Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Ravens Unit listed among the NFL’s “least predictable”.

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Figuring out what to expect from the Baltimore Ravens in 2022 is no easy task. It’s difficult because last season lacked so much of what would normally make the team strong on both sides of the ball.

A spate of injuries robbed the Ravens of many of their key players. In the process, their absences also took away familiar Ravens staples, including an opportunistic defense and a ground-and-pound running game.

Things should be close to normal again this year, assuming those returning from injury recover to full strength. Still, one writer doesn’t know what to expect from coordinator Greg Roman’s Lamar Jackson-led offensive, as new faces indicate changes are imminent in a tired plan.

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The Ravens have often won or lost on a game of power running. Things got out of hand when running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards both missed the 2021 season.

Tackling left tackle Ronnie Stanley didn’t help, blocking Nick Boyle at the tight end and also missing a lot of time at quarterback Lamar Jackson. This graphic off man games lost NFL shows how the Ravens were most affected by the absence of “quality” players.

The return of Stalwarts will make a difference, but Ben Solak from The ringtone nevertheless included this offense in his list of the “six most unpredictable units in the NFL”.

Solak noted how Roman’s familiar run-heavy schedule struggled to produce results last season: “Their seemingly tireless rushing attack, first in EPA/Rush in both 2019 and 2020, fell to 11th in 2021; before Lamar was injured it was only the fifth.”

The fact that it was difficult to sled on the field with Jackson suggests that some changes to the scheme are needed. Solak believes this year’s 25th overall pick, center Tyler Linderbaum, will lead those changes: “As a player compared to Jason Kelce and Garrett Bradbury, Linderbaum just didn’t fit the existing understanding of the Ravens’ prototypical offensive lineman that Baltimore had favored tall, long, powerful bodies – Ben Cleveland, Tire Phillips, Orlando Brown Jr. – during the Jackson era. Linderbaum was scheduled for a zone lockdown. The Ravens were anything but.”

Linderbaum is a good bet to trigger a change in how the Ravens block for the run. He may not be the greatest pivotman, but the 6’2″, 296-pounder thrived during his time at Iowa, per PFF College:

Last season’s starter Bradley Bozeman tipped the scales at 6’5″ and 325 pounds, but the Ravens can benefit from Linderbaum’s lighter physique. Solak believes Roman can leverage the center’s move abilities: “The Ravens may be changing their approach in ground play, trying to maximize Linderbaum’s mobility as a puller and lead blocker like the Eagles are doing with Kelce in front of their running quarterback Jalen Hurts. “

There’s an obvious comparison between Philadelphia Eagles starters Jalen Hurts and Jackson. Both are dual threat playmakers, adept at smashing through defenses with their legs. Linderbaum’s presence would make Jackson an even greater threat as a runner.

It’s not just Linderbaum that could encourage Roman to transition from power blocking to a more zone-based rushing attack. New right tackle Morgan Moses, signed to free agency, spent his prime in Washington, where he employed zone-blocking techniques favored by Jay Gruden and future Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay.

The makeup of Baltimore’s running game isn’t the only part of this offense that could look different.

Solak believes changes are also possible in the pass attack. In particular, he cited how the Ravens will use a different type of wide receiver: “Again, the Ravens appear to be changing what they prioritized during Lamar’s time as quarterback. Many of their recent WR additions – Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay – have been about speed. But last offseason they chose Rashod Bateman – a good athlete but more of a possession receiver than a burner.”

Aside from Rashod Bateman becoming a bigger factor, Solak also noted how to make the decision act Arizona Cardinals marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown calls for a move: “Philosophically, it seems they’re shying away from speed, speed, speed at all costs.”

This is a tricky move for the Ravens, but one that plays to their current strengths. Mark Andrews is Jackson’s target of choice, and the all-pro tight end does its best work over center.

Their connection has shown no signs of slowing down this off-season, according to the sources Jonas Shaffer from The Baltimore Sun:

The use of Bateman and other wideouts like Devin Duvernay and James Proche on more challenging routes should draw attention away from Andrews. It would also reap rewards for Jackson.

The face of the franchise is entering a contract year, and while Jackson’s talents deserve a payday on par with the elite players at his position, there are still doubts about his abilities. Those doubts were summed up by a recent poll of executives, coaches, players and scouts conducted by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, which listed Jackson outside of the league’s top 10 QBs.

As Fowler noted, Jackson “had major problems in his last three full games with six interceptions and 13 sacks as teams blitzed him violently.” The problem was most evident against the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, per ESPN analyst Matt Bowen:

Passing plays, which develop faster thanks to bigger receivers who can win at short and medium distances, could be the Ravens’ best answer to this growing blitz problem.

Roman and head coach John Harbaugh face a difficult decision when it comes to their offense. They can hold on to what has worked in the past, confident that things will work again when key players finally recover.

Alternatively, the Ravens can use the lessons learned in the dark days of last season along with personnel changes to alter their blueprint. It’s not easy to predict which way they will go, but a playbook tweak would give this team the edge it needs to ensure a playoff return.

Aside from Rashod Bateman becoming a bigger factor, Solak also noted how to make the decision act Arizona Cardinals marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown calls for a move: “Philosophically, it seems they’re shying away from speed, speed, speed at all costs.”

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