Grading the Ravens, Part 1: Offense gets high marks at TE, but mediocre grades elsewhere - Jeff Zrebiec
Final grade: C+
Right near the season’s midpoint, Lamar Jackson was one of the front-runners for league MVP. Then, came a poor stretch of football for the quarterback followed by an injury that knocked him out of most of the final five games. His backup, Tyler Huntley, performed competently and gave the Ravens chances to win until he played his worst game in a must-win regular-season finale. It would have been hard to expect any better from Jackson over the first six or seven games and from Huntley for much of the final four. But that middle stretch for Jackson was a brutal one and it accelerated the losing streak that ended the Ravens season.
Top-of-class: The Ravens built that 8-3 record largely because of Jackson’s brilliance. He took over the game in comeback victories over the Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings. His impact was never more evident than in his absence as the Ravens couldn’t make winning plays late in losing four of their last five games by a total of seven points.
Needed improvement: Jackson qualifies here, too. Early on, he made quick decisions and threw the ball accurately, decisively and challenged down the field. Then came a stretch where he struggled to deal with blitzes and held onto the ball too long. Jackson turned the ball over 16 times in a little over 11 games. That’s not befitting of a franchise quarterback.
57 — Sacks allowed
In his first comments after last season ended, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta stressed that, “One of the things we have to do is get better up front with pass protection.” Instead, the Ravens allowed 57 sacks, the most in franchise history. Only once previously had the team even allowed 50 sacks (56 in 1999).
The problems began immediately, when it became apparent in the season opener that All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley had not recovered from his 2020 ankle injury. He was promptly shut down and had another surgical procedure, costing him the rest of the season. The Ravens had traded Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in the offseason, banking on a fully healthy Stanley to anchor the line.
With Stanley sidelined and Brown traded away, the Ravens were left scrambling, plugging veteran Alejandro Villanueva at left tackle and using super-utility lineman Patrick Mekari at right tackle. Mekari fared well, earning a contract extension in the season’s final week, but Villanueva struggled with speed rushers. Compounding problems, Mekari missed four games, and second-year lineman Tyre Phillips, the Week 1 starter at left guard and a candidate at tackle, had two stints on injured reserve.
Kevin Zeitler and Bradley Bozeman had solid years at right guard and center, respectively, but this group overall never offered the protection that DeCosta envisioned last summer.
To be sure, quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t help with his propensity to hold on to the ball too long, but the lack of protection surely affected what the Ravens hoped to accomplish in the passing game.
Bisciotti needs to call in offensive coordinator Greg Roman and ask him about his resume. When Roman was calling the plays in San Francisco and Buffalo, the running game was always solid, but the passing game never improved. That has happened in Baltimore despite the addition of passing game assistants Tee Martin and Keith Williams last offseason and the emergence of young talented receivers Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II.
There are similar questions for defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. It’s easy to point to injuries as the reason opposing receivers were getting wide open during that six-game losing streak, but that same problem existed earlier in the season when the Ravens were much healthier. Injuries can only be blamed for so much.
At the end of 2020 season, DeCosta knew he had to improve the offensive line and find a pass rusher. After a 16-13 overtime loss to the Steelers on Sunday, the same problems still exist.
Bisciotti has to find out what Roman needs to improve the passing game, and Martindale might need some road maps for his defensive backs. DeCosta has to fix the same problems that have plagued this team for the past four years.
How to fix Ravens in 2022: Offensive line, secondary, and possibly JuJu Smith-Schuster addition on to-do list - Bryan DeArdo
Like many of their units, injuries took a toll on Baltimore’s secondary in 2021. The Ravens finished dead last in the NFL in pass defense after allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for a combined 4,472 yards in 17 games. Along with giving up a ton of yards, the unit recorded just nine interceptions while often failing to make a big play in a pivotal spot.
The Ravens may try to retain cornerback Anthony Averett, the team’s leader with three interceptions. Baltimore may also address the secondary with its first-round pick. CBS draft expert Ryan Wilson currently has the Ravens using the 16th overall pick on Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam. Fellow draft expert Chris Trapasso has the Ravens using the pick to select former Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner. Possible free agent targets include Joe Haden, J.C. Jackson, Marcus Williams, Jessie Bates III, and Stephon Gilmore.
Final 2021 NFL Power Rankings: Kansas City Chiefs reign supreme, San Francisco 49ers breach the top 10 - Eager & Brown
20. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Highest-graded player: TE Mark Andrews (91.5)
A banged-up Baltimore team almost willed its way into the playoffs but fell painfully short in overtime in the last week of the regular season. John Harbaugh may deserve Coach of the Year consideration for navigating the Ravens’ misfortune. This still looks like a team set up for sustainable success in the AFC.