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State of the 2022 Baltimore Ravens: Can Lamar Jackson spearhead a bounce-back campaign?

Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.

Before we get into my analysis of the Ravens, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the unexpected passing of Jaylon Ferguson, who died on June 21 at the age of 26. A third-round pick out of Louisiana Tech in 2019, Ferguson posted 67 tackles and 4.5 sacks in three seasons as an edge rusher with Baltimore, starting 10 of the 38 games he played in. His death, as well as the death of former Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, a member of the Super Bowl XXXV-winning team, is being felt inside the organization and by many others across the NFL community

Such tragic news offers another reminder that there are things bigger than football, even though it's my job to cover the league each day. I will transition back to my look at the state of affairs in Baltimore, knowing full well there's no good way to do it. My condolences to all those affected by the loss of those two men. It's my sincere hope that they're able to find peace.

2021 rewind

One high from last season: Beating the Browns, 16-10, in Week 12 to improve to 8-3. It looked like a trip to the playoffs was all but guaranteed, like the only thing that could keep the Ravens out would be losing every game the rest of the way ...

One low from last season: Losing six straight to close out the season. Well, that's exactly what happened. The indignity is the losing streak started with a 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens went for two after scoring on a 6-yard pass from Lamar Jackson to Sammy Watkins with 12 seconds remaining, but the try was unsuccessful

During that losing streak, five of the six losses were by three points or fewer, and Baltimore fell to the Steelers in an overtime heartbreaker to end the season.

2022 VIPs

Head coach: John Harbaugh. I still love him. That loss to the Steelers in Week 13 was awful. But I loved the moxie of trusting his team and going for the win. It wasn't the first time he did something like that. Sometimes those moves work. That time it didn't. But if you would tell me that you can either win or lose with one play from Lamar Jackson, I would have rolled the dice, too. But here's my thing: I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this. Harbaugh is one of the best in the business. The Ravens are lucky to have him.

Quarterback: Lamar Jackson. I would like to think we're past the point where I have to defend Lamar against criticism, but that's just naïve. The haters must have relished last year. They knocked him when he went 24-6 as a starter from 2019 to 2020 with a passer rating well above 100. But last year, they all came out in force when Lamar had a 16:13 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That ranked 27th among 31 qualified quarterbacks. The only qualifiers with a worse TD-INT ratio were Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence, Sam Darnold and one other guy that I don't want to mention because I'm a Bears fan (OK, it was Justin Fields).

But Lamar is still the only player in NFL history with 2,500-plus passing yards and 1,000-plus rushing yards in a single season. He did that in back-to-back years, actually. He's also the only player in NFL history with more than 7,500 passing yards and 3,500 rushing yards in his first four seasons. His passer rating has declined in each of the two seasons since he won the MVP award in 2019, but I'm still a big believer. He's going to need to improve his passing. But he can win in this league, which is why the Ravens would like to discuss a contract extension with him.

Projected 2022 MVP: Jackson. Look, the Ravens missed the playoffs in 2021, the first time that's happened in the Lamar Jackson era. Jackson missed five games, including the final four with an ankle injury. It's worth noting the Ravens were 1-4 in games without him. They were 7-5 with him. The dude is pretty important.

New face to know: Morgan Moses, offensive tackle. Moses, who has started all but one game over the past seven seasons, was a great signing for Baltimore, which needed some help on the offensive line. The Ravens also made a great draft pick (which is what the Ravens do) when they selected center Tyler Linderbaum 25th overall. The Ravens need to protect Lamar, who had a passer rating of 70.0 against the blitz in 2021, the fourth-lowest mark in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats.

2022 breakout star: Justin Madubuike, defensive tackle. The third-year player started 11 games last season and had some nice moments, including some solid work against the Packers in Week 15. But he drew some rave reviews in recent OTAs. It could just be a coincidence, but maybe working out with Aaron Donald has helped him. He is one to watch this season.

2022 roadmap

Three key dates:

  • Week 1 at New York Jets. The Ravens have the 10th-lowest strength of schedule this year. But four of their first five games are against the Dolphins, Patriots, Bills and Bengals. That's why they can't afford to take this opener against the Jets lightly. 
  • Week 11 vs. Carolina Panthers. The Ravens return from a Week 10 bye to face the Panthers and Jaguars in consecutive weeks, two games that I figure -- at least for now -- they will be favored in. 
  • Week 14 at Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens won't see the Steelers until Week 14 this season. They play them twice in the last month, with the second meeting in Week 17. Baltimore will look to avenge the sweep from last year. What's weird is there are more sweeps in this series than you would expect.

Will the Ravens be able to ...

... replace Marquise Brown? The Ravens traded Brown to the Cardinals on the first day of this year's draft, and here's the thing: Brown had 91 receptions for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns last year. He was second on the team in catches, behind only Mark Andrews, who led all tight ends in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. The dude was on fire, but he's going to need some help this year. Rashod Bateman, a 2021 first-round pick, is the guy the Ravens are counting on to step up. He was decent last year after missing the first five weeks with a groin injury, making 46 catches for 515 yards and a touchdown. But he did have at least 80 receiving yards in three of the last seven games he played with Lamar last year. I'm expecting a huge breakout for him. Remember, Sammy Watkins is gone this year, too.

... stop opposing offenses? The Ravens allowed 6.0 yards per play in 2021, the most in the NFL. It ended up costing veteran coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale his job. Which was kind of a surprise because, I mean, it's Wink Martindale. Mike Macdonald is taking over for him. He worked for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan last season after spending the previous seven years as a Ravens assistant. And he looks to revive a defense that allowed 23.1 points per game last year (most by Baltimore since 2015). The Ravens had just three guys post more than two sacks last year, but a lot of players are returning from injury in 2022.

Cornerback Marcus Peters missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL. Fellow corner Marlon Humphrey missed the final five games of 2021 with a torn pec. And the team invested in the secondary this offseason. The Ravens signed safety Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million deal. He's one of seven players with at least 300 tackles and 15 picks since 2017. Also, Baltimore drafted Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with the 14th overall selection. And he'll likely end up being the DROY because it's the Ravens. It's what they do.

One storyline ...

... people shouldn't overthink: Lamar Jackson's declining passer rating. I mean, it's important. And people like to talk about it a lot. But let's not kid ourselves. This is a run-first offense under Greg Roman. The Ravens' offense averaged 145.8 rushing yards per game in 2021, third most in the NFL. They've led the NFL in carries per game and rushing yards per game during Roman's time as OC in Baltimore (since 2019). Lamar has led the Ravens in rushing in each of the last three seasons, but let's remember J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards both missed all of last season. The Ravens added to their running back room by signing Mike Davis, who sort of struggled in Atlanta last season. But he could end up being a quality performer for the Ravens this year.

... people shouldn't overlook: Odafe Oweh was pretty great in 2021. Oweh had five turnovers caused by pressure in 2021, which was tied for the most in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Oweh posted five sacks, 15 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles as a rookie. Like I said before, this is just the kind of stuff the Ravens pull off all the time.

For 2022 to be a success, the Ravens MUST:

  • Get back to the playoffs. I mean, I love Harbaugh and Lamar. But it seemed like Harbaugh was almost out the door before Lamar broke through a few years ago. Now both could be in trouble if they don't get this thing working again. It's like when Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are making movies. I know we give them the benefit of the doubt because of what they did in the past. But another movie like The Internship and we're going to start turning on them. Wait, who am I kidding? I loved that movie.

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