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MVP times two? What Lamar Jackson's 2019 season could mean for 2020

MVP times two? What Lamar Jackson's 2019 season could mean for 2020

The hype surrounding Lamar Jackson headed into his third season in the league, and second as a starter, is absolutely justified. And that doesn’t mean, if Jackson takes a step back statistically next season, any criticism off that is necessarily warranted. 

But how much of a decline can be expected from Jackson?

Statistically, the Ravens changed the way football was played from an offensive standpoint in 2019. They broke the single-season rushing record for yards in a season and had the league’s most dynamic and successful mobile quarterback in any season in league history. 

But in a box score sense, Jackson is likely due for a decrease in production for two main factors.

Firstly, defenses will be able to prepare for the Ravens’ offense more adequately, considering most teams on the 2020 schedule have seen the offense. While the narrative that the Ravens offense was easier to play the second time around was overplayed, seeing that offense up close before is a clear benefit. And secondly, it’s just hard to match such successful production from year-to-year in the NFL. It’s unreasonable to expect the Ravens to break the single-season rushing record each year, or for Jackson to go on a stretch of multiple MVP awards in a row.

A look at the last six MVPs, all of which were quarterbacks, shows there’s a clear path to a "less productive" 2020 season — but also some hopeful signs for the Ravens.

2014, Peyton Manning: 12-4 record, 395-for-597 passing, 66.2 completion percentage, 4,727 yards passing with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, 8.1 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt.

In fairness to Manning’s 2014 season, he stood no chance of repeating his 2013 campaign when he threw for 55 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He led the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2013 after a 13-3 regular season, but Manning’s numbers in 2014 were still strong enough for him to be one of the league’s best passers. 

His downfall didn’t come until a year later, where he suffered the worst year of his career due to age and injury. But as for Manning’s 2014 season, even when he wasn’t his best, he was still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

2015, Aaron Rodgers: 10-6 record, 347-for-572 passing, 60.7 completion percentage, 3,821 yards passing with 31 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, 7.1 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt, 344 yards rushing, one rushing touchdown.

In a year similar to Manning’s a year prior, Rodgers wasn’t able to back up his incredible 2014 season — but still was excellent. In 2014, he threw for 38 touchdowns and just five interceptions with 4,381 yards passing. While his touchdowns, yards and completion percentage fell and his interception count rose, he was still one of the league’s best. 

The Packers, who lost two more games in 2015 than a year prior, lost in the divisional round to the Cardinals.

2016, Cam Newton: 6-8 record (15 GP), 270-for-510 passing, 52.9 completion percentage, 3,509 yards passing with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, 6.4 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt, 359 yards rushing, five rushing touchdowns.

This is perhaps the most worrying comparison on this list, as Newton and Jackson are the most comparable players of any of the six quarterbacks. 

Newton’s 2015 season was, by far, the best of his career. He threw for 35 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions with 3,837 yards passing. He added 636 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns as the Panthers went 15-1 and lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl. 

In 2016, however, Newton and the Panthers fell off a cliff. They weren’t able to repeat their success from a year earlier and went from 15-1 to 6-10 and placed last in the NFC South. Carolina's offense, which ranked first in the NFL in Newton’s MVP campaign with 31.3 points-per-game, fell to 15th in 2016 with 23.1 points-per-game. 

If Jackson turns out to have the success, and titles, that every other player on this last has, the Ravens will be giddy. A career trajectory like Newton’s, though, will leave the Ravens wanting more.

2017, Matt Ryan: 10-6 record, 342-for-529 passing, 64.7 completion percentage, 4,095 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, 7.5 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt.

Ryan, like a few others, had a tall task to repeat his MVP season. He threw for 38 touchdowns, 4,944 yards and threw just seven interceptions, all career bests.

In returning from a devastating collapse in the 2017 Super Bowl, the Falcons made the playoffs once again, but took a step back and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles. The team’s offense, which scored 33.8 points-per-game in 2016, fell from first in the league to 15th and scored just 22.1 points per game.

While Ryan had a mostly successful season in 2017, his numbers were nowhere near what they were a year prior under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left for the 2017 season.

2018, Tom Brady: 11-5 record, 375-for-570 passing, 65.8 completion percentage, 4,355 yards passing with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, 7.8 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt.

Brady’s regular season in 2018 was, by Brady’s standards, nothing special. He posted the worst record of his career since 2009 and went 11-5. On the heels of a Super Bowl defeat, the Patriots lost two more games than in 2017 and Brady’s passing numbers took only a slight dip.

New England’s offense, which ranked second in 2017 with 28.6 points-per-game, scored 27.3 in 2018. The team was mostly the same from a year prior and won the Super Bowl against the Rams. 

In what could be the Patriots’ last ride of their dynasty, Brady proved he didn’t need the MVP award to win a Super Bowl. 

2019, Patrick Mahomes: 11-3 record (14 GP), 319-for-484 passing, 65.9 completion percentage, 4,031 yards passing with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions, 8.9 adjusted yards-per-pass attempt, 218 rushes with two rushing touchdowns. 

Mahomes set the league ablaze in 2018 and threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. Despite an injury in 2019, he recovered in time to lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. 

His 2019 season wasn’t as strong, statistically, as his first full season as a starter, but his interception rate improved as his completion percentage remained nearly the same. The Chiefs scored about seven less points per game, but the defense improved from 24th in the NFL to 7th over one season.

