Posted in Ashley's 3 big questions

Baltimore Ravens: 3 Big Questions as Ravens Travel to the Windy City

By: Ashley Anderson

Coming off an embarrassing 22-10 loss against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night football, the Baltimore Ravens had to do some soul searching this week. With a few extra days rest, they travel to Chicago on Sunday to take on the Bears. Led by rookie quarterback Justin Fields, the Bears are currently 3-6. Their record is deceiving though, as they have played a number of close games. Here are the big questions leading into Week 10.

3.) Can the Baltimore Ravens find a way to limit big plays defensively?

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” – Cool Hand Luke, 1967.

When people think of the Baltimore Ravens, they typically think of bruising defenses led by the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Although there is plenty of talent on the 2021 squad, it seems like the Ravens are struggling to put them all together. Nearly every week, even if the defense plays well as a whole, they experience lapses. Big plays have become the norm rather than the unexpected.

Somewhat astonishingly, Baltimore has allowed six plays of 50 or more yards in just the past three weeks. Their busted coverage on a 64-yard catch and run by Albert Wilson evaporated any chance of a comeback against Miami. Even in the win against Minnesota, they surrendered a 50-yard touchdown to Justin Jefferson.

Long-time fans are baffled by the overall performance of the unit, which is typically prideful and dominant. There are plenty of factors, including injury, that point to the down year. The biggest issue, however, seems to be a lack of communication within the group.

For some time, the Ravens were struggling with tackling, leading to explosive plays. They seemed to have that figured out a bit in recent games, but there have still been several big plays. Often, there appears to be a breakdown in pre-snap communication. Safety Chuck Clark wears the green dot on his helmet, so he is ultimately responsible for relaying the play calls. Marlon Humphrey has also taken responsibility for his part in the lapses.

All-in-all, chunk plays are a dagger for any defense. The Ravens know this is an area of weakness and one that must improve if they hope to make a playoff run this season. Facing a rookie quarterback in Justin Fields should help them get things right this week.

2.) Will the running game get back on track?

For years, the bread and butter of Baltimore’s offense was their rushing attack. It seemed they could run against any and every team in the NFL. However, there has never been another season where the Ravens lost all three of their top running backs prior to the start of the year.

The losses left the front office reeling as they searched for help. Ty’Son Williams made the 53-man roster out of camp, and Baltimore quickly added Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, and Le’Veon Bell. Since then, they also added Nate McCrary back to the practice squad.

Murray missed the past three games with an ankle injury, and the run game suffered as a result. Most weeks, quarterback Lamar Jackson is actually the leading rusher, and none of the backs separated from the pack. With Murray finally getting healthy, the Ravens made the surprise choice to part ways with Bell.

Much of the blame for the run game struggling can be placed on the offensive line. Without Ronnie Stanley, the unit was forced to shift Alejandro Villanueva to left tackle. Patrick Mekari had finally stabilized the right tackle role before he went down with an ankle injury. Second-year man Tyre Phillips is not built to be a tackle, but Baltimore was forced to use him there. Ben Powers and Ben Cleveland were rotating at left guard before Powers suffered a knee injury. Powers struggled in his absence.

Cleveland may be ready to return this week, and Mekari is also getting healthy. As the weather turns cold, Baltimore is certainly hopeful that someone or something can provide a spark on the ground. Could this be the week Nate McCrary finally gets a call-up?


1.) How will mid-week absences from Lamar Jackson and Bradley Bozeman affect the offense?

Both Lamar Jackson and Bradley Bozeman were sent home from practice Wednesday with non-Covid related illnesses. Jackson is virtually the only reason the Ravens are 6-3 at this point, but he has now missed practice time four separate weeks. Meanwhile, Bozeman has been the anchor of an offensive line that has faced a ton of adversity this season.

It is never a good thing when starters miss practice time for any reason. What makes matters worse is that Jackson and Bozeman are the most crucial pieces of an offense that would look dramatically different without them. At this point, there is no reason to believe either will miss Sunday’s game. The missed practice time, however, could throw off the rhythm of the entire offensive unit.

