The offseason is a time for NFL clubs to build off the previous season. If they needed to overhaul a wide receiver room, they make a signing or two, or a trade. If their offensive line struggled, they draft or sign a replacement. No matter the area of struggle, teams try to fix the losses or areas of challenge, which makes complete sense. But, change isn’t linear in the NFL and team performance isn’t often a constant with only additions improving the outcome. It’s something we forget to consider when seeing a team make moves, such as the Baltimore Ravens.
This offseason, the Ravens made an overhaul of their wide receiver room and their offense at-large with the hiring of Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. So, fans and media members expect the Ravens to still be as volatile of an offense and now they’re adding more talent, so they can only improve. The thinking goes as follows.
They have the stars in Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews and high-upside talent like J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Rashod Bateman. Now add in Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor and this team will be an offensive force!
That could happen, but it’s never that simple. Fluctuations in performance as a player, group, unit and team occur each year, even if a team remains largely the same. Just ask the 2001 Ravens after they kept the band together after clobbering the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
I know this isn’t the fun article where we continue to herald the moves this offseason that are exciting. But this is the one to consider when watching the team this season as they prepare for a challenging 2023 NFL season. So, where might the regressions occur?
Blocking in the NFL is fickle. Performance changes year-to-year due to injuries, reshuffling, a player’s surging development or struggle. The Ravens have experienced strife over the past few years as star left tackle Ronnie Stanley was sidelined for two seasons. They also watched what happened when Stanley returned, or the development of guard Ben Powers paying dividends when he became one of the NFL’s best guards last season. But Powers is now a member of the Denver Broncos, leaving the Ravens to once again host a left guard competition.
Now, when Stanley’s been on the field and healthy, the Ravens are a top five unit.
Ravens O-Line Grades/Ranking (Per PFF)
|Year||Pass Block Grade||Rank||Run Block Grade||Rank|
|Year||Pass Block Grade||Rank||Run Block Grade||Rank|
The priority is Stanley’s health. Where he goes, the offensive line tends to go. But it will be interesting how much a new partner to his right will go, seeing as he didn’t have to concern himself much last season as Powers dominated. Some of that could be chalked up to Stanley’s dominance, but Powers more than held his own last season.
I find the offensive line as a possible area of regression because it’s mighty challenging to repeat as the No. 2 graded offensive line in the NFL, especially when losing one of the best members of said line without a surefire replacement. No, losing a guard isn’t a back-breaking loss, but there could be minor pitfalls with blocking in 2023 that weren’t visible a season ago.
Replacing Calais Campbell
The loss of veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell is a bigger loss than some may be considering. Fortunately, Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald isn’t one of them.
“There are things that [Calais Campbell] does that not a lot of people can do on the field,” Mike Macdonald said. “There are things that will get piece-wised that we bring, whether it’s interior rush or playing kind of all across the line on early downs. We have the guys to do it, but we have a great young core of D-lineman. It’s a great opportunity for [Justin] Madubuike, for [Broderick Washington] to really step up their interior pass rush game. Travis Jones, second year, I mean he’s looking really good out there.”
Campbell was among the NFL’s best defensive linemen last season, with a 76.9 overall grade from PFF and a sturdy 71.7 pass rush grade, ranking him No. 26 among interior rushers. Those types of numbers haven’t been shown yet by the younger defensive linemen. Broderick ranked No. 36. Madubuike 55. Jones was No. 101. But it’s going to be piece-wised as Macdonald said, and in bigger roles and with the return of defensive tackle Michael Pierce, they can mitigate some of the struggles. Nonetheless, recovering 35 total pressures, with six of them being sacks, will be hard to manufacture.
Question Marks Along the Edge
Both young outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo are looking good in football school and we’ll see more from them at OTAs over the next few weeks, but potential is all they have right now. Until they turn that into production, there’s a big concern for this pass rush unit that even struggled in 2022. To make matters more concerning, unless they bring back veteran Justin Houston, they’re without his 12-sack production.
Now, they brought in outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith to build them both up, and by the sounds of things from Oweh and Ojabo, it’s positive news. But this is a highly-possible regression area, and one of the few things that could hold up a defense that is primed to dominate in other facets.
Last season, the Ravena righted the 2021 pass defense ship. At least, they did so after the first three weeks of 2022 where it got ugly. But now, with cornerback Marcus Peters seemingly gone, where does the team stand?
Third-year defensive back Brandon Stephens is going back to safety, and though he’s a hybrid player that leaves depth depleted. The Ravens added cornerback Rock Ya-Sin but is that the move to secure a good CB2 to pair with Marlon Humphrey? As the offensive line sways with Stanley, the defensive back unit does the same with Humphrey.
Yes, the Ravens have depth with two second-year cornerbacks on the roster and rookie Kyu Blu Kelly, but they’re an unknown as of now. We have hardly seen Damarion ‘Pepe’ Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis was inactive nearly all of last season.
The defense has many star talents and they were a force of nature to end last season, which brings lofty expectations. It’s fair to wonder if they can continue that momentum into the new season.
I see the defense still being great, don’t get me wrong. They have star tandems in safeties Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton, along with linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen, but the cornerback and pass rush units are concerning, and they’re in a gunslinging, quarterback surplus AFC. This is an area of caution for 2023.