Few teams will be harder to preview than the 2021 Baltimore Ravens—not just the term “Ravens” that encompasses all that we think we know about a team when we lump their entire season into one single moniker (“The Bucs were the best team of 2020! (So long as you ignore the first 12 games!)”)—but specifically I am previewing the Week 17 Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens that have started three different quarterbacks over the last three games—and will have a new starter in Week 17 than they had in Week 16. That’s how nuts Baltimore’s QB carousel has been, in December alone.
More help: The #Ravens have activated QB Tyler Huntley, DT Justin Madubuike and S Tony Jefferson from the COVID-19 reserve list.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 30, 2021
The Week 17 Ravens are hoping to put the Week 13-16 Ravens behind them, as Baltimore’s last win came on November 28th against the Cleveland Browns. And the last time that the Ravens won a game by more than six points was October 17th against the LA Chargers. Since that 5-1 start (Week 7 power rankings are fun to read with hindsight), Baltimore is 3-6 with two of those victories coming by a field goal.
Often praised for defense, especially after that 34-6 win against Justin Herbert, the Ravens have allowed 25.8 points per game since Week 7, including giving up 41 points to the Cincinnati Bengals...
One week after giving Joe Burrow a last second entry into the 2021 MVP race, the Ravens must find a way to slow down Offensive Player of the Year frontrunner Cooper Kupp and the LA Rams. They must do it without Marlon Humphrey or Marcus Peters, and if they don’t, Baltimore’s playoff hopes could be all but dead.
If the Rams win, they’ll sew up the NFC West division after spending weeks looking up at the Arizona Cardinals.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Week 17 Baltimore Ravens.
2021 record: 8-7
Head coach: John Harbaugh (career record: 137-86, 11-8 playoffs)
Philosophy: “Defense wins championships, but special teams wins wild card berths!”
It’s so Har’ to say Goodbye
Though nobody has ever confused John Harbaugh for being a defensive guru, that’s the responsibility that any Ravens coach assumes when he takes the role. And since Harbaugh was hired in 2008, Baltimore has never, not once, finished lower than 16th in net yards per pass attempt allowed. That’s 13 straight seasons of essentially being ‘above average’ in pass defense—and from 2017-2020, the Ravens never ranked lower than sixth.
This year, the Ravens are 32nd in net yards per pass attempt allowed.
Baltimore is also 32nd in passing yards allowed, 31st in takeaways, 25th in yards allowed, and 20th in points allowed; that’s a career-worst mark for Harbaugh in every category other than points allowed.
There are plenty of caveats to this, as there often are with surprisingly “bad” teams—Baltimore went 0-3 from Week 13-Week 15, losing three games by a combined four points—but this Ravens team is nothing like the Ravens teams we’ve come to expect under Harbaugh. Part of the issue is reflective of injuries and the COVID-19 list, but that is a reality facing every single franchise.
If the Ravens miss the postseason this year, it will mark a decade since Baltimore’s surprising Super Bowl run in 2012. That team made a grave error in extending Joe Flacco to a record contract in 2013. This team has a huge decision coming up with Lamar Jackson, but maybe an even bigger one, one that we don’t talk about as often, relating to Harbaugh.
One thing I am certain of: he needs this win on Sunday.
OC: Greg Roman
You only build Roman in a day
When Harbaugh was hired by the Ravens in 2008, Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator at Holy Spirit High (how is this not already the name of a CW show?). He then worked for John’s brother at Stanford for two seasons as an assistant, followed by four years as the offensive coordinator for Jim Harbaugh with the San Francisco 49ers.
But there were many questions at the time about whether or not Colin Kaepernick’s success with the 49ers could be replicated over the long haul. We actually did get an answer to that question and it was emphatic: No.
San Francisco cleared house in 2016 and Roman was hired by Rex Ryan to be offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, a position he held for two seasons—extending Tyrod Taylor’s career as a starter for two more years, although he too proved not to be a long-term option for any franchise—until everyone was fired and Roman became a free agent again.
Imagine I show you this tape and someone says Greg Roman is a good OC pic.twitter.com/CWC66QtPkK— Gerald (@LamarSzn08) December 31, 2021
Roman linked up with brother Harbaugh in 2017 as an assistant/tight ends coach but wasn’t promoted to offensive coordinator until the change over from Flacco to Jackson officially happened in 2019. Lamar Jackson won MVP, people repeated similar overtures that they had for Kaepernick, and Greg Roman was back on top of the offensive coordinating world.
Now it’s too seasons later and Jackson’s current Pro Bowl nod is...confusing.
Outside of short, momentary reigns at the top, Greg Roman seems to be as interchangeable as the quarterbacks he works with and with plenty of debate surrounding Baltimore’s future at that position, he must feel that his current place is ‘tenuous’ to say the least.
