The Baltimore Ravens are entering the 2023 NFL season with as much pressure on them as any other team.
The town of Baltimore is tired of waiting for more playoff success and the expectation for this season is clear improvement. If not, there could be serious changes to the franchise.
Entering training camp, which starts July 26, there are six questions that must be answered if the Ravens hope to enjoy the success expected of them by their fans and the city of Baltimore.
Can Lamar Jackson take a leap as a deep ball passer?
With a new five-year contract worth $260 million, Lamar Jackson is paid and secure in his future as the Ravens quarterback. But, now that he has been signed, can Jackson become the passer Baltimore needs him to be?
In 2022, Jackson led the Ravens to an 8-4 record in the 12 games he played and racked up 2242 yards passing and 17 touchdowns while completing 62.3% of his attempts; the lowest mark since his rookie season.
The biggest issue with Jackson’s passing acumen entering the 2023 NFL season is his ability to accurately get the ball down field and outside the numbers. The Ravens new offensive coordinator has plans to get the ball further down the field and use more of the field. That strategy will require growth from their franchise quarterback. To help, the Ravens also brought in some help in the wide receiver room.
Can Baltimore get more from its group of receivers?
To help incorporate a new offensive coordinator and get the most out of Jackson’s passing, the Ravens dedicated a large chunk of their offseason to finding new targets for their $260 million quarterback.
Odell Beckham was signed to add another weapon to the Ravens offensive attack and Baltimore followed up that move by drafting receiver Zay Flowers in the first round. The team also added Nelson Agholor and brought back Devin Duvernay and James Proche. All those targets for Jackson are in addition to his favorite of them all: tight end Mark Andrews.
Ravens receivers caught a combined seven touchdowns all of last season, but with a new group and offensive coordinator, the Ravens hope for a dramatic improvement in the passing game.
The building blocks of chemistry between Jackson and his receivers is one thing that fans will be able to get a peek at during Ravens training camp.
Will the Ravens changes on offense be enough?
On paper, the changes made around Jackson should improve the offense as a whole, but no team wins games on paper. They have to execute on the field. To lead the Ravens toward that improvement, a new offensive coordinator has replaced Greg Roman.
The Ravens offense will now be a show ran by Todd Monken who previously was the offensive coordinator for the National Champion University of Georgia Bulldogs. John Harbaugh seems set on giving Monken the same freedom once enjoyed by Gary Kubiak back in 2014.
Monken has spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cleveland Browns so this will not be his first foray into the NFL world. His systems tend to thrive in the red zone and he is known to establish an aggressive passing game as well.
In terms of tangible changes to the Ravens offense that can be expected, look for fewer running plays for Jackson and running backs, and a passing game that is significantly more widespread and aggressive. This system, in theory, should provide Jackson with the best offense he has had since he won the MVP award in 2019.
Where will the Ravens pass rush come from?
Losing Justin Houston and Calais Campbell might not sound massive, but it is.
Those two pass rushers combined for 15 sacks last season and Houston led the team despite not even starting. Now, staring down a potential future defense without either, it is impossible not to wonder who is going to pressure the quarterback and take hold of the line of scrimmage.
There is a chance that Houston is brought back during training camp. The past two years led to Houston signing one-year contracts in July with the Ravens. Still, with no movement on that front at the time of this writing, other options must be investigated.
Tyus Bowser should be ready for the 2023 season after missing the first half of last year due to an Achilles issue, but his offseason has been thrown off due to knee issues. Bowser is expected to be ready to go for training camp.
Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo are the next two pass rushers in line. Both have strong potential, but both have come up short of the expectations placed on them. A leap from one or both would be a welcomed sight for the Ravens defense that needs to add more pressure, but pass rushers are not the only gap they have on that side of the ball.
Is there a cornerback who can step up to solidify Baltimore’s passing defense?
The Ravens have one strong corner on their roster in Marlon Humphrey. Beyond him, there are not a lot of sure-fire options at corner.
To round out their passing defense, the Ravens need young corners such as Damarion “Pepe” Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis to thrive in passing situations. Humphrey is the best of the group, but he is better served as a corner who covers the slot. Baltimore also signed Rock Ya-Sin to play on the other side of Humphrey but expect the Ravens to mix up their coverages regularly.
The thin corner position in Baltimore will lead to more pressure being put on the two starting safeties in Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton as well as possibly Brandon Stephens.
Expect a lot of tinkering from defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald throughout training camp, preseason, and potentially even the early portion of the regular season to find the best combination to solidify the Ravens pass defense.
Is John Harbaugh on the hot seat?
There is no denying the Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is one of the greatest coaches ever in the history of Baltimore football. He is the winningest head coach in Ravens history and the longest tenured Ravens coach ever, but if Harbaugh continues to come up short in the postseason, he could find himself without a job.
The Ravens have gone to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, but only have one postseason win to show for their regular season success. If that trend continues, many are going to look at Harbaugh as one of the reasons for their lack of success.
This is likely why Harbaugh brought in Monken to help refurbish this Ravens offense. Jackson and Harbaugh need to show they have what it takes to reach the next level. If they do not, Harbaugh could be on the hot seat with Jackson’s future secure with his new five year contract.