The Ravens have moderate expectations as far as the rest of the NFL is concerned.
A recent analysis by Pro Football Focus and ESPN ranked the Ravens’ starting lineup 17th among the league’s 32 teams.
That suits John Harbaugh just fine.
The Ravens coach is fueled by adversity.
“I don’t think it’s really new,” Harbaugh said about the naysayers. “I think it’s something that happens in this league pretty much everywhere. It’s certainly been the case here forever, so it’s really nothing new.”
Harbaugh has the same approach with individual players.
When asked about Willie Snead’s toughness last season, Harbaugh replied: “This is a guy that’s been doubted his whole career – high school, college and the NFL – so I’m fine if they keep doubting him.”
The skeptics say the Ravens won’t be able to maintain that ball-control offense in a league that is so geared toward passing attacks. However, the Ravens are spending much of this offseason retooling their attack to have better balance.
General manager Eric DeCosta added another element of speed in this year’s NFL Draft by selecting wide receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin, along with running back Justice Hill. All three players showed game-breaking ability in college and the hope is that carries over to the pro level.
DeCosta also added veteran running back Mark Ingram to likely split carries with Gus Edwards, who led the team in rushing (718 yards) as a rookie in 2018.
Instead of crumbling, Jackson won six of seven games as a starter and led the Ravens to the playoffs for the first time in three years. It was perhaps Harbaugh’s best coaching job because he had to completely revamp the offense on the fly.
Take that, haters.
Some of those doubts among the national media are resurfacing again because there is still some skepticism about Jackson’s ability to throw the ball downfield. He completed 99 of 170 (58.1%) passing attempts for 1,201 yards, which ranked 37th in the league. Jackson also threw for six touchdowns and three interceptions last season.
Jackson was a much bigger threat on the ground and ran the ball 147 times for 695 yards, which led all NFL quarterbacks, with five touchdowns.
The goal is for Jackson to make more plays through the air than with his feet this season.
“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that Lamar is not going to be running 20 times a game,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti recently told season-ticket holders via a conference call. “That’s not what this offense is about … Everything falls to Lamar. We believe in him. We believe he’s going to be great. He desires to be great. We will continue to build the team around his strengths, and he’ll continue to work on his weaknesses.”
The Ravens also have some questions on defense, most notably with the pass rush. Za’Darius Smith, who led the team with 8.5 sacks, left for Green Bay via free agency as did all-time sacks leader Terrell Suggs, who signed with Arizona.
The Ravens are hopeful rookie defensive end Jaylon Ferguson can make an immediate impact and help offset the loss of Suggs and Smith. Ferguson, whose nickname is “Sack Daddy,” broke the NCAA record for career sacks with 45, eclipsing the previous mark set by Suggs.
DeCosta also signed safety Earl Thomas to complement perhaps the best secondary in the league.
In addition to their AFC North schedule, the Ravens play five teams that made the postseason last year.
ESPN predicts the Ravens will finish 9-7 and behind the Cleveland Browns (11-5) for first place in the division.
Bleacher Report also has the Ravens at 9-7 and behind Cleveland.
The Ravens obviously have other plans.
“We’re still defending the [AFC North] title. So until then, it’s just he say, she say, it’s Madden,” safety Tony Jefferson told the NFL Network. “Until then, you got to come strip the title from us. That’s just what it is.
“You can sleep if you want, but we’re going to be out there playing ball, and let the cards come out how they do, We work a little harder, lift a little harder, run a little harder out there.”
Buy Todd’s new book, No Limits, on Mark Amatucci’s storied coaching career at Calvert Hall and Loyola College, at Amazon.