Changes on Offense from 2020:
- QB Lamar Jackson to Tyler Huntley*
- RB JK Dobbins to DeVonta Freeman/Latavius Murray*
- WR Willie Snead to Rashod Bateman
- WR Miles Boykin to James Proche
- LT Orlando Brown to Alejandro Villanueva
- OL/C Matt Skura to Patrick Mekari
- G Ben Powers/DJ Fluker to Ben Cleveland
What to expect from the Ravens offense
Talents like Lamar Jackson may only come around once per year, if not less often, but the question is whether or not that talent will win football games. Yes, the Ravens went 14-2 and Jackson won MVP in 2019, but sometimes quarterbacks do win 14 or 15 games and then fail to repeat that success:
- Cam Newton went 15-1 and won MVP in 2015, but has struggled in the six years since
- Bears quarterback Jim McMahon held a 20-0 record from 1985-1986, including playoffs
- Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler went 13-1 for the 14-2 Falcons in 1998
- One year later, Mark Brunell went 13-2 for the Jaguars
- The Chargers went 14-2 in Philip Rivers’ first season as a starter and never reached the Super Bowl with him
- Mark Rypien was a 14-2 Super Bowl winner with Washington in 1991
Even the Rams have had to be witness to the false hopes of a 14-2 season: Kurt Warner’s Rams had an even better record in 2001 (14-2) than they did during the brilliant ‘99 campaign, but as we know, that wasn’t even the beginning of the end. It was essentially the end of the end.
As MVP, Jackson attempted 401 passes, threw 36 touchdowns, six interceptions, rushed for 1,206 yards, seven touchdowns, and he only played in 15 games.
He then threw 376 passes in 15 games, throwing 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions, completing a lower percentage of his throws, and rushing for 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns.
Remember when Lamar Jackson threw 4 interceptions in a game AGAINST THE BROWNS and everyone forgot about it the next day?— Morgan Malone (@iammorganmalone) December 26, 2021
It's the irony for me. #browns
And now this season, in only 12 games, Jackson’s pass attempts per game is up, but his touchdowns are way down (from a 9% TD rate in 2019 to a 4.2% rate in 2021), his interceptions are way up (3.4% compared to 1.5% as MVP), and he has scored just two rushing touchdowns. In just two years, Lamar Jackson has gone from a deserving MVP to an undeserving Pro Bowl quarterback.
How did that happen? It’s a question that Baltimore must wrestle with every day as they contemplate a massive contract extension that they hope won’t stall them like it did with Flacco, or trading him to a team willing to take the risk, saving money, getting draft picks, and handing the reins over to a 2020 undrafted free agent.
(Now I’m going to show you the most annoying phrase in the sports journalism language: “Enter (player name)”... I only do this once so I can tell you not to do it ever)
Enter Tyler Huntley.
Twitter probably wouldn’t let the Ravens get away with trading Lamar Jackson unless Tyler Huntley was ready to step in and replace him. Luckily for Baltimore, that seems to be a possibility now.
A three-year starter at Utah, Huntley slipped by every team in the 2020 draft (the pandemic era draft process may have had some impact on this but outside of a few examples, like Jordan Fuller, there are so few apparent ‘steals’ from last year) and landed in a great situation with the Ravens. He helped lead Baltimore to a 16-13 win over the Bears in his first start, then played adequately in Weeks 14 and 15 (71% completions, 3 TD, 0 INT, 2 rush TD) in losses to the Browns and Packers.
‘Adequately’ might be enough if it means that Baltimore gets to save $40 million against the cap for the next two years. Who will the Rams face on Sunday?
That question remains up in the air, with Harbaugh saying on Saturday that Lamar could still return from an ankle injury after missing the last three games. Veteran Josh Johnson started last week’s game with Huntley on the COVID-19 list, but Huntley was activated from that list and should be good to go, if not Lamar.
And the rest...
- The starting wideouts are 2019 first round pick Marquise Brown (last six games: 39 catches, 271 yards, 4.44 yards per target, 7 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns), 2021 first round pick Rashod Bateman (career-high seven catches, 103 yards three weeks ago vs Browns), and 2020 sixth rounder James Proche (76 yards last week), but the featured player is tight end Mark Andrews. Also a Pro Bowl player this year, Andrews has had at least eight catches and at least 110 yards with at least one touchdown in each of the last three games.
- Marquise Brown is questionable with illness.
- Former Rams WR Sammy Watkins has been of practically no use in Baltimore and might only play if Brown is out.
- With a litany of RB injuries, the Ravens turned to 29-year-old DeVonta Freeman and he doesn’t do much: 98 carries for 384 yards, 3.9 YPC over the last nine games. The team is hoping for a 2022 resurgence with the return of J.K. Dobbins.
2021 offensive ranks
Pass attempts: 11th
Rushing attempts: 4th
Net yards per pass attempt: 16th
Passing touchdowns: 15th
Rushing yards: 5th
Yards per carry: 6th
Rushing touchdowns: 8th
Points per drive: 15th
Red Zone O: 2nd
3rd down: 22nd
Time of Possession: 8th
Offensive “strength of schedule”: 27th
*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that last season the Ravens have faced an “Easy” schedule of defenses in the NFL by average DVOA.
