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Ravens News 1/20: Zig or Zag and more

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NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens Should Continue to Zig While the NFL Zags - John Eisenberg

With Lamar Jackson as their quarterback, the Ravens have proudly zigged while the rest of the NFL zags. They’re a run-first team in a pass-first league.

The blueprint has worked wonders in the regular season, producing a 31-8 record and two division titles since Jackson became the starter.

But they haven’t experienced the same success in the postseason, where they’re 1-3 with Jackson as the starter after losing to the Buffalo Bills last weekend.

Let’s examine what happened in Buffalo. No doubt, the Bills were better. And they’re rightfully getting credit for limiting Jackson and the Ravens’ offense with heavy blitzing and zone coverage.

Basically, the Bills gambled Baltimore wouldn’t take advantage of their defense selling out to stop the run. And they won the gamble.

But I would argue that execution, rather than strategy – a lack of execution – was what cost the Ravens the most.

I’m not saying the Ravens should just ignore the text of this latest playoff shortfall. It’s certainly fair to ask why their offense didn’t take more advantage of an opponent blitzing so heavily and selling out to stop the run.

But the Ravens knew before the Buffalo game that one of their top offseason priorities would be addressing their low-rated passing attack. Their statistics told an unmistakable tale.

Four-step plan to fix the Ravens in 2021: Key offseason upgrades can turn Baltimore into Super Bowl contender - Jeff Kerr

Step 1: Get Lamar a true No. 1 WR

Baltimore’s wideouts just weren’t good enough for Jackson to have any trust in them throughout the year, which dictated why the Ravens went back to running the ball in the final month of the regular season — at an incredible success rate.

Imagine how good Jackson would be with a Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay or Will Fuller to throw to year after year. The Ravens have to make one of those three their top priority in free agency — for Jackson’s sake.

Step 2: Don’t stop adding WR talent

The Ravens need a No. 1 wide receiver first and foremost, but they still could use extra help at the position.

Baltimore should look at the second-tier of free agent wide receivers to help Jackson out. Perhaps a veteran threat in the red zone who can play the “X” will help in that department.

If Baltimore does land one of the top wideouts and Jones is out, perhaps the Ravens can convince T.Y. Hilton or Sammy Watkins to help Jackson on a one-year deal for 2021.

Ravens 2021 Roster Decisions: Restricted Free Agents, ERFAs - Todd Karpovich

Restricted Free Agents

— Gus Edwards

Position: Running Back

2020 Stats: 144 carries, 723 yards, and six touchdowns. Nine receptions, 109 yards

Analysis: The Ravens will likely hold onto Edwards, especially with the departure of Mark Ingram. Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins did an effective job splitting the workload for the league’s No. 1-ranked running attack.

— Chris Board

Position: Linebacker

2020 Stats: 16 games (2 starts), 31 tackles, two sacks.

Analysis: Board had a breakout season and was lauded several times by coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Martindale. Look for Board to make a bigger impact on 2021.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

— Trystan Colon-Castillo

Position: Center

2020 Stats: Two starts.

Analysis: The undrafted rookie from Missouri was effective when called into action. He played better than veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. The Ravens will give him an extended look in 2021.

Breakout candidates for all 32 NFL teams - Sam Monson

BALTIMORE RAVENS: DI JUSTIN MADUBUIKE

The Ravens were one of the toughest teams in the league to identify a clear breakout candidate for, and so we look to a player who impressed on limited snaps. Third-round pick Justin Madubuike played 259 snaps in the regular season and had his best game against the league’s best offensive line this year (Cleveland). Madubuike notched 10 total pressures and put enough quality on tape — including a 90.4 overall grade in Week 14 — to suggest he is deserving of a much bigger role in 2021.

2021 NFL Draft: Ranking the top five players at each position - Michael Renner

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE

Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC

Wyatt Davis, Ohio State

Landon Dickerson, Alabama

Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma

Ben Cleveland, Georgia

The interior offensive line class is almost as deep as the tackle class. One PFF favorite in the group is Georgia guard Ben Cleveland. He has been terrific when called upon in his career and hasn’t allowed a sack since 2017. While he played in a rotation the previous two seasons, Cleveland starred as a full-time starter in 2020. He’s a barrel-chested 335-pounder who stops bull rushes in their tracks. While not the most athletic, he has still gotten the job done in pass protection, as well.