Happy New Years Flock! The regular season may be in the books, but the Ravens 2018 legacy is far from written. One thing that is set in stone: we started off 2019 the right way … as CHAMPS!
After failing to make a postseason appearance in four of the past five seasons, the Ravens are finally headed back to the tournament as AFC North Champions. As we recover from the stress of Sunday’s victory vs the Browns and prepare for a lot more of it this coming Sunday vs the Chargers, I’ll take a look back at the regular season and talk about why it was a success.
Rookies Made A HUGE Impact
After the Ravens clinched the division on Sunday with their win over the Browns, coach John Harbaugh gave the game ball to departing GM Ozzie Newsome. Not only was it a really cool scene, but it was warranted as well.
Look no further than the rookie draft/UDFA class he brought in and the impact they’ve had on the season. I can say with certainty that the Ravens would not be even close to a playoff team without the performances of these guys.
The real impact was made on the offensive side of the ball. QB Lamar Jackson started the final seven games of the season and, with the help of fellow rookie RB Gus Edwards, transformed this offense into a rushing juggernaut that cannot be stopped.
Jackson isn’t where he needs to be throwing the football yet, but we all knew this would be the case this year, and he’s shown some real improvement. Lamar’s 1,201 yards passing accounted for 32 percent of the offensive passing yards, and combined with Edwards for 58 percent of the teams rushing production.
The offensive line rebounded nicely after a slow start, and that’s in part thanks to a couple of rookies. James Hurst was struggling (as James Hurst does) at right tackle. He was injured during a week six game versus the Tennessee Titans. Enter Orlando Brown Jr. Zeus Jr. would start the next game vs the New Orleans Saints and never relinquish the job from that point on.
But Brown wasn’t the only rookie making his first NFL start in that game. Bradley Bozeman filled in for the injured Alex Lewis at left guard. Bozeman didn’t start any more games after that but did see a lot of playing time down the stretch. He played in 14 games.
Last but certainly not least is the rookie tight end duo. What a debut for Mark Andrews. The kid is gonna be an absolute STUD. He was second on the team with 16.2 YPC behind only WR John Brown. Andrews made countless big plays when they were absolutely necessary.
That’s not to say Hayden Hurst is a slouch. He really started to come on down the stretch and had his best game of the year Sunday. Once the Ravens realize what they truly have in this guy, it’s gonna be problematic for the rest of the league. He’s a fast, sure-handed, trucking machine. He’s the dude that fights for every yard. He’s gonna be somebody.
His final stats — 13 receptions, 163 yards, 1 TD) and Andrews (34 receptions, 552 yards, 3 TD — combined for 20 percent of the Ravens receiving yards.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s …
• 32 percent of the passing yards
• 58 percent of the rushing yards
• 20 percent of the receiving yards
Whether it be the quarterback play (only the most important position on the field), the rushing attack, the passing attack, or the battle in the trenches, the rookies were involved in it.
This rookie class is very much the product of an offensive offseason approach, but that’s not to say the defense didn’t get some help.
Kenny Young was the only rookie to earn significant playing time, and he really flashed for much of the season before giving way to Patrick “Peanut”Onwuasor down the stretch. He displayed great speed and athleticism, and the Ravens might have found a 5th round gem here.
NOTE: I’d also like to mention that I’m high on rookie safety Deshon Elliott. This kid was balling out in the preseason and showed a knack for making plays before being placed on IR with a fractured forearm.
From Rags To Riches
Prior to their week 10 bye, the Ravens couldn’t run the football against a DII college team. They were awful, averaging only 92.6 yards per game and ranked second to last in yards per carry with 3.4 per attempt.
As we sit now at the end of the regular season? Baltimore is second in the NFL with 152.6 yards per game. That’s a 60 yard per game jump in just seven weeks.
Over those seven weeks, the Ravens averaged an NFL best 229.8 yards per game, a total of 1,607 yards. That’s more than six teams had ALL YEAR. If they didn’t run the ball at all in their first nine games, they STILL would have averaged 100.4 yards per game.
What changed during that bye week? Well, everything. The personnel and approach were night and day. The Ravens embraced Lamar Jackson’s skill set and complimented it with two powerful backs: Edwards and Kenneth Dixon. Ty Montgomery has also chipped in here and there and did a fine job.
The RPO concepts combined with the same looks out of multiple different formations has puzzled opposing defenses.
On any given play, a defense has to determine who is running the ball while also staying honest in pass defense. It often gives the Ravens a head start as the play develops, or favorable numbers.
I love the three headed monster that is LJ, Gus and Dixon. They’re too much for any team to handle thus far, and I honestly don’t think there’s a team in the league that can stop them right now.
NOTE: Big props to Kenneth Dixon for the year he’s had after having an injury riddled career thus far. A lot of the Flock wrote him off, and he’s proving them wrong.
Also big props to Greg Roman for engineering this rushing attack. Yes just him.
The Next Great Coordinator
Speaking of coaching props …
You already know who this is about based on the heading:
Marty Mornhinweg is an offensive genius.
Okay, I couldn’t keep a straight face.
But seriously. Wink Martindale made a statement this season to the rest of the NFL, and that statement was that he is one of the best defensive minds in the league.
He took the same unit that Dean Pees had failed to finish the job with in the previous two years and, in his first year, finished the job. The way that he did it was so refreshing to see as a Ravens fan. After watching Dean Pees get conservative at the end of so many games and blowing it, it was a beautiful thing to see Wink play cover zero and bring the house on four straight plays with the game on the line.
The Martindale-led Ravens defense was the best defense in the NFL, and Wink is a big reason why. They finished the season ranked:
• 1st in total yards per game allowed
• 2nd in total points per game allowed
• 2nd in first downs allowed
• 3rd in Yards per carry allowed
•3rd in third down conversion percent allowed
•4th in rushing yards per game allowed
•5th in passing yards allowed
He was showing offenses looks that they weren’t seeing from other defenses. He stayed aggressive. And he added his name to the long list of Baltimore defensive coordinator greats.
NOTE: I’d also like to give credit to John Harbaugh for the job he’s done to get this team to the playoffs after falling to 4-5 and seeming all but done.
Heading into the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They’ve hit their stride at just the right time. They’re a team that many analysts are calling ‘the team nobody wants to play’. Simply put: they are dangerous.
But the playoffs are a different animal. Every team is a good team. After just one game at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens will have to win on the road, likely in some of the toughest atmospheres in the NFL (see: Arrowhead, Gillette) if they are to reach the Super Bowl. That’s a tall task with a rookie signal caller that struggles passing the ball.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. As Harbs always preaches, one game at a time. We already know that this Ravens team can win this game vs the Chargers.
They just did it.
On five days rest.
On the road.
While the Chargers had eight days’ rest.
Now they have the luxury of the advantage, playing on even days’ rest at home. It’s gonna be a battle, and it’s gonna take all they got, but I like the Ravens to beat the Chargers in a close one.
And I can’t wait to have a heart attack watching it.