WELCOME BACK: Smashmouth offense. The Ravens must be a run-first team in 2018. QB JOE FLACCO is faltering, the receiving corps is mediocre and the line is unathletic. The ground game better suits the Ravens because run-blocking is a proactive movement, whereas pass-blocking is reactive. Offensive coordinator MARTY MORNHINWEG and run-game coordinator GREG ROMAN must be creative in structuring double-team blocks and using tight ends and H-backs as blockers. Tailback ALEX COLLINS can cover for some of the weaknesses; he fights for yardage and uses his surprisingly light feet to create space.
The mobility of first-round pick LAMAR JACKSON can amplify a rushing attack, and this staff is led by men who have had success with running quarterbacks: Roman with the 49ers in 2012, when Colin Kaepernick reached the Super Bowl, and Mornhinweg and new QB coach JAMES URBAN with the Eagles in '10, when Michael Vick nearly won MVP. A change under center and an accompanying shift in style seem inevitable.
Baltimore played with two tight ends more than any team last season. Expect that to continue with their drafting of HAYDEN HURST in the first round and MARK ANDREWS in the third. The receiving corps has been modestly upgraded but not sufficiently reconstructed. MICHAEL CRABTREE is the new Jeremy Maclin, JOHN BROWN is the new Mike Wallace and WILLIE SNEAD is the new Michael Campanaro. (BRESHAD PERRIMAN, the team's first-round pick from 2015, will presumably be the same invisible Breshad Perriman.)
When you ask NFL coaches which defense they least like facing, the Ravens always comes up, for two reasons: their front seven can stop the run, and their third-down blitz packages are creative. With ERIC WEDDLE and TONY JEFFERSON as safeties, new coordinator DON MARTINDALE will disguise blitzes and coverages as much as predecessor Dean Pees. Weddle, 33, may be the NFL's savviest DB, while Jefferson can match up with tight ends and patrol in space. As a box defender he's more dangerous than any safety, except maybe the Giants' Landon Collins.
2017 RECORD 9W 7L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 7W 9L
13th @BENGALS [Thursday]
23rd @CHARGERS [Flex/Saturday]
IF NEWCOMER MICHAEL CRABTREE can rediscover the sharp route running and sticky hands he displayed earlier in his career in San Francisco and in Oakland, then Baltimore's passing game might have a chance.