The sport’s evolution—with spread-out offenses and more athleticism on both sides of the ball than we’ve ever seen before—has made receivers with more robust skill sets, as well as deeper receiving corps in general, invaluable. Pass catchers have to be able to do a little bit of everything; and the second and third spots on the receiver depth chart have become just as important as the first.
The 49ers sold out to stop the NFL’s best receiver and forced his backups to beat them. They couldn’t, and the Packers offense managed just one touchdown in the season-ending loss. An unbalanced receiving corps may be enough to beat the Bears and Lions—especially when you have the league’s MVP supplying him with perfect passes—but things get trickier in the postseason when the other teams are just as talented.
We’ve also seen an increase in teams playing man coverage with two safeties deep on third down, which can allow defenses to create brackets on two receivers.
Since 2015, the NFL’s blitz rate on third down has dropped from 10.1 percent to 7.0 percent, per Sports Info Solutions. Today’s quarterbacks are just too good to challenge with more aggressive coverages, so defenses have decided to gang up on the receivers instead.
The only way to combat increased numbers in coverage is to field more competent receivers.
In many ways, Bateman is better suited as a wide receiver to make a significant impact for the Ravens than Brown was. At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, Bateman has the size and speed combination to win on the outside and the physicality to succeed in the middle of the field. He’s able to make contested catches, which the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Brown rarely did, and he also has the determination and power to pick up yards after the catch.
Bateman played just six full games with Jackson as his quarterback. According to TruMedia, Bateman ran more routes without Jackson at quarterback (235) than he did with him (174) on the field. With Jackson, Bateman was targeted on 19 percent of his routes and averaged 12.36 yards per reception with an average depth of target of 9.21 yards. Without him, he was targeted on 14.9 percent of his routes and averaged 10.13 yards per catch with an average depth of target of 8.4 yards.
There are other reasons to be hopeful. The return of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards should force defenses to devote more manpower to stopping the Ravens’ running game and open up opportunities outside. The Ravens’ pass blocking, which was overrun at times last year, figures to be much improved with the addition of first-round center Tyler Linderbaum and veteran right tackle Morgan Moses, not to mention the potential return of All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
A big part of Baltimore’s 2022 pass rush is going to have to come in the form of improvements from the players already on the roster.
The most obvious candidate is Oweh, who has sky-high potential that he flashed last season before his shoulder hampered him down the stretch.
Baltimore’s pass rush has the potential to improve from the interior and on the defensive line.
Justin Madubuike had two sacks last season, but has the potential for much more as he enters a key Year 3. Pierce offers more pass-rush prowess than Brandon Williams did. The Ravens also drafted third-round defensive tackle Travis Jones with the idea that he can help collapse the pocket. If all of those pieces help take some attention off re-signed veteran Calais Campbell, he could see his sack stats improve after three years of decreasing (1.5 last season).
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They’ve seemingly doubled down on a run-first approach with Lamar Jackson under center, jettisoning Marquise Brown (and a more proven WR corps) in favor of added responsibility for tight end Mark Andrews and a stable of rehabbing rushers, including J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. But they know how to run it well! And the line, presumably with a healthier Ronnie Stanley back at left tackle, should be improved with a pair of new starters in Tyler Linderbaum and Morgan Moses.
The defense is really where Baltimore could make its money, as lynchpins like Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey return from injury. More impressive is the youth they’ve added at each level: Travis Jones up front, David Ojabo off the edge, and Kyle Hamilton on the back end. Paired with ex-Saints standout Marcus Williams, Hamilton has the versatility to transform the Ravens back to one of the NFL’s feistiest contenders.
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The Ravens have to play three AFC North road games in December and January — at Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati. That’s the first time it has happened since the NFL realigned the divisions in 2002. Those games will likely decide the AFC North champion and the weather will likely be a factor. The Ravens also play the Steelers twice in four weeks so injuries could help decide those games.