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Ravens News 9/8: True Contender and more

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens Odell Beckham Jr. Press Conference Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

How Ravens GM Eric DeCosta salvaged the offseason and made his team a true contender

Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic

“Things are heating up with Odell (Beckham Jr.),” Ravens vice president of football administration Nick Matteo wrote to DeCosta. “I think we’ve got a shot.”

DeCosta, who had been pessimistic about the team’s chances of landing the veteran wide receiver, watched the rest of “Air” with his head in the clouds.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said of signing Beckham to a one-year, $15 million contract. “We closed the deal that night, maybe the next morning. It was a crazy thing. Nobody thought that was going to happen and it did. You could start feeling the momentum a little bit, building and building.”

Two and a half weeks after the Beckham deal, the Ravens reached agreement on a five-year, $260 million extension with Jackson, mercifully ending an awkward year-plus dance with their franchise quarterback. On the same day Jackson’s deal became public, DeCosta completed his offseason wide receiver makeover by selecting Zay Flowers in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The ensuing weeks and months brought defensive additions Rock Ya-Sin, Arthur Maulet, Ronald Darby and Jadeveon Clowney.

The Ravens still have a few questions they’ll have to answer. However, when they open the season Sunday against the Houston Texans, they believe they are as equipped to make a Super Bowl run as they’ve been in several years. For much of the offseason, that would have been a hard claim to make.

Predicting the 2023 NFL MVP: Patrick Mahomes stands as early favorite

Timo Riske, PFF

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

The last two seasons have been forgettable for Jackson and the Ravens. He only played 12 games in both seasons and the Ravens missed the playoffs altogether in 2021 and ultimately weren’t competitive enough on offense late in the season last year despite ending up in the playoffs. This year is supposed to be different. The Ravens basically start a whole new trio of wide receivers in Rashod Bateman (who was injured most of last year), Odell Beckham Jr. and this year’s first-round pick Zay Flowers. Along with Mark Andrews (who is questionable for Week 1), the new receiving room — which also features some nice depth with Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay — could be a top-10 receiving room for the first time in Jackson’s career. If the injury bug stays away from Baltimore this time around, Jackson could finally stay in the MVP conversation for the whole season for the first time since unanimously winning it in 2019.

Twelve Ravens Thoughts (and a prediction) ahead of Week 1 meeting with Houston

Luke Jones, Baltimore Positive

It’s safe to say Mike Macdonald will have the chance to show off his coaching chops to ease concerns at cornerback. With Rock Ya-Sin missing substantial summer time with a knee injury and Ronald Darby arriving only in mid-August, I’m honestly not sure what we’re going to see there Sunday.

Though Beckham and Flowers garnered more attention this summer, I’d still prioritize getting Rashod Bateman involved early. After his difficult recovery from foot surgery and offseason spat with DeCosta, you want the talented 2021 first-round pick feeling good about his place in this offense. Of course, there’s only one football.

The Texans are expected to be among the NFL’s worst teams, but the defensive acumen of DeMeco Ryans and a Houston secondary with some promising young talent should provide a decent test. We’ll see what progress 2022 first-round cornerback Derek Stingley and 2022 second-round safety Jalen Pitre have made.

According to Sharp Football, the Ravens ranked 27th, 30th, 26th, and 22nd in pace of play in neutral game scripts over the last four seasons under Roman. If nothing else, I expect a much quicker tempo under Todd Monken.

Ravens vs. Texans scouting report for Week 1: Who has the edge?

Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

Ravens passing game vs. Texans pass defense

The Ravens sputtered down the stretch last year with Tyler Huntley filling in for an injured Jackson and finished the season 28th in passing yards and 21st in yards per attempt. They answered with an extensive redesign, parting ways with offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with Todd Monken, who’s expected to use more three-wide-receiver sets and demand a quicker tempo, all while giving Jackson more authority to tweak plays at the line of scrimmage. Jackson, who completed 62.3% of his passes with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 12 games last season, will also throw to a more gifted set of targets. Odell Beckham Jr. missed all of last season as he recovered from a torn ACL but was perhaps the best playmaker on the field in a Super Bowl victory the last time he suited up. First-round draft pick Zay Flowers embarrassed teammates in drills this summer with his electrifying jukes and cuts. They’ll join 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman, whose second season was cut short by a foot injury that required surgery, and Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, who missed a recent chunk of camp because of a quad injury. Jackson will be protected by an offensive line featuring four returning starters from last season and led by 2019 All-Pro Ronnie Stanley, who’s coming off his first healthy camp in three years.

Monken’s revamped attack will debut against a Houston defense that’s also receiving a face-lift under first-year coach DeMeco Ryans, who was previously defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. The Texans played decent pass defense last year, intercepting opponents 16 times while allowing just 15 touchdown passes. They’ll feature an exciting rookie in edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. and hope for improvement from 2022 first-round pick Derek Stingley Jr., who played just nine games at cornerback last season. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and defensive end Jerry Hughes are productive veterans.

EDGE: Ravens

Week 1 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Sheil Kapadia, The Ringer

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-10)

I can’t wait to see what this Ravens offense will look like with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken and actual NFL wide receivers for Lamar Jackson to throw to. My general expectation is that it will work … eventually. But I think it could be a bit of a roller coaster in the first half of the season. The changes we’re talking about here are dramatic.

I would not be surprised if the Texans defense showed up in this game and gave the Ravens problems. Houston was competent defensively last year, and I’m a big believer in new head coach DeMeco Ryans, who was a stellar defensive play caller in San Francisco. But will the Texans be able to score enough to cover? Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will throw a lot at Houston’s rookie quarterback, C.J. Stroud, and the Texans offense just doesn’t have a lot of playmakers. Plus, Houston is banged up on the offensive line. I think the Ravens will get a score on defense or special teams to cover in what will be a relatively competitive game.

The pick: Ravens (-10)