This season for the Baltimore Ravens is a difficult one to predict…as always.
If you look around the internet…I’ll save you some time…predictions are all over the show. Some say they will make the playoffs easy and that the division title is theirs to lose, others say they will crumble early in the season. For me, the season will come down to a number of factors…
Defensive rebuilding after personnel loss
The Ravens led the NFL last season in total defence and finished behind only the Chicago Bears in scoring defence. Then came the offseason, which was tough for the Ravens. Free agency saw them lose OLB Za’Darius Smith and DL Brent Urban, but also star line-backer C.J. Mosley and future Hall of Fame defender Terrell Suggs. While these positions have been filled, the defence may struggle this year without their star players.
Still, their pass defence remains a strength. Plus, the signing of veteran safety Earl Thomas should help solve their takeaway problems from last season, while adding much need leadership after departed, experienced players.
The defence shouldn’t prove as disappointing as many would expect with the shake up during offseason. They’ve added new, younger, and faster players to get excited about. However, it won’t be the same exceptional standard that we are used to seeing with the Ravens defence, which could be problematic with the unevenness of offence.
Lamar Jackson’s development
This time last year saw Ravens fans frustrated, yet again, with struggling veteran QB Joe Flacco. This year hope comes in the form of rocket QB Lamar Jackson, who last year exploded onto the scene with his exceptional and stylised running game that baffled many Ravens opponents, especially given the lack of running game with Flacco.
In his first start, the former Heisman Trophy winner ran for 117 yards. It took only another six starts for him to break the single-season NFL record for rushing attempts by a quarterback (147).
This year will be no different as Jackson and the Ravens will continue to favourite this magic and unique running game. However, if Jackson is to become a real star of the game, he must develop his passing game too. Running quarterbacks rarely run for very long in the league, and Jackson must show he can strike the same fear with his arm.
In a pass centric league expect the Ravens to keep running the ball. Only five teams allowed fewer sacks last season, though their move away from a pass-first approach certainly helped.
Wide receiver is where the Ravens may struggle. Rookies Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin will face pressure to replace departed starters John Brown and Michael Crabtree. The offence’s success could hinge on their development and Jackson’s evolution into a more fundamentally sound passer.
Ultimately, with growing pains and an inexperienced receiving line-up, expect the Ravens offense to run both hot and cold.
Secret weapon in Justin Tucker
A big takeaway from the 2018 season was the need for a reliable kicker. There were quite a few mistakes during pivotal moments from kickers, such as Parkey’s season-ending missed field goal for the Bears and Crosby’s four missed field goals for the Packers against the Lions.
This is an area where the Ravens need not worry with kicker Justin Tucker. Tucker is still the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history (90.1 percent) and, excluding blocked kicks, hasn’t missed an attempt from inside 50 yards since 2015.
This might not seem substantial now, but we have seen too often how a game can come down to a nerve-wracking field goal or PAT. This is when you need an outstanding and exceptional kicker, such as Justin Tucker.
And if you think about it, an exceptional kicker with the skills of Tucker can take pressure off Jackson. He won’t have to move the ball as far for Tucker to kick and for the Ravens to get some points.
And in a close game, this could make the difference.
So to a Ravens fan the best advice I can offer is to be excited but as always be realistic. Expect a season that could go either way, especially with a likely difficult AFC North this year. But still have hope and remember just how unpredictable the league can be.
Last season nobody was expecting the Ravens to finish 10-6 and win the AFC North. By week 10 they had lost their third straight game, falling under .500. A fourth straight postseason absence was looking definite. Coach John Harbaugh’s future in Baltimore was on the line. And even worse news: QB Joe Flacco was out injured and rookie Lamar Jackson was in… the Ravens then won six of their final seven games and claimed their first AFC North title since 2012.
Anything can happen in the NFL. Enjoy the ride Ravens fans.
Likelihood of making the playoffs: Average