Jackson’s future:

So what do all those numbers and quarterbacks tell us about Jackson’s 2020 season? 

Firstly, it’s unlikely that he or the Ravens will repeat their historic 2019 season. Jackson combined for 4,333 total yards and 43 touchdowns and threw just six interceptions. He rushed for more yards (1,206) than any quarterback in history and was at the command of the league’s best offense, one that scored 33.2 points-per-game. 

Not only that, no quarterback on that list led their team to a better record the year after they won the MVP award. If fans are expecting a better season than 14-2, or even another 14-2 season, they might be in for a rude awakening.

The Ravens added a second-round running back in J.K. Dobbins to the mix to take the load off the rushing attack, and then added two more wide receivers to continue changing the outlook of the offense. 

In that sense, if Jackson throws more than he did in 2019, he reasonably has the best chance of anyone on this list to improve statistically from his MVP season in terms of total yards. But routinely expecting the league's top offense is unrealistic.

Simply, the Ravens’ 2019 season statistically may have been the high-water mark offensively for Jackson's career — and that’s not a cause for concern. Improving upon 33.2 points-per-game each season is an impossible task for Jackson and the Ravens, and they can still boast the league's best, or one of the best, offenses without setting records seemingly each week.

But just because his and the Ravens’ offensive numbers might go down, as Brady and Mahomes proved, that doesn’t mean Jackson is incapable of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end.

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Ravens training camp preview: How effective of a season can Matthew Judon have?

Ravens training camp preview: How effective of a season can Matthew Judon have?

Rostered outside linebackers: Matthew Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Aaron Adoeye, Chauncey Rivers, Marcus Willoughby, John Daka.

If there was one position of “need” the Ravens didn’t address this offseason, it was outside linebacker.

The Ravens instead added to their interior defensive line and inside linebacking corps, but didn’t add a notable free agent or draft pick at outside linebacker. Instead, they’re set to run back the group from a year ago. 

The team ranked 21st in the NFL a year ago in sacks with 37, but second in quarterback knockdowns. Essentially, the team dialed up pressure more than anyone else in the league but didn’t get home enough. Now, they're hopeful they've fixed that problem.

And if there is a trickle-down benefit to the outside linebackers of those additions elsewhere, it’s that the Ravens’ outside linebackers should have more one-on-one matchups on the outside. Notably, that includes Matthew Judon. 

He finished the year with 9.5 sacks a season ago and had 33 quarterback hits — more than three times the second-place finisher on the roster. And now, he’ll play on the franchise tag in his fifth season in the league. As the team’s top pass-rusher, he’s got a lot of pressure on his back entering the 2020 season. 

RELATED: HOW MUCH WILL THE ROOKIE LB's MAKE AN IMPACT ON THE DEFENSE?

If Judon is able to become an upper-tier pass-rusher this season, he’ll not only boost the Ravens’ defense, he’ll cement his monster contract that appears on the horizon, whether that comes from the Ravens or another team. 

But while Judon is the headliner of the Ravens’ edge rushers, in terms of success of the team this season, he might not be the most important part of the front seven. It might end up being whoever lines up across from him. 

Judon has shown the ability to be a No. 1 pass-rusher in the NFL, and with the benefit of an improved defense around him, it’s reasonable to assume he can repeat his 9.5 sack performance — or better it — in 2020. That shouldn't be the worry.

Where the true test will come, however, is who lines up as the second outside linebacker on the depth chart. 

Pernell McPhee had three sacks last season, but missed a majority of the season with a torn triceps. The team used rookie Jaylon Ferguson, who had 2.5 sacks, and Tyus Bowser, who had five sacks, in his absence.

With Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe on the defensive line, it’s reasonable to assume that the Ravens’ outside linebackers will get more favorable matchups. 

And if Judon and the host of other outside linebackers are able to get more one-on-one matchups, the Ravens’ could wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks in 2020. 

So while the Ravens didn’t address their outside linebacker position this offseason, the additions elsewhere on the roster should provide the benefit that position group needed.

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Report: NFL to cut preseason in half, taking away Ravens first and fourth preseason games against the Bills and Redskins

Report: NFL to cut preseason in half, taking away Ravens first and fourth preseason games against the Bills and Redskins

According to a report from ProFootballTalk, the NFL has scrapped its first and fourth preseason games this season and cut the preseason in half. 

The Ravens were scheduled to play the Bills at home on Aug. 14 to open the season, then end the preseason on Sept. 3 against the Redskins. 

RELATED: TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW: INSIDE LINEBACKER

Now, the Ravens’ tentative preseason schedule will have one road game, at the Cowboys on Aug. 22, and home against the Panthers on Aug. 30. 

According to the report, the move was spurred on by two factors: Firstly, that road teams would have trouble moving that many bodies and risk spreading COVID-19. Secondly, that no team has had on-field workouts this summer. Now, with training camps scheduled to start on July 28, teams will have more time to prepare for the season. 

The move came with coronavirus cases continually rising in the United States a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci said new cases could reach 100,000 per day if more preventative measures were not taken. On June 30, the U.S. had 46,042 new cases, the second-highest total since the pandemic began.

Baltimore is still set to report to camp at the end of the month, as is the rest of the NFL. With the new preseason schedule, they’ll have about three weeks to prepare for the first on-field game action of the season. 

The Ravens haven’t lost in the preseason since Sept. 3, 2015, when they lost 20-19 to the Falcons. 

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