Lamar Jackson was the spark plug the 2018 Ravens needed to finish the season 6-1 and capture an AFC North Championship. But is Jackson the most effective long-term answer at quarterback? Sportsbooks are projecting a competitive AFC North with a cluster of three above .500 teams in the Browns, Steelers, and Ravens.
My analysis will show you three reasons why you can eliminate the Ravens from the 2019 AFC North champion conversation. I will highlight the three main reasons the Ravens are not built for success in 2019 and will finish under their Vegas projected win total.
1. Lamar Jackson
The 2019 Ravens electing Jackson under center will make it impossible for me to back the Ravens in the NFL win total market. Additionally, I will most likely never back the Ravens in 2019 past Week 2.
The 2018 Jackson lead offense was a one trick pony rushing attack.
Raven’s Ball Control
This ball control centered offense was effective when the team played with the lead. The Ravens were the #2 team (behind Kansas City) in time of possession with the lead in 2018. Baltimore was also #1 in total time of possession in 2018 due to the ball control running attack.
Yet, you cannot expect any team in today’s NFL to play a run first ball control offense over an adversity plagued 17-week schedule and expect success. Today’s NFL requires a successful vertical passing game to sustain long term success.
Lamar Jackson Passing
Football Outsiders has Jackson boasting a -9.2% Defense-Adjusted Value of Replacement (DVOA) in 2018 when passing the ball. This places Jackson in the inconsistent quarterback company of Foles, Mariota, Prescott, a hurt Cam Newton, and… Eli Manning.
Football Outsiders DVOA system assigns every yard a “success value” based on down, distance, field location, time remaining, game score, and opponent, relative to the rest of the league that season.
Jackson’s QBR in 2018 was 45.1, in the company of Sam Darnold and Ryan Tannehill. This is not the quality of passing quarterback QB you want to be rooting for when you are depending on a second half comeback. Tannehill is one of the worst QBs in football and is no longer a starter as he was traded away this off season.
Lamar Jackson Rushing
Hold on a second, Jackson did his damage on the ground you might be thinking. While this may be true, the metrics do not show this to be the most effective game plan to undertake. Besides the fact that it is ignorant to run your quarterback 17 times a game. Much less a 6”2’ 210-pound wiry framed quarterback being sent into the meat grinders we call NFL defenses.
Despite common misconception, Jackson was inefficient when running. Jackson’s DVOA when rushing was -27.2%. This efficiency is similar to Alfred Blue and LeGarrette Blount… Would you want your team handing Alfred Blue or LeGarrette Blount 17 touches a game?
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has come out and made the bold statement that Jackson will run less in 2019. Considering the fact Jackson averaged 17 carries per games in his 7 starts to finish the regular season, I don’t think he can go anywhere but down. 17 carries over a 16-game schedule would place Jackson #2 on the running back attempts list behind Ezekiel Elliott at #1 and in front of Saquon Barkley at #3.
This decrease in rush attempts while obvious, is the only answer to long term success. Jackson not only was inefficient and over worked, he has a serious fumbling issue.
This is a serious issue Jackson is plagued with as he fumbled 25 times over his three-year college career. Jackson fumbling is not a question of if, but when. The teams who wins the turnover battle, roughly wins 78% of the time throughout the history of the NFL.
The more Jackson touches and turns the ball over, the less likely the Ravens are to emerge a winner in 2019. This means Jackson must improve as a passer or the season will be over quicker than you can say, “Tank for Tua”.
2. New offense with limited weapons
Greg Roman will be the new offensive coordinator for the Ravens in 2019. Roman was the Raven’s run-game coordinator in 2018 and does have experience working as an offensive coordinator with a mobile quarterback. Roman worked with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco from 2011-14.
Roman will install a brand-new offense in 2019 and starting quarterback Lamar Jackson was unaware of this fact until he showed up to OTAs. This lack of communication is not ideal for a new offensive coordinator taking over a questionable offensive situation.
In most situations where a new offense is installed there will be an adjustment period. I do not see any over whelming offensive talent on the 2019 Raven’s roster to make me think this will be any different. Lamar Jackson is already a limited passer and the Ravens receiving core will not mask any deficiencies.
2019 Wide Receiver Weapons
2018 Pro Football Focus End of Year Rankings
#82 John Brown
#83 Willie Snead
2018 Football Outsiders End of Year DVOA Percentages
Willie Snead -9.8%
John Brown -12.2%
The top two primary Raven’s receivers provided less value per play than the average replacement at their position in 2018.
Snead served as the Ravens most consistent receiver as he led the team with 62 receptions and 37 first down conversions. Snead also hauled in 1 touchdown on 651 yards. Snead’s production while not outstanding, did not decline with the takeover of Lamar Jackson at quarterback.
Brown flashed early brilliance off deep pass opportunities provided by the strong-armed Joe Flacco. This early success serves as a facade to Brown’s 2018 numbers as he diminished to relative insignificance once the now 2019 quarterback Lamar Jackson began starting games.
