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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2024 Opponent Preview: Baltimore Ravens, Week 7

The Ravens fell just shy of their ultimate goal in 2023 but had the league's best regular-season record, the NFL MVP in Lamar Jackson and a top-ranked defense, all of which may be true again in 2024


Players and coaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to take off for one last extended break in 2024, but they won't be gone long. Training camp will bring them back together in the latter half of July, and before long the regular season will roll around. As we anticipate the return of Buccaneers football, we're taking a look at each team Tampa Bay is going to face during the regular season. From how those teams fared last year, to what they've done with the roster since, to some as-yet-unanswered questions – we want to get a better feel for what the Bucs will be up against this fall. Today's focus is on the team that took the top seed in the AFC playoff field, plus the NFL MVP trophy: the Baltimore Ravens.

2023 Results

The Ravens started out hot and never cooled down, ending up with the NFL's best record at 13-4, though it was capped by another dose of playoff disappointment. All five of Baltimore's losses, including the 17-10 home defeat to the eventual-champion Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, came by seven points or fewer, while their list of victories included convincing disposals of such playoff-bound teams as Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and Miami. Overall, the Ravens finished with the league's best points differential, at +11.9 per game.

Baltimore came out of the gate with back to back wins over the Texans and Bengals, the latter a key division conquest in which Lamar Jackson – on his way to his second NFL MVP award – threw two touchdown passes and led the Ravens to 415 yards of offense in a 27-24 decision. It took an extra period, but Indianapolis gave Baltimore its first loss in Week Three, 22-19, despite 101 yards and two scores on the ground for Jackson.

After a lopsided victory over the Browns, Baltimore took its second loss in a trip to Pittsburgh, then ripped off a four-game winning streak that carried into November. The most impressive outing in that run was a 38-6 dismantling of a hot Lions team that had been riding its own four-win streak. Jackson carved up the Detroit secondary to the tune of 357 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on 21 of 27 passing, and the Ravens' defense sacked Jared Goff five times and intercepted him once. Baltimore also smothered Seattle two weeks later by the similar score of 37-3.

In Week 10, Cleveland gained a measure of revenge for its Week Four throttling by scoring 16 fourth-quarter points to steal a 33-31 win in Baltimore. Browns cornerback Greg Newsome got the visitors in range with a 34-yard pick-six, then Dustin Hopkins drilled the 40-yard game-winner as time expired. That would be the last loss the Ravens would suffer until a meaningless Week 18 matchup with the Steelers in which Lamar Jackson was one of a handful of starters who were held out. Baltimore's six-game winning streak, sandwiched around a bye week, allowed them to clinch the AFC's top seed with a massive 56-19 blowout of the Dolphins in Week 17. Jackson threw five touchdown passes in that one, including two to tight end Isaiah Likely, and both Geno Stone and Roquan Smith contributed interceptions. That game followed wins over the Bengals, Chargers, Rams, Jaguars and, most impressively, 49ers in Week 16. The Ravens' defense was the star of that one, snaring five interceptions, including four off Brock Purdy. Rising-star safety Kyle Hamilton had two of the picks.

Jackson's MVP candidacy was built on his combined passing and rushing prowess. He threw for 3,678 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 102.7 passer rating and also led the team with 821 rushing yards, with five more scores. He also stayed healthy after two seasons that included missed chunks of the schedule, only sitting out the last game when it was rendered irrelevant.

In no small part due to Jackson, the Ravens had the NFL's top rushing attack, averaging 156.5 yards per game. Gus Edwards contributed 810 rushing yards and paced the team with 13 touchdowns, while fellow backs Keaton Mitchell and Justice Hill each ran for just under 400 yards. The Ravens' top pass-catcher was a rookie, as first-round pick Zay Flowers debuted with 77 catches for 858 yards and three scores. That mantle probably would have belonged to three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews had he not missed the last seven regular season games due to a severe ankle injury, instead finishing with 45 catches for 544 yards and six scores. Andrews did make a surprising return for the AFC Championship Game but was held to two catches for 15 yards by the Chiefs.

