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Despite great start, Ravens still have plenty of room for improvement

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The Baltimore Ravens accomplished a lot of things in week one of the NFL season.

Start the season 1-0 for the fifth season in a row? Check. Get reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and the passing game off to an explosive start to the season? Check. Beat a division opponent in what will most certainly be a competitive AFC North? Check, and then some.

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The Ravens certainly made an assertive statement with their 38-6 trouncing of the Cleveland Browns. It would be understandable to simply look at the box score and conclude that the Ravens are already firing on all cylinders in all three phases of the game.

But the Ravens certainly weren’t perfect, and in fact, have areas where the team could see a sizable room for improvement going forward this season.

For my takeaways from the Ravens 2020 schedule release, click here.

Sure up the run defense

The Ravens made an effort to sure up their run defense this off-season after being humbled by Derrick Henry in their playoff loss last season. They traded for Calais Campbell and signed Derek Wolfe, transforming their defensive line. They drafted Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison high in this year’s draft, and both started at inside linebacker against the Browns.

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The Ravens run defense has high expectations to get back to their dominant ways of previous seasons. Unfortunately, they gave up a combined 123 rushing yards to Cleveland’s top two backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on just 23 total carries, an average of just over 5.7 yards per carry.

Campbell, in his first game as a Raven, impacted the game with a couple of batted passes. But he was critical of himself in his post-game press conference when reflecting on his performance relative to his expectations:

“It’s honestly, you know, it was crazy because I feel like I didn’t play like I wanted to…I left a lot of plays out there.”

It’s clear that the five-time pro bowler has high expectations for himself and the rest of the defensive line going forward this season.

The Browns possess arguably the best running back tandem in the NFL, so it’s somewhat understandable to give up some extra yardage if you’re the Ravens. Nevertheless, the coaching staff will undoubtedly make it a point of emphasis going forward to solidifying the run defense.

Image credit: Baltimorebeatdown

Establish the running game

The running game struggled to get going on Sunday. This was disappointing to see after they lead the league in rushing in 2019.

To read my fantasy profile on Mark Ingram, click here.

The Ravens could only manage 107 combined rushing yards on 30 total carries. This added up to an average of fewer than 3.6 yards per carry. RB Mark Ingram, in particular, never seemed to get going at any point throughout the game. Ingram had just 29 yards on 10 carries. Particularly dominant as a red zone runner in 2019, Ingram didn’t have a single touchdown against the Browns.

J.K. Dobbins, making his NFL debut, had 22 yards on seven carries, but he did earn his first two rushing touchdowns on Sunday.

To read my fantasy profile on J.K. Dobbins, click here.

Overall, the Browns’ defensive line did a good job limiting the Ravens rushing attack. This included Lamar Jackson, who broke the single-season rushing record in 2019. Jackson had only 45 yards on the ground all game.

Head coach John Harbaugh gave credit to the Browns’ defensive game plan in his Monday morning press conference:

“They wanted to make sure to stop the run. They did a pretty good job of it. They’ve got a pretty good defensive line. And I thought that their linebackers, the way that they positioned them, and the way they organized their defensive front to handle the quarterback-driven stuff was good.”

John Harbaugh

Led by star defensive end Myles Garrett, the Browns front seven was determined to first stopping the run throughout the game. They overall accomplished that game plan pretty well.

To read my fantasy profile on Lamar Jackson, click here.

Generating a consistent pass rush

One looming question surrounding an otherwise hyped up Ravens defense in 2020 was whether or not they could generate more of a consistent pass rush.

The Ravens pass rush did cause Browns QB Baker Mayfield some problems at times, sacking Mayfield twice and getting six quarterback hits.

To be sure, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has high expectations for all phases of the defense this season. The defense won’t be satisfied with only two sacks each game. Between Campbell, Wolfe, and Brandon Williams along the line, and linebackers Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, and Tyus Bowser, the Ravens should have enough firepower to get to the quarterback more in 2020.

On the bright side…some quick points

  • Putting up 38 points against a division rival in a competitive AFC North is nothing to be sour about. Coach Harbaugh was able to sit Jackson with a large lead in the fourth quarter for a second straight season opener.
  • Jackson looks liked he has taken another major step in his development as a passer. He looked comfortable in the pocket and making the intermediate and long throws with more precision and accuracy. His touchdown pass to Willie Snead in the third quarter showed impressive touch in a tight pocket.
  • It was brutal watching Browns kicker Austin Seibert miss a field goal attempt and an extra point attempt on Sunday. It makes Ravens fans appreciate having Justin Tucker that much more, who was 2-2 on field goals and 4-4 on extra point attempts in the game.

Looking ahead to Week 2

The Ravens go on the road for the first time this season to face the Houston Texans. Last year the Ravens embarrassed the Texans 41-7.

Deshaun Watson and the Texans’ new-look offense.

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The Texans’ offense has retooled from last season. Gone is star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. To help offset the loss, the team signed Randall Cobb and traded for Brandin Cooks in the hopes that they can be dangerous weapons for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Speaking of Watson, he had arguably one of his worst games as a pro in his match up with the Ravens last season. He threw for only 169 yards and was sacked a whopping six times. He threw one interception and lost another fumble. As a dual threat quarterback, Watson was limited to only three carries for 12 yards.

Watson is no doubt looking forward to redeeming himself and putting the Texans in a position as real contenders in the AFC. Don’t expect Martindale to overlook Watson’s ability to spoil the Ravens’ hopes of a victory on Sunday. In his press conference on Thursday, Martindale compared Watson to an all-time NBA great.

“We’re not overconfident, trust me,” Martindale said. “He gets better every year. He’s a proven quarterback for a reason. It was just one of those days last year. He, to me is like a LeBron James type player in the NFL instead of the NBA. He’s a general. He’s a point guard out there. We respect his game.”

Wink Martindale

The Texans also added running back David Johnson from the Cardinals in the Hopkins trade. When healthy, Johnson has proved he can be a problem in both the running and passing games.

The return of J.J. Watt

One key player who did not play for the Texans in their previous match up with the Ravens was future-Hall of Fame defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt was injured last season when the two teams matched up, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman knows that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense needs to know where he is lined up at all times.

“He’s still wrecking things,” Roman said in his Thursday press conference. “He looks quick as ever. Year after year, I’ve seen him wreck games. Got a very unique style. I told the players, it’s like Lamar (Jackson) when Lamar runs the ball. It’s really hard to get a good hit on him.”

Greg Roman
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Final score prediction

Expect the Texans to keep the game close in the first half, finding early success in the intermediate passing game with Cobb and receiver Will Fuller. Their defense will do just enough to slow down the Ravens offense.

In the second half, expect the Ravens defense to make a big play or two to turn the game into a sizable win for the purple and black.

Final score: Ravens 37-Texans 17

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