Could the Ravens Be Even Better in 2020?
The 2019 Baltimore Ravens were just about as dominant as a team could be. They finished the season with a 14–2 record, which was the best mark in the NFL. Their offense was historic. They led the entire league in points per game (33.2), rushing yards per game (206), and finished second in total yards per game (407.6). They also became the first team in NFL history to average at least 200 yards passing and rushing per game in a season. Baltimore’s defense was no pushover either. The Ravens finished in the top six in total yards allowed per game (4th), passing yards allowed per game (6th), rushing yards allowed per game (5th), and points allowed per game (3rd). The team, led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, was a force the entire regular season.
Then the playoffs happened.
In Baltimore’s first playoff game, they faced the 9–7 Tennessee Titans. The Ravens went on to lose the game 28–12. There was plenty of blame to go around after the disappointing loss. Some pointed to the amount of rest Baltimore gave their players (many starters didn’t play week 17, along with already having a first round bye) as the reason the team appeared rusty. Others put it all on QB Lamar Jackson, who despite having 508 total yards of offense himself, didn’t play his best game (one total touchdown to two interceptions). Jackson himself however, just recently said the reason for the loss was due to Baltimore underestimating their opponent. The QB said “It’s any given Sunday. You can’t underestimate no team, no opponent and that’s what we did. They caught us by surprise”.
While underestimating the Titans may have played a role in the defeat, the real issue was Baltimore’s lack of ability to stop running back Derrick Henry. Henry finished the game with 195 yards, leaving the Ravens’ fifth ranked rushing defense looking foolish.
So you may be left wondering how can Baltimore make sure that doesn’t happen again. Or how could a team that just went 14–2, and was ranked in the top five in multiple statistical categories be better this season.
Four main reasons exist for why the Ravens could be even more dominant this upcoming year.
First, the amount of key players and coaches returning gives Baltimore optimism. On offense, the Ravens are returning 81.7% of their snaps, which ranks 10th in the NFL. MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson will be in just his second season as the full-time starter (third overall). Running back Mark Ingram in coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had over 1,200 total yards and 15 touchdowns. Tight end Mark Andrews emerged as a breakout player in 2019, finishing the year with 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. Receiver Hollywood Brown should also improve on a rookie season which saw him have 584 yards and 7 touchdowns in 11 games started. Also, a Baltimore offensive line which was ranked second in the NFL in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus is returning four of its five starters. On defense, the Ravens franchise tagged leading sack getter Matthew Judon, who finished the season with 9.5. Baltimore is also returning all three of its top cornerbacks. The group consisting of Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmy Smith was ranked as the best cornerback situation ahead of the draft according to CBS Sports. Finally, all of Baltimore’s major coaches are returning. Head coach John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, and special teams coordinator David Culley will all be back in 2020. The continuity for the Ravens is just the beginning of the optimism surrounding the team this upcoming season.
Baltimore didn’t rest on their laurels by any means this offseason, which is the second reason they could be even better in 2020. The Ravens were aggressive when it came to acquiring new talent for their team, whether it be through free agency, the draft, or a trade. It first started with improving the defense. Baltimore made one of the bigger splashes of the offseason when they traded for defensive end Calais Campbell. Campbell, who is coming off a 6.5 sack season (and is just one year removed from a 10.5 sack year), will instantly improve both the pass rush, and the rushing defense. Baltimore didn’t stop their however, as they signed former Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe, who’s coming off a seven sack season. The Ravens then used their first round selection on LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, who was all over the field during the National Championship game (eight total tackles, two and a half tackles for loss). The additions of Campbell, Wolfe, and Queen will all instantly improve any weaknesses on Baltimore’s defense. The Ravens then used the rest of their draft to improve the offense. Second round running back J.K. Dobbins is coming off a 2,000 yard season at Ohio State, and will give Baltimore a dominant one-two punch in the backfield. The Ravens also selected two wide receivers (Devin Duvernay, James Proche), in hopes of improving a weak receiving core (Hollywood Brown was the only wide receiver on Baltimore’s roster with more than 350 yards).
Additions to a roster are usually in part to counteract players leaving. That however, isn’t a major issue for Baltimore, and is the third reason why the Ravens could improve this year. Baltimore had one major loss this offseason; and it came when eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda announced his retirement. Yanda had been an anchor on Baltimore’s o-line his entire career, so the loss will sting some. However, the Ravens should be able to withstand the loss due to Yanda being the only starter not returning to an otherwise dominant offensive line. The team also looked to soften the blow by selecting Michigan guard Ben Bredeson in the fourth round of the draft, and by signing veteran guard D.J. Fluker. Neither of those players compare to Yanda, but if either are just average, Baltimore should still flourish. The other only loss which could have some affect on the team (though I don’t believe it will), was the trade of tight end Hayden Hurst. The Ravens traded Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons during the offseason. Despite Hurst finishing third on the team in receiving last season, he only had 28 more yards than third-string tight end Nick Boyle. Hurst should be viewed as expendable due to the depth of the position on Baltimore’s roster, and not a major loss.
Continuity among starters, significant offseason additions, and a lack of star turnover alone would suggest that the Ravens could be more dangerous in 2020. Yet, there’s still one more reason why Baltimore could be historic this season: the schedule. Somehow, the team with the best record last season was given the easiest schedule in the NFL. Baltimore’s opponents this upcoming season finished last year with a .438 win percentage. The Ravens will be favored in practically every game this season. Their toughest tests will be Kansas City who they face in Baltimore week three, and a rivalry game in Pittsburgh Thanksgiving night. If the Ravens can come out on top in those two matchups, there’s a real chance they could finish the season 16–0. While it would be difficult, no team has a better opportunity than Baltimore. Everything’s there for the 2020 Ravens, it’s now up to them to execute.