Jackson has shown an uncanny knack for building chemistry with his receivers despite the repeated absences. Still, there are moments when the timing seems just a touch off with this offense. For example, in his return from a three-game absence, Sammy Watkins was targeted early on a deep pass against the Dolphins. Unfortunately, he either believed the ball to be overthrown, or he lost it in the lights, and a would-be touchdown landed incomplete. Slightly better timing between Jackson and Watkins may have made a difference.

Losing Bozeman would be equally damaging. Last year, the Ravens struggled mightily with poor snaps, but Bozeman virtually eliminated the issue. He has been one of the top centers in the league and easily the best lineman in Baltimore. Without him, the Ravens would have to turn to Trystan Colon, who has primarily been used as an additional lineman in heavy packages. Colon would then have the responsibility of making pre-snap reads and trying to gel with a line that, as previously mentioned, already dealt with its fair share of change.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: A full examination of the Greg Roman situation

All-in-all, it is too early to panic here, but the situation bears watching (no pun intended). Jackson and Bozeman may both return tomorrow fine as fiddles, and this question becomes irrelevant. Any other scenario, however, could put the Ravens at a huge disadvantage.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: What we learned week 2

By Chris Schisler

The Las Vegas Raiders are a tougher opponent than we thought they were in week 1:

When the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Las Vegas Raiders it was an annoyance. Here was a game that most pundits had chalked up as a win when the schedule came out. It wasn’t until all the injuries mounted up that the idea of the Raiders winning the opening game caught on. To be honest much of that was an overreaction to the Baltimore Ravens injuries. It was so quickly fired off bad news that it seemed like the Ravens were limping into the season. 

The Raiders are a really good football team. After week 1, the Raiders had to follow up on their performance. The Ravens had excuses and the Raiders were slightly above average last season. The Raiders went into Pittsburgh and straight-up handled the Steelers. Derek Carr sliced up a very good Pittsburgh defense for another 382 yards and two touchdowns. Four different Raiders caught five passes. The defensive front dominated Pittsburgh. Solomon Thomas had two sacks and the Raiders got an interception off Big Ben. 

The Raiders are now 2-0. They look like one of the best teams in the AFC and the shame of losing to them has gone away. Did the Ravens have issues on that Monday Night Football appearance? Absolutely. One of them though was that just about everybody underestimated Jon Gruden, Derek Carr, and the Raiders. 

The Baltimore Ravens offensive line may not be a dumpster fire:

Now John Harbaugh gave everyone a game ball because he saw it as a total team win. A lot of players stepped up to beat the Chiefs in the most shocking fashion imaginable. The entire offensive line played an entirely improved game against the Chiefs. Alejandro Villanueva looked shockingly smooth at the left tackle position. The Ravens saw their line move people off the ball. The offense didn’t miss a beat without Ronnie Stanley. That’s something I never imagined saying. 

The Ravens introduced a rotation at left guard that got Ben Cleveland involved. It’s different, but it works. Lamar Jackson and three other ball carriers averaged over four yards per rushing attempt. Jackson had some pressure to deal with and was sacked once, but the offensive line gave him the shot he needed to finally beat the Chiefs. The effort of the offensive line was off the charts and it kept the Ravens on schedule in a game they couldn’t go too long without scoring. 

Lamar Jackson’s mental toughness came through and he can beat anybody: 

Lamar Jackson’s first pass was a pick-six. Now, it wasn’t his fault-Sammy Watkins slipped-but it was a disaster start. Jackson took the Ravens right back out there and he got them in the end zone. When he had a boneheaded interception into triple coverage he didn’t panic. He reeled himself back in and played one of the best games of his life. Jackson just didn’t let anything derail him. His mental toughness won this game. 

There couldn’t be a better stage for a player that is criticized for “Not being able to beat the Chiefs” and “Not being able to make a comeback.” This was the stage of Jackson’s dreams. The opportunity was there to crush and erase all the false narratives about him as a quarterback. Jackson went 18-26 passing for 236 yards. He ran for 107 yards. When the Ravens needed one more first down to seal the game, he knew he was going to get it. Jackson is the real deal.

P.S. Anybody who still says he can’t throw didn’t see that pop pass down the field to Lamar Jackson. I’m not sure Patrick Mahomes can even do that and Mahomes is also a generational talent. Put every narrative about Jackson on the bench, except for the one that says he’s the MVP. 

