Prior to the start of the 2019 season, my co-host and producer Peter DiLutis and I took a look at the Ravens schedule. It’s an annual exercise which I’m sure all of our fellow Ravens fanatics engage in. We look at each game and mark it down as “W” or an “L”. Our consensus was that the floor for this team would be 8 wins while it’s ceiling 11. We thought there was a chance they would make the playoffs, but if they didn’t we didn’t consider it a big deal, given the surprise playoff appearance the year prior.
We knew how hard Lamar Jackson had worked, liked the draft class and also the addition of Earl Thomas. We figured this would be a “foundational year”, one in which the team would build upon. In the off-season they didn’t have much cap space to work with, so we thought that 2020 would be the year were Eric DeCosta could roll up his sleeves and do some serious work in bringing some great free agents to Baltimore. Add in one more strong draft class, and we thought 2020 would be the year that this team would make the playoffs.
I am only aware of one prognosticator who foresaw the dominant season the Ravens would have. 99.99% of us never saw it coming. At least not in the fashion that it did, in the form of a 14 – 2 season with a #1 seed in the playoffs to boot. As the win streak grew, naturally the expectations grew along with it. The Ravens cruised into the playoffs with a first round bye and were installed as 10 point favorites over the upstart Titans. We know what happened next.
Yes. The unthinkable and most unlikely thing happened. The Ravens lost. Not many people thought the Titans would win. Tennessee’s three beat writers all picked the Ravens. Not many expected the Titans to advance to the AFC Championship game. The Ravens had AFC Champs t-shirts in boxes, champagne on ice, all that good stuff.
We’ve had some time to reflect on the loss. The NFL laughed at us. Rival fan bases mocked us, while we had to keep reminding ourselves of a plethora of feel good things – Lamar Jackson is only 23, and he’s going to be the MVP. The team overall is very young. It took Peyton Manning 6 years to win a playoff game. We have cap space in 2020. We won back to back division championships. The list went on and on.
We broke down the game to the point of exhaustion. Were the Ravens outcoached? Did the coaching staff panic? Was the team rusty? Should the starters have played some snaps against the Steelers in game 16? Should they have treated it like a pre-season game? Were the coordinators distracted by their interview process and what was at stake for them? Why did the Ravens get out hit? Why did the Ravens lose the battle in the trenches, on both sides of the ball? Why did they lose the field position game? I am sure there are several more items we can interject here.
I’ve had some time to get my emotions under control after soaking up that horrible loss. I’ve watched the All-22 film on the NFL Game Pass. It is clear by now to most knowledgeable Ravens fans that the team needs to add a few more key pieces. Eric DeCosta saw what you and I saw.
Expect EDC to shore up the front 7, including the pass rush. He will no doubt address the offensive line, particularly with Marshal Yanda being on the retirement fence. After the Titans loss, I would have bet all I had that he was retiring. Three weeks later I am not so sure, but either way the Ravens must address the offensive line. They must address both lines. Great teams are built from the trenches out. A mean d-line and a mean o-line are the keys. And then there are the receivers. Hollywood Brown, Willie Snead and Miles Boykin I’d bring back.
I would also give Jaleel Scott, Antoine Wesley and Sean Modster every chance to make the team. I would also draft a wide receiver rather high, and also sign a solid veteran. This organization must draft a Pro Bowl wide receiver at some point, although I think Hollywood Brown will in fact make the Pro Bowl. His play was outstanding, particularly if you factor in that he still wasn’t 100% as he recovered from his Lisfranc injury. I can’t wait to see what he can do when fully healthy. But due to his stature, he is not going to win many 50/50 balls.
And that’s exactly what the Ravens desperately need. As I was watching the Pro-Bowl (first time in over 2 decades) there was a play where Michael Thomas went up to get a jump ball. Booger McFarland – who is the butt of many social media jokes – made an outstanding comment as the play unfolded. He quipped that when Thomas goes up to get a 50/50 ball, it’s really an 80/20 ball. And as he was saying that, Thomas did in fact come down with the ball.
Clemson’s Tee Higgins wins a lot of those balls. I don’t think he’ll be there at #28 in the first round when it’s the Ravens’ turn to make a selection. But he would be such a difference maker! This is a very deep wide receiver class in the 2020 draft, so even if they get a great route runner with great hands and a little bit more size than Brown (LSU’s Justin Jefferson comes to mind) then they could look to free agency for that second receiver that they need.
AJ Green would be a terrific addition, but the past several seasons he’s spent more time in the tub nursing injuries than with the club on the field. Robbie Anderson could be a great fit if they could get him at the right price. Either way the Ravens need to add a minimum of two “real” receivers in the off-season. John Harbaugh said as much at his season ending presser.
Since taking over the general manager duties from Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta has shown that he’s willing to take a few more gambles, as few more chances than the Hall of Famer. I’m confident he’ll get the additional pieces to make this team even stronger in 2020. Although I don’t expect their record to be 14 – 2 again, I do expect the team to be even better. And that is great news for Ravens nation.
You can bet Lamar Jackson will keep putting the work in to get himself to the next level. What he has over Michael Vick and all of the other “running” quarterbacks that preceded him are the recent rule changes where defenders just can’t abuse the QB. Unless he suffers a freak injury, he stands no greater chance of being hurt than a traditional drop back pocket passer.
The QB, head coach and coordinators are all coming back. The team has cap money. There will be a brand new draft class coming in. The schedule doesn’t look as daunting as the one that was rolled out a year ago. I’m not too concerned about the loss to the Titans. The team arrived a year ahead of schedule. that is my opinion. If I am right, I will be writing this column from Tampa on February 7, 2021, home of Super Bowl 55. Hope to see you there!