Baltimore's defense, like its offense, finished the season ranked sixth in yards allowed, but also allowed the fewest points in the NFL, at 16.5 per game. The pass defense was particularly stingy, ranking sixth in yards per game and first in yards per play. The pass rush was ferocious, piling up 60 sacks, led by defensive tackle Justin Madubuike's breakout 13.0-sack campaign. Jadeveon Clowney added 9.5 QB takedowns and Kyle Van Noy pitched in with 9.0. Stone lit it up in a contract year, snaring seven of the Ravens' 18 interceptions to finish second in the NFL in that category. Linebacker Roquan Smith, who was acquired in a midseason trade with Chicago the year before, powered the Ravens' swarming defense with 158 tackles, 1.5 sacks, an interception and eight passes defensed.

2024 Arrivals

The Ravens' offseason acquisition that should be keeping AFC North defensive coordinators up at night is that of former Titans running back Derrick Henry, who has averaged nearly 1,400 rushing yards and more than 13 touchdowns per season over the past six years. As noted, the Ravens already had the NFL's most productive rushing attack in 2023, and now will be able to add a 250-pound hammer to counter Jackson's elusive running style.

The Ravens didn't do as much to beef up its receiving corps, picking up Deonte Harty after he was cut by Buffalo and using a fourth-round pick on North Carolina wideout Devontez Walker. Harty only caught 15 passes for the Bils but could factor in as a return option in Baltimore, while Walker is a speedy vertical threat for a team that was lacking one.

Though Josh Johnson was retained to be Jackson's presumptive primary backup, the Ravens did address the position in Day Three of the draft, selecting Kentucky's Devin Leary in the sixth round. Leary has a cannon of an arm and transferred to UK last year in order to play in Liam Coen's pro-style offense. Jackson is likely to have a new right tackle in front of him, as the team drafted Washington's Roger Rosengarten in the second round after trading former starter Morgan Moses to the Jets.

The Ravens needed some depth chart replacements on defense after losing a handful of starters to free agency (more on that below), so they used first and fourth-round picks, respectively, on cornerbacks Nate Wiggins of Clemson and T.J. Tampa of Iowa State. In between, they added pass rush help with Penn State's productive Adisa Isaac in Round Three. Wiggins has a slight frame but the movement skills to be an immediate impact starter, while Tampa has size and explosiveness and plays with an aggressive style.

Beyond the Henry acquisition, the Ravens weren't overly active on the free agent market, but they did make some depth signings with the likes of Texans guard Josh Jones and cornerback Ka'dar Hollman, Patriots linebacker Chris Board and Bengals nose tackle Josh Topou. Board is actually a returning veteran, having spent his first four NFL seasons in Baltimore.

2024 Departures

The Ravens saw free agency extract one primary starter from all three levels of its defense. Linebacker Patrick Queen, who started all 17 games in 2023, defected to archrival Pittsburgh for a three-year $41 million deal. Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney followed up a bounce-back season in his one year in Baltimore with a two-year deal to join the Carolina Panthers. And Stone, a former seventh-round pick who had one interception in his first three seasons, got paid on a two-year deal by another NFC North foe, the Bengals, after his seven-pick explosion.

The Ravens' cornerback depth took a couple of hits, too, with Ronald Darby accepting a two year deal in Jacksonville and Rock Ya-Sin headed to San Francisco on a one-year pact. With Henry presumably taking the bulk of the carries and ably backed up by Mitchell and Hill, the Ravens let running backs Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins share a flight to Los Angeles to join the Chargers.

John Simpson, who started all 17 games at left guard last season, left for a two-year deal with the Jets, so the Ravens will presumably give that position to 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland. As noted above, Baltimore also traded starting right tackle Morgan Moses to the Jets, getting back a sixth-round pick and a swap of fourth-rounders. Tyler Huntley, who started nine games over the past three years as Jackson's primary backup, is now playing the same role behind Deshaun Watson in Cleveland.

The Ravens also moved on from a trio of veteran players, beginning with the release of outside linebacker Tyus Bowser on March 13. A second-round pick in 2017, Bowser never became a starter but he did record 19.5 sacks and four interceptions over six years in Baltimore. On the same day, the Ravens released wide receiver Odell Beckham, who then went on to sign with the Dolphins. Beckham had 35 catches for 565 yards and three touchdowns in his one year in Baltimore. In May, after the draft, the Ravens also cut defensive tackle Bravvion Roy, who spent last year on the Ravens' practice squad after three seasons with the Panthers.

