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Ravens News 6/6: Deep passing game, Division power rankings and more

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

We Have to Wait Until September for Real Proof of a Revitalized Deep Passing Game - John Eisenberg

“Someone kind of joked in my ear (that) we made and completed more deep balls in practice today than we did the whole offseason last year,” Harbaugh told reporters after practice. He later added, “I feel like that has to be a big part of who we are.”

No NFL team attempted fewer last season than the Ravens, according to Pro Football Focus.

The analytic website tracked the performances of quarterbacks on pass attempts traveling 20 or more yards. Of the 23 quarterbacks measured, Flacco had the fewest attempts by far. He tossed 47 deep balls, slightly less than three per contest. Every other quarterback attempted at least 53. Most surpassed 60. The Pittsburgh SteelersBen Roethlisberger attempted 88. The league leader, the Seattle SeahawksRussell Wilson, attempted 91.

Other metrics reflect the Ravens’ reluctance to attempt deep passes last season. NFL NextGen Stats tracked the “average intended air yards” of every pass attempt – basically, how far the quarterback expected the ball to travel when he threw it. Only one quarterback out of the 42 who were measured averaged fewer yards per attempt than Flacco.

Eisenberg is correct that Joe Flacco will have to prove his willingness to throw deep in the regular season. Nonetheless, identifying the problem is half the battle. Even incomplete vertical shots can create opportunities underneath.

NFL Division Power Rankings: NFC South easily reigns supreme - Gregg Rosenthal

5) AFC North: Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Browns

The Steelers rank with the Patriots and Eagles as the safest picks to make it back to the playoffs. The onus on lifting the AFC North to greater overall relevance lies with the other three teams, which all have major bounce-back potential. Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh are fighting for their careers, with a strong defensive base to build off. The Bengals boast a roster without huge weaknesses ... and a lot of players in their prime. The Browns’ depth chart barely resembles the 0-16 squad from a year ago.

This was the last AFC division to send three teams to the playoffs, back in 2014. While it’s a longshot, the North has the best chance of any AFC division to do it again.

Sending three teams to the postseason is a stretch, especially considering the cross conference matchups against the top ranked NFC South. Still, the second best division in the AFC behind only the ascending South is an appropriate ranking for the North.

AFC North Offseason Report Cards: Browns on the Rise, Steelers Vulnerable, Marvin on the Brink, Lamar Jackson Is the X-Factor - Conor Orr

BALTIMORE RAVENS

2017 record: 9-7

Crucial veteran additions: John Brown, Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, Robert Griffin III

Crucial veteran losses: Lardarius Webb, Danny Woodhead, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Ryan Jensen, Benjamin Watson

What improved?

I think Ozzie Newsome left his final draft as Ravens general manager with a smile. This team is set up beyond 2018, and perhaps even for the second half of this season. Scoring a tight end to pacify Joe Flacco and a dynamic quarterback to replace him was one of the savvier draft day hauls in recent memory.

What needs work?

Baltimore was ninth in points but 27th in yards a season ago. Had it not been for a formidable ground game, the Ravens would have been rendered punchless. Enter Lamar Jackson, who provides the most significant challenge to Flacco yet. Something needs to be reimagined offensively in Baltimore, and with two of the league’s most innovative minds—Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman—locked in a room all offseason trying to figure it out, the product in 2018 must be markedly different.

What can we expect?

This could be anything from a ho-hum repeat of 2017 to a version of the Houston Texans’ rise under DeShaun Watson. To Flacco’s benefit, he has (on paper) the best receiving corps at his disposal since the 2012 Super Bowl year. It would not be surprising to see Baltimore get much more vertical on offense this year, which is timely in an AFC North without many true lockdown secondaries.

Letter grade: A. Long live Ozzie, who will be difficult to replace in Baltimore.

Orr gave the Steelers, Browns and Bengals a ‘B’ grade.

Take it to the Bank Podcast: Dan Kadar + AFC North WR rankings

Segment 1: Previewing the Week 2 matchup @ Cincinnati

Segment 2: OT Greg Senat’s strengths/weaknesses

Segment 3: AFC North WR corps rankings

Segment 4: Reviewing Cleveland’s draft with Dan Kadar

Segment 5: Suggs legacy and division champ speculation