan that suits Jackson like a glove, as they have led the NFL in rushing for two consecutive seasons and it has not even been close.
Jackson can also hurt you with his arm, and he can take good care of the football to avoid hampering the offense, as he has just 15 interceptions over the past two seasons. It helps that wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews have evolved into two reliable weapons. Despite losing tackle Orlando Brown, the Ravens signed veteran and former Steeler, Alejandro Villanueva, and also managed to sign receiver Sammy Watkins, an underrated pickup that has plenty of upside.
However, when I think about the Ravens, the first thing that comes to mind is their amazing defense. Historically, Baltimore’s defense has always been among the best in the League, and these times are not different. Led by younger players like Marlon Humphrey, Patrick Queen, Marcus Peters, and Chuck Clark, accompanied by veterans such as Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens are at the very least a top 10 defensive team in the NFL.
The main weakness of the Ravens is their dependence on the running game for the offense to have success. Force Lamar to throw the ball and you will be much better poised to succeed than if Baltimore can pound the ball and tire your defense. On games where Jackson had 28 or more pass attempts, the Ravens had a record of 1-4 (.200 winning percentage), compared to an 11-1 (.916 winning percentage) record where Jackson had less than that.
The defense also showed some cracks last year, and it does not help that they lost two key players like Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Pernell McPhee are not getting any younger either, and are all on the wrong side of 30. Drafting Jayson Oweh out of Penn State will certainly help in the future, but there are some serious doubts as to how much he will contribute in his rookie year.
One could also say that Lamar Jackson has not proved he can lead a team in the playoffs just yet, as he has failed to advance past the Divisional Round in his first 3 seasons, but that take seems like a bit of a reach to make so soon.
How they match up with the Colts
We got a really good look at how these teams matchup in their Week 9 clash, where the Ravens beat the Colts 24-10. Indy’s defense was amazing during the first half, but a Jonathan Taylor fumble returned for a touchdown meant the Colts were up just 10-7 at the half despite playing much better than the Ravens. After the defense recovered a fumble in the red zone after a long drive, then quarterback Philip Rivers threw a YOLO long ball on first down and turned the ball over when the defense desperately needed a break. The Ravens got a touchdown on the ensuing drive and then proceeded to wear out the Colts defense for the remainder of the game.
The Colts look a lot different now, with Carson Wentz under center, the passing offense will surely be much more explosive, and also perhaps volatile. The defense should also improve with the addition of Kwity Paye and anticipated improvement from young players like Julian Blackmon, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Bobby Okereke, Rock Ya-Sin, and Khari Willis.
The problem with trying to analyze how well other teams match up with this team is that the variance between the Colts’ ceiling and the Colts’ floor is perhaps the highest in the NFL. If Wentz returns to his old form, and the youngsters improve under the guidance of Frank Reich, this is a team that could easily be among the top 3 in the NFL. However, if Wentz continues his trend of poor performance, poor quarterback play will hold back a really good team.