Other Noteworthy Developments

In addition to the handful of free agent defections noted above, the Ravens' highly-ranked defense took another hit when its coordinator, Mike Macdonald, got a head coaching gig, as was widely anticipated. With Macdonald now in charge of the Seahawks, John Harbaugh promoted Zach Orr to defensive coordinator; Orr had served as the inside linebackers coach for the Ravens the past two seasons and also was a defensive analyst for the team from 2017-20.

The Ravens had some additional vacancies to fill on their coaching staff as both Anthony Weaver (Dolphins) and Dennard Wilson (Titans) landed defensive coordinator positions elsewhere. Harbaugh made four new additions to his staff, hiring Mark DeLeone to coach the inside linebackers, Dennis Johnson to run the defensive line, Doug Mallory to tutor defensive backs and Travelle Wharton to serve as an assistant offensive line coach.

Madubuike, who has career has been on a steady uphill incline since he was drafted in the third round in 2020, was the top priority on the Ravens' list of potential free agents after his 13-sack season. The Ravens initially put the franchise tag on their star defensive tackle on March 5 but didn't end up needing it as the two sides were able to get a four-year $98 million extension done just a few days later. The Ravens also exercised their fifth-year option on 2021 first-round pick Odafe Oweh and also inked their other 2021 first-rounder, wideout Rashod Bateman, to an extension through the 2026 season.

Though the Ravens did take some hits in free agency, they were able to re-sign some of their own players, including cornerback Arthur Maulet, defensive end Brent Urban, quarterback Josh Johnson, outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, linebacker Malik Harrison, wide receiver Nelson Agholor and safety Ar'Darius Washington.

Pressing Questions

Will the Ravens still have a top 10 defense after the departure of Mike Macdonald and the loss of several starters in free agency?

Baltimore has fielded a top-10 defense in five of the last six seasons, including the sixth-ranked unit last year, and they have done it in the face of significant personnel changes through those years. Now they will try to do the same thing after the departures of Macdonald, Queen, Stone and Clowney, among others. The bar is set high, as the Ravens led the league in scoring defense, sacks and takeaways in 2023.

The new coordinator, Orr, is an internal promotion, so the Ravens do have some potential continuity in their system. That unit also still features Madubuike, Smith and Hamilton, so there is no shortage of star power, and all of those players are still in their primes or about to reach them. Upon getting his promotion, Orr stressed that he wanted the Ravens' defense to be "very violent [and] physical," and that he wanted it to resemble "organized chaos." That may indicate he will be as aggressive, or even more so, with blitz packages as Macdonald was.

Will the offense continue to evolve in the second year of the Todd Monken-Lamar Jackson pairing, particularly with the addition of Derrick Henry?

The switch from the oft-maligned Greg Roman to former Buccaneers staffer Todd Monken at offensive coordinator produced good results, with the Ravens ranking fourth in points scored (28.4 per game) and Jackson throwing for a career-high 3,678 yards. Jackson also ran for 821 yards but his average of 51.3 per game was his lowest since his rookie season. Jackson has reportedly shed 10 to 15 pounds after playing at 230 last season, and the team could be looking to lean back into his running prowess a little more.

On the other hand, the import of Henry would seem to give the Ravens a workhorse back who could break Jackson's streak of five straight seasons of being the team's leading rusher. Henry has led all NFL running backs in carries in four of the past five seasons, and other than nine missed games in 2021 he has been extremely durable. Will the presence of Henry mean fewer designed runs for Jackson, or might that very presence just make it harder for defenses to defend Jackson?

One potential tweak that Monken could bring to the second iteration of his Ravens offense is the usage of more "12" personnel, or two-tight end sets. The main motivation for this, if it comes to pass, would be that the Ravens simply have two very good tight ends they would like to get on the field in Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely. Andrews missed about half of last season with an ankle injury and the Ravens ranked 27th in the NFL in terms of how often they used 12 personnel.

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