Odafe Oweh looks like the real deal:

It has recently been announced that Odafe Oweh is the Defensive Player of the Week for the AFC. Oweh forced the all-important fumble of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He hit Patrick Mahomes as he threw an interception to Tavon Young. The Ravens couldn’t have won this game without Oweh. He looks like a first-round pick on the field. This is great news for the Ravens. He’s explosive and he’s getting involved in a big way early. 

Despite stepping up when it mattered, the Baltimore defense has concerns

The defense deserves credit for shutting the Chiefs out in the fourth quarter. Don Martindale deserves credit for not throwing a fit as Mahomes made the first three quarters look too easy. The defense has to get some praise. It still has to come with a dose of tough love. The Ravens have issues on defense. They seem incapable of covering tight ends.

They have given up a ton of passing yards in two weeks and open-field tackling has not been a strong suit. The Ravens haven’t had Jimmy Smith or Derek Wolfe and they’ve lost Marcus Peters for the season. That’s not the only source of their problems though. The Ravens get a passing grade for an amazing fourth-quarter comeback. They just need to make progress moving forward. The defense can be improved and it must be done as soon as possible. 

NEXT POST: Ravens shock Chiefs: Good, bad and ugly

The Baltimore Ravens got themselves a huge win. These are the top five lessons to take out of the second week of the NFL season. 

Posted in Hot Take of the Week

Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs: The psychology of the game

By Chris Schisler 

The Baltimore Ravens can beat the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s possible. The Chiefs aren’t infallible and the Ravens might be 0-1 but they’re not the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s somewhere in the range of possibilities even if you shouldn’t bet money on it. You 100 percent should not put money on it. 

Things seem to stack against the Baltimore Ravens here. They just had a rotten opener with problems in the secondary and the offensive line being the top culprits. The Ravens are banged up early in the season and won’t be at full strength probably until the first quarter of the season is in the books. Please keep in mind that full strength isn’t what full strength was supposed to be anymore. On top of that, the Chiefs are the Chiefs and they have the Ravens’ number.

The big key here is the Ravens putting their best foot forward. There are no moral victories, however, if they do indeed lose, the way it happens matters. If John Harbaugh is going to start out 0-2 it better come with some progress.

The Ravens need to go into this game trying to win. They have to play a completely different brand of football than they showed their first national audience on Monday. This game offers the Ravens a test of character and heart. Do they curl up and give in, or do they fight back and desperately try to kick themselves out of a corner. The psychology of the game puts every single ounce of pressure on the Baltimore Ravens.

In addition to testing the resolve of the purple and black, this is a great game to catch the top team in the AFC by surprise. Before all the injuries the Ravens were considered viable Super Bowl contenders. The circumstances of this game could be building a false David vs Goliath dichotomy. It’s a night game, fans are back, and the Ravens have a ton of talent that didn’t go away.

A slow start for the Ravens could be a death sentence to their chances. The Ravens have developed a pattern of falling apart against the Chiefs. Panic mode is good for mistakes and compounding problems that get the game out of hand. The Ravens need to start strong. The more rounds they can go toe to toe with the Chiefs, the more confidence is they’ll have. The Ravens have to make themselves believers during the course of this game. If it’s close, if there’s a chance of seeing a victory, it could really propel the crowd and the team.

The Baltimore Ravens have issues on top of issues

Lamar Jackson has to recover from his two fumble ending to the Raiders game. He has to keep himself grounded because his emotions and his want to do it all could bite him in this game. With the injuries to the Ravens, Jackson really has to do an unfair amount of the heavy lifting. Jackson has no choice but to try to have another MVP season. 

The offensive line needs to just find a way to make this work. They have problems you don’t solve in a week. Mentally they have to be prepared to overcome it all. Now it has been reported by Jason La Canfora that the Ravens will be without Ronnie Stanley against the Chiefs. A struggling offensive line is now without their top player. It doesn’t have to be pretty- there’s almost no way it can be. The Ravens just have to scrape together enough blocking to make this offense functional. 

Get ready for Alejandro Villanueva on the left side and Patrick Mekari at right tackle. Get ready to be at least a medium level of frustrated by this while you watch the game. 

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has reported that Chris Westry is out with a torn meniscus. Don Martindale and the defense need to find answers and clarity heading into this battle. Jimmy Smith needs to get healthy and ready quickly. Tavon Young has to see if he can stay healthy, and he needs to knock off some rust from missing so much football.

