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Offseason Problems Represent Opportunity

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Zach Orr, Ben Cleveland and the Ravens tight ends

There’s no denying the athleticism of Lamar Jackson. He’s a unicorn and despite already winning two NFL MVP Awards, most would agree that he still hasn’t reached the greatness that his skill set suggests.

Lamar is a gifted runner, the likes of which the NFL hasn’t seen before from the quarterback position. He also is equipped with a great fastball. That arm coupled with his escapability in the pocket, suggests that he should be among the league’s best passers. And there are times when it plays out that way during regular season games. But when the playoffs begin, struggles rear their ugly heads and so too, do the questions about his ability to win a championship.

It’s an unfair indictment upon Lamar’s body of work but that said, it’s also understandable. Twice during his six-year career, Jackson has guided the Ravens to the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the postseason dance and despite the highly coveted spots in the playoff pecking order during the 2019 and 2023 seasons, the Ravens have just 1 postseason win as the playoff top dog.

“He can’t win when it counts the most.”

“Lamar doesn’t perform well on the big stage.”

Unfair or not, the narrative is here to stay, until Lamar changes it.

And the only way that happens is if he delivers on the promise he made during the 2018 NFL Draft.

Orr Not

By most accounts, Ravens defensive coordinator Zach Orr is a rising star in the coaching ranks of the NFL. Four players on the Ravens active roster are older than Orr who recently turned 32 back on June 9.

Orr brings passion, a great work ethic and an impressive football IQ to the Ravens defensive room and along the sidelines. But it is along those sidelines where concerns lie – for now!

The 2016 2nd-team All Pro has never been a play caller. Orr hasn’t been forced to assess the flow of a game in real-time as a coordinator. He hasn’t felt the pressure to make his chess move within the 40 seconds allotted between plays. And his first real chance to do that will come against Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the World Champion Kansas City Chiefs during the NFL season-opener in front of a nationwide audience.

There’s little doubt that Orr will become an excellent DC. But to expect excellence during his first meaningful game as a play caller upon the world’s stage at Arrowhead Stadium, well, that feels like a reach.

Up Front

The Ravens lost three starters across their offensive front this past offseason. Kevin Zeitler, John Simpson and Morgan Moses have all moved on. Zeitler and Simpson left as free agents while Moses was traded to the Jets.

Make no mistake about it, the Ravens have a plan. How it unfolds is, for the moment, a mystery. Andrew Voorhees is slated to move in at one of the vacated guard positions while it is believed that Ben Cleveland and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu will duke it out for the other spot. The competition for Moses’ right tackle job is likely to come down to Daniel Faalele and rookie Roger Rosengarten.

Even the most optimistic of Ravens fans must share concerns about the front intended to protect Lamar and create space for the newly acquired Derrick Henry.

Ronnie Stanley returns with a new attitude and financial incentive to regain his All-Pro form. Tyler Linderbaum is the front’s anchor and there is little concern about his ability to deliver another Pro Bowl campaign.

Perhaps there’s a veteran on another team’s roster that GM Eric DeCosta is ready to pounce on if the opportunity presents itself. Maybe Cleveland experiences that coming-of-age moment that we’ve seen in the past from players like Rick Wagner and Ryan Jensen and he delivers the way John Harbaugh hoped when he pushed for him during the 2021 NFL Draft.

This is hardly an ideal situation for the Ravens. Inexperience and questions abound. To think that this is suddenly going to fall into place is naïve at best, the team’s potential Achilles heel at worst.

Not addressing this conundrum more proactively, could eventually represent roster management malpractice.

[Related Article: The Bat Signal is Up]

TE Tag Team

The potential of unleashing the talents of Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely on the field at the same time, must be a riveting challenge for offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Both players have receiver skills as it relates to their route-running, and Likely in particular, has the ability to add YAC even after the most basic of pass completions.

Andrews’ size, length and speed present problems for shorter linebackers and safeties that lack competitive physicality. Likely can get vertical and that’s another dilemma for those same opposing linebackers and safeties.

Add it up, and it represents a great opportunity for the Ravens offense. It’s now up to Monken to put these talents in places to succeed on the field, at the same time.

Nobody asked me, but Todd might find value in looking at film of the New England Patriots, circa 2010-2012. It’s then that the Patriots offensive brain trust successfully blended the talents of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Surprises Await?

For my money, the most complete Ravens teams in club history were fielded in 2006 and 2011. Yet neither squad could finish. The 2006 team, led by Steve McNair, completely soiled the bed at home during the Divisional Round against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who went on to beat an average Chicago Bears team in the Super Bowl.

In 2011 we all watched the Patriots rip the hearts out of RavensFlock when Lee Evans was stripped of what would have been a game-winning touchdown. And two plays later, Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

The 2012 Ravens on paper were not as talented as the 2011 roster. Yet they managed to get hot at the right time and ran through the playoffs on to the franchise’s second Super Bowl title.

On paper, the 2024 Ravens aren’t as strong as they were in 2023.

But as we’ve seen in the past, players evolve, teams gel and championships aren’t won on paper.

The post Offseason Problems Represent Opportunity appeared first on Russell Street Report.


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