Entering his second season in the NFL, quarterback Lamar Jackson is no longer the QB-in-waiting in the Charm City, but the undisputed starter of the Baltimore Ravens.
Jackson was a major part of why the Ravens were able to turn around their season after the team’s Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh that dipped them below .500 heading into the bye week.
With Jackson under center, Baltimore won six of its final seven regular season games to surge into the playoffs, even earning a home game in the first round.
The former Heisman Trophy winner faced his first major on-field adversity on the first Sunday in January of this year. The LA Chargers defense forced more turnovers (three) than Jackson completed passes (two) in the first half.
He came into the game as the youngest QB ever to start a playoff game at just 21 years of age, but by the time the Ravens trailed 20-3 in the third quarter, the boos at M&T Bank Stadium started to rain down, along with audible calls for Joe Flacco to enter the game.
Even though cornerback Jimmy Smith called the fans “fair weather,” head coach John Harbaugh did consider making the switch, but ultimately made it clear: Lamar Jackson is the team’s future.
The Ravens were either going to stage an epic comeback or see their season end with him under center. While the Ravens eventually came up short, 23-17, Jackson somewhat salvaged his performance with two touchdown passes in the final seven minutes.
Smith defended his quarterback postgame once again.
Jimmy Smith had words for”fairweather” Ravens fans chanting for Joe Flacco: “You can ride or die or get the hell out of here.” pic.twitter.com/0hZkmZWe2C
— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) January 6, 2019
There is no more lingering quarterback controversy in Baltimore, as Flacco was traded to Denver for a fourth-round draft choice. This is Lamar Jackson’s team and the offense is built around his skill set.
Robert Griffin III returns as backup and rookie Trace McSorely performed admirably enough in the preseason to earn a roster spot, but the future rests with Jackson’s legs.
This season, Jackson wants to win with his arm too.
Key Additions: S Earl Thomas, RB Mark Ingram, WR Seth Roberts, CB Justin Bethel
One Heisman Trophy winner will be handing off to another in the Baltimore backfield this season, as running back Mark Ingram was the biggest splash the Ravens made offensively in free agency.
The Ravens chose run plays the third-most in the NFL last season and one might expect Ingram to be the foundation for the ground game this season. However, offensive coordinator Greg Roman certainly kept his personnel balanced once Jackson took over last season.
If you are trying to predict touches for the #Ravens week one offense, you have your work cut out for you.
As multiple as any team in looks and personnel groupings. Greg Roman rotates skill players heavily.
Snap percentages from 2018 when Roman's offense took over w/ Jackson: pic.twitter.com/dz9tcG3kfI
— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) September 2, 2019
Five-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas was brought in to be the ready-made replacement for fellow safety Eric Weddle. He’ll be paired with strong safety Tony Jefferson on the back end of the Ravens defense, a unit that finished as the No. 1 total defense last season.
Seth Roberts earned one of the final two 53-man roster spots. He’ll bring a veteran presence to a receiving corps that is one of the least experienced in the league. Justin Bethel is expected to provide depth at the cornerback position and contribute on special teams.
Key Departures: QB Joe Flacco, S Eric Weddle, OLB Terrell Suggs, OLB Za’Darius Smith, ILB C.J. Mosley, WR John Brown
Flacco was traded, Weddle was released and Sizzle went home. The seven-time Pro Bowler and surefire Hall of Fame outside linebacker Terrell Suggs signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason.
The Ravens not only lose a guy who led all edge defenders in defensive stops since 2006, but one of their key defensive leaders as well. Tyson Bowser and Tim Williams will try to fill Suggs’ massive shoes off the outside.
Smith and Mosley received lucrative deals from the Packers and Jets, respectively. Matthew Judon, who finished second on the team last year with seven sacks, is expected to be Smith’s replacement. Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board and Kenny Young should all mix in an effort to try and replicate Mosley’s production.
John “Smokey” Brown received a three-year, $27 million contract from the Buffalo Bills in March. Another 2018 Ravens wideout Michael Crabtree is also no longer with Baltimore. Despite scoring two late TDs in the playoff loss to the Chargers, Crabtree seemed to fall out of favor with the offense when Jackson became the starting quarterback. He’s now with the Arizona Cardinals.
Draft: Round 1: WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma; Round 3: OLB Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech; WR Miles Boykin, Notre Dame; Round 4: RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State; G Ben Powers, Oklahoma; CB Iman Marshall, USC; Round 5: DT Daylon Mack, Texas A&M; Round 6: QB Trace McSorley, Penn State
The Ravens addressed one of their shallowest and least experienced position groups in Round One of the draft by selecting First Team All-American wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. Brown and third-round selection Miles Boykin are not listed as starters on the first unofficial depth chart released. Neither is second-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, although he could move up quickly if he continues to impress defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.
Justice Hill had a strong preseason, which was probably a big reason why the Ravens elected to keep just three running backs (Hill, Ingram, and Gus Edwards). While it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Hill receives the bulk of the Ravens carries unless an injury occurs, Roman has already proclaimed that his rookie RB will contribute along with the others.
Ben Powers also impressed during the preseason and is in the mix to start at left guard.
Iman Marshall was placed on Injured Reserve and is eligible to return to Week 9. Daylon Mack adds depth to the strong defensive line, and McSorely impressed the coaching staff during the preseason when his playing time increased after Griffin got injured early in training camp.
2018 Record: 10-6 regular season, lost 23-17 to LA Chargers in Wild Card Round
The Ravens are in the middle of the pack as far as their strength of schedule based on the combined records of 2018 opponents. But anything less than a 2-0 start will be seen as a disappointment: Baltimore is the largest road favorite in Week 1 and hosts a team that went 3-13 last year in the home opener.
Between Weeks 3-12, the Ravens will face both teams that were in last year’s Super Bowl in prime time (Patriots and Rams), the AFC runner-up Kansas City Chiefs, two additional playoff teams from last year (Seahawks and Texans) and two division foes whose rosters both feature a balance of talented youth and veterans (Steelers and Browns).
If the Ravens want to avoid having to desperately surge late in the regular season once again, a winning record during this nine-game stretch would help a lot.
The city of Baltimore and Ravens fans have experienced the thrills of winning a Super Bowl twice in the last 20 years, so expectations are higher than for some other NFL franchises. Jackson will need to excel once again while continuing to innovate in the aerial game if he hopes for the ghost of Flacco to fade.
The defense, albeit younger, should be solid once again and the offensive line is competent enough to protect the now-22-year-old QB. This Sunday in Miami, Jackson will begin his quest to pioneer the Ravens back to Miami for the Super Bowl.