The 2018 Ravens Take Flight; Some Thoughts
On December 31st, 2017, the Cincinnati Bengals left Charm City as 31-27 victors. The loss dropped the Ravens to 9-7, and officially ended Baltimore’s 2017 season.
Today, the Ravens take flight on another year.
Baltimore has not reached the playoffs since the 2014 season. Even that year, they were 3rd place finishers in their own Division. The last AFC North title was the Super Bowl season of 2012.
Most of the talk this off-season has been pretty optimistic. Lots of good vibes coming out of the Castle.
I know my own optimism has steadily been on the rise as we’ve gotten closer to kickoff.
I spent most of last year lamenting the lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball. I just saw a roster devoid of upper-echelon talent. Guys that no matter the opposition or scheme they were facing, you could enter games knowing that they would make their presence felt.
With a quality Free Agent season, a positive NFL Draft, a Summer (continue knocking on wood) where they’ve avoided devastating injuries; it feels realistic to believe these ’18 Ravens have a team capable of playing games into January ’19.
One way or the other, today we go from hope and projection to grading results.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
At the BSL Board this week, there was a thread for Predictions. The poster ‘bnickle’ succinctly stated, “If the QB play is above average vs below avg like the last 3 years, we’ll be in the playoffs. Its pretty much that simple .”
He’s exactly right.
What was under-reported Nationally, was that Flacco and the Ravens passing offense played better in the 2nd half of the ’17 season. The primary reason there have been largely positive vibes from Owings Mills this Summer is that Flacco has looked strong.
He’s moving better. The mechanics are better. His weapons are better.
Joe doesn’t have to be ‘elite.’ He does have to produce.
Flacco’s Yard per Attempt last year was a career low 5.7. If he hits his career average of 6.8, it will be much more productive passing game.
These last three years, his completion percentages have been 64.4, 64.9, and 64.1. The three highest marks of his career. But it’s been an offense where – for a myriad of reasons – Joe was reduced to being check-down heavy.
I’ll gladly take a reduction in completion % this year, if that corresponds with the Ravens getting the ball down the field more often.
1) I was high on Jackson in college. I was excited about his prospects in the league prior to the Ravens calling his name. I generally liked the week-to-week progression we saw from him this Summer. I’m eagerly anticipating his future. This ’18 team, is Joe’s team. There doesn’t need to be a call for Jackson, anytime Joe has a bad series, a bad half, or even a bad game.
Back to Jackson…
The primary reasons to like him on this first contract are the contract, and his legs.
You can and will win with him at QB….. but you won’t if you try to make more than he is.
The completion % is never going to be strong. The pin-point accuracy of a precision QB is never going to be there.
I’m going to like him for his strengths, and not going to spend x amount of years worried about what he’s not.
The interesting thing with is that his accuracy improves down the field.
He’s struggled with accuracy underneath.
When I think about Jackson’s future with the Ravens…. I think about Russell Wilson’s early years.
Where the rest of the Seahawks team was loaded, and you didn’t ask Wilson to do a ton. In ’13, when Seattle won the SB, Wilson completed 63% of has passes.
I’m not sure Jackson can get to that. But Wilson only had 3 games with over 30 passing attempts, and no more than 33. That looks about right to me. In that season, Wilson had 2 games with over 300 yards passing. 6 games with under 200.
Wilson also had 96 rushing attempts for the year.
To me, you limit the passing attempts. You protect the ball. You take chances when you get them…. because he does have the skillset to attack you as a passer when playing to his strengths.
But if in ’19 you hand Jackson the keys, and you say throw the ball 35-40 times each week, and lead us up and down the field 80 yards multiple times a game, that’s going to be a big ask.
He’ll be a bit better in the pocket footwork wise next year, he’ll be a bit stronger…. he’ll be that much more comfortable with the system, being a pro…. but he’s not going to be vastly different than what he is. Generally, who he is today, is going to be who he is, and I do think you can build a team around him that works.
And I look forward to seeing that…. in ’19.
2) Lots of talk locally about Wink Martindale taking over the Defensive Coordinator. Count me as someone else who was happy to see Martindale replace Dean Pees.
Last year the Ravens were 3rd in Defensive DVOA (Football Outsiders). Using that measurement, criticism of Pees feels like an undeserved piling on.
Critiquing from my couch – when I have not even bothered to review any game film – is admittedly foolish, but I’ll do it anyway.
You can’t say that Pees didn’t oversee a successful defense. He did. However, I think his bend but don’t break preference is a limiting mentality.
Give me a team that attacks. And be aware that by attacking, you might give up some bigger chunks of plays. My bet is that by just instilling a philosophy of we’re coming after you (vs. sitting on our heels), that you’ll have more players showing up and making plays.
3) I knew it was far fetched, but I went into Training Camp hoping that Orlando Brown would be ready to immediately grab RT. It’s not an issue that he was not. He’s a Rookie, it’s an adjustment. He needs to get stronger, and the footwork has to improve. I’m sure there are numerous technique issues. If he can come on during practice this year, I think the line gets much stronger. As is, I generally like Stanley, Lewis, Skura, Yanda, Hurst.
