NFL teams that can turn it around in 2022: Ravens, Vikings among those set to rebound - Marc Sessler
John Harbaugh won’t win any awards for his team’s 8-9 finish, but he’s Coach of the Year material from where I sit. Through endless storm clouds, waves of chaos and ill fortune, the Ravens never blinked.
Baltimore became just the fifth team in league lore to lose four games by two points or fewer. Eleven of its opponents finished with a winning record. Twenty-five of its own players were sent to injured reserve, decimating the club and exposing a massively compromised secondary on a defense that finished dead last against the pass. The backfield was cooked in August. Lamar Jackson’s ankle injury short-circuited a frustrating campaign for the former MVP. Still, the Ravens found themselves seconds away from making the playoffs, because this unusual franchise is built of steel. Few teams league-wide have earned more trust as a bounce-back candidate.
The surprise firing of Don “Wink” Martindale hints at an overhaul on defense, especially up front, where Baltimore houses one of the AFC’s oldest collection of linemen. Look for the draft to bring a horde of beefy types to both sides of the ball, with a focus on offensive tackle and behemoths who can stuff the run.
Questions linger about Lamar’s future inside an offense that was largely figured out by defensive schemers, but all that darkness unfolded in a horror-show environment where his protection was battered and out of sorts in front of a shattered backfield.
The Ravens had every excuse to win four games, but they came within a few bad breaks of postseason play.
These dudes will return with a fire from within.
Sources: Baltimore Ravens targeting Michigan Wolverines’ Mike Macdonald to be new DC - Thamel & Hensley
This comes after Macdonald stabilized a defense that keyed a one-year turnaround for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, as the Wolverines went from 2-4 in 2020 to the College Football Playoff and a 12-2 record this past season.
Michigan’s scoring defense under Macdonald improved from No. 95 in 2020 with 34.5 points per game to No. 8 with 17.4 PPG. Michigan went on to beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and win the Big Ten for the first time since 2004.
Macdonald’s hire at Michigan proved to be one of the most impactful in all of college football last season. His schemes helped eliminate Michigan’s propensity under former defensive coordinator Don Brown to give up big plays. Under Macdonald, the Wolverines yielded 100 fewer yards per game in 2021, an average of 330.8 after giving up 434.3 the prior season.
Macdonald also helped launch the Heisman candidacy of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who was a finalist for the award after finishing with 14 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Macdonald, 34, would become the youngest defensive coordinator in the Ravens’ 26-year history.
Ravens film study: Everyone wants a player like 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, but Devin Duvernay’s not there yet - Jonas Shaffer
What’s separated Samuel from Duvernay and every other NFL receiver he’s been compared to, though, is also what distinguished him at South Carolina: He is not easily tackled. In 2018, Samuel forced a broken or missed tackle on an incredible 45.2% of his catches for the Gamecocks, according to SIS. Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, one of the sport’s most elusive players that season, finished with a 35.1% rate. Duvernay, in 2019, was at 24.8%.
Duvernay, maybe the Ravens’ fastest player, never lined up in the backfield for a carry, as Samuel did with San Francisco, as Moore did with the Arizona Cardinals, and as Laviska Shenault did with the Jacksonville Jaguars, among others. Duvernay split his time between the slot, the outside and in motion. His seven rushing attempts were limited to end-arounds and jet sweeps, according to SIS.
Circumstances sometimes dictated their effectiveness. Duvernay’s five jet motion carries — behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Chase Claypool (seven) for the most NFL among receivers — were, unsurprisingly, more productive when Jackson was on the field. From Week 6 to Week 12, Duvernay averaged 14.3 yards per carry on his first three jet motion handoffs. In Week 17 and Week 18, he ran for 4 yards and 2 yards, respectively — both snaps with the less dynamic Tyler Huntley at quarterback.
Best and worst 2021 NFL free agent signings - Sam Monson
Zeitler had been one of the better guards in the league for the Bengals and Cleveland Browns before a stint in New York caused him hit free agency after the worst season of his career. The Ravens relied on the experience of facing him for years within the AFC North and signed him to a three-year contract, where he bounced back immediately to something akin to his career baseline. Zeitler finished the season with a 76.4 PFF grade — more than 10 grading points higher than his last year in New York. He allowed one sack and 17 pressures all season and was a significant upgrade on a line that was trending in the wrong direction.
The 34-year-old veteran has long been known as “Co-Cap” for his status as captain of the Ravens’ premier special teams unit. It’s been a nickname he’s carried with honor as a highly respected and highly effective player in Baltimore.
Levine told the Packers he wasn’t going to join them for a third year on the practice squad in 2012, and instead bolted for Baltimore as soon as the Ravens called. He loved the idea of playing alongside Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
But when Levine got to Baltimore, it soon became clear that his avenue to the field was going to be via special teams. So he adopted the role, put everything he had into it, and grew to love it. While others didn’t want to do the dirty work, Levine volunteered for it.
“It’s just grit, grime, want-to, fast, and physical. Back then, when I ran down on kickoff, there was a four-man wedge. There were four 300-pound linemen back then. Nobody wanted to do that! I did the thing nobody else wanted to do.”
“Special teams is one play, all-out. It’s basically a free-for-all,” Levine said. “It’s your chance to go out and make an impact.