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A Season That Never Had a Chance

Ravens 2021 season
Photo Credit: Associated Press
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From the jump, the 2021 Season seemed like one uphill struggle for the Ravens. They opened training camp with Lamar Jackson sidelined due to his second bout with COVID. Then, during the team’s preseason finale they lost J.K. Dobbins for the season. The following week they lost Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters to season-ending ACL injuries during the same practice session. The obviously, still injured Ronnie Stanley, never got on track and played just one game. Every time the team collected itself, they dusted off, tried to move forward only to get knocked back two more steps.

To their credit, the resolve of the club never wavered. The Ravens embraced the credo “Next Man Up” and wore it like a badge of honor. But eventually, they ran out of “next men” and were forced to scour through the scrap heap of street free agents, hoping to cobble together some semblance of a lineup that might give them a fighting chance to compete.

The Ravens fought. It’s in their collective DNA and reflects the core values of their skipper, John Harbaugh. In the end, it was too little and too late, particularly during the games’ most pivotal moments. The Ravens finished the season with an ugly 6-game skid, one that will leave a bitter taste until they get their next opportunity for redemption. But it was a valuable season nonetheless. The takeaways can be building blocks.

The team’s reserves were tested and at times they delivered. The meaningful playing time against formidable opponents will undoubtedly strengthen the quality of depth. They are now more battled tested and the scars have their rewards moving forward. Experience is an excellent instructor and a barometer of what may lie ahead.

There is plenty of time to look ahead with free agency and the draft just a few months away. But before we do, please allow me to present my final Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox that puts a bow on the Ravens 2021 season.

THE GOOD

Early on Lamar Jackson carried the Ravens to a (6-2) record. The team won games they shouldn’t have. Lamar was able to lift an offense that had a patchwork line throughout the season and one that lost a ton of talent in the offensive backfield. Despite the line, despite the lack of a running game outside of his own legs, Lamar found a way. Through 8 games he had a passer rating of 96.2 with 2,209 yards and 13 TD’s. He also posted 600 yards rushing on 97 carries, averaging 6.2 YPC…Tyler Huntley was effective at times before teams adjusted. He had a relief win in Chicago and nearly pulled off a big come-from-behind victory in Cleveland. His efforts helped to keep the Ravens in games but the struggles in the red zone down the stretch were costly.

Devonta Freeman had a decent season, particularly without the benefit of a training camp, posting 576 yards and 5 TDs while averaging 4.3 YPC…Patrick Ricard was a force in the run game at times, although consistency, to no fault of his, wasn’t always there…Kevin Zeitler was the best and most consistent offensive lineman and represents an understated value signing by Eric DeCosta. Bradley Bozeman was solid while Patrick Mekari was surprisingly very competent when forced to play right tackle…Marquise Brown looked like he was going to justify his draft status during the first half of the season but when Lamar’s season circled the drain, Brown’s followed. The third-year receiver did eclipse 1,000 yards receiving and through his first 8 games, he posted 682 yards receiving, 14.8 YPC…Rashod Bateman showed promise despite missing much of training camp and the season’s first 5 games. He runs efficient routes, displays strong hands and showed the ability to make contested catches. His stat line for the season covering 12 games: 46/515/11.2 YPC/1 TD…

Tyus Bowser showed why the Ravens brought him back on a rather modest contract. His versatility is a desirable trait in a Wink Martindale defense. Tyus led the Ravens in sacks with 7, was second with 15 QB Hits, second in tackles for loss (8) and fifth in tackles (59). Hopefully the rehab process of his injured Achilles will have him ready to start the 2022 campaign on time…Justin Houston led the Ravens with 17 QB Hits, was third in sacks (4 ½), fourth in TFL (6) and did a really nice job setting the edge v. the run…Odafe Oweh had a productive rookie campaign but did fade towards the end. He missed the final two games but was second in sacks (5), first in forced fumbles (3) and he tied Bowser with 15 QB Hits…Broderick Washington had a surprisingly productive campaign and has earned the opportunity for a bigger workload in 2022.

Patrick Queen seemed more explosive when Josh Bynes assumed responsibility for more of the pre-snap calls. He led the Ravens with 98 tackles and 10 TFL…Bynes provided veteran leadership and was strong defending the run. Like Queen he was exposed in coverage…Calais Campbell was dominant in some games but as is the case with aging players, the length of the season and nagging injuries diminished his consistency…Justin Madubuike flashed at times and appears to be on the verge of elevating his game but too often he disappears…Chuck Clark is a smart player who regularly sniffed out plays to make an impact at or near the line of scrimmage in run support or as a blitzer. His pick 6 against the Rams was a thing of intellectual beauty…Brandon Stephens is still a bit raw but has the looks of an impact defender for the Ravens moving forward.

Devin Duvernay was decisive with his return duties and shows elite straight-line speed. If he can develop better change of direction skills he’ll become an even better returner and he’ll create great separation as a route runner…Justin Tucker connected on 35 of 37 FGA. His two misses were from 40-49 yards. He connected on 6 of 6 from 50-59 and of course hit the NFL record 66-yard walk-off game winner in Detroit.

THE BAD

Ty’Son Williams showed early promise but was quickly relegated to the doghouse…Unfortunately Sammy Watkins was what many feared he could be – an unreliable receiver. He finished the season with just 27 catches for 394 yards and a TD. During his last four games in Baltimore, Sammy failed to catch a single pass on 61 snaps and only 5 catches for 47 yards over the final 6 games on 130 snaps. I was annihilated on social media for suggesting that Sammy’s signing might not amount to much more than Willie Snead’s production. In 2020 Willie’s stat line was 33/432/3 TD.

The Ravens pass rush was once again substandard. They ranked 28th in Team Sack Percentage per Team Rankings but more disturbingly, it disappeared during crunch time when it mattered most – when the defense attempted to put a game away in the win column… Malik Harrison looked like a promising young player during his rookie season. His sophomore campaign was a disaster, including a bullet injury in Cleveland during the team’s bye week. If 2021 is any indication, Harrison is another athlete whose productivity belies his skill set. His future with the team is at best clouded.

Marlon Humphrey’s W-2 suggests elite corner status. Moving him primarily to the boundary with the return of Tavon Young was only supposed to boost his level of play. Before his injury Humphrey never performed to his pay grade. His outing at The Bank against the Bengals was downright embarrassing. According to PFF Marlon ranked 43rd of 121 corners graded, allowing a passer rating of 98.4 when targeted…Anthony Averett was criticized far more regularly than Marlon but his passer rating allowed was a respectable 79.1, again per PFF. Averett struggled to tackle at times with 8 whiffs on the season.

THE UGLY

In late July and early August during training, the Ravens struggled to get what was projected to be their starting offensive line on the field due to various levels of injuries. The new-look passing game couldn’t get any liftoff because the defensive front completely dominated the O-line during summer scrimmaging. It was a sign of things to come. Despite having the most mobile tandem of quarterbacks in the league, Ravens quarterbacks were sacked a team record 57 times. The deep ball that they featured during the early part of the season was abandoned because Jackson and Huntley were regularly unable to adequately set and throw. Football Outsiders ranked the unit 29th in the NFL…Far too often the Ravens struggled to get plays into the offensive huddle which placed unnecessary pressure on the play clock and limited the pre-snap options of the quarterbacks. This lack of game efficiency led to problems in the red zone and goal-to-goal situations later in the season.

The Ravens tackling throughout the season was inconsistent. Early on it was really poor, improved somewhat in mid-season but when it seemed to count the most team tackling failed the Ravens…And speaking of when it counted most, the secondary failed to stop drives and just wasn’t reliable enough to win games. Their inability to get off the field influenced game decision-making and risk taking because they simply couldn’t be trusted to do their job. This has unfortunately been the Ravens M.O. for years, dating back as far as 2014.

[Related Article: Another Critical Offseason]

COACHING

The staff regularly had the team ready to play even if they too often were forced to start a JV defense. For that they should be commended. Also, early in the season the Ravens did show signs of developing a passing attack. But when opponents adjusted the Ravens failed to…The two-point conversion attempts were controversial but were also an indictment upon a defense that apparently even Harbaugh lacked confidence in…Greg Roman was unable to ever come up with a plan to counterattack the blueprint Brian Flores and the Dolphins created to thwart Lamar’s effectiveness. Despite the team’s success when running up tempo, the Ravens rarely did, until it was an absolute necessity, save for the effective opening drive by Josh Johnson against the Bengals in Cincinnati. If a QB who had been with the team just a couple of days could run a no-huddle offense as a proactive weapon, why couldn’t Lamar?…The fact that a professional team is unable to execute a screen play with even a smidgen of synchronicity is mind-blowing…Devin Duvernay and James Proche are underutilized weapons that Roman has failed to get involved. Proche was a healthy scratch for the final two games after putting up 7 catches for 76 yards in Cincinnati yet the Ravens were all too happy to dress Ty’Son Williams or Watkins? Seriously?

Defensively, Martindale’s unit had far too many communication breakdowns. The Ravens were the worst in the league with the most plays of 40+ yards allowed (16). They also were dead last with 74 plays of 20+ yards. The defense was tied for last in yards per pass attempted (8.0) and they gave up a league worst 4,742 yards of passing. It was shades of the Marchibroda years. The Ravens place such an emphasis on stopping the run without evolving as a pass defense. Times have changed and the Ravens haven’t. This defense no longer has an identity.

Since the Ravens won Super Bowl 47 they have two playoff wins covering 9 seasons (2-4 overall). The Bengals and Browns each have one playoff win during that timeframe. Let that sink in.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD

Mark Andrews had a monster season with 107 catches for 1,361 yards and 9 touchdowns. Imagine what it could have been with quarterbacks who could adequately set and throw; with quarterbacks who could take shots downfield to spread defenses; to run the football consistently with their starting RBs. Despite drawing attention from opposing defensive coordinators Andrews got it done week-in and week-out.

Thankfully Eric DeCosta signed Mark to an extension before his record-breaking, first-team All Pro Season.

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