As training camp approaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and with it the unofficial start to the season, we are taking a closer look at the opponents on the team's 2022 schedule. Next up is the Baltimore Ravens, who will present a unique challenge in front of a prime-time national audience in Week Eight, as the two teams square off on Thursday Night Football on October 27.
In our review of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay's Week Six opponent, we noted that their successful chase of a playoff spot was helped by two very narrow wins against a Baltimore team that was dealing with "an historic rash of injuries." That wasn't hyperbole.
According to Football Outsiders, which has been tallying a statistic called "adjusted games lost" due to injury for more than two decades, the 2021 Ravens were hit harder by health issues than any other team in any season in their database. As FO put it, injuries were the "iceberg that sank" the Ravens' season. It started when all three of the running backs on their anticipated depth chart suffered season-ending injuries during the preseason but went on to hit the likes of quarterback Lamar Jackson, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tackle Ronnie Stanley and wideout Rashod Bateman, among many others.
In that light, it was actually somewhat impressive that the Ravens remained competitive as their 8-3 start devolved into an 8-9 finish with a six-game losing streak to close out the season. Five of those six losses came by three points or less, including three one-point decisions. Baltimore dropped its opener to the Raiders in overtime after Dylan Carlson hit a 55-yard field goal to tie it at the end of regulation. The Ravens rebounded by winning five straight, including a 36-35 thriller against the Chiefs and an impressive 31-6 thumping of a good Chargers team.
As injuries started to mount, the Ravens dropped a lopsided decision to the eventual AFC champions, the Bengals, and also took one on the chin in Miami on a Thursday night in Week 10. Still, after stacking a pair of wins against Chicago and Cleveland, the Ravens were at 8-3 and were in first place in the NFC North after Week 10, with the best record in the AFC. In the end, injuries and illness suffered by Jackson, the dynamic dual-threat quarterback, proved too hard to overcome down the stretch, despite some impressive relief work from Tyler Huntley.
The Ravens finished the season ranked sixth in total offense, though just 17th in points, and were particularly good on the ground with 145.8 yards per game and 4.79 yards per rush. When healthy, Jackson remained an incredible threat on the run, averaging 64.9 rushing yards per game, almost exactly his career average. But the team had protection issues, ranking 29th in sacks allowed per pass play, and also ended with a -11 turnover ratio, which was fifth worst in the league. Baltimore's once-vaunted defense ranked 25th in yards allowed and was fifth-worst at generating sacks and fourth-worst at intercepting the ball.
Baltimore's 2022 offseason looks very good on paper. The Ravens poured a lot of resources into the safety position, which seems to be of growing importance in the NFL, based on the meteoric recent rise in salaries for its premier performers. One of those hefty new salaries now belongs to Saint-turned-Raven Marcus Williams, a rangy centerfielder who commanded a lucrative five-year deal. He'll be lining up next to rookie Kyle Hamilton, an extremely versatile defender who can be moved all over the field. Hamilton was widely considered to be a top-five talent in the 2022 draft class but the Ravens nabbed him at number 14.
The Ravens should also have two new starters on the offensive line after signing former Jet Morgan Moses to play right tackle and watching Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum fall to them at the 25th pick in the first round. Like Hamilton, Linderbaum was considered the best prospect at his position by a wide margin. The draft also yielded some help for Baltimore's defensive front, which needed an infusion of youth and talent, though one of the newcomers may have to wait a bit to make an impact. Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo, originally expected to come off the board in the top half of the first round, fell to the 45th overall pick after tearing an Achilles tendon at his Pro Day. The Ravens also landed intriguing UConn defensive tackle in the third round. Jones will slot in next to jumbo gap-plugger Michael Pierce, who returns to his original team after one year in Minnesota.
Kyle Fuller adds some affordable depth at cornerback in case injurie shit the team's talented front-line players again. Former Panther and Falcon provides similar insurance at running back. The Ravens made their backup quarterback competition confusing with the late-May pickup of Brett Hundley to pair with Tyler Huntley. Fourth-round pick Jordan Stout out of Penn State will get the first crack at replacing punter and Baltimore institution Sam Koch.
The Ravens got a second first-round pick to spend on Linderbaum after a surprising draft-night swap of wide receiver Marquise Brown to the Cardinals. That netted the 23rd overall pick and the Ravens multiplied that by an extra fourth-rounder by moving down two spots before nabbing Linderbaum. Brown was the team's second-leading pass-catcher after Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, with 1,008 yards on 91 catches, but second-year man Bateman should be able to slide into that role. Otherwise, the Ravens didn't do much – not yet, at least – to build their receiving corps back up.
The free agency departure of starting center Bradley Bozeman was expected and immediately addressed with the drafting of Linderbaum. Baltimore lost some cornerback depth with the departures of Anthony Averett and Tavon Young (who was released in March) but, as noted, did add Fuller to the mix. Long-time Steeler Alejandro Villanueva, who was signed in 2021 to play right tackle but moved to the left side after Stanley went down, elected to retire after the season. Punter Sam Koch, who had played in 256 of a possible 257 games over the past 16 seasons, followed Villanueva into retirement.
What Else is New?
The Ravens and Don "Wink" Martindale mutually agreed to part ways after Martindale spent the last four years as the team's defensive coordinator, employing a very blitz-heavy approach. He will be replaced by Mike Macdonald, who returns to the team after one season as the defensive coordinator at Michigan. Macdonald previously coached defensive backs and linebackers for the Ravens. Since "philosophical differences" were cited as the impetus for the amicable parting of Martindale and the Ravens, it's likely that Macdonald will employ somewhat of a different approach from his predecessor.
Will Lamar Jackson get a new deal done before the season?
In the 2018 draft, the Ravens traded up 24 spots to land Jackson to be the eventual (and as it would turn out) rather quick successor to Joe Flacco. They specifically targeted the last pick in the first round so that they would have the fifth-year option that comes with all contracts for first-round picks. That's coming in very handy now, as Jackson is heading into that fifth year, giving the team a bit more time to work out what will surely be a gigantic new contract for the 2019 NFL MVP.
Jackson did get an enormous salary boost this year from less than $2 million to a bit more than $23 million, but his next deal will likely be north of $40 million per year. When that gets done – and, ultimately, what his future is in Baltimore – remains a mystery, however. Jackson does not employ an agent to help move negotiations along, and he hasn't appeared to be in a hurry to come to the table. If he remains unsigned, questions will arise about whether or not he will report to training camp and expose himself to an injury risk. Those questions could also linger over the Ravens' season if negotiations stall.
What shape will the Ravens' offense take in 2022?
Assuming Jackson is at the helm of the Baltimore offense this fall, will it swing back to the extremely run-heavy attack it was in 2019 and 2020? The trading away of Brown and the anticipated returns of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards would seem to indicate such a trend, as would the shoring up of the offensive line with Moses, a good run-blocker, and the rookie Linderbaum.
In Jackson's two full seasons as the starting quarterback, the Ravens ranked first in the NFL in percentage of plays that were runs, at 55.9% in 2020 and 56.0% in 2021. Even in 2018, when he only started seven games, the Ravens were third in that category at 48.2%. Last season, however, the Ravens only ran the ball 43.6% of the time, which made them just the 12th most run-heavy team in the league. Obviously, Jackson's ailments had something to do with that, but there has also seemed to be an effort to get more big plays in the passing game in recent years. That didn't really come to pass in 2021, however, as Jackson's average air yards per pass hit a career low at 6.9. Surely the Ravens would love to duplicate what they were able to get out of Jackson during his MVP season, when he threw 36 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions, posted a passer rating of 113.3 and also ran for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns.