A conversation about the Ravens offseason
This past week BSL Senior Ravens Analyst Mike Randall and myself had a conversation about the Ravens offseason moves to date. No real format, just a discussion about what we liked, what we didn’t like, and our outlook for the upcoming season. Take a moment to read our thoughts and please feel free to chime in with your opinions as well on our message board.
GF: Mike, throughout the offseason you have been fairly pessimistic about the Ravens chances in 2017. The draft has come and gone, and while there are still some rumblings about possible free agency moves for the Ravens, the roster is likely not going to change all that much between now and the start of the season. How do you feel about the team’s chances in 2017 after a new class of rookies have been added to the fold?
MR: The draft and new rookies has the potential to be a great one. However, the Steelers also had decent draft, the Bengals did as well, and the Browns did as well. The Ravens have gaping holes on the O-line and have to worry about blocking two guys I’m high on, Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt, four times a year. In addition to the other playmakers on those teams. The Ravens upgraded the secondary, but the Bengals upgraded their receiving group. I had them at 6-10 based on how they look to me. If Justin Tucker wasn’t perfect, they might very well have been 6-10 last year. The draft doesn’t really change that. But a long way until September and my stance on that prediction could change based on what we have yet to see. What are your thoughts on their outlook, pre-draft, and now post-draft?
GF: Before the draft, I also had a pessimistic outlook for the Ravens. I thought there were too many holes on the roster to fill adequately just through the draft. However, I think they did a really nice job of finding value while also filling needs. The defense looks to be completely revamped after free agency and the draft. We obviously need to wait and see how these rookies look in OTAs and Training Camp, but I definitely feel a lot better about the roster now than before the draft. There are still some holes, specifically at WR and OL, but a veteran addition like Nick Mangold would go a long ways towards making the OL look better. For the sake of argument, let’s just assume Mangold ends up signing here, which player(s) on offense do you think need to step up in order for the unit to be moderately successful?
MR: The obvious choice is Joe Flacco. There isn’t anyway to sugar coat his performance at times last year. An argument could be made that the coaching staff did him no favors. Lots of shotgun sets which makes it impossible to sell play action, one throw shy of leading the league in pass attempts while being 27th in yards per attempt. That’s just not efficient one bit and Marty Mornhinweg went to that well one too many times. It’s what reportedly got Marc Trestman fired, yet there was no change in philosophy after the fact. But since everything runs through the QB, the other player that needs to step up is Breshad Perriman. Shows the makings of a playmaker at times, but will drop the most simple of passes too. The ones that move chains and keep the defense resting. How high are your expectations for first round picks? Consider last year was a pseudo rookie year for Perriman coming off the injuries, no excuses this time around, right? If the Ravens want to throw it around like Drew Brees, someone’s got to catch it to help the efficiency. I would love to see Perriman become the playmaker Flacco has never had. What would you say the ceiling is for Perriman? First round pick in year two or three, I want to see 90 catches, 1,200 yards, 10 TDs.
GF: Perriman is the first name that comes to mind for me when thinking about who needs to step up in a big way for the Ravens offense in 2017. The Ravens clearly had high hopes for Perriman when they took him in the first round in 2015. He has all the physical tools you want in a #1 WR, but he has also been plagued by some of the same issues he had in college in his limited snaps in the NFL, namely drops. I would be incredibly surprised if he puts up those types of numbers, although the opportunity will certainly be there if he can stay on the field. I would realistically say his ceiling in 2017 is 70 receptions, 1,000 yards and 8 TDs. Before moving on, I am going to throw out another name that I think will be critically important to the offense next season: Alex Lewis. Right now, we don’t know what position he will play on the offensive line, but LG or RT seem most likely. At either position, how well he can protect Flacco and open holes in the running game will be essential to the success of the offense. Pivoting away from offense now, the defense on paper looks like an impressive unit, but there are a lot of new faces as well. Do you think the Ravens did the right thing in pouring so many resources into the defense, and do you think the unit can be as good as some pundits have speculated?
