By: Peter Kriebel, Contributor
How different does this Ravens team feel right now compared to last year’s bunch? After an all-time injury bug derailed last year’s season, the Ravens start this one with practically every player healthy. Each season, the teams still fighting in late January all have one thing in common: availability. And this year the Ravens are healthier than a vegan thanksgiving.
A soft season opener against the Jets on Sunday means a gradual re-introduction to game action for the players returning from season-ending injuries a year ago. And yes, there are a lot of them: five of the 21 starters, in fact. Despite that scary number, the Ravens should be able to handle the Jets with ease without leaning heavily on these players.
What to expect from the offense
Assuming this team keeps its good health, what should we expect from them? Ideally, on offense, a step back. Not in yards or scoring, but in playstyle. Many Ravens fans, myself included, want to see an offense similar to that of the league-scorching 2019 season, when the team rushed for more yards than any other in the NFL history. This year, the Ravens might have the tools to replicate that success. When the Ravens’ offense took the league by storm in 2019, they had multiple tight ends on the field 41% of the time, per Sharp Football Analysis. That meant they were able to mask their deficiency at the wide receiver position, something they’ll have to do again this year to be real contenders. Since 2020, the Ravens have run these multiple tight end sets only 25% of the time in favor of “lighter,” more pass-oriented groupings. Part of this decrease has been due to a simple lack of difference-makers at the position. Clearly Josh Oliver and Eric Tomlinson aren’t exactly players an offense should feature. However this year, with the emergence of Isiah Likely and a potentially healthy Nick Boyle, along with the ever-dominant Mark Andrews, the Ravens might finally have the personnel to get back to their roots on offense.
"It's gonna be a dangerous offense I feel." @Lj_era8 pic.twitter.com/kxgQXuwkl6
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 13, 2022
Defense wins championships…right??
Defensively, it all starts with the team’s new defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald. Parting ways with “Wink” Martindale might not have been a popular decision within the locker room, but it seemed as though the relationship had run its course. Last season the Ravens blitzed at the sixth-highest rate of any team in the league but had the ninth-worst rate of generating pressure. Injuries aside, that just doesn’t cut it. I love an aggressive defense, and it’s suited for the players this team has in the secondary, but for the Ravens to take down the class of the AFC, they’ll need to generate pressure with just a four-man rush. And second-year defensive end Odafe Oweh must make a big jump as a pass rusher for that to be possible. The Ravens will have some new faces on the defense as well. Big-ticket free agent Marcus Williams is expected to provide the best safety play the Ravens have had since Ed Reed. No pressure. The Ravens’ defensive emphasis continued into the draft, where the team invested five picks into that side of the ball. I have my questions so far about their top pick, Kyle Hamilton, but he won’t have to make an immediate impact thanks to the amount of talent at the position. Fellow rookie defenders Travis Jones and Damarion “Pepe” Williams look like the real deal. And anything the Ravens get out of second-round pick David Ojabo coming off a torn Achilles is icing on the cake.
Odafe Oweh making a big impact once again. #RavensFlock
📺: #INDvsBAL on ESPN
📱: https://t.co/cpgwIpWHHN pic.twitter.com/3EnHtvJHcI
— NFL (@NFL) October 12, 2021
So, what’s it gonna be?
Given all the injuries last year, it’s beyond me how the team managed to earn an 8-9 record. And this year, at least on paper, they appear to be better at almost every position, except receiver. Assuming the team can effectively put multiple tight ends on the field, and J.K. Dobbins contributes similarly to how he did in his rookie season, this rushing attack should be reminiscent of 2019. The passing game is a question mark due to the lack of depth at receiver, but with more heavy sets, the team will only have to consistently rely on their top two wideouts. Bateman remains an unproven commodity, but he and Devin Duvernay are a respectable duo. If at this point you’re noticing I haven’t mentioned the much-discussed Lamar Jackson, that’s intentional, and it reflects my confidence in him. If the team around him is halfway decent, he will make them electric. But this team is better than halfway decent. It’s a complete, healthy roster with depth and a last-place schedule from finishing fourth in the AFC North last year. The talent on this roster and the joke of a schedule ahead of them makes this team a shoo-in for 10+ victories and a playoff berth.
Final Prediction: 12-5, conference championship appearance. Book your hotel now.