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Ravens' defense improving since break

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Ravens' defense improving since break

With all of the changes the Ravens went through in the off-season, some wondered if the first half of 2012 would just be a time for everyone and everything to try and come together.

The defense was up and down during that time and got hit even harder by injuries to players like Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and others, like Jimmy Smith. They were having trouble stopping both the run and pass and not getting a great pass rush. 

But things have been slowly changing since the break. The pass rush is getting better. The defense against the run and pass, while still not where they'd like it to be, has certainly improved, and the Ravens have won three straight, including two on the road. They'll have another test this weekend when they go to San Diego to see the Chargers.

There's been a lot of improvement on the defense. The return of Terrell Suggs certainly has helped. Corey Graham has done well at cornerback. Paul Kruger's coming on and becoming a pass rushing threat. 

The defense likes what they've seen, but Suggs said they're just working at improving on a regular basis. 

"Well, we have to see at the end of the 16 [-game schedule] where we fare," Suggs said when talking to the media on Wednesday. "We are just going to keep trying to play very good football all around, good defense, and keep trying to compile wins. We’re going to continue to try to get better each week. We just have to wait and see where we end up at.”

The work against the Steelers last week might have been the best effort this season. Sure, Pittsburgh was using a back-up quarterback -- battling a few broken ribs -- but Byron Leftwich is an NFL guy. 

Philip Rivers will provide another test this week. The defense just need to work on continually improving. If they can do that, it will pay off down the line.

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By putting a premium on tight ends, the Ravens have been able to produce a unique offense

By putting a premium on tight ends, the Ravens have been able to produce a unique offense

During the 2019 season, the Baltimore Ravens put together one of the more innovative offenses the league has ever seen. While Lamar Jackson had a big part in making that possible, so did the tight ends.

A three-headed monster consisting of Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle, the tight end group did a little of everything during the season. Last season may have been the year it all came together, but the groundwork began years back. Years prior, tight end was still an important position for Baltimore. 

"We've always placed a premium on the position," General Manager Eric DeCosta told reporters on Tuesday at the NFL Combine.

Before Greg Roman became the offensive coordinator this past campaign, he served as the tight ends coach for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. At that time he already had Boyle, who was taken in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Come 2018, the Ravens began to make the switch to a different look on offense. Having the plan to select Lamar Jackson in the 2018 NFL Draft, DeCosta, who was the assistant GM at the time, and others knew that the tight end position would become crucial in the offense that would be run with Jackson.

"We've always thought that was an important position and then with our offense, Greg Roman, he's always been a coach that liked a lot of multiple looks," DeCosta said. "And I think tight ends really do factor into that."

Therefore, Baltimore put a premium on a few in the draft. Two that received the highest grades from them were Hurst and Andrews. Hurst was someone the Ravens felt comfortable selecting with the 25th overall pick in 2018. But when Andrews was still available in the third round, it seemed like something that was too good to be true.

"People were surprised when we drafted Hayden and then drafted Mark Andrews," DeCosta told reporters on Tuesday at the NFL Combine. "For us, we had high grades on Hayden and also Mark. Hayden we thought was going to be a really good player. But when Mark was there in the third round it made too much sense for us to not take him."

Adding those two with Boyle, who DeCosta sees as one of the best blocking tight ends in football, the Ravens had a lot to work with. DeCosta also throws Pat Ricard into the equation. Though he came out of Maine as a defensive lineman, he's played valuable snaps at fullback and tight end for Baltimore, specifically in 2019.

The Ravens set out to make an impact at the tight end position, and in 2019 they were able to see the fruits of their labor. Andrews put together a dominant season in which he caught 64 passes for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hurst and Boyle acted as serviceable options, both catching 30 or more passes, while Ricard did a little bit of everything.

For Baltimore's offense to do what it did in 2019, the tight end position had to contribute a great amount. Seeing a vision for the future, the Ravens set out to get those pieces through the draft in recent years. The result? Potentially the most talented and deep tight end group in the NFL and an offense like none other.

"I think Greg Roman has done a great job of taking all those pieces and making us a very innovative and unique offense," DeCosta said.

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Jalen Hurts' defiant NFL Combine comments mirror Lamar Jackson's

Jalen Hurts' defiant NFL Combine comments mirror Lamar Jackson's

It seems kind of laughable now, doesn’t it?

In 2018, questions about Lamar Jackson’s future position were unavoidable. His speed and elusiveness, combined with a spotty track record when it came to accuracy, had teams salivating about his potential at a number of skill positions in the NFL -- quarterback not included.

Now, coming off a unanimous MVP campaign, during which he rewrote record books and established himself as one of the young faces of the next generation of quarterbacks, it’s strange to look back on a time when the majority of football pundits thought his future was at wide receiver or running back.

Jackson’s undeniable success has not only taken the NFL by storm, it’s paved the way for future athletic college quarterbacks to stick at the position.

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, formerly of Alabama and one of the top players in the country, is receiving the same questions at this year’s NFL Combine that Jackson fielded at his. Namely, is he willing to switch positions?

His answer mirrors Jackson’s. He’s a quarterback only, and he has no interest in switching positions to appease an organization with less foresight than what the Ravens had with Jackson.

While Hurts didn’t mention Jackson by name in his reasoning, it’s hard not to draw parallels. Jackson’s 2019 season was one for the history books, and his influence will continue to trickle down to future generations.

Players like Jackson and Hurts haven’t always had the same opportunities to succeed -- or, more importantly, fail -- as other, more “traditional” quarterbacks have had in the course of NFL history. But organizations that are creative and willing to tailor their offensive schemes to the attributes of their quarterbacks are taking advantage of a largely backward-minded league.

Teams that look at Hurts and see a unique skillset full of things he can do, rather than what he can’t, are the way of the future. 

Hurts himself, along with a generation of fellow athletic quarterbacks entering the league over the next few seasons, are betting on this future when they demand to be evaluated as quarterbacks only.

They may have found a way to push through on their own. But Jackson’s incredible year has opened up the path in a major way, making it that much easier for the next crop of unique, talented quarterbacks to shine.

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