Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Intelligent Conversation

Revisiting 2020 Ravens predictions coming out of bye week

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Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter for WNST BaltimorePositive.com and is a PFWA member. His mind is consumed with useless sports knowledge, pro wrestler promos, and movie quotes, but he struggles to remember where he put his phone. Luke's favorite sports memories include being one of the thousands of kids who waited to get Cal Ripken's autograph after Orioles games in the summer of 1995, attending the Super Bowl XXXV victory parade with his father in the pouring rain, and watching the Terps advance to the Final Four at the Carrier Dome in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BaltimoreLuke or email him at Luke@wnst.net.

Looking back at preseason predictions can be an amusing or embarrassing exercise, but that’s part of what makes it fun.

If we truly knew how the Ravens’ 2020 season would play out, I’d spend less time writing about it and more time planning my retirement at the nearest sportsbook.

As it relates to the present, I envisioned Baltimore being 6-1 at the bye with a loss to Kansas City and this week’s Pittsburgh game originally scheduled to be played in Week 7. I didn’t expect the Steelers to be undefeated at this point or for Cleveland to own a 5-2 record, making the AFC North more interesting than it was last season when the Ravens easily won the division by six games.

Let’s review how my 10 Ravens predictions for 2020 are holding up through the bye week and adjust if necessary:

1. The offense will score at least 10 fewer touchdowns than a year ago.

After Baltimore scored 58 offensive touchdowns in a record-breaking 2019 season, a look back at the best offenses of the last 15 years made it appear very likely that some statistical regression was coming for a group that goes against the NFL grain by running the ball so much. The Ravens are currently on pace to score 45 offensive touchdowns, but the defense has done the heavy lifting to provide short fields as Baltimore is still averaging just under 30 points per game. With scoring up around the league, the regression is more pronounced with Greg Roman’s unit being middle of the pack in efficiency. The Ravens have predictably missed Marshal Yanda at right guard, but the Hayden Hurst trade also weakened what had been a unique strength at tight end and the wide receivers haven’t stepped up to fill that void, hurting the overall identity of the offense. Is help on the way before next week’s trade deadline?

2. Lamar Jackson will once again lead the Ravens in rushing by going over 1,000 yards for the second straight year.

Jackson isn’t running as frequently and is on pace for just over 920 rushing yards this season, but last week’s win in Philadelphia was a reminder that his legs remain as dangerous as ever as he ran for a season-high 108 yards and is now averaging 6.92 yards per rushing attempt for the season, which is better than last year’s 6.85 mark. Defenses have done a better job protecting the edges against the 23-year-old quarterback, but you get the sense that more Jackson runs will be necessary for the Ravens to get their offense clicking at a higher level.

3. Jackson will improve his yards per attempt despite throwing fewer touchdowns than a year ago.

The reigning MVP wasn’t going to duplicate his absurd 9.0 percent touchdown rate from last season, but his lower yards per passing attempt (7.0 from 7.8 last year) and a lower completion percentage than a year ago reflect a passing game lacking the same efficiency and explosiveness. As some comparisons to the first six games of last season have noted, some talk of Jackson’s regression is exaggerated, but he’s not playing at the same MVP level. That reflects the extraordinary standard he created while still playing like a top 10-caliber quarterback in 2020, but the Ravens need more from him and the rest of the passing game to become the team they want to be in January.

4. Mark Andrews will go over 1,100 receiving yards to lead all Baltimore pass catchers.

If you’d told me the 2019 Pro Bowl tight end would have five touchdown receptions in six games, I would have felt really good about this prediction before seeing the rest of his numbers. Andrews is averaging 5.5 targets per game, which is down from the 6.5 he fetched a year ago and could be a product of defenses devoting more attention to him after his breakout campaign a year ago. His three drops in the Kansas City loss hurt his production, but Andrews being on pace to catch just 53 passes for 648 yards is one of the more unexpected developments thus far. The Ravens need to get him more consistently involved while finding a viable third receiving option to take some of the heat off him and top wide receiver Marquise Brown. 

5. The run defense will rank in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed and efficiency.

The run defense was looking much improved statistically until the Eagles’ four rushing plays of 20 or more yards left the Ravens ranked 23rd in yards per carry allowed. Football Outsiders still ranks Baltimore third in run defense efficiency, which reflects the group being much better from a situational standpoint despite the long runs yielded in Week 6. I’ll stand by this prediction, but that’s assuming what we saw against Philadelphia was an anomaly as nose tackle Brandon Williams missed the game.

6. Marlon Humphrey will grab a career-high five interceptions to be named a first-team All-Pro again.

I would have been better off predicting Humphrey having a career-high five forced fumbles since he already has four, but he appears on his way to Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors for the second straight year and will garner Defensive Player of the Year consideration if he continues taking the ball away at such a high rate. I had no knowledge of any serious contract talks at the time, but suggesting “another All-Pro season will have him knocking on the door for a contract extension not far off from what the Los Angeles Rams just gave Jalen Ramsey” looks pretty good ahead of the lucrative deal he’d receive just a few weeks later. He’s been Baltimore’s best player so far this season.

7. A shaky November will cost the Ravens the top seed in the AFC.

With Sunday’s home tilt against the undefeated Steelers now included, the Ravens have five games this month against four opponents with a combined 17-7 record. The trip to New England doesn’t look nearly as challenging with the Patriots struggling, but Indianapolis has a strong defense, Tennessee has an explosive offense, and a Thanksgiving trip to Pittsburgh on a short week will be tough. Meanwhile, the Chiefs already own a head-to-head tiebreaker and don’t play a team currently holding a winning record again until a trip to Tampa Bay on Nov. 29. The Ravens elevated their play at this point last year against some tough competition, but they’ll need more consistency on offense to repeat that surge. Especially when factoring in Pittsburgh’s surprising play, Baltimore has very little margin for error as it relates to securing the lone bye in the new seven-team playoff field.    

8. Six Ravens players will be named to the Pro Bowl.

I still feel pretty good about Jackson, Humphrey, defensive end Calais Campbell, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and kicker Justin Tucker being named to the exhibition game that won’t be played due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Andrews has work to do to get the nod for a second straight year. I don’t think there are any others for which I’d strongly campaign at this point.

 9. A 12-4 record will give the Ravens their third straight AFC North championship.

I still view Baltimore as the best team in the division, but a 6-0 start speaks for itself as the Steelers have one of the best defenses in the league and now sport a much more competitive offense with Ben Roethlisberger back in the picture. The 38-year-old quarterback isn’t pushing the ball down the field like he used to, but he has talented receivers capable of picking up yards after the catch and moving the chains. It may even take a 13-3 record for the Ravens to take the division, but John Harbaugh’s team is certainly capable of that.

10. The Ravens will defeat New Orleans 33-24 to win Super Bowl LV in Tampa.

Despite some fair questions about the offense, I’m not changing my Super Bowl pick after a 5-1 start. I feel better about the Ravens than I do with the Saints at this point, but there’s a lot of season left with so many different ways it can go. The Chiefs remain the class of the AFC until another team takes them down in January, but we’ll need to see a better offense than the one we’ve seen over the first six games to expect Baltimore to do that. 

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