I mean, I’m not sold on Hurst at RT, but one of the reasons the Ravens paid him was that they liked his versatility.
Losing Lewis last year was an issue. Had hoped he would show well at Center this year, but that apparently didn’t go well in Camp.
You can solve this ‘problem’ when it happens, but what happens if Brown is eventually ready during this season to take over RT? Hurst goes back to LG. Does Lewis go to Center or the bench?
Does Stanley have another level he can reach?
Does a returning Yanda have another elite year in him? Is that too much to ask?
4) The offense does have some usable weapons. Yeah, there is no Julio Jones or Todd Gurley on the roster; but there is some collective strength.
Crabtree, Brown, Snead, Moore can be a productive group at WR.
Boyle, M. Williams, Hurst, Andrews can be a productive group at TE.
Alex Collins, Kenneth Dixon, Buck Allen, Patrick Ricard can be a productive group at RB / FB.
Use what you have. Play to their individual strengths. Move the ball around. Get lots of guys involved. Take advantage of match-ups.
Crabtree looks to be that reliable Mason / Boldin esque receiver on the sideline that Joe utilized for years.
Smoke looks to be a guy that could emerge over the top.
Rookie TE’s don’t fair well historically, but if Hurst can quickly return to the lineup, I think he might prove to be an exception. My thought being that while he doesn’t have an extended Football history, he’s a bit older. He just seemed very comfortable finding seams this Summer, and showed quality hands.
I do think Boyle and Williams are more than stiffs regardless though, and with two rookie TE’s nipping at their heels, you’d think they would be hungry to take advantage of any remaining opportunity they get (including today).
The 2017 Ravens were generally boring. Alex Collins was not though. 4.6 YPC last year. Just turned 24. What can you do for an encore? His 212 carries last year was good for 15th most league wide. How many carries does he have in him this year? He also had 23 receptions. Can the receptions go up? How he grades in pass blocking will be part of the equation there. So will Kenneth Dixon.
Dixon has talent. He’s going to earn time. Will be interesting to see how the carries and time end-up being split.
5) Wasn’t happy about Jimmy Smith’s suspension, but in the end it might prove to have been beneficial. Gives him another Month to get right. That many less snaps on his legs this year.
I’m excited to see who is active today. I’m hoping to see numerous 3rd downs this year where the Ravens are able to have Suggs, Judon, T. Williams, and Za’Darius Smith on the field together. Pin the ears back and go get ’em!
B.Williams, Pierce, and Henry should make many teams one dimensional.
I understand that many aren’t excited by the prospects of a big extension for Mosley; but I think he should still be appreciated.
I’m looking forward to seeing how time breaks between Onwuasor and Young at WLB.
I’m pleased by the improvement that was shown by Bowser this Summer.
One of the things I really like about the defense is the return to health of Tavon Young. I think he has the athleticism to make a real difference, particularly against those slot WR’s.
10/21: New Orleans
12/16: Tampa Bay
– Lots of talk last year about all of the limited QBs the Ravens faced. That’s not the case this year if health prevails.
– There is incentive to try and work the Bills early today, and give a little extra rest to some starters where possible prior to the quick turnaround to Thursday’s game at Cincinnati.
– The Browns should be improved, but if you want to win the North, you still need to beat them twice.
– Playing the Saints at home is better vs. going to the Superdome. Tripping to Atlanta and Kansas City to begin December isn’t easy.
– Would think many Ravens fans will make the trip to Charlotte at the end of October. The Chargers should be good, but the Ravens players will probably enjoy heading West in late December.
– The Thursday game in Cincinnati, and the three game road-trip to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Tennessee might prevent the Ravens from getting off to a great start. On the other-hand, you get all of the road AFC North games quickly out of the way, and you get the benefit of 5 home games in the 2nd half of the schedule. Chance to finish strong.
I though the ’18 Baltimore Orioles would win somewhere between 81-85 games, and they currently have a .289 winning percentage!
With such a lost year for the O’s, the return of the Ravens and NFL football has never been more eagerly anticipated.
I have wondered if the O’s ineptness has tainted my perceptions about the Ravens. Meaning am I looking at things with ‘Purple Colored’ glasses in-part because the ’18 Orioles were so horrible?
I don’t think I am.
The Ravens aren’t an overwhelming juggernaut. What the ’18 Ravens do look to be though, is a quality team.
I’ve got them finishing 10-6, and winning a playoff game.
A Final Thought From BSL:
As another NFL season starts, join us each week to discuss!
Our Ravens and NFL Analysts are:
Mike Randall – Sr. Ravens Analyst. Has appeared on 1370, and Fox 45.
Dr. Gabe Ferguson – Has appeared on 105.7.
Jason Hirschhorn – Member of the Pro Football Writers Association.
Dr. Andy Guyader – Former D1 Coach runs The Q5.com, specializes in Football Visualizations and Drive Analytics.
Sid Saraf – Previously covered the NFL for FOX Sports and CBS Sports.
Robert Habib – Previously covered the NFL for Pro Football Focus.
Rivers McCown – Has contributed to ESPN, Deadspin, Football Outsiders, USA Today.
Of course I’m biased, but I don’t think any outlet locally has a more accomplished group.