Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: Keeping perspective after rough loss to Raiders


By Michael Natelli

Baltimore Ravens Disappoint in Week 1, But Don’t Panic

This isn’t a doomsday take, so if you’re looking for someone to bemoan how this isn’t Baltimore’s year, there’s bound to be plenty of that out there today on Overreaction Tuesday. 

Last night was miserable, no question about it. On both sides of the ball, the team zigged where it should’ve zagged, and ducked when it should’ve jumped. Three extra points at the end of the first half sound really nice right now. But any sort of knee-jerk projection that this is somehow an indicator of how the season will go is misguided.

After losing a Pro Bowl corner and an entire running back room days before starting their season, it would’ve been easy for Baltimore to come out and lay an egg, chalking it up to not having enough time to get so many players acclimated to new roles in such a short amount of time. Just look how Green Bay and Tennessee responded to  Instead, the Ravens went into the half with the lead, and even led 14-0 at one point. Odafe Oweh got his first career sack and the pass rush looked solid in the second half.

Chris Westry looked like he belonged on the field, and DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark were in midseason form. Lamar Jackson connected with Sammy Watkins for a big shot down the field and Hollywood Brown was a steady presence in the passing attack.

Bright side of things for the Baltimore Ravens

In an otherwise frustrating performance from the offensive line, Bradley Bozeman looked comfortable at the center position, answering one of the biggest questions the Ravens were facing before this string of new question marks emerged over the last several days.

The defense got a turnover with their backs against the wall after all seemed lost.

There was plenty to be disappointed in last night to be sure, some of it inexcusable. The offensive line play was largely atrocious. Patrick Queen can’t commit a senseless foul on Hunter Renfrow in a big spot and undo a big stop.

Getting points to end the first half was probably the right call. Enough that went wrong on Monday night should’ve gone right and secured a season-opening victory. But much of the chaos will have to come with time. 

Imagine how things could’ve been different if Alejandro Villanueva had the league’s best blocking tight end next to him tonight?

Does Jackson get sacked and fumble in overtime with a veteran running back out there to pick up the block that Ty’Son Williams missed? Does Jimmy Smith make some of the plays Tavon Young and Brandon Stephens didn’t?

Could the Ravens have exploited the Raiders’ blitz-heavy defense if they’d been able to practice screens with Latavius Murray and Trenton Cannon? 

These are all things that will be addressed over the next few weeks, either through more time on the practice field or time in recovery.

Patience is the key for the Baltimore Ravens

The front office and coaching staff will also have a much better sense of what this roster is once they’ve played a few games, and will be able to answer the questions we’re asking tonight about how much of these struggles can be chalked up to the recent string of injuries and “Hey, it’s Week 1”, and how much of it is a matter of simply needing more talented options at this or that position. 

In the meantime, patience will be key. There’s a very real chance Week 2 against Kansas City is even harder to watch if Wink Martindale is still not comfortable trusting the young corners to fill the roles his defense demands. All the more so if the offensive line can’t turn things around in a hurry.

Final Thoughts: 

But the real litmus as far as “punting on 2021” is concerned will be Weeks 3 and 4. The Detroit Lions seldom called a measuring stick for just about anything, but if Baltimore does take its lumps in Week 2, can they come back in Week 3 and show another full week of practice has truly done them some good?

Can Lamar Jackson look how he normally does against teams of Detroit’s menial caliber? Can the Ravens go into Week 4 with a more healthy, practiced, and equipped roster and demonstrate they’re capable of more than just hanging around with the AFC’s middle class? 

The reinforcements that will come back from injury over the next few weeks are reason enough to believe Baltimore will look like a much different team come October, and it’s hard to believe Eric DeCosta won’t be making at least one significant addition to the roster sooner or later. It’s worth remembering that the 2019 team started 2-2, lost to Kansas City, and went on to put together the most impressive all-around regular season in franchise history. 

Next Post: Baltimore Ravens: Top 10 outside linebackers in franchise history

Even if the Ravens enter Week 4 1-2, they’re still within striking distance of something similar if they use September to get themselves right. History has given us reason to believe they can. And if they do, enduring early September will just make success taste that much sweeter. Wake me up when September ends. Then we’ll talk. 

Posted in NFL News

Baltimore Ravens: Moving forward after Marcus Peters injury

By Michael Natelli

Apart from the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie class, there were two players I was particularly excited to watch this year: JK Dobbins and Marcus Peters. As both entered their second full seasons in Baltimore, each seemed poised to have a year that would start to truly etch them into team lore as one of the key cogs of this era of Raven football. Evidently, that’s not going to happen. At least not this year.

