Mon, 06 Jul 2020

Eisenberg: This Area Will Determine Whether Ravens Get Even Better

Baltimore Ravens
27 May 2020, 05:25 GMT+10

It happens every year: Soon after the Ravens' season ends, the team's decisionmakers gather at Owner Steve Bisciotti's home in Florida to review what happened and chart the future.

As they go over the roster and strategize how they'd like to proceed through free agency and the draft, they're basically asking one simple question: How can we get better?

I'd love to be on hand as they prioritize their needs, but amazingly, I never seem to receive that email approving my fly-on-the-wall security clearance. So like everyone else, I end up having to guess what they see as their top priority, i.e, their straightest path to improvement.

I'm sure it wasn't easy to determine this year because the Ravens were so good in 2019, winning their last 12 regular season games to finish with a league-best 14-2 record. I mean, after a season like that, asking how you can get better is little like being the spoiled kid with everything who draws up a long holiday wish list.

But of course, the postseason ended in disappointment, with a loss at home, and now that months have passed and the Ravens are fairly far along in the process of getting ready for another season, it's pretty easy to see what they identified as their top priority.

Whey they met in Florida, they determined they needed to be stronger up front to get better in 2020. Yup, on both sides of the ball.

Sure, they also concluded they needed more offensive playmakers, more overall speed and new blood at several positions. But the need to firm up their defensive and offensive fronts was paramount.

Some might find that a bit surprising since there was a lot to recommend both fronts in 2019. As the Ravens set the league record for team rushing yards in a season, their O-line was ranked high by many analysts and sent three of five starters to the Pro Bowl. And the D-line ranked No. 5 against the run.

But it became apparent there were issues, especially with the D-line, during the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, whose powerful running back, Derrick Henry, rushed for 195 yards in a dominant and decisive performance.

No matter how good you are as a team, it's hard to win when you're dealing with that.

Thus, before they did anything else this offseason, they traded for Calais Campbell, the consummate Pro Bowl D-lineman, who immediately made the front more athletic and formidable. Then they landed another veteran starter, Derek Wolfe, to play beside Campbell.

They might as well have sent out a tweet declaring that, if anything, they weren't going to get pushed around anymore. (They also drafted two D-linemen, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, who could earn immediate playing time.)

Ramping up the O-line is a more complicated concept because, as noted, the unit earned high marks in 2019 and took a major hit when guard Marshal Yanda retired. With that subtraction, one could easily conclude the Ravens should be satisfied with just maintaining the line's status quo in 2020.

But when you begin with a pair of Pro Bowl tackles, you've got a shot to be pretty special. The next step is to solidify/improve the interior, where issues also surfaced during the playoff loss.

Candidates for jobs include Bradley Bozeman, who started at left guard in 2019; D.J. Fluker, a free agent signing with 88 starts in 92 career appearances; former starting center Matt Skura, who is coming back from a knee injury; Patrick Mekari, who started at center after Skura was injured; and recent draft picks Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson.

Three jobs are up for grabs, many of the candidates play multiple position and we'll see how it shakes out. But the Ravens believe they have given the area enough attention that there's real upside potential, especially given their history of "coaching up" young line prospects into viable puzzle pieces.

Numerous other factors, such as Lamar Jackson's post-MVP performance, will help determine how the Ravens' season goes and whether they can get better. But no factor will rank higher than the play of both lines.

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