When Uchenna Nwosu swatted the ball out of Lamar Jackson’s hand on Sunday night, the Ravens’ season came to a screeching halt. It was an extremely interesting season, one that’s hard to evaluate, but overall should be considered a success. If for one reason only, the Ravens seem to have found the quarterback of their future in Lamar Jackson, but even beyond that, gave him valuable experience by hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2012.
Between John Harbaugh’s decision to keep Lamar Jackson in the ballgame and the fans’ decision to boo Lamar Jackson, the offensive playcalling, the coaching staff, or whatever, there’s a ton to talk about with this last game. However, I want to assign grades to each aspect of the team and give season awards, so I will offer my own brief opinions on those topics.
So, Jackson’s first playoff start was nearly disastrous, and the prospect of putting in Joe Flacco was certainly there. I thought about it myself, not going to lie, but I think that in the end, Harbaugh made the right call. You can’t ditch your young quarterback after one bad start, not really because you might hurt his confidence but because he still gave you the best chance to win. There’s a reason you were 4-5 going into the BYE and there’s a reason you made the playoffs coming out of it. You can’t ignore that, even given the poor three quarters.
Still, though, I thought the fans’ boos were warranted. A few players have suggested that the fans are fake for booing as the offense ran onto the field because it’s wrong to boo Lamar when he turned our season around. I agree with that idea, but I think the understanding that fans were booing the quarterback is incorrect. From where I sat, nobody was booing Lamar, they were booing the coaching staff, their decisionmaking, and the lack of adjustments. Also, Marlon Humphrey described the booing as a “quick hook.” Since when has a 20-point deficit in the third quarter been a quick hook? The stadium was absolutely rocking for the first half, especially, when the defense had a third-down situation. If the offense was called and executed better the fans would not have reacted that way. Plain and simple.
Now, without further ado, I will grade each group of the Baltimore Ravens and afterward, will give my end-of-season awards!
Coaching Staff: B
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge what a successful change of the guard that John Harbaugh facilitated in switching from Joe Flacco to the rookie Lamar Jackson. This could have been a very tumultuous decision, but Harbaugh navigated it beautifully. People complain about his leadership, but how many times have we heard about a locker room problem similar to that performed by LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh. I can’t think of any, at the moment. Similarly, Wink Martindale was outstanding in his first year as the defensive coordinator. The freedom he gave the players was refreshing and we were lucky to watch the best defense in the NFL. Now, the reason this group does not receive an A is Marty Mornhinweg, who has since been replaced by Greg Roman. While Mornhinweg should be given credit for the switch to Lamar, as well, his offense was boring and I can’t help but think the majority of that transitional work was done by Roman. I look forward to what he will provide for Jackson and this offense next season.
You might think this grade is a little high, but I graded it on a bit of a curve that will be explained later. To start the year, Joe Flacco was good and bad at times, and on its own, he would receive a B. After coming in as the starter, Lamar Jackson revolutionized the offense, rejuvenated the team, and led them to the playoffs. The only thing keeping his overall grade from being an A is the ball-security issues, which are my biggest concern moving forward. Thus, he’ll get an A-. The average of those two grades would be a B+, but I’m going to curve it for the behavior of Joe Flacco as Jackson took over. The guy exhibited incredible class and showed why the city of Baltimore should always cherish the memories of his tenure here. That gets an A in my book and brings the average to a solid A-.
Half Backs: B
Patrick Ricard is a wash, but the rest of the running backs I thought were solid. No one was necessarily spectacular, but Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon did a nice job in the new running scheme and played a major role in team’s success down the stretch. What the Ravens do with Alex Collins will be very interesting, because I thought he had a C season and really was less productive than the other two backs. I like Buck Allen, but his inability to separate himself from the rest of the corps will find him out of Baltimore next year.
Wide Receivers: D
For the most part, this group was really disappointing. The Ravens rebuilt the whole room but got little difference from the new, bigger-name players. John Brown was a nice piece while Flacco was quarterbacking, but he disappeared at times. Willie Snead was a decent player and a good chain mover; I think he was the best of the bunch, especially when Jackson was playing, so I expect him to be back. Unfortunately, he isn’t much of a difference-maker. Of course, Michael Crabtree’s season was a major disappointment, there isn’t much more to be said on that front. Outside that main group, I still think Chris Moore should be getting more snaps and I’m still intrigued by Jordan Lasley if he can sure up his hands. Eric DeCosta will have to solve this continuous problem if the Ravens are going to take the next steps and give Lamar the help he deserves.
