Dale Money | January 30th, 2020
After taking over from an injured Joe Flacco late in the 2018 season and not relinquishing the job after that, Lamar Jackson showed enough in his minimal time as the starter. In a sign of good faith, Baltimore would make the decision to trade their long-time starter that offseason. This led the path wide open for Jackson, he would come out like gangbusters in the opening week, throwing for 324 yards and 5 touchdowns on 17 competitions against the Miami Dolphins.
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After starting the season 2-2, the Ravens would go on an incredible tear winning their next 12 games. They would finish the regular season with their best record in club history along with a first-round bye. Coming into the playoffs Baltimore was already being dubbed as a Super Bowl favorite as is to be expected. However, they would not be prepared for the Cinderella story that was the Tennessee Titans. Tennessee would at one point have a 28-6 lead after three quarters, it would end in 28-12 result. Jackson to his credit would finish the game with 142 yards rushing.
What Went Right
While Jackson’s passing numbers cooled off after his early outbreak, his rushing numbers were strong enough to continue balancing it out. In those last seven weeks of the regular season, Jackson would kick his passing game back into high gear, throwing for at least three touchdowns or more in five of them and not a single interception.
Jackson would finish the regular season, with 36 touchdowns along 1,206 rushing yards, breaking the single-season record. A fantastic sophomore campaign to be sure, it should be good enough to make him the runaway favorite for League MVP. The Jackson era in Baltimore looks to be around for a good long while.
Mark Ingram signing on with the Ravens was much needed on both ends. For Baltimore, they needed a total revamp of their running game, after suffering through the three-headed running attack of Alex Collins, Kenneth Dixon, and Gus Edwards. Ingram was able to move on from his timeshare with Alvin Kamara, and head his own running game. He would certainly make the most of his opportunity, contributing double-digit rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 yards on the ground.
Mark Andrews would blossom in his sophomore campaign, developing a strong connection with Jackson. It would start off in the week one pasting off Miami, adding over 100 yards through the air along with a touchdown. Andrews 10 touchdowns led all tight ends and were tied for second-most in the league, he would also lead the Ravens in yards receiving.
What Went Wrong
While the Ravens offense was strong in most facets, the wide receiving part of their game has continued to show that it is still a work in progress. The addition of former Sooner Marquise Brown in the first round was a nice first step I felt, however, his production did quite live up to the hype. Brown’s seven touchdowns were solid for a rookie granted. This would tie him with fellow rookies Terry McLaurin and D.K. Metcalf, however, he would hit the 100-yards-receiving target twice. His 584 yards were tops for Baltimore wide receivers.
Looking towards Brown’s prospects for next year, it was great to see him come through with such a strong showing in his first postseason meeting. It was a game in which Hollywood put up 126 yards through the air, and included a marvelous one-hand grab for 38 yards on a 3rd and 14.
Willie Snead had a rather forgettable second season in Baltimore, it was to be expected that Snead would get less attention compared to 2018 with the new addition of Brown. However, I’m not sure he was expecting his target shares to be cut down from 95 to 46, and as you can imagine the yardage dropped off quite a bit, as a result, his receiving yards went down from 651 to 339. However, his touchdown receptions would balloon to five in 2019, after picking up just one single touchdown in 2018.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Ravens enter into the offseason with just over 29 million dollars in cap room, and 50 players currently signed. Before they decide to test the free-agent market, it’s going to be much more prudent settling their own affairs first.
As of now they still have the dilemma on whether or not to tag and trade edge rusher Matt Judon, Baltimore has made it known they are open to trade offers for Judon. He is now 28 years of age and comes off a strong season, which was a career-high in sacks and forced fumbles.
Along with Judon looking for a major pay rise, they’ve also got several other players on the defensive line that will need to get sorted out: Patrick Onwuasor, Michael Pierce and Pernell McPhee for starters. So while the Ravens may want to lock up Judon for the foreseeable future, they may have no choice but to let him walk as it stands.
The Team’s Free Agents
Jimmy Smith was the highest-paid player from last year, on Baltimore’s current list of free-agents. Now 32 years of age and having been used sparingly for a player being paid over nine million dollars in base salary, the Ravens may decide to move on from Smith and look towards the future. They currently have three cornerbacks already under contract for next season.
