The Baltimore Ravens had an incredible 14-2 run but fell short in the playoffs. Could they just have been a year away? The answer is quite possibly, yes.
It’s hard to say about a team that won 12 straight games to earn the number one seed in the AFC playoffs, yet the Ravens were just a year away from being special. This wasn’t supposed to be a season for a championship run, during August. The Ravens incredible season put Super Bowl expectations on them that they ultimately couldn’t deliver on.
The Ravens just had their first official season of the Lamar Jackson era. Jackson’s first year as a starter went better than anybody could have predicted it would. John Harbaugh went into the season with house money. An improbable run gave the Ravens the 2018 AFC North crown. He just needed the Ravens to be competitive for a right to go back to the postseason and Lamar Jackson to show that he was a franchise quarterback. This could have easily been a competitive rebuilding year however Harbaugh’s team made bold preseason predictions look timid. They won the AFC North again and broke records along the way.
The Ravens had problems that never went away, even in their historic winning streak. They couldn’t rush the passer without a heavy dose of blitzing. Their run defense was spotty, at times it was atrocious. The passing attack leaned heavily on three tight ends and the wide receivers were almost an afterthought.
The Ravens had close games against the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills. Baltimore made sloppy mistakes against the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns late in the year, it was just that their competition couldn’t make them pay for it. There were signs that this team wasn’t unstoppable. They went on that winning streak because their biggest missteps came against bad teams and they got on an absolute roll in the rest of the games.
Two years in a row, the Ravens had a great run to end the regular season just to fall in the playoffs. In the playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Lamar Jackson clearly wasn’t ready for the moment. In the playoff loss against the Tennessee Titans, the whole team didn’t feel ready. The youth of the Ravens roster can’t be overlooked as a factor. With Lamar Jackson turning 23 late in the season and an offense consists of mostly young players, this could be nothing more than unavoidable growing pains.
With the exception of Mark Ingram, Willie Snead and Marshal Yanda, the offensive youth is incredible. Gus Edwards is 24. Matt Skura is the oldest starter on the offensive line other than Yanda and he’s just 26. Mark Andrews is 23 years old. Hayden Hurst is 26-year-old but he’s still only finished the second year of his first contract. Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin were both rookies.
This is a group of players that will grow up together. If you’re going to point to Jackson’s inexperience and age as a factor in playoff football, you have to extend that same line of thinking to the rest of the roster. The youth is especially plentiful on offense.
If the Ravens get more help at the wide receiver position and more pass rush this offseason, this could be a better team. They may not go 14-2 because that kind of record is hard to duplicate and yet they could be a better team when it matters the most.
A team that many considered Super Bowl favorites and the best overall team in the league going into the playoffs, will go into the new season with a chip on their shoulder and a roster improved by the already elite general manager, Eric DeCosta.
Jackson in the 2018 season was completely different from Jackson during the 2019 season. He completely changed his throwing motion and honed in on mechanics. Jackson ended up leading the league in touchdown passes and was one of the most efficient passers this season. Another offseason of hard work could provide another leap in Jackson’s ability level as a quarterback. In other words, after an MVP caliber season, Jackson could become an even more of a game changer.
Remember, it’s not just Jackson that is in the early stages of career development here. Mark Andrews stepped up from an impressive rookie to a top-tier tight end. Bradley Bozeman didn’t come into training camp with a starting job locked up, he had to earn it. This season was on the job training at the left guard position. An offense that really was revolutionary is going to come back with more polish all around the board.
When the defense got Marcus Peters via trade, it felt like they found the one missing piece of the championship puzzle. The truth is that the Ravens need more explosive talent in the front seven. It’s a defense that was put back together during the regular season.
It’s also important to note that Marlon Humphrey is in the prime of his career, Chuck Clark is just coming into his leadership position on the defense and Jaylon Ferguson is still very raw and a work in progress. The key players who are coming back will be a little more experienced and the defense will try to find more permanent answers than the players who surprisingly patched things up this season.
The Ravens were a good team in 2019, one that probably over achieved. That crazy run that the purple and black had shows just how special they can be in the years to come. If the Ravens learned anything from their 14-2 regular season, it’s that most of the young players they have give them are either stars or stars in the making. This Ravens team could have been a year away from winning it all. There is so much to look forward to in the 2020 season because it’s where this mostly youthful team could really come into their own.