The expectations for the Baltimore Ravens 2021 season were high. So high, in fact, that the Ravens were ranked anywhere from the fourth-best to the seventh-best team in the NFL. They were nationally considered to be the second or third-best team in the AFC and were a lock to make the playoffs.
Now, after the end of August and entering into September 13th, when the Ravens open the season against the Las Vegas Raiders, those expectations have dropped considerably. And considering that over twelve days the Ravens lost their top three running backs and number two cornerback to season-ending injuries, it’s not hard to see why.
“I think you mourn for a day and we fight today,” head coach John Harbaugh said per Ravens insider Jamison Hensley. “We got a really good team, a lot of great players. We can move forward. The train is moving fast.”
The Ravens may only mourn for a day, but the expectations and outlook for the Ravens 2021 season have drastically changed.
The Baltimore Ravens 2021 Season is in Jeopardy
The worst part about all the injuries the Ravens have suffered is that their season has not even started. And they are down J.K. Dobbins, who was expected to become a star running back this season. His backups were Justice Hill and Gus Edwards, the first of whom suffered a torn Achilles and the latter suffered a torn ACL. Edwards tore his ACL the play before star cornerback Marcus Peters tore his own ACL.
“Gus made a left-to-right cut and landed wrong on his ankle and the weight ended up going on his knee. Kind of a fluke deal,” Harbaugh said. “Marcus was just kind of turning, pivoting, on a basic turn he makes dozens of times every single practice.”
Freak injuries happening on normal plays. No rhyme or reason. Unfornutaly, these abnormalities have defined the Ravens 2021 season so far.
The Ravens have responded by signing Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray, who will be joining the recently acquiredLe’Veon Bell. Those three players will be tasked with carrying the ball for the Ravens as they try and fight their way through this mess. Unfortunately, that trio of running backs will only be replacing one area in which the Ravens have been hit by injuries.
How many players have the Ravens lost?
The Ravens currently have 13 players on injured reserve. Led by Peters, Edwards, Dobbins, and Hill, they join inside linebacker and tremendous special teams player L. J. Fort as players whose 2021 season is over. Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin are out for at least the first three weeks.
Bateman had groin surgery last month, and his return in three weeks is not certain. Blocking tight end Nick Boyle was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, and will not return for at least the first three weeks of the season. Cornerback Iman Marshall is also out for the season with a torn ACL.
Needless to say, the Ravens are down a lot of players who would normally start, or contribute in some capacity. Another problem for the Ravens is that Lamar Jackson and his receivers have barely practiced together throughout the offseason. There was a four-week stretch where neither Jackson nor his top four receivers could practice together, due to injuries and Covid-19.
The Ravens have since had about two weeks of practice where Jackson has been able to throw to his receivers, but with Bateman and Boykin out, he still is only throwing to two of his top four. As a result, the chemistry and expected step that Jackson was to take as a passer is going to take longer to happen. If they do at all, the way injuries are piling up for this team. Hopefully, the Ravens 2021 season does not end the same way it has begun.
Can the Ravens Recover?
The Ravens still have a (mostly) strong defense, and Lamar Jackson is still their quarterback. But Peter’s injury could force the Ravens to play more zone and less man coverage. If they do so, they will not be able to blitz as much as they like to. The Ravens were third in 2020 with a blitz percentage of 47.1 percent. This in turn affects how they harass the opposing quarterback; the Ravens would use blitzes as their pass rush.
Unless a 33-year old Justin Houston and rookie Odafe Oweh (who had zero sacks in college last year) can drastically improve the Ravens pass rush, the Ravens defense might be in for some long games. Like next Sunday night when they play the Kansas City Chiefs. Say Oweh and Houston do improve the Ravens pass rush, enough so that the Ravens can play more zone comfortably, to make up for the loss of Peters.
Other teams will still target whoever would be starting in Peters place. And while the Ravens have a deep cornerback room, it’s not that deep. All in all, though, I expect the Ravens defense to mostly hold its own, though it could crumble quickly if the pass rush doesn’t come together and the Ravens have to blitz less.
The main question mark is the offense. And what the Ravens can expect from a backfield that has 2016 has-beens Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, and Latavius Murray? Well, to be honest, probably what old running backs typically offer. Few splash plays, some hard running, and fans hoping that they somehow revert to their past All-Pro selves.
That won’t happen, and the fact that the Ravens did not sign any of these running backs until after Justice Hill tore his ACL tells you what they think of this group. Latavius Murray was released before Edwards tore his ACL, though Murray was released only two days before Edwards’ injury. And while Murray is probably the best running back on the Ravens right now, he has been in the league since 2014 and is not young anymore.
Optimism for the Ravens 2021 Season
Lamar Jackson will be tasked with righting this ship that is sinking under amid a torrent of knee injuries. And for a team that loves to run the ball, he is the right man to do it. As the best running quarterback perhaps ever, he’s proved that he can do it. Jackson will essentially become the Ravens number one running back, which is something he has been for the last two years.
Don’t forget John Harbaugh and his special teams. Harbaugh is a top seven coach in the NFL, and his special teams have almost always been in contention with the New England Patriots for the best in the NFL. The special teams will still be great. Harbaugh still knows how to coach a good team, and bring it through adversity.
And the Ravens have not lost enough that they have no chance to be competitive. The Ravens 2021 season is not lost. They still have talent, but it’ll be almost solely led by Jackson. This season, as of now, rests squarely on his shoulders.
It remains to be seen how well Jackson can handle the responsibility. After the injuries to the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, he is their best, and perhaps only, chance of making the playoffs. Much less the Super Bowl.
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