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Ravens News 1/19: Balance Needed and more

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Wild Card Round - Baltimore Ravens v Tennessee Titans Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Ravens Unbalanced Offense Under Fire Heading Into Offseason - Todd Karpovich

One year after being named NFL, MVP, Ravens quarterback Jackson had another solid season. He threw for 2,757 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions (99.3 rating). Jackson also became the first quarterback in league history to record two 1,000 yards rushing seasons.

Jackson’s season came to a disappointing end with a 17-3 loss to the Bills in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. He threw a critical interception on a third-and-goal to Buffalo cornerback Taron Johnson, who ran 101 yards for the score. Baltimore never recovered and Jackson was later forced from the game with a concussion.

The Ravens will likely look to add a veteran, playmaking wide receiver, and depth on the offensive line, which struggles with pass blocking.

Some of the Ravens players admitted the team needs more balance.

“Whenever you’re the No. 1 rushing [offense] and the 30-something passing [team], that’s not right,” said wide receiver Marquise Brown, who caught 58 passes for 769 yards with eight touchdowns during the regular season. “That’s not balanced. We got to find a way to balance our game. Even with our great rushing attack, we got to be able to throw the ball and be able to move the ball through the air.”

The Winners and Losers of the NFL Divisional Round - Rodger Sherman

Loser: Bad Snaps

Since 2018, Baltimore’s center has been Matt Skura. But in Week 9 this season, Skura had a bad snap against the Colts. Then in Week 10, he had three bad snaps against the Patriots. There were some excuses—Skura apparently had a cut on his thumb, and it was rainy and wet that day in New England—but while there’s no official “bad snaps” leaderboard, Skura was officially credited with four fumbles this season, tied for the most by any center since 1970.

So the Ravens made a change, opting to go with Patrick Mekari. Mekari notably struggled snapping the ball in 2019 after Skura went down with an injury, and he skidded a snap Week 15 against the Jaguars. Baltimore gave Skura a shot at winning the job back in Week 16, but Skura still couldn’t snap the ball right. So they went into the playoffs with Mekari—who ruined the Ravens’ chances of beating the Bills on Saturday with a series of brutal missteps.

Mekari had three bad snaps. One came in the first half, and Jackson saved it by turning the play into an incomplete pass. The second came with the Ravens trailing 10-3 and facing a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. Jackson picked up the fumble and ran for a yard, but the Ravens had lost a critical play in a goal-to-go situation. Two plays later, Jackson threw a pick-six on a pass into the end zone, resulting in a 14-point swing in a game that was eventually decided by 14 points. And on the next drive, Mekari skied the ball over Jackson’s head. Jackson suffered a concussion after getting tackled in an attempt to chase the ball down and would not return.

Extension? Ravens’ best move is to invest around Lamar Jackson with No. 1 receiver - Jamison Hensley

The best move the Ravens can make is not investing in Jackson right now but investing around him, starting with a No. 1 wide receiver like Allen Robinson.

Saturday’s 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional playoffs served as another reminder the Ravens’ formula needs to change. The combination of a historically dominant running game and a stingy defense has resulted in one playoff victory and loads of disappointment the past three years.

If Baltimore wants to advance past the divisional round for the first time since the Mile High Miracle, the Ravens need to upgrade the NFL’s worst passing attack around Lamar Jackson by adding a proven top target, bringing in another pass-catching tight end and bolstering the pass protection.

The other factor is Jackson himself has to take another step forward as a passer. On throws of 15 yards or longer, his 32 completions were 23rd in the league and his 41% completion rate was 26th in 2020.

NFL free agency 2021: The free agent each NFL team can’t afford to lose - Brad Spielberger

BALTIMORE RAVENS: CB JIMMY SMITH (EXTENDED THROUGH 2021 ON JAN. 1)

The Ravens have a pair of franchise-tagged edge rushers set to hit free agency in Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, but Baltimore is no stranger to losing edge rushers. Za’Darius Smith departed for the Green Bay Packers after the 2018 season, and the Ravens didn’t miss a beat in 2019 — they prioritize spending in the secondary, as they’re a clear believer in the immense value of coverage.

Smith has been tremendously valuable for the Ravens since being selected 27th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, allowing a passer rating of only 75.8 since entering the league. Now on the back nine of his career, Smith has become a chess piece capable of spot snaps at wide corner, slot corner and even at safety. His versatility in the secondary paved the way for Ravens star cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who actually played more in the slot this season than out wide for the second year in a row.

Baltimore was smart to bring Smith back for another season. The more talented defensive backs, the better … always.

5 Baltimore Ravens questions that’ll shape the offseason - Aaron Kasinitz

Who stays and who goes at outside linebacker?

None of the team’s top four edge defenders — Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser or Yannick Ngakoue — are under contract for next season. DeCosta and the team must act to fill out the depth chart at outside linebacker.

Judon, who played this past season on the franchise tag, is a two-time Pro Bowler and highly-respected team leader. Tyus Bowser is a homegrown product who might come cheaper than Judon and showed versatility this year; McPhee is a sturdy 10-year veteran and his future is uncertain.

Ngakoue might be the most interesting figure in the bunch. A one-time Pro Bowl pick who arrived in a midseason trade, the former Maryland star offers explosiveness off the edge as a pass rusher but struggled to earn a large role after arriving in Baltimore. He played just 20 snaps in Saturday’s loss to the Bills.

The Ravens’ probably can’t afford to bring all four players back because of salary cap considerations. They also probably can’t afford to let all four walk without creating a weakness on the roster.

Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, on the heels of three successful seasons, is probably wondering who’ll rush the passer for him in 2021.