Brown managed to lead the team with 5 touchdowns and 715 yards in 2018 due to his success with Joe Flacco as quarterback weeks 1 through 10. From weeks 11 to 17 Brown compiled only 171 of his 715 yards and 1 of his 5 touchdowns. 76% of Brown’s annual yardage production was done the first 58% of the season.
John Brown has proven to be an effective receiver when the right quarterback can get him the ball. The Buffalo Bills rewarded Brown with a 3 year $27 million dollar deal this off season.
The Ravens acknowledged they have the need for a play-maker at the wide receiver position by selecting Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. “Hollywood” Brown was a dynamic receiver at the University of Oklahoma and the Ravens are hoping he adds the explosiveness they are lacking.
I have a hard time understating how “Hollywood” Brown is a fit for Jackson’s receiver preference. “Hollywood” Brown is an undersized speedster (5’9” 166 lbs) similar to the departed John Brown (5’11” 178 lbs).
John Brown was the wide receiver rendered most ineffective by Lamar Jackson. Jackson seems to prefer the large frame targets of Willie Snead and TE Mark Andrews. The better fit for Jackson would have been N’Keal Harry out of Arizona State who was later drafted by the Patriots in the first round.
2019 Offensive Outlook
The 2019 Ravens are already shaping up to be a one-dimensional offensive team. A new offensive coordinator installing a new offense with a run first quarterback surrounded by limited weapons.
It may not take long for NFL defensive coordinators to create unique defensive schemes for the Greg Roman offense and force Jackson to beat them with his arm.
We have already witnessed a defense face a Jackson lead offense for the second time. I believe the 2018 AFC Wild Card game was a glimpse into the 2019 season.
3. Critical losses to the defense
Ever since Ray Lewis began setting the bone-crunching tone in the late 90’s, the Ravens have been synonymous with defense. However, Ray Lewis’s last season was 2012 and the 2019 Ravens will have to adjust to the loss of three of the best defenders from 2018.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Ravens the 6th best defense in 2018 and Football Outsiders has the 2018 Ravens ranked #3 in Defensive DVOA. The 2018 group was a well-rounded combination of talent and leadership on all three levels of the defense.
All three levels of the defense will be at a deficit for leadership in 2019. The Ravens lose two potential Hall of Famers in safety Eric Weddle and defensive end Terrell Suggs. They also lose four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosely.
Much like life itself, sports are dependent on having proper leadership. Having the right people in the locker room to set a culture can completely change the complexion of a team.
The 2018 Ravens defense was the primary reason for the 10-6 AFC North Championship season. I don’t see how the 2019 Ravens repeat the same level of defensive performance with the loss of talent and leadership at all three of the levels of defense.
Role Player Losses
Additional key defensive production loses are edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and interior lineman Brent Urban. While Urban was not putting excessive pressure on the QB, he excelled as a run defender. Smith was much the opposite as he was primarily a pass rusher and an excellent one at that.
Smith tallied 8.5 sacks in 2018 to lead the team. The previously mentioned Suggs was second to Smith with 7 sacks. Baltimore will lose 43% of its sack production from 2018. Who will get to the QB in 2019?
How were these losses addressed in the 2019 Off Season and Draft?
The Ravens signed All-Pro Safety Earl Thomas to address leadership and play-making concerns. Thomas has not played a full season since 2015 due to injuries.
2019 will be Thomas’ 10th NFL season and he is coming off his second season ending leg fracture injury. You have to wonder at what point do we see a decline in Thomas’ Pro Bowl caliber play.
Thomas is well aware injuries can derail your career and earning potential. He has made it clear money is a motivation. Thomas held out with the Seahawks in 2018 over contract disputes.
If the Ravens are obviously not going to contend for the playoffs by mid season, at what point does Thomas pack it in and play with less intensity? Given Thomas’ past actions, it would not surprise me if Thomas conserved his long term health once the Ravens are out of playoff contention.
3rd round pick- Jaylon Ferguson OLB
4th round pick- Iman Marshall CB
5th round pick- Daylon Mack DT
Can these inexperienced rookies replace the production of proven veterans?
Make Your Bet
A major factor for the high 2018 defensive metrics was Baltimore leading the NFL in time of possession. The high time of possession kept the defense off the field and well-rested. If Jackson cannot sustain drives the defense will wilt in the second half of games.
Lamar Jackson is the catalyst of success or failure in 2019.
If you want to bet on the emergence of new defensive leaders facilitating the same high level of play we saw in 2018, coupled with Lamar Jackson taking a significant step forward in the passing game, you should be all in on the Ravens.
However, these are the two major concerns the 2019 Ravens must address.
My bet is it does not come together and the 2019 Ravens face a losing season.
2019 Ravens Win Total
Under 8.5 Wins (-120)