As if that weren’t enough, Gus Edwards, L.J. Fort, and Justice Hill are all set to miss the season with injuries as well, and several other key contributors enter the season injured or still working their way back from injury. 

It’s enough to make your head spin and your hope wane. But the growing IR list is no excuse for this Ravens team to phone it in and take their eyes off a postseason run. Not only is there still plenty of talent on this loaded roster, but as bumps in the road emerge, Baltimore may have more ways (and ammo) to address injuries and roster needs than ever before.

Eric DeCosta has been just about as effective in the trade and free agency markets as any general manager in the NFL and should stand to capitalize from the wide range of options he has available.

The Free Agent Market

The Baltimore Ravens are a team that went 14-2 in 2019 in part thanks to their ability to get production out of off-the-street free agents like LJ Fort, Josh Bynes, Domata Peko, Justin Ellis, and a rejuvenated Pernell McPhee.

In 2020, it was signings like Trystan Colon-Castillo and Devontae Harris that helped the Ravens stay afloat as they weathered COVID issues and a depleted secondary. Time and time again, the Baltimore front office and coaching staff have made a living turning post-prime veterans and undrafted free agents into solid contributors, and this year’s free-agent market has them well-positioned to do it once again in addressing current and potential roster needs.

At corner, Richard Sherman, Quinton Dunbar, and former Raven Pierre Desir headline a shallow group of options. Sherman obviously offers the most star power and upside, though pending legal troubles make his status for the season somewhat unclear (to say nothing of his less-than-ideal fit in Wink Martindale’s defense). 

Desir is interesting because he comes with some level of familiarity with the defense having spent time with Baltimore late last year. Metrics didn’t like his play in limited action with the Ravens, but he was highly graded as recently as 2019 and could return to form given a longer stretch to get comfortable with regular reps. 

Dunbar has likely been asked too much of in recent stops and wasn’t up to the task. But at 6’2, the 29-year-old offers the kind of length the Ravens like in corners and could thrive (or at least reasonably contribute) in a more complementary role.

Early to start dealing with injuries: 

Perhaps the most unfortunate part about the injuries Baltimore has endured so far is the unknown of what’s still to come. Injuries come up throughout the course of a football season, so there will inevitably be a few roster holes that need to be plugged between now and January. Will the free-agent market be somewhere that gives the pieces the Ravens need to go win a Super Bowl without key players? Probably not. But does it offer savvy veterans that can help the team stay afloat and at least scrap their way to the postseason in a year with a seventh playoff spot? Absolutely.

Mitchell Schwartz and David DeCastro are out there as options along the offensive line. Geno Atkins and Kawann Short are available in the trenches, and Olivier Vernon is out there to rush the passer. John Brown is available to make his second tour through Baltimore if the receivers can’t get healthy, and Trey Burton is there if tight end depth becomes a problem. Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Frank Gore are all ready to go if the running back room hasn’t exorcised whatever continues to haunt it yet. 

Make your jokes about how those names all sound good as options in Madden 17, but while most are not what they used to be, enough talent is out there in a pinch that injuries at just about any position shouldn’t be the reason the Ravens aren’t a playoff team this year. 

The Trade Market:

If DeCosta (understandably) finds the free-agent market to have uninspiring options, he also has more than enough draft capital to fill a need or two via trade without putting the Ravens in a disadvantageous position come April.

Before even factoring in any compensation picks for departing free agents this coming offseason, the Ravens are slated to have 14 picks in their 2022 war chest. While such a loaded draft arsenal will come in handy next offseason with Mark Andrews and likely Lamar Jackson signed to new expensive contracts, it also gives the team more than enough ammo to comfortably part with a pick or two for midseason upgrades.

Whether that means swinging a trade for a corner Jacksonville’s C.J. Henderson or Denver’s Bryce Callahan, or star chasing at other spots around the roster, there’s no reason that the Week 1 roster has to be as good as it’s going to get in Baltimore this year. It may take until close to the Trade Deadline, but one would have to think DeCosta is already exploring options to make sure John Harbaugh and company can still be successful this year.

No Excuses

The Ravens are not a team that looks to make excuses. They say the right things because they believe the right things. “Next man up” is not just good coach speak in Baltimore, it’s a culture, and fans should expect nothing short of that attitude and that approach regardless of what the IR list looks like.

NEXT POST: More Ravens injuries are sobering: Next man up starts early

Even as more challenges emerge, the Ravens should be more than equipped enough to weather the storms that come their way and charge forward towards another postseason run.