Maybe Lamar Jackson really doesn’t need wide receivers.
We say this with tongue planted in cheek. The Ravens still feel compelled to stick two fast guys on the edges of their offense to keep opponents honest, and Jackson still likes to throw the ball downfield, ranking fourth among current starting quarterbacks in air yards per attempt.
Think about the last two inflection points when general manager Eric DeCosta could have invested in wide receivers. In April, he traded his top incumbent, Marquise Brown, to avoid navigating Brown’s personal dissatisfaction with the offense and his impending contract demands. Rather than draft Brown’s replacement, DeCosta used his top four picks on a third safety, a starting center, an injured edge rusher and a defensive tackle. More recently, at the trade deadline, DeCosta could have used a pair of picks to chase a wide receiver such as Brandin Cooks of the Houston Texans or Jerry Jeudy of the Denver Broncos. He decided the Ravens would be better off with their existing offense and a defense bolstered by one of the game’s top linebackers, Roquan Smith. It did not matter that Bateman was about to opt for season-ending surgery on his foot.
What does this tell us? DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh do not see value in using their most precious resources, financial or draft, on pass catchers who might not thrive in Baltimore anyway. They’re relying on more “heavy” offensive sets than any team in the league, with only the Atlanta Falcons in the same ZIP code. They believe this formula will carry them a long way given Jackson’s one-of-one impact as a running-game fulcrum, the quality of their offensive line and their embarrassment of defensive riches. It’s a bet they ultimately lost after winning many games in 2019 and 2020, but they’re tripling down.
Standing out: There is so much to highlight here. Rookie center Tyler Linderbaum has been as advertised. So has veteran right tackle Morgan Moses. Right guard Kevin Zeitler has been one of the best free-agent signings in team history and left guard Ben Powers is a much-improved player. But left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s return to the lineup and his ability to quickly recapture his Pro Bowl form might be the most positive development of the Ravens’ first half.
Needs improvement: The Ravens’ offensive line has improved just about every week. The next step is just being a bit more consistent. That means eliminating some of the pre-snap penalties and untimely breakdowns and just getting after defenses earlier in games. However, that’s nitpicky at this point. If the Ravens make a run, the offensive line will be a big reason why.
Midseason grade: B+
Like at running back, DeCosta also delivered on his offseason vow to improve the offensive line. The additions of Moses, Linderbaum and even rookie fourth-round pick Daniel Faalele, who wasn’t overmatched when he was called on early in the season, have solidified this group. Sixth offensive lineman Patrick Mekari remains one of the more valuable players on the roster. A healthy and dominant Stanley has taken this group to another level.
Bye Week Roster Evaluation –Defense - Ken McKusick
Young Producers (7): Kyle Hamilton, Justin Madubuike, Odafe Oweh, Patrick Queen, Roquan Smith*, Geno Stone, Broderick Washington
These are players on their first contract who are already have a significant role (or should have one) and are playing well. A team needs as many of these players as possible to continually outperform the salary cap.
Hamilton, Queen, Smith, Stone, and Washington are all new additions since the end of the 2021 season.
Of the group, only Roquan Smith will be a UFA at the end of the season.
Developmental (7): Jalyn Armour-Davis, Malik Harrison, Travis Jones, David Ojabo, Brandon Stephens, Pepe Williams, Josh Ross
These players are all still on their rookie deals, but something is holding them back from consistent performance, a starting role, or both. We hope that most, if not all, of these players will emerge to be young producers quickly. In truth, some are running out of time to do so. By the start of next season, the Ravens will need to get younger defensively to offset large contracts that may go to Roquan Smith, Marcus Peters, and Lamar Jackson.
Veterans Playing for Market Value (10): Tyus Bowser, Calais Campbell, Chuck Clark, Justin Houston*, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters*, Michael Pierce, Jason Pierre-Paul*, Brent Urban*, Marcus Williams
A large chunk of the cap is spent on this group and these players are the ones (generally) who are worth it. This group includes 4 players who will be UFAs this offseason.
Ravens Coach: ‘You Wish You Could Just Clone’ Marlon Humphrey - Todd Karpovich
“Marlon, you wish you could just clone him and just put him all over the field because of the kind of guy that he is, but he’s playing at a high level right now playing at corner,” Hewitt said. “We’re giving him some more opportunities to go back inside and play some nickel, too, because we see him coming off the edge as a blitzer; that’s something that he does really well.”
Humphrey has not allowed a touchdown over 372 snaps this season. He has the second-highest grade in the NFL for man-coverage behind the Jets’ Sauce Gardner.
Humphrey also ranks third on the Ravens with 35 tackles and is tied with Marcus Williams for the team lead with five passes defensed.
Humphrey also has an interception and earned his first sack in Week 9 against the New Orleans Saints when flew off the edge.
“He has that element there, that toughness inside that you need,” Hewitt said. “I’m definitely pleased with Marlon, where he is right now and where he’s going, because we have to get better for the second half of the season as well.”
Tight end Mark Andrews (knee/shoulder) and running back Gus Edwards (hamstring) did not play Week 9 against the Saints, wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) did not play in the second half, while pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul is dealing with an ankle issue.
Harbaugh said all those players have a chance to play Sunday when the Ravens host the Carolina Panthers.
“You talk to Mark [Andrews], he sounds very positive – obviously – about it, and the trainers, as well,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see how it progresses throughout the rest of the week. It’ll be the same answer for Gus. JPP (Pierre-Paul) was out there today. DeSean, all those guys, we’ll just see how they look on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. They all have a really good chance.”
Two rookies who have not played this season are moving closer to game action - outside linebacker David Ojabo (Achilles) and fourth-round tight end Charlie Kolar (hernia surgery). However, the Ravens are giving both rookies a chance to ramp up gradually.