Editor’s note: It’s season preview week at SB Nation. Here’s why we’re excited about the Baltimore Ravens
These past few years the Ravens have broken the hearts of their fans in the waning minutes of the season. When everything’s been on the line, they’ve come up big, yet collapsed and missed the postseason. But the 2018 season feels different.
Joe Flacco isn’t throwing to players who need to develop. He’s surrounded by big-name receivers such as Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV. Since 2012, Joe’s seen a revolving receiving unit that hasn’t lived up to expectations. But now, the team spent money and draft picks to give the quarterback everything he needs to succeed.
Joe’s known as a player who throws frequently to his tight ends, so the team went out and spent a first- and third-round pick signing two new capable starters. Both Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are looking great, which means this offense has no excuse. The weapons are there, the line looks solid and Joe’s been throwing heat in practice against a strong defense.
No longer do I expect this team to lean on the run-game and hope for Alex Collins to make something from nothing. They have Crabtree, Brown and Snead IV to move the chains and score points. There’s a chance a few games will be out of reach for the opponent by the fourth quarter, which isn’t common in Ravens’ games. Rather than pray Justin Tucker can kick 12 points on the board or the defense gets a turnover in the red-zone to stave off a comeback, we can see touchdowns from receivers. We can cheer as the team leads by two or more possessions with only minutes to spare.
The offense isn’t the only reason to be excited, though it’s hard not to focus only on their new additions. The defense didn’t lose anything other than their prevent-defense running coordinator, Dean Pees. In fact, they added players. Tavon Young, one of the best rookie corners back in 2016, returns with tenacity. He’s intercepted Flacco, Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III in practice. He’s winning everything from 1-on-1 battles to live-action play. His addition, combined with the already strong secondary featuring Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, Marlon Humphrey, Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr leave this team capable of covering any offense in the league.
Even more exciting, to me, comes the development of the pass-rushers, namely Matt Judon and Tim Williams. Judon’s looking like the heir to the Terrell Suggs throne. His development went from a few sacks to big-time pressures and stops in both the running and passing game. Watching Tim Williams also become a threat with his moves on the outside leave this team with a possible surplus at pass-rusher, something every coach dreams of. There will be times we could see Za’Darius Smith, Suggs, Judon, Williams and even Tyus Bowser on plays to punish the quarterback. I believe this is possible because unlike Pees, Don ‘Wink’ Martindale isn’t afraid to bring the heat. He’s known as a more aggressive play-calling coordinator. If he has the secondary capable of playing man coverage, combined with a front seven with blitz-package skills, he’s going to dial up the heat against opposing offenses.
I also can’t forget to mention the best kicker in NFL history, Justin Tucker. Any time this team is within forty yards of the endzone, Tucker’s in range. When the offense does stagnate, which happens to nearly all teams, they can’t score points. Meanwhile, the Ravens just need a single punt to flip the field and a turnover to add three points to their total. It’s unfair how far Tucker can kick from with the accuracy he does. Crossing mid-field is demoralizing to other defenses because they know Tucker and the wolf-pack are ready to set up and score.
Yes, there are many reasons to be excited for the following years, namely Lamar Jackson and the rookies, but this season isn’t a wash. Joe looks great, the receivers can catch and the defense is improving. This is a great time to be a Baltimore Ravens fan.