Even as Ravens decision-makers maintain that their roster construction is ongoing and more additions will be made ahead of the team’s 2017 regular-season opener, they’ve expressed confidence that the current team is improved from last season.
That seems pretty clear on the defensive side of the ball, but it would be nearly impossible to make that claim on the offensive side.
Regardless, here are five numbers from 2016 that will need to change for the Ravens to get back to the postseason:
That was quarterback Joe Flacco’s yards per throwing attempt average, ranking him ahead of only three quarterbacks: Blake Bortles (6.25), Carson Wentz (6.23) and Brock Osweiler (5.80). It wasn’t long ago when Flacco was considered one of the best deep-ball throwers in the league. However, all too often in recent years, the Ravens passing game has featured dump-offs to running backs or passes short of the first-down sticks to wide receivers and tight ends. The Ravens badly need to rediscover their downfield passing game to become a more dynamic offense. With Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Chris Moore at wide receiver, they have the necessary speed on the outside to make it work. But the offensive line will need to hold up and Flacco will need to take more shots down the field.
That’s the number of rushing attempts the Ravens averaged per game, continuing a trend from 2015. In back-to-back years, the Ravens have set franchise lows in rushing attempts for a season. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has acknowledged that his team needs to be more committed to the run and more productive when it does run the ball. However, that was said last year, too. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is not known as a run-first play caller and the Ravens have some questions along their offensive line. By now, it should be clear that the Ravens are going to struggle if Flacco has to consistently throw the ball over 40 times per game. The Ravens need to be persistent in running the football, even if it’s not necessarily resulting in a lot of yards per carry.
That’s the number of players of players the Ravens had on injured reserve when the 2016 season ended. In 2015, they put 20 players on injured reserve, the most in Harbaugh’s tenure. Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL and no team is spared. However, the Ravens have gotten hit hard over the past couple of years. The secondary, in particular, has been ravaged with guys going down, prompting a revolving door at cornerback. The Ravens could certainly use a little better fortune in the injury department. They also hope that the workout programs, put in place by director of performance Steve Saunders, will help lessen some of the nagging physical problems players have endured.
That’s the number of sacks the Ravens had. Only the New Orleans Saints (30), Kansas City Chiefs (28), New York Jets (27), Cleveland Browns (26), Detroit Lions (26) and Oakland Raiders (25) had fewer. The pass rush was especially nonexistent in key late-season losses to the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. The front office has prioritized fixing the matter, using second-day draft picks on Houston’s Tyus Bowser and Alabama’s Tim Williams. They join outside linebackers Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon and Za’Darius Smith. The team has clearly improved on the back end with the additions of Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey and Tony Jefferson. The biggest key to an improved pass defense, though, is a relentless pass rush. The Ravens’ top defenses over the years have had the ability to hit and harass quarterbacks. The 2017 team needs to be able to do that, too.
That’s the number of fourth-quarter points the Ravens allowed last season. By comparison, they surrendered 73 total points in the first quarter, 79 in the second and 60 in the third. The fourth quarter brought out the worst in the defense. It allowed late game-winning scores to the Raiders, New York Giants and Steelers. It nearly blew games in the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles. Ravens defensive players talk all the time about how they want to be on the field late in games to close out wins. The opposite happened too often in 2016, and that trend needs to change if the Ravens are going to have a championship-level defense. Some of the onus here falls on the offense, which needs to extend drives and keep the defense off the field more and out of tough situations.