Offensive Depth Chart
DC: Don Martindale
Strategy/scheme: “If people know me as “Wink Martindale” then they will find me to be a lot less disposable as compared to other defensive coordinators. It’s a fun nickname, no? Wink! And you heard that name in childhood, but you’re unsure if it’s in reference to me or someone else... you’re probably too young to know who Wink Martindale actually is.”
Also: 3-4 base alignment
The defense went out with a Beng’
If not for former Rams offensive assistant Zac Taylor, maybe Baltimore’s defense wouldn’t seem so bad this season. But the Bengals put up 1,195 yards of offense, including 907 passing yards, in two games against the Ravens. Can a current Rams head coach do something similar against Martindale’s defense?
Changes on Defense:
- CB Marlon Humphrey to Kevon Seymour*
- CB Marcus Peters to Daryl Worley*
- S DeShon Elliott to Tony Jefferson*
- LB Matt Judon to Odafe Oweh
- DL Derek Wolfe to Broderick Washington*
- LB Pernell McPhee to Josh Bynes
It’s hard for me to keep up with the changes in Baltimore, so please forgive me (and correct me) if you’re a Ravens fan...
What to expect from the Ravens defense:
The Queen and Dry
Second-year linebacker Patrick Queen is emerging star this season.
There, I’ve said positive things about Baltimore’s defense. It will be difficult to prop up the rest of the unit as “satisfactory” based on all the changes that have happened in the last 12 months.
Marlon Humphrey was in the running to become the best corner in the game, but he wasn’t as dominant as expected and landed on IR with a pectoral injury. The presence of Marcus Peters may have been helping Humphrey, but he tore his ACL before the season started. Matt Judon was allowed to leave in free agency and he has been a dominant edge rusher for the Patriots.
Calais Campbell is 35, Jimmy Smith and Pernell McPhee are 33; Derek Wolfe and L.J. Fort, two starters in 2020, are 31-year-olds on injured reserve. It seems a lot has caught up to the Ravens this season and they aren’t what they used to be.
Will they take last week’s slaughter at the hands of Burrow personally? Does a different Ravens defense show up on Sunday? The only thing that seems certain is that there will be even more changes to the defense in 2022.
2021 Defensive Ranks
Points Allowed: 20th
Yards Allowed: 25th
Turnovers Forced: 31st
Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 32nd
Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 28th
Rushing Yards Allowed: 1st
Yards Per Carry Allowed: 5th
Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 7th
Points Per Drive Allowed: 17th
TOP allowed: 2nd
Red Zone D: 10th
3rd down rate: 3rd
Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 8th
K - Justin Tucker is arguably the most watchable kicker of my lifetime and should be in the Hall of Fame one day. He has the longest kick of 2021 (66 yards) and at 32, he may still have another 10 years or more left in him. Tucker is 6-of-6 from 50+ this season and he’s the last guy I’d want to see attempting an onside kick against me.
P - Sam Koch is a 16-year veteran who has never punted for anyone other than the Ravens—he seems as good now as he has been for the last 10 years.
KR/PR - Devin Duvernay hasn’t blossomed into much of a receiver yet but he did have a kickoff return TD in 2020 and he’s a Pro Bowler in 2021—Duvernay leads the NFL in punt return yards and punt return average (14.4) but he has scored zero touchdowns and is questionable to play on Sunday.
Ravens got a few guys back to practice: WR Devin Duvernay (knee), FB Patrick Ricard (knee), ILB Malik Harrison (illness), QB Tyler Huntley (Covid-19), DB Anthony Levine Sr. were among those who returned.— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) December 30, 2021
Last 3 games
- Browns 24, Ravens 22 - Lamar Jackson starts but exits after four pass attempts. Browns take a 24-3 lead just before halftime when Myles Garrett sacks Tyler Huntley and returns the fumble for a touchdown. Baltimore held Cleveland’s offense without points on their final seven drives, but the offense failed to get the field goal they needed in the final minute and turned it over on downs.
- Packers 31, Ravens 30 - A close game becomes a 31-17 Packers lead midway through the fourth quarter. Huntley and Marquise Brown help Baltimore cut the lead to 31-24 but the d rive takes almost five minutes off the game clock. The Ravens force a three-and-out and Huntley again leads the team to a touchdown but John Harbaugh elects to go for two rather than test overtime at home. The conversion fails, the onside fails, and the Packers win.
- Bengals 41, Ravens 21 - Josh Johnson comes off the street to start at quarterback and gives Baltimore an early 7-3 lead. Johnson plays reasonably well, but Joe Burrow throws for 525 yards and four touchdowns, including 194 yards to Tee Higgins, and Cincinnati routs their division rivals.