Martindale has to have a clear plan. One thing is for sure he can’t depend on his cornerbacks to play lockdown coverage across the board, he has to adjust and call a masterful game just to keep Baltimore in it. 

There’s a lot of work to do and a lot of it is just having the team be mentally prepared and composed for week 2. Bad luck has come and it hasn’t let up since they lost J.K. Dobbins. With today’s reported injuries added to the list, it takes a lot of deep breaths to realize the season isn’t over/ If you feel like it is though, as a Ravens fan I’m not judging you. This is tough and it’s a difficult road to start on this early. 

The Ravens Flock won’t need much to get rocking. When you consider the passion of the fanbase and the fact that there were no crowds last season, people will be eager to get back to the stadium. Still, things could go sour quickly. The fans are eager to go back to games yet this shouldn’t be mistaken for patience. The Ravens need to try to give the fans a night they’ll never forget. They need to attempt making this bigger than a game, they need to make this a moment.

With an 0-1 record and the entire football world practically locked in on the Chiefs, a win would be the regular season equivalent of the Mile High Miracle. It’s a big game in a tough spot against a juggernaut of a team. If the Ravens win this game it would go down in Ravens’ lure along with games like the 2003 comeback against the Seattle Seahawks and the 47-42 win over the Browns last year.

The Bottom Line: 

This wouldn’t be just any other win for the Ravens. As big as the moment is it’s important not to get too high or too low. A win would only reach this momentous meaning because of how hard it would be for this injury-plagued Ravens team. That win is possible, a loss seems more likely. Far more likely. Injuries have taken so much from this team. 

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Keeping perspective after rough loss to Raiders

Baltimore must leave Sunday with at least a silver lining of hope. What they can’t do is panic, crumble and let the train fall off the tracks after two games. It’s an emotionally burdensome place for fans to be. The coaches have the unenviable task of finding answers in a hurry. Emotions and psychology play a bigger role in the game than usual. How gritty can this team be? They have to dig deeper than ever before just to get by. When this game is over, we’ll know what kind of heart this team has. 

Posted in Ashley's 3 big questions

Baltimore Ravens: Three Big Questions on the Offensive Line

By: Ashley Anderson

No Baltimore Ravens position group has undergone more changes this offseason than the offensive line. From the departure of Orlando Brown Jr. to the additions of Kevin Zeitler, Alejandro Villanueva, and Ben Cleveland, the personnel shake-up is eye-popping. Throw in a position change from Bradley Bozeman and the return of Ronnie Stanley from a serious ankle injury, and there is plenty of intrigue with this crew.

3.) How will Alejandro Villanueva handle switching from left to right tackle?

When the Ravens acquired Alejandro Villanueva to shore up the hole left by Orlando Brown Jr., they knew they would be requiring the 32-year-old to switch sides in more ways than one. Not only did they steal him away from a division rival, but they were also moving him from left to right tackle. Villanueva, who served two tours with the Army in Afghanistan, has been through tougher.

As a left tackle, Villanueva is a two-time Pro Bowler. His durability has been tip-top, starting 91-straight contests for Pittsburgh. Although he experienced a bit of a drop-off in play last season, that was partially due to how often the Steelers were passing the ball. Baltimore employs an entirely different scheme with more focus on the run. Their quarterback is also significantly more mobile.

The biggest question is how well Villanueva will handle the transition to the opposite side of the line. Oftentimes, players have experience in multiple positions, making the switch a bit easier. With Villanueva, the last time he played a different spot was in 2015 when he was used as a swing tackle.

Still, there seems to be less pressure on right tackles in the NFL. A move away from the blindside could be the refresher Villanueva’s career needs. Either way, he is an elder statesman on the line, and the Ravens will look to him to fill a leadership role.

2.) Will Bradley Bozeman clean up the snap issues that plagued the Baltimore Ravens in 2020?

Let me start by saying this was a huge question before the Ravens even began training camp. However, following a rough first day of practice where Bozeman was cited for multiple poor snaps, fans were already burying their faces in their hands. A bad snap in Baltimore’s offense completely throws off the very complex timing of their plays. In short, they can ill afford for it to happen.