MR: On Alex Lewis, I agree. I think he’ll certainly be an X-factor as the offense tends to go the way the O-line goes. If he steps up to the challenge and continues to develop, it can only help the entire unit. On defense, I have a feeling Steve Bisciotti was very influential on loading up on defense. It was the first thing he mentioned in the State of the Ravens Presser at seasons end. So many blown leads. Was a top-10 unit all year until the last month of the season. Was clearly the difference in losing to the Steelers on Christmas which could have changed how the season turned out in a big way. In hindsight, yes, I agree to make one unit as dominant as you can. There were too many holes on both sides to fill them all. So fill all the ones on one side, and make do with what you got on the other. My hope being that the offense gets as much attention as the defense did come the next offseason. Whether their approach will give you the top-3 defense in return, that’s another story. My only questionable move on loading up on the defense is that they tied up a lot of money into a run stopping DT in Brandon Williams. This is a passing league now. Having Brandon Williams had zero effect on the Patriots who routed the Ravens through the air and the Steelers whose air attack destroyed the Ravens playoff chances. The teams you have to beat when you think big picture goals, Steelers, Patriots, Brandon Williams is a non-factor. Also figure that both those teams ground games exposed this defense with big, strong backs like Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount. They had their way with them with Williams in there. Perhaps allocating that money for Rick Wagner at RT and letting Williams walk would have been the better move. As it stands, James Hurst is starting at RT. That’s a failure, a grade of “F” for an offseason if someone doesn’t unseat Hurst, no matter who else steps up. Some are in the camp that regardless of position, you have to pay elite talent like Williams. Where do you stand on that?
GF: I’m in complete agreement with you on Williams. He’s a really good NT, maybe the best in the NFL, but he just doesn’t offer enough on passing downs. Paying a run-stuffing NT that amount of money was the biggest mistake the Ravens made this offseason, especially because it essentially forced the team to let yet another talented offensive lineman walk away. On the other hand, I really liked what the Ravens did to bolster the secondary. It was a strong unit last season, despite not having a great pass-rush up front. When Jimmy Smith inevitably got hurt, the lack of quality depth was too much to overcome against the top notch passing offenses, but I think as we stand right here today, the Ravens have the best secondary on paper in the NFL. It’s deep, it’s talented, there’s a good mix of veterans and young players. Tony Jefferson looks like a move-able chess piece that Dean Pees can use around the LOS as a blitzer or can take away TEs in coverage. The Ravens defense might be at their best with 5 or 6 DBs on the field most of the time. Which brings up another question, do you expect the Pees-led defense to take on a different look this year with the amount of talent at his disposal? Let me be more specific: traditionally, Pees tends to favor a 4 man pass-rush up front and some combination of zone coverages, primarily cover 2 and cover 3 on the back end. Do you foresee more press coverage, more blitzing, or a general increase in aggressive play-calling in 2017?
MR: It’s possible. I tend to think most, not all, but most coordinators are stuck in their ways. That’s why most are labeled “West Coast”, “Blitz happy,” “Air Coryell”. They don’t adjust to the strengths of their roster, or adjust to the team they are going to face. In Pees’ case I would have said he falls into this category, but we saw Eric Weddle do some things that Pees had never called in the past. A lot of lurking around the LOS which is an aggressive move. The knock on Pees is a lack of in-game adjusting. I would like to see the pass rushing get real aggressive because you have some real pass rush specialists on the roster now. No shortage of competition for playing time opposite Terrell Suggs, who maybe should even play a rotational role this year. He’s about done, but that’s another discussion. I really like what Matt Judon brings to the table in pass rushing. Tim Williams if he keeps his head straight should be an asset. Tyus Bowser, and the list goes on. Competition should bring out the best in these men. I think given the additions you mentioned on the back end of the secondary, they should be a real aggressive unit up front in the front seven. Risk versus reward when you bring extra rushers, but the secondary should be able to hold their own, so take those risks more often.
That does it! Special thanks to Mike Randall for his candid and thoughtful comments and questions.