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Ravens News 7/2: Key Games and more

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Baltimore Ravens Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

State of the 2021 Baltimore Ravens: It’s time for Lamar Jackson and Co. to hit Super Bowl Sunday - Adam Rank

Three key dates:

Week 2 vs. Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday night). I backhandedly mentioned this previously, but the Ravens sorely need to get a W against Kansas City. You have to beat the Chiefs at some point — I mean, if you ever want to get to the Super Bowl.

Week 13 at Pittsburgh Steelers. This is basically a cut-and-paste from the Steelers edition of this series, but you have to look forward to this blood feud. The two rivals will also play in the final week of the season. And Pittsburgh swept Baltimore last year.

Week 17 vs. Los Angeles Rams. I love this game. The Rams are one of the favorites in the NFC. With just one team getting a playoff bye in each conference nowadays, these games carry huge meaning. And I’ll just say it: potential Super Bowl preview here.

Is hitting the Super Bowl asking too much? You had that whole “Lamar can’t win a playoff game” thing hanging over him, and now that’s gone. The next logical step would be a trip to the conference championship game, but I think we’re too far down the road.

I’m bullish on Baltimore this year, despite the fact that the Ravens have one of the league’s toughest schedules. But as long as the defense can stay in the top 10 — and it’s the Ravens, so of course that’s going to happen — I look for the offense to improve on last year’s No. 19 ranking in total yardage, which could make Baltimore the most dangerous AFC team outside of Kansas City.

NFL roster rankings for all 32 teams for 2021: Strengths, weaknesses and X factors for every team’s starting lineup - Ben Linsey

5. BALTIMORE RAVENS

Biggest strength: There aren’t many cornerbacks in the league who can seamlessly transition from an outside role to the slot and provide high-level play at both spots. Marlon Humphrey has done that better than anyone in recent years, spending more time inside due to a string of Tavon Young injuries. Humphrey is the only cornerback in the league with a PFF coverage grade of at least 80.0 both in the slot and out wide since 2017.

Biggest weakness: It’s not difficult to see the reasoning behind Baltimore’s decision to let Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk in free agency. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale does as good of a job as anyone at scheming up pressure with the blitz, reducing the need for elite edge rushers. But those departures do leave the Ravens thin at outside linebacker entering this season. Since Tyus Bowser was drafted in 2017, neither he nor Pernell McPhee have recorded 40 pressures in a season. Those are now Baltimore’s two projected starters.

X factor for 2021: Rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman isn’t listed above with the projected starters because of how often both Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle figure to be on the field, but he should factor heavily into the Ravens’ offense. Bateman showed that he could win from primarily wide alignments (2019) and in the slot (2020) by earning grades north of 80.0 in each of the last two seasons at Minnesota. Bateman joined DeVonta Smith and new teammate Tylan Wallace as the only wide receivers in this draft class to average over 3.0 yards per route run in both 2019 and 2020.

Ranking all 32 RB1s heading into 2021: Ezekiel Elliott just misses top five - Maurice Jones-Drew

Rank 12

J.K. Dobbins

Baltimore Ravens · Second season

2020 stats: 15 games | 134 att | 805 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 18 rec | 120 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Dobbins averaged 6.0 yards per carry while sharing the backfield with Mark Ingram (now in Houston) and Gus Edwards last season, showing great burst and flashing big-play ability. Now it’s time to see what he’s got as the Ravens’ featured back for a full season. He’ll obviously benefit from having Lamar Jackson in front of him and should be a productive back in Baltimore for years to come.

Ranking NFL divisions by wide receiver talent: NFC West is best thanks to dynamic duos and DeAndre Hopkins - Jared Dubin

7. AFC North

Bengals: Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase

Browns: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins

Ravens: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman

Steelers: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster

This is actually a pretty solid group. The Bengals, in particular, have a very strong trio of receivers, assuming that Chase can translate his skill set from college to the pros. But Beckham has injury issues, and the rest of the division outside of him is filled more with “pretty good” talent than any kind of top-end players. Claypool has the potential to be a top-of-the-line guy based on his size and athleticism, but if the Steelers offense looks anything like it did last year, that’s not happening.

Can Tyus Bowser Take The Next Step As Pass Rusher For Ravens? - Bo Smolka

According to Pro Football Focus, Bowser played 155 coverage snaps last season, the most of any outside linebacker, and quarterbacks had a 42.2 rating passing against him last season.

But Bowser has said he wants to be viewed as more than just a coverage linebacker. He recorded a sack in each of the Ravens’ first two games last year but lamented the fact that he had none after that. He finished the season with a career-high 34 tackles and 14 quarterback hits, playing 51 percent of defensive snaps, the largest workload of his career.

The Ravens finished last year with 39 sacks, which ranked 14th in the league, but no edge rusher on this year’s team totaled more than three sacks a year ago.

Defensive coordindator Don “Wink” Martindale thrives on multiple blitz packages and unpredictability and likes to bring pressure from a variety of sources. But don’t expect him to get worked up about sack totals.

On a conference call with season-ticket holders earlier this spring, Martindale said sacks are “one of the most superficial rankings,” noting that quality coverage is probably more valuable than pressure. Head coach John Harbaugh has echoed that, noting that quarterbacks increasingly are getting the ball out quicker. In Bowser, the Ravens see someone who can do both bring pressure and cover.