In fairness to Bozeman, that was his first practice at center with a live audience of fans. During OTAs, things seemed to be a bit less exciting, which is how they should be. Bozeman is also playing center again for the first time since 2018, so he deserves a bit of slack.

One thing that seemed to improve Bozeman’s snaps was switching from a full glove to a half glove. For some players, a simple equipment change can make all the difference. Training camp is the time to work out those glitches before taking on live opponents. Since adjusting, he appears to have bounced back and performed well.

Lamar Jackson’s return to practice should help answer even more questions. Jackson’s cadence is obviously different from Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley. Bozeman will need to develop timing and chemistry quickly with Jackson to be successful.

1.) When will Ronnie Stanley return for the Baltimore Ravens

Without a doubt, this is the biggest question looming over the offensive line. Losing an All-Pro left tackle who is considered one of if not the best in the league would be insurmountable for most teams. The Ravens managed to make the playoffs after Stanley went down with a major ankle injury in Week 8 last season. Still, their line was badly weakened.

Initially, reports were that Stanley would be back in time for training camp. Head Coach John Harbaugh indicated the plan was always for Stanley to miss OTAs and minicamp. However, they expected his return in late July. As of this publication, he has yet to emerge.

The Ravens are gearing up for their first preseason game on August 14th against the New Orleans Saints, but it seems unlikely Stanley will be among those in uniform. It is a bit early to have serious concerns, yet fans will not feel better till they see number 79 lined up on Lamar Jackson’s blindside. As the anchor of a newly minted offensive line, there is a lot of responsibility on Stanley’s shoulders.

NEXT POST: John Harbaugh vs. Mike Tomlin: Who is the better coach

Of course, Baltimore’s training staff want to make sure Stanley is fully healed to avoid the risk of re-injury. It would do them no good to rush things and have complications. Surely, Stanley is pushing to return as soon as possible to make good on the five-year, $98.75 million extension he signed just days before suffering the injury. For now, everyone is waiting with bated breath till he returns.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens: Looking at offensive line depth

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens have a fairly clear plan A when it comes to the offensive line. Ronnie Stanley returns to be the franchise left tackle. Ben Cleveland, Bradley Bozeman, and Kevin Zeitler, and Alejandro Villanueva make up the rest of the line.

Last season, the Ravens didn’t get to stick with their plan A on the offensive line. It’s a good idea to look at how the Ravens would operate if things didn’t go perfectly upfront for the offense. Do the Ravens have enough depth? Is their plan B or plan C survivable for a couple of games?

Let’s look at Plan B at offensive tackle

Considering that Ronnie Stanley has never played a full season without missing at least one game and there is an extra game it’s something to think about. With Stanley coming back from a major injury the Ravens must be prepared.

The key backup at offensive tackle is Tyre Phillips. If something happens to Stanley, Villanueva goes back to the left tackle spot, where he had a long run with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Phillips would be the right tackle. If something were to happen to Villanueva, Phillips is his understudy. Like it or not, Phillips is the backup plan on the outside of the offensive line.

The good news here is that Phillips always was a developmental player. Phillips has the traits to be a successful tackle. He has a massive 6-5 build and he just needs to hone his craft. In a perfect world, you don’t hear his name in the 2021 season, and he develops into a viable starter after one or two years of Villanueva at right tackle. If he’s called on in the 2021 season for a few games, he could get Baltimore out of the patch, but it’s far from ideal.

Plan B at guard and center

The left guard spot is where it gets interesting. The spot is up for grabs. There are three Ben’s: Cleveland, Powers, and Bredeson. There’s also Patrick Makari. who has started at both guard and center for the Ravens. The guard position has depth covered.

Ben Powers has gotten enough playing time that we have a good idea of what he brings to the table. Mekari may not have my confidence at the center position, but he’s certainly not a bad blocker. He may actually be the player that sneaks into the starting lineup at the beginning of the season.

The bottom line is at guard the Ravens have enough players to make it work. They have a few ways they could go at left guard and that’s a sign of quality depth. Of course, this doesn’t include Bradley Bozeman, the presumed starting center.

Speaking of the center position, the Ravens’ offensive line has a solid backup plan there. Trystan Colon-Castillo is the presumptive backup to Bozeman. Castillo played well in the rescheduled game against the Pittsburgh Steelers a year ago. He looks the part and has impressed in a very limited sample size.

