Throughout the offseason, I will be running through a series of Q&As with our fellow SB Nation blogs across the AFC. The ball gets rolling with a recap of the 2019 season, while previews of the 2020 Draft, training camp, and the 2020 season are to come later on.
We continue with a team in Maryland that most expected to be preparing for a football game this weekend — the Baltimore Ravens. Vasilis Lericos of Baltimore Beatdown was able to answer a few questions regarding Baltimore’s 2019 campaign.
1. As everyone is well aware, Lamar Jackson made a gargantuan leap in his second season. What were some of the individual strides and improvements that he made to achieve such great progression?
The greatest improvement from Lamar was his accuracy. He added eight points to his completion percentage compared to his rookie year. And coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme maximized Lamar’s skillset and unlocked the entire offense.
Defenses were often confused by the scheme’s diversity and passive due to Lamar’s rushing ability in the read option attack. That made the jobs of supporting cast easier, the OL benefitted from better blocking angles and the receivers saw soft zone coverage, resulting in the NFL’s best offense.
2. Jimmy Smith is set to hit free agency at 32 years old, while the Ravens have a team option for 34-year old Brandon Carr. How well did the two vet corners perform in 2019, and do you see the Ravens bringing them back? Additionally, how is the Marcus Peters trade looking?
Brandon Carr has been a consummate professional in Baltimore, but his physical skills have declined, as evidenced by his transition to a dime safety role in 2019. Jimmy Smith was injured during the first part of the season but is still playing at a high level as a long and physical boundary presence. Some Ravens fans have speculated that the front office could decline Carr’s option and instead sign Smith to a short term team friendly deal.
The Peters trade worked out beautifully for Baltimore. He was huge for the defense, taking interceptions to the house and breaking up passes at crucial moments. Peters recently signed a below market deal to remain with the Ravens and should form the NFL’s best cover corner tandem with Marlon Humphrey going forward.
3. Run defense was one of the Ravens’ lone weaknesses in the regular season, where they ranked 19th in DVOA, and that came back to bite them in the playoffs as Derrick Henry gouged them for 195 yards on 6.5 a pop. What were the issues in this facet and how do you see the team addressing them in the coming months?
I have a maybe contrarian view on run defense. Despite the 19th most efficient run defense the Ravens defense finished 2nd in weighted DVOA. And Henry was bottled up until the Titans secured a two score lead, the Ravens lost that game mostly because the offense stalled in Titans territory.
The main issue was a problem setting the edge once Pernell McPhee went down to injury, but many of the opposition’s best runs were the result of coordinator Martindale baiting them into running. The team has a long history of prioritizing run D but new GM Eric DeCosta seems to prefer a new age roster building philosophy. I would prefer that the Ravens continue to bolster their offense this offseason and defend the run by forcing the opposition into negative game scripts.
4. The Ravens have a tremendous tight end room and a budding star wide receiver in Marquise Brown, but the team’s second-leading wide receiver was Willie Snead with just 21.2 yards per game. Do you see wide receiver as an area where the Ravens could improve?
Definitely. The offense could use a bigger bodied threat across from Hollywood Brown to help them when they are forced to pass the ball in catchup mode.
The draft seems to be the best place to find help there. The Ravens have been down the retread WR path many times before with mixed results and the ascending free agents receivers usually end up being overpaid. But comparatively, the 2020 draft class is supposed to be even better than the outstanding 2019 crop. Prospects such as Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault and Justin Jefferson could provide the perfect marriage of value and need when the Ravens pick at the bottom of the first round.
5. A la Za’Darius Smith, Matthew Judon had a breakout fourth season that catapults him into free agency with his stock at an all-time high. How likely is it that he remains in Baltimore, and how rich of a deal do you expect him to get?
The front office has watched many free agent edge rushers walk over the years, going all the way back to Adalius Thomas in 2007. However, I believe the circumstances are a bit different for Judon.
First, the team has more cap space at their disposal than at any point in recent memory. Secondly, the Ravens always returned one proven two-way edge defender when the other pass rushers fled for large paydays. And finally, drafting a instant impact edge beyond the top-15 overall or finding a cost effective edge in free agency has never been more difficult.
So I believe the Ravens will offer Judon a contract in the range of 3-years $50 million and apply the franchise tag if a deal cannot be consummated.
6. If you could add one offensive and one defensive player from any point in Jets history to the current iteration of the Ravens, who would you choose?
Tough question, the Jets have had some special players over the years.
On offense I would chose Kevin Mawae slightly over Nick Mangold. The Ravens have uncertainty on the interior of their offensive line heading into the offseason. Adding a player with the ability, toughness and leadership of Mawae would solidify the Ravens record setting offense.
On defense it has to be Darrelle Revis. Cornerback is already the strength of the defense but former GM Ozzie Newsome had a saying “you can never have enough good corners.” Corner is arguably the second most valuable position in football. Adding perhaps the best cover man in NFL history to the lockdown corners already on the roster would make the Ravens pass defense unbeatable.