Tight Ends: A-
To start, Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams play their role and play it well. They deserve an A for their relentless blocking, and – though it goes somewhat unspoken for – their ability to catch the ball in their minimal opportunities. Hayden Hurst gets an incomplete; I think he has tremendous talent and could be a major contributor in the future, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in his rookie year. BUT, that was dramatically made up for by Mark Andrews’ awesome first campaign. He was a very pleasant surprise and seems like he’ll be one of the team’s top weapons next year.
Offensive Line: C-
In run blocking, this O-Line is relatively solid, but when the team drops back, they are a miserable group. Ronnie Stanley is being overlooked as a major bust at pick-6 and the hole at Left Guard is deep. I expect DeCosta to address this group and sure it up quickly, but it still wasn’t very good this year.
Defensive Line: B+
Sometimes this group was outstanding, and it did a good job defending the run, but at times it would disappear in the pass rush. I think an underrated need for this team is a young pass rusher at the Defensive End position because they struggled to generate a rush without blitzing. Michael Pierce was the star of this group, and it really is a shame that the team paid Brandon Williams because they didn’t need to. It was also nice to see Willie Henry, Brent Urban, and Chris Wormley take the next step and contribute. The D-Line was good, but not great, and therefore I can’t give them an A or A-.
Similarly, this group was very good, but they have a few deficiencies that have to be considered before placing them in the A range. CJ Mosley is a strong leader and I do think the Ravens should bring him back. Peanut Onwuasor came on very strong to fend off the promising rookie Kenny Young. Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Matthew Judon set the edge well against the run and were the main players in the pass rush. However, the middle linebackers have to fix their weakness against tight ends in coverage and the pass rushers have to be more consistent throughout the game and throughout the season. Again, if the Ravens can add a true pass rusher similar to what Terrell Suggs was in his prime, their defense will really be amazing.
Even though the bigger names and payrolls are at the safety position, these guys were the MVPs of the secondary, which was the Ravens’ defensive strength. Jimmy Smith had some ups and downs but ultimately played well when it mattered most, Marlon Humphrey emerged as a Pro Bowl level corner, and oh my, Brandon Carr really is Mr. Dependable. Even Tavon Young, who returned from ACL surgery, was an important player to have. This group has a ton of potential, too, with Anthony Averett and Maurice Canady poised to take on larger roles next year.
These guys were definitely saved by the corners; simply put, they lack coverage skills. Luckily, Eric Weddle makes up for it with an incredible football IQ and Tony Jefferson makes up for it with thumping hits. Don’t get me wrong, the safeties aren’t bad, but the position will probably need some reworking. They do have some young pieces, though. Chuck Clark has been a contributor as a reserve, and DeShon Elliot might be an interesting piece after returning from injury. I left this name for last because I think he is one of the best players on the Ravens, but Anthony Levine seems to have made himself unexpendable as a leader. Kudos to him.
Special Teams: B+
For the most part, the Wolfpack is still going strong, and that trio is – in my opinion – the best in football. At the same time, there were some uncharacteristic lapses in coverage that doomed this team, especially against the Chargers. In addition, if we’re being real, there were two incredibly costly misses by Justin Tucker against the Saints and the Chargers. If the score is 23-20 with 50 seconds left on Sunday night, Lamar Jackson’s playbook would be way different than what it was. The man isn’t perfect, so you can’t really blame him much, but still, the misses were crucial.
Ravens Offensive MVP: Lamar Jackson [Pre-Season Prediction: John Brown]
Jackson led the Ravens to the playoffs and showed Baltimore what we have to be excited about. Couldn’t have asked for much more from the guy.
Ravens Defensive MVP: Marlon Humphrey [Pre-Season Prediction: Marlon Humphrey]
Humphrey has shown that he was deserving of a first-round pick, becoming a shutdown corner and the best player on the Ravens’ defense.
Breakout Player: Za’Darius Smith [Pre-Season Prediction: Brent Urban]
Playing in a contract year, Smith set a career high in games, tackles, assists, sacks, and passes deflected. Z also led the team in sacks, which I’d say nobody saw coming.
Ravens Offensive ROY: Mark Andrews [Pre-Season Prediction: Hayden Hurst]
We saw the MVP and ROY awards go to two different players when Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, respectively, won them. That’s what’s happening here as both Jackson and Andrews were tremendous contributors. Andrews was an important player for the entire year, though, and this is a year-long award.
Ravens Defensive ROY: Kenny Young [Pre-Season Prediction: Kenny Young]
There wasn’t much to choose from here, but Young was a solid player on the defense and should see more time next year at ILB.