Are the Ravens a flawed team?
Now that the summer is just about here and the NFL is close to returning in full swing, it’s time to take a look at the Ravens potential outlook for 2018. By most accounts, the Ravens had what many would consider a very strong offseason. They addressed both short and long term needs in the draft and filled a number of holes via free agency. The roster when taken as a whole is fairly impressive. There is solid depth across the board with a number of versatile players who are capable of taking on different roles, which is important as depth is almost always taxed over the course of the season.
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The entire starting defense from 2017 is returning for the 2018 campaign with the sole potential exception being CB Jimmy Smith who went down late last season with a torn Achilles tendon. While it is possible he returns to start the season, his status is still up in the air. However, the secondary will be bolstered by the return of Tavon Young who missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL. His return combined with the eventual return of Smith should give the Ravens one of the deepest and most talented secondaries in the NFL. Of course, one of the largest changes for the Ravens did not occur at the personnel level, but instead took place with the departure of defensive coordinator Dean Pees and the promotion of LB coach Wink Martindale to fill his shoes. While we will not know the how the coordinator change will affect the defense’s performance until we see them on the field, early indications suggest his coaching style may be more aggressive and attacking then what we have seen in recent years.
In contrast to the relatively low turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens’ offense saw a complete makeover this offseason. The Ravens top 3 pass-catchers from 2017 are all gone, replaced by a whole new group of receivers. WRs Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead will likely see the bulk of the snaps at the position with Chris Moore being the lone holdover in line to see any meaningful reps in 2018. At TE, two rookie selections 1st round pick Hayden Hurst and 3rd rounder Mark Andrews, are expected to see the bulk of the TE targets in the offense, effectively relegating 4th year TEs Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle to blocking roles. Even the offensive line saw considerable turnover with the departure of Center Ryan Jensen and RT Austin Howard. However, the Ravens will be bolstered by the return of All-Pro OG Marshal Yanda as well as Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa who both missed the entirety of the 2017 season. 3rd round draft pick Orlando Brown should also figure into the discussion at RT for the Ravens. Even the QB position saw some welcome additions with Robert Griffin joining the team to back-up Joe Flacco and 1st round draft pick Lamar Jackson waiting in the wings with his electric playmaking capability.
Objectively, it is a very strong roster on paper. So what should Ravens fans expect in the 2018 season? My guess is another 8-10 win season and potential Wild Card berth. Depending on who you ask that may feel pessimistic, optimistic or just non-committal. If everything goes right, the Ravens could certainly exceed my expectations, but the team still has 1 fatal flaw that has held them back just as much as anything else over the past 5 seasons (no, I am not talking about Joe Flacco).
The Ravens don’t have a superstar. The closest thing they have is Justin Tucker. No other player on the roster truly stands out as a difference maker; a player that opposing teams have to game-plan for. A player that is capable of single-handedly taking over a game. The Steelers have two of those players on offense in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. The Bengals have A.J. Green on offense and Geno Atkins on the defensive side of the ball. Look up and down NFL rosters and you will find elite players that are capable of changing the outcome of a game single-handedly.
This is simply an archetype that the Ravens do not have, and honestly have not had since Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs where all in the prime’s of their respective careers. Because of this, the Ravens need win by strong game-planning and execution on gameday. While I have a certain level of appreciation for how the team wins games, it’s not something that comes easily. Often the Ravens struggle to beat teams that are much less talented because their opponent simply has that one player that can make up for other deficiencies. And when things don’t go the Ravens way – whether it’s turnovers, a bad call or just poor execution it becomes dreadfully hard for them to win games.
The good news is the Ravens may have that player already on the roster, but it’s unlikely he sees the field very much in 2018. Yes, of course I am talking about Lamar Jackson. He could be the player that transforms the Ravens franchise, not only in terms of wins and losses, but also pure excitement on the football field. Of course it’s also possible a different player develops into a true difference maker. Marlon Humphrey and Matthew Judon have both showed lots of promise on defense, and perhaps an offensive talent like Hayden Hurst can become a special TE. For now though, the Ravens will have to rely on out-working and out-scheming their competition if they hope to get back to being championship caliber football team.