Columnist Mike Preston gives his final grades for the Ravens' season. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Maybe now that the euphoria has died and the disappointment is fading, the Ravens’ 2019 season can be put into perspective.
No one predicted in August that the Ravens would go on a 12-game winning streak, finish 14-2 and become the No. 1 seed in the AFC. With a quarterback and several other starters on offense in their second or rookie seasons, an 11-5 record seemed to be the best the Ravens could achieve.
But quarterback Lamar Jackson developed faster than expected and the team found young stars in Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, receiver Marquise Brown, offensive tackles Orlando Brown Jr. and Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Now, despite the 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional round, the Ravens have set a new standard. Anything less than a win or two in the playoffs, or perhaps an appearance in the AFC title game, would be considered disappointing, and all those rushing and scoring records from 2019 will be virtually meaningless.
But coach John Harbaugh has something to build on. If the Ravens go deeper in the playoffs next season, the past two years can be considered building blocks instead of a failure.
But before we move into the offseason, The Baltimore Sun gives out final grades for 2019:
The Ravens’ playoff loss showed how much Jackson meant to the team. If he didn’t bring his "A" game every week, the Ravens were just a slightly above-average team. During the regular season, Jackson completed 265 of 401 passes (66.1%) for 3,127 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. He was just as big of a threat with his legs, rushing for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns on 176 carries. Jackson made remarkable progress from his first year to his second, but he still needs to work on his arm strength and throwing outside the numbers, and those two straight early playoff exits are lodged in his brain like a nagging headache. That will drive him, but hopefully the pressure won’t get to him. Clearly, Jackson was pressing too hard against the Titans, and the Ravens couldn’t recover. Grade: A
Jackson has to be included with the running backs as well, which is why the Ravens rushed for a league-record 3,296 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. The Ravens had two physical runners in Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards, and they should have used Edwards more, especially in the playoffs. Ingram rushed for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns on 202 carries during the regular season, and Edwards finished with 711 yards and two touchdowns on 133 carries. Ingram performed better than expected as a receiver out of the backfield, and Edwards gave the team more acceleration and explosiveness when he entered the game in relief of Ingram. Rookie Justice Hill got off to a slow start but emerged late in the season, finishing with 225 yards on 58 carries and two touchdowns. He might play a more prominent role next season after finishing with more power. Grade A
Eventually, the lack of a consistent playmaker on the outside hurt the Ravens, and that showed up during their comeback attempt in the postseason. Rookies Miles Boykin and Brown gave the team hope at the beginning of the season, but neither was dependable. Boykin faded after the preseason and Brown had 46 catches for 584 yards and seven touchdowns but struggled with foot and ankle injuries. Brown has great potential and will play a bigger role next season once he gets stronger in the weight room. Willie Snead IV was solid in the slot with 31 catches for 339 yards, but proved more effective as a blocker in the running game. The Ravens basically became tight-end oriented in the passing game. Andrews had 64 catches for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns and shared playing time with Nick Boyle (31 catches, 321 yards, two touchdowns) and Hayden Hurst (30 catches, 349 yards, two touchdowns). Grade B
This group was expected to be a weakness at the beginning of the season but turned out to be a major strength. The Ravens had one of the league’s best groups when it came to run blocking. They got good movement on initial contact and the Ravens were also active and athletic as far as pulling, trapping and making blocks into the second level. Both tackles, Stanley and Brown, were keys to getting Jackson out on the perimeter. Second-year left guard Bradley Bozeman developed well as the season went on and became better at pass blocking, but he still needs major improvement in that area. Right guard Marshal Yanda had another strong season, but the Ravens struggled once starting center Matt Skura suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 12. Rookie center Patrick Mekari was solid but struggled in the last two games of the season. Despite the record numbers in the rushing game, the Ravens still need to improve in the middle of the line, especially since Yanda might retire. Grade: B+
The Ravens held up strong for most of the year but they are going to need to find some ends during the offseason. The Ravens usually controlled opposing running games inside the tackles because of Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Domata Peko Sr. Williams had a strong season, especially in the second half, as he finished with 34 tackles and one sack. But Pierce didn’t play up to the standard of his previous season, when he was the best lineman on the team. He came into training camp overweight and never seemed to get into top physical condition, even though he still managed 35 tackles. Peko had 14 tackles but didn’t join the team until Nov. 12. End Chris Wormley was steady and had 33 tackles, but seldom came up with a big play or sack. Rookie Jaylon Ferguson came into the league with a reputation of being a power rusher, but he didn’t play that way, especially in holding the edge. A year in the weight room, though, could help. It will be interesting to see what the Ravens do with Pierce, who is an unrestricted free agent. Grade: C+
The Ravens need to make significant improvements at this position during the offseason. They only had one player who could dominate at times, and that was outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who led the team in sacks (9½) and finished fourth in tackles (54). But a lot of Judon’s sacks were created by the Ravens’ scheme, not by winning one-on-one matchups. Inside linebackers L.J. Fort (35 tackles) and Josh Bynes (46 tackles) were solid but not ideal for getting off blocks and stopping the run. Weak-side linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was third on the team in tackles with 64, but wasn’t consistent. He was quick, fast and could hide coming off blitzes, but he also struggled getting off blocks and getting to the ball. Third-year outside linebacker Tyus Bower had 24 tackles, including five sacks, but hasn’t shown improvement. Next training camp, his fourth, might decide whether he makes the team. When the Ravens were in their base defense, this unit struggled. The Ravens can’t afford to have another group like this one. Average linebackers will get you knocked out of the playoffs quickly. Grade: C
Humphrey, a third-year cornerback, had a breakout season and earned Pro Bowl recognition. He had an excellent training camp and it carried over into the postseason. He became the Ravens’ shutdown cornerback and could play outside or over the slot. Humphrey was second on the team with 65 tackles and was always around the ball. He also showed his versatility by playing linebacker in certain sub packages. The trade for cornerback Marcus Peters during the season will go down as one of the best in Ravens history, even though Peters can become disruptive in the locker room. Peters finished with 39 tackles and three interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. Strong safety Chuck Clark became the Ravens’ unsung hero after Tony Jefferson was sidelined for the season and finished with a team-high 73 tackles. Free safety Earl Thomas III, who had 40 tackles, was good against the run but struggled in pass defense. The Ravens had depth in the secondary, which allowed them to work cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith and Anthony Averett and safety Anthony Levine Sr. into a variety of packages. Grade: B+
Sam Koch averaged 46.4 yards on his 40 punts and landed 21 inside the 20-yard line with just four touchbacks. Justin Tucker made 28 of 29 field-goal attempts, including the game-tying and game-winning kicks against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5. Tucker also hit the game-winning field goal against the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 1. The Ravens’ punt coverage and kick return units were solid, but coach John Harbaugh wants to get more out of the return game. Those plays show up big in the postseason. Grade: B
Harbaugh kept the team focused and prepared for most of the season, especially on the road, which had been an area of concern in the past. Coordinator Greg Roman did a nice job of building the offense around Jackson, and he got everything out of this unit he could with a strong running game and top performances from the tight ends. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale schemed well around limited talent, especially in the front seven. But the Ravens haven’t played well for the past two years in the postseason. This year, they looked rusty and unprepared, and the offense panicked once the team fell behind. That can happen to young players, even in the NFL, but that shouldn’t happen to a coaching staff. That’s inexcusable and unacceptable, and it has happened two years in a row. Grade B+