Flying with the Flock: Baltimore Ravens Season Preview
BALTIMORE RAVENS SEASON PREVIEW – Growing up is hard, but for Lamar Jackson, it’s time. John Harbaugh is finally taking the training wheels off his quarterback’s proverbial bike.
Sure, at first Greg Roman’s offense was a perfect fit for Jackson. His run-first scheme sliced through opposing defenses, brutalizing defenders with pulling guards and flanking them with the game’s most prolific rushing quarterback. But the passing game was too long an afterthought. And just as parents nervously unfasten those familiar little wheels to allow their kids to soar, John Harbaugh let go of the man who once coordinated the league’s best offense.
Brand New Offense
Until regular season action commences, Todd Monken is golden. Bounced out of the league as a member of Freddie Kitchen’s coaching staff in Cleveland, Monken landed on his feet coordinating the offense of what would soon be college football’s paragon program. Monken’s work leading Georgia to back-to-back national titles earned him a shot at a return to the big leagues. After losing jobs coaching Jameis Winston and Baker Mayfield, having an elite signal-caller must have been a factor in Monken’s job search. Lamar Jackson has solidified himself as one of the game’s best. An added sweetener for Monken is that the Ravens’ fanbase is grateful to have anyone but Greg Roman calling plays.
But what will this Monken offense look like? According to James Jones, Monken plans to “take Lamar Action Jackson back to Louisville,” and utilize “four wide [receivers].” This might all be moving a bit too fast for Ravens fans used to Greg Romans’ patient approach, which deployed 22 personnel a league-high 33% of the time last season. But with Raven’s new stable of receivers, lighter personnel groupings might be the way to get the team’s best 11 players on the field.
Last season, running 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) would mean trotting Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, Demarcus Robinson, and James Proche onto the field to play receiver. Not ideal. But with new additions Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers, and Nelson Agholar, the Ravens have, for the first time in Lamar’s career, a respectable, deep, receiving corps.
Realistically, the offense will take time to get rolling, but assuming Lamar can stay healthy, I’d be shocked if he didn’t set a career-high in passing yards.
Defensive Question Marks
I’m less confident in the defense. Mike Macdonald had an impressive first year as defensive coordinator, finishing seventh in DVOA after a shaky start to the season. He represents everything hip on the defensive side of the football in today’s NFL- split safety defenses, simulated pressures, defenses that force the game’s elite quarterbacks to be patient. And while I have no doubt Macdonald is a good, if not great coordinator, he will have to mask some serious holes on the roster.
The most glaring deficiency is the cornerback position. With Marlon Humphrey out until “pretty early in the season” Harbaugh-speak for week eight – this might be the worst unit in the NFL. Beyond the fact that the group was unproven to begin with, they’re also banged up. Rock Ya-Sin, Pepe Williams, and Jalyn Armour Davis have all missed significant time this offseason due to injury.
Compounding the uncertainty surrounding the defense is the team’s pass rush. Signing Jadeveon Clowney helps, but he’s aging, injury-prone, and has never been an elite pass rusher. The pressure is on Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo to get home in a hurry because banking on the corners to hold up against elite passing attacks is a quick way to get embarrassed.
Working in favor of the Ravens’ defense are the elite duos of Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen at linebacker and Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton at safety. Responsibility falls on the shoulders of these stalwarts to usher along the unproven and untalented.
I expect the Ravens to have an offense that ranks in the top five this season. This unit has too much talent and energy to disappoint.
I trust the defense to weather the storm of injuries and rank among the league’s top ten units.
But it’s the big moments where this team has failed recently. And in a loaded AFC that will likely turn away a 10 or 11-win team from the playoffs, this team’s focus cannot lapse in season-defining moments.