Steven Ruiz, The Ringer
Mike MacDonald’s creativity nearly leads Baltimore to a playoff upset.
MacDonald has just one year of NFL play-calling experience under his belt, but he’s already established himself as one of the best at disrupting a quarterback’s thought process. Doing so against a panicky passer like Tagovailoa, as Staley had done in Week 14, is one thing; doing it against an unflappable quarterback like Burrow requires real ingenuity and a well-drilled unit.
The Ravens ultimately lost to Cincinnati in the wild-card round, but MacDonald’s defense did its job, holding the Bengals offense to two touchdowns. MacDonald used simulated pressures—a four-man rush that looks like a blitz because a second-level defender rushes the quarterback, but a more traditional pass rusher, like a defensive end, replaces that player in coverage.
Simulated pressures make it difficult to figure out which players are rushing and which are dropping back, so offenses will typically just keep the running back in as an extra blocker. That was certainly Cincinnati’s answer. But Burrow had been throwing to his backs when defenses took away his deep options. And with them helping out in protection against Baltimore, Burrow was often forced to take a sack or just throw the ball away.
Anytime you can make a quarterback reconsider his option after the snap, it’s a win for the defense. And MacDonald has a deep bag of schematic tricks.
Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Banner
Depending on the Ravens’ needs last season, Andrews could do his best Josh Oliver impression or his best Anquan Boldin impression. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the NFL’s sixth-best run-blocking tight end among players with at least 200 offensive snaps. He also led the Ravens in receiving yards when lined up as an isolated receiver for the second straight year, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Andrews lined up in the slot on 64.8% of his passing snaps, according to PFF, the highest rate among qualifying tight ends and more often than even star slot receivers Keenan Allen (64.6%) and CeeDee Lamb (62.7%).
With Oliver’s offseason departure and the relative inexperience of second-year tight ends Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar, Andrews figures to be more involved in safeguarding the quarterbacks next season. Star Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, a potential top-five pick in next year’s draft and the Bulldogs’ leading receiver in 2022, averaged more than one pass-blocking snap per game last season.
But it will be tempting for Monken to unleash Andrews as often as possible. He is more reliable than the injury-prone Bateman, more explosive than the 30-year-old Beckham and more experienced than Flowers. Among tight ends, Andrews finished behind only Kelce (2.27) last season in yards per route run (1.97), according to PFF, a measure considered one of the more reliable indicators of receiving ability.
Lauren Gray, PFF
53 dropbacks, 62.0
Deep Passing Yards: 407 (26th)
Deep Passing TDs: 5 (T-14th)
Passer Rating: 72.0 (28th)
Deep Comp%: 29.8% (31st)
Jackson struggled to find anything downfield, ranking near the bottom in completion percentage while averaging 3.83 seconds to throw (second). Devin Duvernay (86.5) was Baltimore’s top deep threat (141 yards) in 2022, and Mark Andrews has a career 92.8 receiving grade from deep. Baltimore also added other potential deep threats in Odell Beckham Jr. (93.9 career deep receiving grade) and rookie Zay Flowers. If Andrews and Beckham Jr. can return to form, Baltimore’s deep attack should be much improved in 2023.
Ryan Mink, BaltimoreRavens.com
“I just had a rough two years,” Pierce said on “The Lounge” podcast. “It’s the 10,000-hour rule. If you miss out on so many things, you can get rusty. For me, it’s about resetting myself, being around the team, being around the guys.”
“It’s my turn to step up and be a leader, vocally, and bring those young guys along,” Pierce said.
But more than mentoring other players, Pierce is focused on himself. He sent a text to his teammates last season after his injury, telling them that every game is precious. After so much time watching football on TV instead of playing it, Pierce said he has a “renewed sense of joy” being back on the field.
“I’m just enjoying playing football, enjoying being healthy, and making sure my body is ready to go,” Pierce said. “For me, it’s just about finishing. I’m not worried about anything other than me completing that goal of finishing all 17 games, playoffs, all that.”
Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic
The question is was Dobbins’ play to finish last season enough for the Ravens to make a long-term commitment to the back, or do they still need more evidence that he’s completely beyond the knee injury?
General manager Eric DeCosta is the one who will be tasked with answering that. The Ravens have shown time and time again that they don’t necessarily go along with conventional thinking in terms of positional value and roster building, so perhaps the buyer-beware stories about signing running backs to second contracts won’t resonate as strongly.
Still, there are plenty of reasons for Baltimore to remain patient. It has been burned on a couple of occasions in giving contract extensions to players who weren’t far removed from major injuries. There’s also the matter of whether the Ravens, of all teams, should invest heavily in the position, when the mere threat of Jackson running should open things up for whichever back they feature.
Waiting doesn’t necessarily portend doom, either. When it comes to free agency, running backs are mostly being devalued these days. Kareem Hunt, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette are among the accomplished backs still looking for work. Saquon Barkley is still looking for a contract extension. Only two free-agent running backs — Miles Sanders to Carolina and David Montgomery to Detroit — got more than $4 million per year on a multiyear deal on the open market this offseason.