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The Ravens met expectations in 2020 but they didn’t surpass them.

Many of the NFL experts predicted the Ravens would finish 11-5 and win the AFC North, and they believed the Ravens would at least win one playoff game.

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Mission accomplished with the playoff victory.

The problem is that the Ravens didn’t get past the divisional round in the postseason, which is where they were eliminated a season ago. In 2020, the Tennessee Titans beat the Ravens. In 2021, it was the Buffalo Bills who eliminated them.

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Worse yet, the Ravens lost in similar fashion. Once opposing teams stifle their running game, the Ravens don’t have a sufficient enough passing game to win. The key word here is balance. The Ravens have the top running game in the NFL but also the leagues’ worst passing game.

That formula has helped the Ravens win a lot of games during the regular season in the past three years, but it doesn’t work in the postseason. Do the Ravens need to add a big, physical young receiver? Will they add a couple of quality, versatile young offensive linemen? Will they give third-year quarterback Lamar Jackson a new, long-term contract despite his shortcomings in the postseason?

This all makes for an interesting offseason but before we move on, The Sun hands out its final grades for the 2020 football season:

Quarterback: Jackson’s season had two halves. In the first, he tried to be more of a “prostyle” quarterback going through his progressions and reads, and that didn’t work. Then in the second, he went back to his old self and started improvising and freelancing, which eventually led to big plays and the Ravens earning a playoff bid. Jackson completed 242 of 365 passes for 2,757 yards, 26 touchdowns and finished with a rating of 99.3. He also threw nine interceptions, and that style combined with the team’s inability to develop an efficient passing game will only take this team so far. Somehow, Jackson has to improve his mechanics, accuracy and learn how to throw outside the numbers if the Ravens want to go deep in the playoffs and possibly play in the Super Bowl. Grade: B

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Running backs: Even though the decision came late, the Ravens found a nice one-two punch in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Dobbins, a rookie, is more of an outside threat, but both ran hard, had good body lean, centers of gravity and gave second efforts. Dobbins (134 carries, 805 yards) is the starter of the future while Edwards (144, 723) could make big money in free agency during the offseason. Patrick Ricard might be the best blocking fullback in the NFL and started to become a pass-catching threat (short yardage) out of the backfield. The Ravens, though, still need a shifty runner who can become a factor in the passing game. Dobbins dropped several passes in the playoff loss to Buffalo, but that might have been a sign of fatigue more than a lack of concentration. NFL seasons are longer than those in college football. Grade: B+

Offensive line: This group played as advertised. For the third straight year they were some of the best run blockers in the NFL. They are maulers who are excellent as combination blockers, which is why the Ravens finished with the No. 1 rushing game again. Even though they lost left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the first half of the season with a leg injury, right tackle Orlando Brown made the move to Stanley’s position without any struggle. Left guard Bradley Bozeman had a strong season but the Ravens were inconsistent at the three other positions. Both centers, Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari, struggled snapping in the shotgun. Guards Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips and tackle D.J. Fluker were good at run blocking but were slow and often got beat in pass protection. While the Ravens have been good run blockers for three straight years they have been poor in providing pass protection, which is one of the reasons they are 1-3 in playoffs during that span. The Ravens need to realize there are players who can be good in both areas. Grade: C+

Receivers: The Ravens don’t get a lot of production out of their receivers, but they also don’t ask them to do much. Regardless of what Harbaugh says, the concepts within the Ravens passing game are pretty lightweight. Of course, they run every route in the “tree” but it’s about combinations. Second-year player Marquise Brown started living up to his first-round billing from a year ago by catching 58 passes for 769 yards and eight touchdowns. He became a factor during the second half of the year. Mark Andrews showed he is one of the best tight ends by catching 58 passes for 701 yards and seven touchdowns. Andrews also developed as a blocker. Second-year player Miles Boykin takes a lot of criticism, but he is excellent in his role a blocker on the outside. Slot receiver Willie Snead IV was under used and the Ravens could have gotten more out of him in a better passing offense, and if Jackson were better at reading defenses, especially zone coverages. Grade: C

Defensive line: It would have been interesting to see how dominant this group would have been if starters Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell had been healthy all year. All three starters, including end Derek Wolfe, were back for the playoffs and the Ravens were dominant in stopping the run in their two playoff games. Wolfe is the less heralded of the three but had the best season, finishing with 51 tackles. Williams ended the year with 33 tackles and Campbell had 28. Because of injuries to Williams and Campbell, the Ravens were able to develop outstanding depth in rookie tackles Justice Madubuike and Broderick Washington as well as veteran ends Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis. The depth speaks well for the future especially if the Ravens can develop as pass rusher. Lack of a pass rush has been a problem for years. Grade B

Linebackers: The Ravens had a good mix of youth and experience. The outside linebackers were solid, exceptional at times. Both Pernell McPhee (35 tackles) and Matthew Judon (50) were strong holding the edge even though both got off to slow starts. Judon will probably command a lucrative, multiyear contract as a free agent and he finished with 50 tackles, including six sacks, compared to 35 tackles for McPhee (3 sacks). Tyus Bowser, the top backup, had a strong season with 34 tackles, including two sacks, and could end up starting for another team as he hits the free-agent market. Rookie middle linebacker Patrick Queen led the team in tackles with 106, but there were times his inexperience showed, especially in pass coverage. Both Queen and fellow rookie and weakside linebacker Malik Harrison (44 tackles) need to have strong offseasons in the weight room to be able to shed blockers. Starting weakside linebacker L.J. Fort had a productive season with 53 tackles. Grade: B-

Secondary: The Ravens had one of the best secondaries for a second straight year, and that was without a consistent pass rush. The Ravens had playmakers at cornerback with Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Humphrey was good at stripping the ball and Peters was astute enough to be able to jump routes. Humphrey was also one of the top and surest tacklers, finishing with 82, third behind Queen and safety Chuck Clark (96). Both safeties, DeShon Elliott (80 tackles) and Clark, were good in run support but struggled at times in coverage. The Ravens signed veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith to a contract extension, which was strange considering Smith was injury prone and struggled to stay on the field. Apparently, the Ravens didn’t want to break up the strongest unit on the team, but the Ravens need to gain more speed in the secondary. Grade: A-

Special teams: Despite place-kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch struggling in the final playoff game, the Ravens had perhaps the best kicking game in the NFL. Tucker converted on 26 of 29 field goals and the ones he missed late in the season or in the playoffs were extremely long or in bad weather conditions. Regardless, when the outcome of a game is doubt, Tucker is usually clutch. Koch averaged 44.5 yards a punt. The Ravens didn’t have a returner when the season opened but it looks like Devin Duvernay will return both punts and kickoffs in the immediate future. Duvernay is a north and south runner and should be a factor in every game next season. Grade: A

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Coaching: Head coach John Harbaugh kept his team together despite getting hit hard by the coronavirus. The outbreak, though, might have been avoided or less severe if the team’s strength coach had adhered to protocol. Defensive coordinator Don Martindale had a strong season mixing and matching defenses and calls, and he got the best out of a group that lacked a top pass rusher. Offensively, coordinator Greg Roman produced a strong running game again but the Ravens passing game proved inefficient in the playoffs for a third straight year. The Ravens have to find a way to become more balanced. In the playoffs, the Ravens struggle to match wits on game day. It’s like this team can’t play at a high level for a sustained period. Grade: B.

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