A crucial piece in that Baltimore defensive line the past few years since going undrafted in 2016, Michael Pierce will be looking for a significant pay rise. Although his stats aren’t all that impressive, having just 35 tackles. It’s his run-stopping ability which is among the very best in the league. I could see the Ravens trimming the fat in other areas in order to hang onto Pierce for the foreseeable future.
Anthony Levine‘s defensive opportunities dropped off significantly after the team’s bye in Week 8. His last four games leading up to the bye week, Levine would eclipse 15 defensive snaps or more. He would not have another week of double-digit defensive snaps until week 17 against Pittsburgh.
Open Market Free Agents
Baltimore is still in need of quality guard help, Brandon Scherff could be a prime free agency candidate. There has been plenty of speculation as to whether Scherff played his last game with the Redskins following a season-ending injury in mid-December. Washington has the option to place the franchise tag onto him should they feel he is too valuable to let get away.
The Ravens have a need at wide receiver, adding an affordable option will help save them a bit of cap space when looking to nail down some of their own free agents. Consider a player like Geronimo Allison, not an exciting name however Allison could be a nice depth receiver, with the chance to push for a bigger role.
Coming off 2018 in which he was only able to play five of the 16 games. 2019 was looked at as Allison’s last real chance to work his way into that No. 2 role, opposite Davante Adams. Instead, that role would end up going to Allen Lazard, leaving him to share the No. 3 duties with Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He would finish with just under 300 yards receiving along with a pair of touchdowns.
Projecting the NFL Draft
With the final completion of the regular season, the Ravens were awarded the 28th pick in the draft. This is the first time in franchise history they have had the 28th overall choice. Let’s take a look at some of the Ravens needs heading into April, and project what they might decide to do with their selections.
1st Round, Pick 28: C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
The Ravens will likely let Smith walk this off-season, leaving a hole behind Brandon Carr at the right corner spot. Henderson would be a fine add at the 28th pick. He has decent size for a corner at 6’1″ and 202 lbs, along with lightning-quick reflexes in which to chase down opposing quarterbacks when on corner blitzes. In Hendersons’ three seasons as a Gator, he would collect 93 tackles and four sacks.
2nd Round, Pick 60: Michael Pittman Jr., WR, USC
As pointed out earlier in the article, this Ravens receiving corps is still in need of work. Adding Brown in the first round last season was a unique move, for a team that’s identity hasn’t been centered around the West Coast style of offense. Pittman Jr. is a large-bodied receiver at 6’4″ 220 pounds, with long arms in which to snare footballs. Had a very fine 2019, his 101 receptions were tied for fourth in the NCAA. Pittman would be a fine weapon for Jackson and should slide right into that No. 2 role opposite Brown.
3rd Round, Pick 92: Jonathan Greenard, Edge, Florida
They won’t be getting a sniff at one of those top edge rushers, the likes of Chase Young and A.J. Epenesa, so foregoing edge until the third round and selecting Greenard could be a sharp decision. One of the more talented edge rushers in the draft, Greenard has great burst and quickness. His 9.5 sacks along with 52 sacks yards were first and fifth-best in the SEC. Greenard also put in a superb performance very recently in the Senior Bowl.
I’m sure theirs many that feel the Baltimore Ravens blew their golden opportunity in the playoffs, after having such a monumental regular season. However, they have a lot to be happy about, first, the opportunities are still there.
The AFC North is still very winnable, their biggest competition in the division next year will no doubt be the Pittsburgh Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger returns back from injury. However, the hourglass on Roethlisberger’s career is closing in fast. As for the Browns, its anyone guess as to whether or not Baker Mayfield can get it together after suffering such a sophomore jinx.
When you consider the outlook on Baltimore’s competition, you can’t help but feel good about their chances of repeating as division winners in 2020. Along with an always competitive Ravens defense. They’ve got an MVP-caliber quarterback along with a tight end that put up ten touchdowns, and both players are entering just their third season.
I expect the AFC North to be a two-horse race between the Ravens and Steelers. Those duels between Jackson and Big Ben should be very entertaining in 2020. It all comes down to how they perform in those games against Pittsburgh. If they don’t manage to clinch the division, they should at the very least finish the year out with a wild card.
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