By Chris Schisler
Technically, the Baltimore Ravens season isn’t over. If you can’t start looking to the offseason and turn a bit to free agency and the NFL Draft though, you’re not living in reality. The Ravens are in a better situation than many teams faced with a likely elimination from a postseason berth. They have their quarterback (stay off the dark corners of Ravens Facebook – they have their quarterback and he wears number eight). The Ravens have their head coach and are looking at a 2022 season where they’ll get back key pieces to the puzzle.
The Ravens are going to miss the playoffs in all likelihood though, so let’s get ready. The first step for any problem solving is admitting you have a problem. What are the Ravens’ team-building problems? Let’s talk about where they need to get better.
1. The Baltimore Ravens need the offensive line fixed
One could say that the secondary is the biggest area of need. It’s a close second. But when the ravens get Marcus Peters back (assuming he returns next season), and Marlon Humphrey is back, a lot of the secondary problems will go away or at least be severely muted. There is no quick fix to the offensive line. The return of Ronnie Stanley will be a great boost, but the unit isn’t set the second he returns.
In the 2020 season, the Ravens were plagued by that awful combination that is Tyre Phillips and D.J. Fluker. In 2021, the offensive tackle was a mess for the Ravens. Alejandro Villanueva made it pretty clear that he’s only comfortable on the left side and he’s not a great left tackle. Villanueva was somewhat solid and on the offensive line’s most important position group that will never fly for long.
The real problem was on the right side though. Patrick Mekari did admirably in fill-in duty but he’s not who you want starting at tackle. Mekari will be back, rightfully so after signing a nice extension with the team. Ideally, he’s your most valuable fill-in who can play every offensive line position.
When Mekari wasn’t at right tackle it was ugly. One goal of the offseason has to be never seeing Tyre Phillips play right tackle again. The Ravens can’t go into next season with Phillips even a plan B at right tackle. The Ravens would be wise to load up on tackles. Maybe Villanueva stays as a backup to Stanley- there are worse situations in the world – but the Ravens need to address this position. From the NFL Draft or maybe even free agency, they need a starting right tackle and a plan B, that doesn’t make Ravens fans cover their eyes.
The Ravens have Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, and Kevin Zeitler. That’s what works for the starting offensive line for next season as of now. Adding two starters and filling out the depth chart for the big guys up front is essential. The Ravens have to win the line of scrimmage before they can worry about anything else. It’s that simple.
2. The Secondary
What the Baltimore Ravens need more than anything is a free safety. The Ravens need a defensive back who can play the middle of the field, who has the range to take away big plays and make some in the process. Think about how different this defense would be with a player like Ed Reed. Then find a player who gives you the closest possible match to that. You’ll never find another Reed but the idea is getting a ballhawk, with range and football instincts you can’t coach. A play-making free safety who takes the ball away would make Don Martindale a more dangerous defensive coordinator.
If this season taught us anything it’s that you can never have enough cornerbacks. Anthony Averett is a free agent and I could see him getting paid elsewhere more than the Ravens should pay him. The Ravens have to add a bit to the cornerback position. Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, and Brandon Stephens make a nice start. You need to draft a guy who can chip in right away and has a chance to develop. You could make an argument that the Ravens should go with a defensive back in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but with many picks, they need to address the secondary with a couple of players.
3. Defensive Line/ Pass Rushers:
The Ravens added a piece to the puzzle with Odafe Oweh in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Ravens need to add another young edge rusher to the mix. They need to find a complementary talent that will grow up with Oweh in this defense. You always need pass rushers. You always need more pass rushers. We already know that. With Justin Houston being a free agent, an edge rusher could be a bigger need.
Let’s look at this defensive line though. Calais Campbell may call it quits after this season, and if he does continue his career he’s a free agent. Brandon Williams is getting up there and even if he’s solid we’re seeing diminishing returns. Justin Madubuike’s okay but he didn’t have the year two breakout we were looking for. The defensive line is not a high-impact group right now. The Ravens may have needs in front of this one, but they have to fix that.