21 Questions Ahead of the 2021 NFL Season – Steven Ruiz
Have the Ravens surrounded Lamar Jackson with enough talent?
The most impressive part about Lamar Jackson’s MVP season in 2019 was probably the fact that his top receiver target was a 157-pound rookie. The fact that the Ravens receiving corps was somehow worse last year might be the most depressing thing about Jackson’s 2020 campaign.
Once again, the Ravens will enter a season with the tiny Marquise Brown at the top of their receiver depth chart. But Lamar should have more help in 2021. Baltimore signed Sammy Watkins to a modest deal this offseason and drafted Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman in the first round. Both ended up missing most of camp with injuries, and Bateman is out for at least another month, so we’ll have to wait to see this improved Ravens receiving corps in action. But it should be at full strength by the second half of the season. If that happens, this might be the best group of targets Lamar has had to work with since his Heisman-winning season in 2016.
The best personnel groupings: From the Bucs to the Ravens, the teams best equipped to give defenses fits – Ted Nguyen
22 (2 running backs, 2 tight ends, 1 wide receiver), 23 (2 running backs, 3 tight ends), 13 (1 running back, 3 tight ends, 1 wide receiver)
All of these heavy personal groupings are mainly running formations and no one runs the ball quite like the Ravens do. Fittingly, they’ve collected quite the assortment of people-movers on offense. Tight end Mark Andrews isn’t in the same class as a blocker as Nick Boyle or Patrick Ricard but he’s a top-five tight end. Boyle obliterates defenders on the edge. Ricard could be the most physical fullback in the league but he’s also used as a blocker on the line of scrimmage like a tight end at times.
Sammy Watkins has struggled with injuries throughout his career but when he’s on the field, he’s been productive. He looks like he’ll be on track to start Week 1. If so, he’ll finally give the Ravens a receiver who can beat press coverage and make tough catches.
The Ravens have built a unique smashmouth option attack centered around Lamar Jackson. Though their collection of players aren’t as versatile as some of the teams on the list, they do one thing well — they punish people. They’re difficult to match up with because defenses have gotten lighter and faster to defend the passing game but when they play the Ravens, they need tough, hard-nosed defenders who won’t be physically overmatched.
Best offensive lines in the NFL ranked for 2021 – Ben Rolfe
The loss of Brown could have been a concern. However, filling that hole with Alejandro Villanueva should mean the Ravens do not miss a beat. There might be teething pains, but the Raiders’ defensive line is not likely to exploit them significantly. This is a frankly terrifying group.
Last year’s playoff race in the AFC North was a wild ride, and this season could give us more of the same. The Ravens are favorites in our model; they had the most complete team of anybody in the division last season (finishing 13th in offensive EPA, fifth on defense and second in special teams) and spent the offseason upgrading QB Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson never quite found the same rhythm in 2020 as he did in 2019’s MVP season, but a Baltimore offense more resembling that year’s top-ranked unit — to go with a version of last year’s top-five defense — would make the Ravens a dangerous Super Bowl threat.
Raiders receivers to be tested by elite Baltimore secondary – Mike Grimala
Ruggs and Edwards are listed as starting receivers on the official depth chart, but the preseason offered few clues as to their progress. Neither Ruggs nor Edwards played in the three exhibition games, so the only indications of any Year-2 leap have been buried deep inside training camp practice sessions.
The shroud of secrecy will be ripped away on Monday night when the Raiders face off against the Ravens, who field one of the top defensive backfields in the league.
Last year, Baltimore ranked second in yards per pass attempt allowed (5.9), fifth in yards per game (215.7) and fifth in opponents’ passer rating (86.9). Pro Football Focus rates the Ravens as the NFL’s second-best secondary heading into the 2021 season, with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters both grading out among the Top 10 players at their position.
Even with tight end Darren Waller and running back Josh Jacobs occupying the first few chapters of Baltimore’s defensive game plan, the Ravens will have plenty of cover men to throw at Las Vegas’s unproven wideouts.
Walkthrough – Mike Tanier
Baltimore Ravens at Las Vegas Raiders: Monday, 8:15 p.m.
The Raiders have finished 23rd, 20th and 28th in defensive rushing DVOA since 2018. Their defense hasn’t finished in the top 15 in DVOA since 2010, when it finished 14th. Gerald McCoy and Yannick Ngokue are their big-name additions along the defensive line, because Jon Gruden is still signing players who impressed him when he was in the broadcast booth.
You may have the uneasy feeling that the Ravens are about to be carried away on a riptide of sheer narrative in 2021. You may even sense a trap in this Monday night road game against an unfamiliar foe (the Ravens and Raiders last met in Lamar Jackson’s second career start) with no real expectations. But trust the metrics, especially in Week 1: “trends” from last year are usually simply “the last thing that happened, which we spent seven months talking about.” Ravens 37, Raiders 20.