With the Ravens preparing to play the Las Vegas Raiders in the 26th season opener in team history, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Eric DeCosta will face difficult calls with an increasingly expensive roster, but signing Mark Andrews to a $56 million extension was an elementary choice. As Buck Showalter used to say about reliable veterans, Andrews is a player who allows you to “put your head on the pillow” because he’s prepared.
2. Thursday brings the first injury report, but Jimmy Smith practiced Wednesday for the first time since spraining his right ankle Aug. 6 while Derek Wolfe (back) hasn’t practiced since Aug. 23. Though that’s good news on Smith, it’s tough to like either veteran’s chances of playing on Monday night.
3. Comparing Le’Veon Bell to Dez Bryant is going too far, but there are enough red flags from football and team culture standpoints to subdue expectations. If Bell embraces not being “the guy” and is in good shape, his receiving ability can help. Baltimore shouldn’t be afraid to walk away, however.
4. There are always unknowns entering Week 1 with this offense having more than its share after an injury-plagued summer. However, look no further than Marquise Brown’s record-setting debut two years ago for optimism. The rookie missed the entire spring and a good portion of the summer before starring in Miami.
5. It helps that a deep defense is poised to make life difficult for the Raiders, who finished 10th in points scored last year despite offensive line issues and little star power at wide receiver. I don’t envy Derek Carr playing such a deceptive front and talented secondary in the opener.
6. Of course, ex-Raven Darren Waller has blossomed into a star and presents a matchup nightmare with his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame and speed. With Smith seemingly unlikely to play, do you task Marlon Humphrey with more of a hybrid nickel role to travel with Waller in certain sub packages?
7. Baltimore has won its last four season openers by a combined score of 164-19, a major credit to the summer preparation of the entire organization for Week 1. This also marks the sixth time the Ravens will begin a season in prime time after going 2-3 in the first five.
8. With Pittsburgh opening at Buffalo, Cleveland at Kansas City, and Cincinnati being a home underdog against Minnesota, the Ravens have the opportunity to survey the rest of the AFC North on Sunday and could have the chance to seize an early lead in the division. They need to take advantage.
9. Teams must be fully compliant and below the salary cap by Thursday, and the Ravens are tight against it, according to reliable resources. Yes, there are restructures here and there to clear modest space, but DeCosta will still need “rainy day” room for inevitable injury replacements over a long season.
10. Monday will be a special night for Las Vegas native Ronnie Stanley, who makes his return to regular-season action in his first NFL trip to his hometown. The Ravens sure missed Stanley last year and need him to be close to the best pre-injury version of himself sooner than later.
11. According to a piece from OverTheCap.com, the Ravens enter 2021 ranked 16th in the NFL in overall roster age with the 11th-oldest defensive roster and third-youngest offense. Even with the age of the defensive line skewing that side of the ball, you have to like that overall makeup.
12. Say what you want about pressure on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens after back-to-back exits in the divisional round, but Jon Gruden is 19-29 in his second stint with the Raiders and Carr has been to the playoffs once in his seven seasons. That organization should be feeling Vegas heat.