They are one of the NFL's premier franchises and had an incredible offseason, but are the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl contenders?
For years the Ravens dominated the NFL on the back of the league's most ferocious and consistent defense. Then, they had their teeth removed in 2021. Couldn't get to the quarterback, couldn't cover receivers, and couldn't create turnovers. Was that all because of injuries? Did Baltimore do enough through free agency and the draft to fix their roster?
Are the Baltimore Ravens Contenders?
No team was ravaged by injuries more than the Baltimore Ravens. It wasn't just the quantity of injuries that did them in, but the quality. Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Marcus Peters, Ronnie Staley, and Marlon Humphrey all missed significant time. While there were some considerable roster holes, the amount of talent lost to injury can't be overlooked.
Baltimore entered uncharted territory last season cause their pass defense totally sucked. The Ravens allowed the most yards per play, 3rd most passing touchdowns, most passing yards per attempt, 4th most yards after the catch, *inhales* they allowed a 99.4 quarterback rating against, were 29th in takeaways, and ranked in the bottom third in pressure while being the 6th most blitz heavy team. That's a fucking terrible pass defense.
Their run defense was the best in the league, but why would teams run when the air yards came so easy? No need to swim across the river when you can walk over the bridge. The good news is the Ravens brought reinforcements.
Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey will be healthy, and they signed the best safety in the league, Marcus Williams. Ask the Titans, Buccaneers, Bengals, and Steelers what one great safety can do for your defense. I'm sure Ravens fans haven't forgotten what Ed Reed did for theirs, either. A safety who can read the offense, take away the middle of the field, and confuse quarterbacks is invaluable. Williams can do all of the above.
Baltimore doubled down when maybe the best defensive player in the draft, Kyle Hamilton, dropped to them at 14th. Offenses will have a hell of a time going deep against the Ravens with these two patrolling the backend. Baltimore's defense might have the most incredible single season turnaround ever.
I expect Baltimore to blitz less after losing defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to the Giants. However, assuming Calais Campbell, Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser, and David Ojabo can all get healthy, the Ravens should see improvement in their pass rush as well.
They may not reach the heights of the Ravens' defenses from 2000 to 2006 that featured Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but I fully expect them to torture quarterbacks and receivers downfield.
Lamar Jackson has gotten incrementally worse every season since his MVP year. It doesn't even matter what metric you use - Quarterback Rating, QBR, Adjusted Yards per Attempt, Touchdowns, or Turnovers; every season is worse than the last one.
The Ravens proved to be one of the more intelligent teams in the league when they did all they could to set their electric signal caller up for success. Instead of putting Lamar in a box, they brought over Greg Roman and built an offense to accentuate his immense talent. This paid huge dividends early, but now the cracks are starting to show. The more defenses see their vast array of quarterback keepers, RPOs, and downfield play-action passes, the easier it's become to predict.
That's not uncommon around the NFL, but when the Ravens need to lineup and throw the ball, will they be able to do it? Right now, I'm not sure I see a receiver on their roster who can just lineup and beat their man. After letting Hollywood Brown walk, Baltimore is banking on Rashod Bateman to be that guy. Bateman showed flashes, but I'd be more comfortable if they already had a Stefon Diggs on the roster instead of a projected to-be Stefon Diggs. I feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but you should try to give your quarterback the best weapons possible while he develops. Look how that strategy panned out for Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Josh Allen; it works.
Outside of their receivers, the offensive line remains a strong point. This is a Baltimore staple. Rookie center, Tyler Linderbaum, should be able to make an impact immediately. And, Mark Andrews is a top-five tight end in the NFL as well.
Another positive is Baltimore gets both their starting running backs back. The Ravens' rushing attack remained amongst the best in the league without either Gus Edwards or J.k. Dobbins for the entire season. They were 5th in Rush Yards per Attempt and 3rd in total rushing yards. With those guys back in the fold, expect defenses to continue to load the box against Baltimore. Then it'll just be up to Lamar Jackson and company to make them pay.
Are the Ravens Super Bowl Contenders?
My initial thinking was yes, the Baltimore Ravens are Super Bowl contenders. This is a team with incredible upside. Their secondary could prove to be the best in the NFL, and they should be able to supplement that with a capable pass rush. Their rushing offense remained as dangerous as ever last season, even with injuries to both starting running backs and Lamar Jackson.
However, Lamar's dip in passing efficiency over the years and an underwhelming receiving core cause me to pause. If Jackson's struggles prove to be injury-related, I wouldn't be surprised to see Baltimore make a deep run, but if he continues on a similar trajectory, then Baltimore may end the season with more questions than answers.