While the Baltimore Ravens are 3-1 at the quarter pole of the 2020 season, I think the obligatory optimism is being widely met with tongue-in-cheek concern.
In essence, a team that many expected to be a cut above the 2019 edition of the Ravens has actually looked a step behind on both sides of the ball, and the general fan consensus feels less excited and more ‘when will the other shoe drop?’ to which I have just one thing to say…
Let’s step back, take a deep breath, and ease those concerns across the board.
For starters, while the Ravens were able to retain a vast majority of their 2019 roster, we have to realize that there are plenty of new starters on the 2020 version of the squad. Rookie Tyre Phillips is taking over for future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda, DeShon Elliott has stepped in for Earl Thomas, rookie inside linebacker Patrick Queen has taken over the middle of the field, and nearly the entire defensive line has changed, barring Brandon Williams. With so many new faces in new roles, a typical preseason would allow the units to jell appropriately, but with a shortened camp coupled with no preseason games, everything has really been an ‘on the fly’ approach to start the season. As the season progresses, the new bodies in Baltimore will get more comfortable with the playbooks, and learn to play in unison within their respective units.
Speaking of new faces, the rookie crop was never going to be a huge factor out of the gates. Yes, Queen and Phillips are full-time starters – and deservedly so – but we need to have patience with the entire rookie class.
Imagine being a rookie in 2020: you’re drafted, you sign your deal, you get handed a playbook… only to have no rookie camp, no OTAs, a shortened preseason and be told to figure it out. But fret not! Queen and Phillips will improve as they get more comfortable with the NFL speed, while guys like Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Justin Madubuike, Geno Stone, and Broderick Washington are going to slowly increase their roles as the season goes on, and with increased roles I believe the results will follow.
I hear plenty of grumbling about the offensive line, and how it’s the catalyst for the offensive regression; but how fair is that assessment? And how fair was it to assume instant success in 2020? The assumption that returning four of five starters should result in a seamless level of play always seemed a bit farfetched when you are replacing a Hall of Famer in Yanda with a rookie in Phillips, while Center Matt Skura slowly returns from a major knee injury, and star Left Tackle Ronnie Stanley fights through early season injuries.
Is there reason for major concern? I don’t think so. As Skura and Stanley return to health, and Phillips gets more reps weekly, I expect to see drastic improvements with every passing game.
This unit will look much more cohesive as the season goes on.
How about the pass rush? The Ravens once again show they cannot generate pressure without blitzing, the pressure from the edge is inconsistent, and opposing QBs get entirely too much time to sit back and pick their poison in crucial moments of games.
There’s obviously fair criticism here, but think about this: free agents Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell, along with a pair of rookies, make up four of the six Defensive Lineman on the roster (I’m categorizing Jihad Ward as an outside linebacker). The fact that the Ravens have totally revamped the unit, while their top rookie in Madubuike still hasn’t seen the field, is going to create issues with lack of interior pressure.
Allow Campbell and Wolfe more time to learn Wink’s system, while Mads gets healthy and finds the active gameday roster, and you’ll see those big boys wreck things on the inside as we expect them to do. As for the pressure off the edge, Matt Judon had a pair of sacks this week against WFT, and Jaylon Ferguson added one of his own. Tyus Bowser has flashed.
I don’t see any true ‘stars’ among the bunch, but they’re starting to come on and I expect we’ll see more pressures from this unit in the coming weeks.
Yes, there are certainly other little issues. Gripes about drops, Lamar’s inconsistency, getting away from the ground game, and covering Tight Ends/Running Backs seem to find their way onto social media and around water coolers (well, back when gathering around well…anything…was allowed) following every Ravens game.
Those issues should all shake out with time as well. It’s impossible to stress enough how important those offseason reps really are to rookies, newly-signed vets, and the general cohesion of a football team. What we’ve seen is simply issues that would typically get ironed out in camp, well before Week 1, and given that the team is 3-1?
Think about this for a second: the Ravens are 3-1, with a singular loss to the Super Bowl champs. In their wins, the Ravens have scored 30+ points, while allowing a collective 29 points. And they’ve done all of that, despite having all of these aforementioned issues.
One more time: our beloved Ravens are 3-1 with three convincing wins, despite having a laundry list of things to improve upon.
How can you not be extremely impressed by that?!
Ultimately, what we’ve seen to date with the Ravens clearly isn’t a finished product. This is no different than 2018, or 2019 where the team generated steam throughout the season headed towards January. I fully expect that John Harbaugh and the Ravens will make the necessary adjustments, perhaps make some adds during the bye week if they deem it necessary, and find their way back to being the dominant team we’ve come to know.
Relax, Ravens Flock. Everything is going to be okay.