season preview 2019
The Baltimore Ravens season ended with their first division title since 2012 and a trip to the playoffs for the first time in three years. This should be considered a success for a team that appeared to be faltering as they hit their bye week in 2018.
A 6-1 record for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in place of an injured Joe Flacco over the second half of the season was enough to win the AFC North thanks to a collapse by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the return to postseason would be short lived after they were beaten at home by the Los Angeles Chargers.
With Jackson preferred over Flacco once he had returned from injury, it was no surprise to see the Ravens move on from the long-time veteran starter this offseason. Along with iconic pass rusher Terrell Suggs who signed with the Arizona Cardinals during free agency, they represent the most notable losses of the year in terms of name recognition.
However, given their production and recent injury history, it is the departures of linebackers C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith that are likely to be the most acutely felt this year. How the team hopes to overcome the loss of so much veteran leadership remains to be seen, with the coaching staff turning to younger options on the roster rather than free agent signings to fill most of the voids.
Former Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas should more than make up for the loss of Eric Weddle, while former New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram should be a significant contributor on offense.
The selection of Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown in round one and Notre Dame wide receiver Miles Boykin in round three should also inject some talent into group desperately lacking playmakers.
The development of Jackson from a runner who can sometimes throw to a quarterback capable of running will be the most significant challenge of the season for Baltimore. The coaching staff is going out of their way to create an offense that will cater to Jackson’s strengths, but the former Louisville product still needs to be able to work through his reads and make some of the big throws if the Ravens are going to be successful.
Baltimore should have no trouble running the ball with the variety of options they have in the backfield, but the passing game is likely to be limited in the early going while rookies Brown and Boykin find their feet. The Ravens depth at tight end is somewhat underrated with names like Hayden Hurt and Mark Andrews on the roster, two young players who should become popular targets for Jackson in 2019.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Marshall Yanda are among the better players at their position, part of an offensive line more than capable of creating lanes for their stable of runners.
For all the talent the Ravens have lost on defense, Baltimore will still field one of the best secondaries in the NFL this season. A defensive line that was one of the hardest to run against in 2018 also remains largely intact, but it will be important for linebackers like Matthew Judon and Patrick Onwuasor to step up in place of Smith and Mosley if the continuity is to persist.
Third-year linebacker Tyus Bowser will also need to play much better if he hopes to keep third-round draft pick Jaylon Ferguson on the sidelines.
Pairing Tony Jefferson with newcomer Earl Thomas creates an enviable safety duo, while veteran Jimmy Smith and emerging young cornerback Marlon Humphrey are supported by a one of the deepest position groups in the league.
The Ravens will go as far as their second-year quarterback can take them in 2019. First to second year off seasons can be huge for Quarterbacks. If the Ravens have playoff aspirations they will need Jackson to have developed significantly as a passer.
While switching to a run/pass option offense should play to his strengths, there are understandable concerns about how well he will stand up to the pounding in that style of attack over a 16-game season. With Flacco gone and Robert Griffin III currently sporting a broken hand, the depth behind Jackson is relatively non-existent.
While the secondary is arguably good enough to keep the team in most games, the development of the younger options on defense will be critical to the overall success of the unit. But with the best kicker in the NFL in Justin Tucker, Baltimore should always have a chance if the game is close in the final seconds.
Record Prediction: 9-7