The Ravens advanced to the NFL playoffs for the first time in four years, and maybe that is an indicator of things to come.
The Ravens are ushering in a new general manager as longtime assistant Eric DeCosta replaces Ozzie Newsome, who has basically run the team’s on-the-field operations since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996.
In 2018, some young talent started to emerge, including cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young, linebackers Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor, and defensive tackle Michael Pierce on defense; and running back Gus Edwards and tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst on offense.
And of course there is rookie Lamar Jackson. The Ravens have designated him their quarterback of the future after an impressive first season.
But before we start looking into 2019, let’s look back one more time at 2018 as The Baltimore Sun presents its final report card grades.
Quarterbacks: The Ravens used two for the 2018 season but neither was good enough to provide the team with enough spark to carry them deep into the postseason. Veteran Joe Flacco started off well but faded near the midway point after completing 232 of 379 passes for 2,465 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jackson provided the team with energy and a running game as he ran for 695 yards and five touchdowns on 147 carries and helped the Ravens to win six of their last seven regular-season games. But Jackson struggled when passing, which limited the offense. It’s a shame the Ravens couldn’t mesh the talents of the two quarterbacks. Grade: C+
Running backs: Alex Collins started the season off as the starting halfback, but his style and attitude earned him a spot on the bench. The Ravens eventually went with the downhill running ability of Edwards, who finished with 718 yards on 137 carries. Kenneth Dixon came on late in the season and his style complemented Edwards’. But the Ravens didn’t have a threat out of the backfield on passing situations. That role belonged to Buck Allen early in the season, but his lack of explosion and elusiveness in the open field eventually led to less playing time. Edwards and Dixon were tough runners, but Dixon has to learn to hold on to the ball. The Ravens also need a breakaway threat to give the running game a full arsenal. Grade: B
Offensive line: There weren’t a lot of blue-chip players on this unit. The only top-quality player is right guard Marshal Yanda, and left offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will give a solid performance weekly. But both left guard James Hurst and rookie right offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. have slow feet, and center Matt Skura is small. Regardless of the lack of talent, the Ravens had one of the best running games in the NFL because of a scheme devised by assistant head coach and tight ends coach Greg Roman. It’s a quick-hit, occupy-space philosophy, and the Ravens ran it to near perfection with Edwards, Jackson and Dixon. To upgrade for next season, the Ravens have to find more athletic players in the middle and also guards and centers who can pass-protect. Grade: B
Receivers: This group was better than the unit in 2017 but didn’t get as much action because the Ravens ran the ball so much. Willie Snead IV was impressive and tough in the slot, catching 62 passes for 651 yards and a touchdown to lead the entire group. Michael Crabtree had 54 catches for 607 yards and had two touchdown receptions in the playoff game against Los Angeles, but he wasn’t consistent holding on to the ball. The Ravens forgot about speedster John Brown (42 receptions, 715 yards) and should have at least used him more in vertical attempts in the second half of the season to back defenses away from the line of scrimmage. Jackson developed a rapport with Hurst and Andrews late in the season, and those two could become major weapons in the offense in 2019. Grade: C
Defensive line: Tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce were dominant throughout the season. The Ravens gave up some rushing yards in the first half, but those were runs outside the tackles. Williams finished with 34 tackles and Pierce had 32. Pierce was the best lineman on the team and was relentless in pursuit and could collapse a pocket as far as the pass rush. End Brent Urban had a slow start but started making more plays in the final quarter of the season. He finished with 27 tackles and started to pressure quarterbacks more. Chris Wormley finished with 16 tackles and became a regular part of the rotation, but the Ravens need more depth. Grade: B+
Linebackers: Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley led the team in tackles with 105 and is going to command a big contract if the team allows him to hit the free-agent market. Strong-side linebacker Matthew Judon had a good season and became a better player once he stopped committing the stupid penalties that hindered him during the previous two seasons. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith re-emerged as a pass rusher with 8.5 sacks, and the continued development of Young (51 tackles) and Onwuasor (59) were bonuses for the Ravens. Veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had seven sacks but wasn’t a factor in the second half of the season. Grade: B+
Secondary: This group struggled early in the season but found its confidence at the midway mark. The Ravens were aggressive. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr were physical and started jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. At times, the Ravens were fearless. The only problem were occasional lapses in coverage when Humphrey and Smith would just lose concentration, almost as if they were drifting on the field. They saw the play, but didn’t react. Overall, the safety play was respectable, but Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle were liabilities in the passing game. Weddle could no longer work the deep middle of the field, and Jefferson had problems matching up one-on-one with tight ends the same way the linebackers had trouble going against running backs. Grade: B+
Special teams: It took nearly half a season for special teams units to reach their stride because of penalties and lack of a return specialists. The Ravens, though, found a punt returner in Cyrus Jones, who averaged 14.4 yards on 18 returns, and Chris Moore had 491 yards on 22 kickoff returns. As usual, the kicking game was perhaps the best in the league with Sam Koch averaging 47.4 yards a punt and Justin Tucker converting on 35 of 39 field goals. Two of those misses were from beyond 50 yards. Grade: C+
Coaching: Don “Wink” Martindale got the Ravens to believe in him and he remained aggressive for the entire season, especially when games were on the line. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needed to be more balanced in the first half of the season when Flacco was the starter instead of throwing so much, but he did a good job of improvising in the second half with Jackson. The Ravens were creative in dialing up running plays but should have been as provocative in the playoff game. Harbaugh holds his teams together as well as any head coach during trying periods, and 2018 might have been one of his better coaching jobs. Grade: B