Looking towards the second half of Ravens season
I wrote yesterday about the events that have led to the Ravens impressive 6-2 start (also known as Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense is really awesome). However, the season is not over at the halfway point. There are still 8 more games on the Ravens schedule and for the first half to mean anything the team is going to have to take care of business down the stretch.
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Looking ahead to the second half of the season, I think there are several questions that will shape how the season unfolds. There is still some uncertainty about how good the Ravens defense is going to be down the stretch. The unit has been playing a lot better as of late with the additions of Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, Jihad Ward and Marcus Peters. The return of Jimmy Smith also seemed to have a very positive impact on the Ravens secondary, but there are legitimate concerns about the pass-rush especially now that Pernell McPhee went on the Injured Reserve.
There was a lot of talk leading up to the trade deadline, but the Ravens were unable to add another pass-rusher. That means Matt Judon will continue to be the Ravens main threat off the edge with Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson stepping into even larger roles. The lack of depth is a concern moving forward as another injury could prove to be devastating. The addition of Jihad Ward has given the Ravens an additional presence on the defensive interior and his addition to the defense could prove to be very important in the second half of the season.
Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale is known for his aggressive style and tendency to bring blitz pressure at a very high rate. Having an extremely talented secondary allows Martindale some extra creativity as he can trust his CBs to cover man to man freeing up an extra defender to rush the QB. This approach has burned the defense at times this season, but it appears early communication issues have been figured out and the addition of Peters gives the Ravens incredible depth and flexibility. The addition of Bynes at Mike LB has also freed up Patrick Onwuasor to move back to his more natural Will LB position where he was used with devastating effectiveness as a blitzer in 2018. I think the pass-rush will continue to be an area to watch in the second half.
On the offensive side of the ball, I think the big question remains how sustainable will the Ravens offense prove to be? So far, there have been few signs of regression and it’s hard to imagine the rushing attack falls off very much as long as Lamar Jackson remains under center. The Ravens have been mostly healthy on offense, so one would have to hope that good fortune continues.
It is possible that opposing defenses start to aggressively load the box and dare Jackson to beat them over the top. I think that the Ravens QB has proven to be a good enough passer to keep this from being an effective approach, but it is something to keep in mind going forward. Jackson has had his “worst” games when the defense has been able to bring consistent pressure, and while this isn’t a unique weakness for Jackson he is still a young QB who is prone to mistakes under duress.
That said, the offensive line has been excellent through 8 games with Ronnie Stanley solidifying himself as one the elite LTs in the NFL while Marshal Yanda continues to play at an extremely high level. The biggest weakness has been Bradley Bozeman and teams with strong interior pass-rushers could cause problems in the second half. However, that is primarily a pass-protection issue and I see no reason why the OL should not continue to dominate in run blocking which should provide a high floor for the offense moving forward.
I pointed out earlier that the Ravens added WRs that have provided a different dimension for the offense, but they have not been a huge part statistically through 8 weeks. Marquise Brown is the Ravens leading WR in targets, receiving yards and TDs, but he still trails Mark Andrews in all 3 categories. Lamar Jackson has mostly targeted his TEs in the passing game and it would be nice to see a larger role for speedy Brown and Boykin. Willie Snead has proven to be a reliable pass-catcher and has made a number of catches in critical situations, but he too has taken a smaller role so far in 2019 than he enjoyed last season.
It should benefit the offense to become more unpredictable by making every player on the field a threat to touch the ball, which brings me to another point – it’s time to stop rolling out Chris Moore and Seth Roberts. This seems to have started to happen this past week as Moore only saw two offensive snaps, but Roberts is still out-snapping Miles Boykin which makes zero sense. The Ravens need to give more opportunities to their best playmakers, and that means Brown and Boykin, not Roberts and Moore.
The second half of the schedule is not going to be easy for the Ravens. After an away game against the winless Bengals, the Ravens will come home to play the AFC South leading Houston Texans before traveling to Los Angeles to take on the Rams on Monday night. A home match-up against the currently undefeated San Francisco 49ers will round out this very difficult stretch of games for the Ravens.
The final four games of the schedule look very winnable with an away game in Buffalo as the only real test (although home vs Pittsburgh in week 17 is never an easy task). If the Ravens can manage to win 2 of 3 games against Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco they could be looking at the team’s first twelve-win season since 2011. A first round bye is not out of the question for the Ravens, and if the Patriots stumble during a similarly tough stretch the #1 seed is not out of the question either.
The Ravens are going to have some very tough games down the stretch, but as long as the defense can play well enough to keep them in games, I have faith that a Lamar Jackson led offense will be able to score enough points to win most of them. It’s only half way through the season, but it’s nice to be able to say for the first time in a long time that the Ravens are a really good football team.
Gabe is an avid fan of the NFL and Ravens football. He grew up in Westminster, MD, and attended college at Johns Hopkins University majoring in Biology. He earned his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and now works as a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he studies cartilage development and cancer. Gabe has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan.