When the Ravens loaded up on tight ends with a double-dip in the 2022 NFL Draft, it was an obvious signal that they were trying to go back to what worked for them in 2019. It’s a narrative that was obvious, almost a Ravens Flock fill-in-the-blanks. Getting back to what worked in a 14-2 season obviously makes a lot of sense. That being said, there’s a little more to it than just the offensive formula of running the ball a lot and using three tight ends.
The focus of 2019 often goes to the offense. Lamar Jackson led the league in touchdown passes and the Ravens rushed for more yards than any team ever had in a season, so this makes sense. The defense though had a lot to do with the winning blueprint. It started with the secondary.
When the Ravens traded a fifth-round pick and Kenny Young to the Los Angeles Rams for Marcus Peters, the magic really began. All of a sudden the Ravens had two elite cornerbacks. Say what you want about Earl Thomas, he was an effective free safety in 2019 and Chuck Clark began to come into his own that year.
The 2019 Ravens didn’t have an elite pass rusher. Matt Judon was decent and he picked up 9.5 sacks. The Ravens’ defense was simply loaded in the secondary and the defensive front was stout. Nothing was easy against Baltimore, and if a team got behind they had to attack the strength of the defense. A great secondary can elevate a good front seven to a great one.
The 2019 defense gave up 17.6 points per game despite allowing a combined 77 points to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns early in the season. The Ravens made third-down conversions scarce, resulting in them almost always winning the time-of-possession battle. Paired with an extremely efficient offense, this was a recipe for success.
In 2019, the opponent was put into a bind. They almost knew they had to score on every possession because they didn’t know how many possessions they were going to get. The Ravens ran 1064 offensive plays to their opponents’ 921. The Ravens converted on over 47 percent of their third downs and also went 17-24 on fourth down conversion attempts.
Let’s fast forward to the 2022 season. The first thing the Ravens rebuilt was their secondary. Marcus Williams is the true free safety, and Kyle Hamilton adds more play-making and range to go along with it. The Ravens drafted two cornerbacks on the third day of the draft. In particular, Jalyn-Armour Davis has a chance to be a contributor in sub-packages. It’s important to remember that Brandon Stephens is going into his second season and he’s shown a good bit of potential.
The Ravens are expecting to get Marlon Humphrey and Peters back from injuries. Things could go right back to the way they were in 2019. The secondary could suck the air out of opposing offenses. Two playmaking cornerbacks who are both All-Pros at their peak performance allow two talented safeties to do their thing.
If the Ravens keep Clark, they have a player with whom they can do a lot of different things. They can have him be the third safety with defensive sets that maximize his inclusion. They could make him an extra linebacker (one with better coverage skills than their actual linebackers). Mike Macdonald even has the option of moving him around and designing plays for him as a blitzing defensive bac
If they trade Clark, it opens up the window to use Stephens as an all-purpose defensive back. Stephens is a corner that has the range and size of a safety. Tony Jefferson and Geno Stone could factor into the equation. Safety depth is not a problem and a good player or two may find themselves an odd man out.
While the Ravens certainly have the motivation to add a name at the cornerback position, they have some young talent there. All it takes is either Jalyn Armour-Davis or Damarion Williams showing up ready to contribute as rookies and the nickel and dime defenses kind of build themselves. The secondary has a chance to be special if Humphrey and Peters are truly back to being themselves.
Having the secondary back to 2019 standards (if not better) is the most crucial step in bringing back the 2019 swagger. This allows what the Ravens will do offensively to limit opportunities and put their opponent in a scarcity mindset. The Ravens will hog the football and build a lead. A secondary that makes life easier for their pass-rushing situation, that takes the big play off the table for opposing quarterbacks and makes big plays themselves is the staple that puts all the pieces in place.
The second most important part isn’t the tight ends or loading back up on running backs, it’s rebuilding the offensive line. To a large degree, the Ravens have repowered the offensive line. Morgan Moses adds security at offensive tackle. He should be the day one starter on the right side. Moses can play left tackle if Ronnie Stanley misses a patch of games. The Ravens drafted Daniel Faalele as a developmental tackle and they can always put Pat Mekari back on the right side of the line.
An offensive line featuring Stanley and Moses at tackle, and a first-round center in Tyler Linderbaum and Kevin Zeitler at right guard should work. Whoever wins the left guard spot should just have to be decent and avoid being a weak link. This is the best version of the offensive line since the Ravens bullied teams in 2019. A good offensive line brings back MVP level of play from Lamar Jackson. A good offensive line brings back the run game to the level of being a cheat code.
With those core elements in place, you can then start to talk about loading up on tight ends and running backs. The Ravens now have a tight end room that is more loaded than it was when Hayden Hurst was in town. They added Tyler Badie and Mike Davis to their backfield mix that already included Gus Edwards, the exciting J.K. Dobbins, and Project Pat Ricard.
The Ravens’ goals and the overarching plan are as obvious to see as the fact that the sky is blue and the grass is green. The Ravens are building their team in a very “You know what’s coming and you can’t stop it” kind of way. All the signs are there, but understanding the core idea here is important.
The goal is to have an offense that shortens the games and takes chances away from players like Joe Burrow and Josh Allen to beat them. The goal is to be incredibly efficient, maximizing on long drives and taking the margin of error away from their opponent. That’s when the aggressive secondary turns into a weapon. That’s when third down feels like a scary proposition, a life or death experience for the team on the visitor’s sideline at M&T Bank Stadium.
It’s a wheel. The efficient and methodical offense starts the roll. The defense led by a great secondary keeps it spinning.