Grading Baltimore Ravens plan B at OT, OG, and C

Offensive tackle: B

Phillips may have been problematic last season, though he’s only entering his second season. He got a lot of playing time as a rookie. Phillips never struck me as a guard. Being solidly considered an offensive tackle could be the right call for him. The fact that Villanueva can play left tackle if need be helps with contingency plans. There is a clear drop-off from Villanueva to Phillips. That’s why he’s a backup.

Guard: A

There aren’t many teams with more options for two guard spots coming into training camp. While most of the players are unproven or relatively untested, the Ravens have more than one viable started at left guard. That’s not too shabby.

Center: A

Trystan Collon-Castillo is a young player with a lot of promise. We’ve only seen a little bit of what he can do, though he looks like a player who can become a starter in the NFL.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens salary cap: Strategy or coincidence?

The Ravens are a much stronger team if they stay healthy on the offensive line. The projected starting five is their best unit. If things go according to plan, then the offensive line is a potential boost for the season. Plan B is never ideal but the Ravens could be better off than a lot of teams if they need to turn to it.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

What the Ravens signing Ja’Wuan James could mean moving forward

By Ronald Toothe

Earlier today, Adam Schefter reported that the Ravens have signed former Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James to a two-year deal, worth up to $9 million dollars. While initially that number may seem a bit eye popping, this is a deal laden with incentives (as Ian Rapoport noted on the Pat Mcafee Show moments later). At it’s base, this deal looks much more like a two-year $3.5 million dollar payout.

James made headlines earlier this off-season after rupturing his Achilles away from the Broncos team facility. As a result, the team decided to release him and void his guarantees. While not an ideal ending in Denver, ultimately this move may benefit James by landing in Baltimore.

What does this mean for Ravens going forward?

The Ravens signing of James indicates that the offensive line is priority number one for Eric Decosta and company. James likely won’t see the field this year but could be a key cog going forward for that group. When healthy, James is one of the more talented tackles in the league. Even after signing Alejandro Villanueva earlier this off-season, tackle depth is one place where the Ravens could really use some help, now they have it.

This signing could also indicate how much the Ravens think Villanueva has left in the tank. While he still performed well for Pittsburgh over the last few seasons, the Ravens are preparing for all scenarios. Should a drop off occur at any point next season for the veteran tackle, the team now has an instant replacement to compete for his starting job in 2022.

Related Post: Ravens offensive line face lift key to 2021

This move also tells us one of two things about Tyre Phillips and the line depth in general. A.) He’s not the integral depth piece they thought he could be after being drafted in 2020. Or B.) Decosta is just looking to bring in as many talented players up front as possible.

After seeing what happened in Buffalo during January’s playoff loss, and the consistency issues overall following Ronnie Stanley’s injury, perhaps this move is one that says “injuries won’t be the reason we fail in the trenches”. The Ravens’ Super Bowl window is now, James helps assure one injury won’t derail an entire season for 2022 and potentially beyond.

There’s always a catch

On paper, this is a solid addition for the Ravens in the league’s most dynamic rushing offense. With almost every signing though, comes a risk factor. Ja’Wuan James has only played a full season twice in his career, with the last instance coming in 2016. He also played 15 games in 2018 but followed it up with a knee injury that cost him all but three games the following year.

In 2020, James opted out of the NFL season due to Covid concerns, and then came to the aforementioned Achilles tear this off-season. His last consistent stretch of playing football was almost three years ago, and every injury he’s dealt with recently has been a lower-body injury. James also missed half of 2017 with a hamstring injury.

These types of injuries are difficult for offensive linemen. Larger frames mean more strain on those body parts. The fact that they’re all different injuries causes a bit more concern as well. It’s more than appropriate to wonder what lower-body injury could be next for James.

Wrap up

Overall, and as always, only time will tell whether this was a smart move by the Ravens’ front office. Luckily, the financial risk involved is almost pennies on the dollar, so it’s a low risk-high reward.

NEXT POST: Gus Edwards has a chance to build his legacy

If Ja’Wuan James can stay healthy following his rehab, his career could be revitalized as a Raven. If not, well, no harm no foul.

Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Ravens Offensive Line Facelift Key to 2021 Success

By: Ashley Anderson

It is no secret the Baltimore Ravens struggled in their passing attack during the 2020 season. After a prolific 2019, they took a big step backward, finishing dead last in the NFL in pass attempts and yards. Certainly, the Covid-19 pandemic played a role, but there were internal issues as well. Following a brutal loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, General Manager Eric DeCosta knew he had his work cut out for him, and it did not take long for him to make a move.

Hours before the official start of free agency, the Ravens inked former New York Giants guard Kevin Zeitler to a three-year, $22 million deal. For Baltimore, Zeitler perfectly fits their “right player, right price” mentality, as he does not count against the compensatory pick formula after being cut by the Giants.

The former first-round pick is an instant upgrade over the pairing of Tyre Phillips and D.J. Fluker who were part of the patchwork 2020 offensive line. Fans were certainly excited to see their franchise quarterback get some better protection, however, many still had one thing on their mind: a big-name wide receiver.

To the fans’ dismay, things instead got eerily quiet in Baltimore after Zeitler came on board. As one major wideout after another popped in for a visit only to sign elsewhere, Ravens Flock became restless. DeCosta finally addressed their concerns (sort-of) by signing former Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins to a one-year, $6 million contract.

The oft-injured wideout was a bit of a consolation prize to those who had their sites set on Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay, but DeCosta worked his magic in the NFL Draft, nabbing Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman in round one and Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace in round four. Still, some fans are adamant the Ravens should pursue Julio Jones.

Missing the Point

At this point, those fans are failing to see the bigger picture. Having a star receiver is great, but not even the best quarterbacks of all time can complete passes while laying on their backs. Look no further than Super Bowl LV where Patrick Mahomes spent so much time running for his life that the Chiefs’ high-powered offense was held to just nine points. Games are won and lost in the trenches, which is why the upgraded offensive line is actually what will propel the Ravens to success in 2021.

Related Post: How to scout offensive linemen for the NFL Draft

DeCosta prioritized the offensive line from the word go this off-season, and he made some bold moves to bolster the unit. Adding Zeitler was the first piece of the puzzle, then DeCosta executed a trade that sent Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs. Kansas City is known to be a formidable foe to the Ravens, leaving some pundits scratching their heads as to why Baltimore would send an important, young player to a rival. However, DeCosta was able to deal an unhappy player, who already made it clear he wanted out, for significantly more capital than the comp pick Brown Jr. would have represented had he left in free agency.

The NFL Draft saw Baltimore come away with a steal in Georgia guard Ben Cleveland. Head Coach John Harbaugh is so high on the kid that he pleaded with DeCosta to move up and select him. Having stood pat, the Ravens still got their guy who figures to win the starting left guard job. As a result, last year’s starting left guard, Bradley Bozeman, will shift back over to his natural center position. A two-year starter and captain at Alabama, Bozeman will look to eliminate the snap issues that plagued the Ravens last year, particularly in the playoffs.

As for the gaping hole at right tackle, DeCosta patiently waited until after the Draft to lure former Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva to Baltimore. Locking Villanueva into a $14 million deal over two years allows the Ravens to rely on a savvy veteran while looking to develop Phillips for the future. All-in-all, only left tackle Ronnie Stanley figures to remain in his role from last season.

Ravens offensive line 2021 Outlook

At this point, the projected offensive line from left to right is Stanley, Cleveland, Bozeman, Zeitler, and Villanueva. In pounds, that is 315, 357, 325, 315, and 277, for a total of 1,589. In other words, the Ravens now have a massive wall in front of Lamar Jackson to help keep him upright and healthy. Not only should this help improve the passing game, it should also allow Baltimore to continue dominating the ground game for which they are so well known.

Ravens bottom line:

A top free agent wide receiver may have been the shiny new toy Ravens fans wanted, but the fleet of Hummers they got instead will prove more valuable. Baltimore has always emphasized their rushing attack, and that was not going to change for the sake of adding a player like Robinson or Jones.

NEXT POST: 3 forgotten Ravens of the month vol 1.

Thanks to masterful drafting by Eric DeCosta and Co., the cupboard is hardly bare as far as receiving weapons go. Now, Jackson can focus on taking the next step in his development rather than protecting himself from opposing defenders. DeCosta did all of this on team-friendly, low-cost deals, and the future is bright in Charm City.