Advertisement
Mike Preston

Mike Preston: WR Rashod Bateman is ready to take charge. The Ravens need him to. | COMMENTARY

If rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman wants to make a name for himself and have a significant impact on the Ravens’ 2021 season, the time is now.

Bateman, the No. 27 overall pick in April’s NFL draft out of Minnesota, turned in a strong effort Sunday with seven catches for a career-high 103 yards in the Ravens’ 24-22 loss to the Cleveland Browns. It was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver, but the Ravens are probably going to need stronger performances in the next couple of weeks against the Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers to close out the regular season.

Advertisement

To beat Hall of Fame quarterbacks like the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens need touchdowns. And that’s why Bateman is wearing purple and black.

Playmakers are supposed to make big plays.

Advertisement

“As an offense, we know we’ve got to put up points,” said Bateman, who has 32 catches for 404 yards in eight games this season. “Every offense, that’s your job — is to put up points. We’ve just got to come out here on this field, execute it, take it over on Sundays and do it. So, hopefully we can do that and come out on top Sunday.”

It’s unusual to talk about high-profile receivers in the Ravens’ offense. A little more than three years ago, when Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback, the Ravens went with a run-oriented, ball-control offense that wanted to dominate time of possession.

That’s great in theory, and the Ravens might be able to pull that off in the coming weeks. But the Packers are averaging 25.2 points and 253.8 passing yards a game with Rodgers, who’s simply the best passer in the NFL. Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow is no slouch either, having ripped up the Ravens’ defense for 416 yards in their first encounter this season, a 41-17 Bengals win. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is third in the league with 3,898 passing yards and second with 33 touchdown passes.

Roethlisberger needs no introduction.

Worse yet, the Ravens’ secondary has been decimated by season-ending injuries to cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and safety DeShon Elliott. This isn’t just about the next-man-up theory.

The Ravens will need some explosive plays to match explosive plays.

Bateman stood out against the Browns. He made a key 36-yard reception down the left sideline in the second half when he snagged a pass from backup quarterback Tyler Huntley with his outstretched arms. The Ravens need a receiver on the outside to complement tight end Mark Andrews, who has become the team’s go-to player in crunch time.

Marquise Brown has performed well at times, and his speed in the slot always makes him a vertical threat. But in games in which defensive backs deliver crunching tackles, the 5-9, 180-pound Brown can disappear.

Advertisement

That hasn’t happened to Bateman. He is thick enough to use his body as a shield between a defender and the ball, fast enough to run around or through a lot of cornerbacks and physical enough to fight off defenders while leaping for a jump ball.

A lot of teams have been blitzing the Ravens lately, which is the ideal time for those go-routes or straight “fly” patterns.

“Rashod has been practicing hard. He’s been productive in practice. To see it show up in the game, on some of the nine-routes especially, the catch-and-run play [and] also on the two kind of back-shoulder fades there, it was just great,” coach John Harbaugh said of Bateman’s performance against Cleveland. “He is a talented guy; I love it. I love every bit of it. I’m seeing more and more of that.”

The Ravens have yet to decide whether the injured Jackson (ankle) or Huntley will start against Green Bay, but Huntley showed a connection with all his receivers against the Browns. Seven Ravens caught passes, a different approach from Huntley’s first start against Chicago in which he basically stayed in his comfort zone by throwing to Andrews in the first half.

Bateman, though, has been patient. Entering Sunday, he had caught only seven passes over the previous three games. Regardless, he has always shown the ability to snag passes. He might eventually end up being the No. 1 receiver the Ravens have coveted since the early days of this franchise with Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson in the mid-1990s.

It depends on whether the Ravens are willing to take chances and throw downfield. Of course, the situation might force them to.

Advertisement

“The way I look at it is you’re either selfish or you’re not selfish,” Bateman said. “At the end of the day, it’s not about me, it’s not about my success, it’s not about what I’m doing and my stat line. It’s about what am I doing to help this team win? At the end of the day, that’s what matters.

“Going through injury, going through COVID, going through things like that when things are just not right, you’ve just got to keep going and put your trust in your brothers that you put in the work with. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”


Advertisement