State of the AFC North: Ravens on Cusp of Lombardi Trophy

Donnie Druin

State of the AFC North is a series that previews each divisional opponent before the 2020 season. For the Cleveland Browns preview, click here.

Team: Baltimore Ravens
Head Coach: John Harbaugh
2019 Record: 14-2
2020 Strength of Schedule: 32nd (easiest in the league)
Key Losses: S Tony Jefferson, G Marshal Yanda, TE Hayden Hurst
Key Additions: DE Calais Campbell, DL Derek Wolfe, G D.J. Fluker

With the 32nd pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens selected quarterback Lamar Jackson. From there, the rest may be history. 

Jackson's dynamic ability has propelled Baltimore to new heights, and with some of the finest front office work done in free agency and the draft, Baltimore have now established themselves as serious contenders for a championship moving forward. 

Are they capable of reaching the next level? The Tennessee Titans shocked the world last season with their victory of Baltimore last year in the playoffs, as we learned Jackson and the Ravens still have some work to do. 

Is 2020 the year the Ravens put the pieces to the puzzle together? Todd Karpovich, head of Sports Illustrated's Ravens site, had a lot to offer on Jackson's progression, the current state on the Baltimore/Pittsburgh rivalry and the chances the Ravens are holding the Lombardi trophy at the end of the season. 

For more Ravens content, follow Todd on twitter at @toddkarpovich.  

Donnie- Baltimore really flexed their muscles last season, but came up short. What do you think the team learned in 2019 that can be applied to 2020?

Todd- After a regular season where they broke a franchise record with 14 wins and shattered the NFL's single-season rushing record, the top-seeded Ravens were outplayed in every facet — offense, defense and special teams— in a 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional playoffs. It was a disappointing end to a great regular season. It was also the second straight year Baltimore was one-and-done in the playoffs with Lamar Jackson at quarterback.

In response, the Ravens have boosted their running game even further by selecting Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins in this year’s NFL and draft and added more players to the front seven on defense.

Donnie- The Ravens absolutely dominated the draft and signed a few key free agents. Could you highlight a couple guys that you're pretty excited to see this season?

Todd- Baltimore needed to boost their interior pass rush this offseason. The team's defensive linemen combined for just five sacks in 2019. To fix that problem, Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta acquired Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars and signed Derek Wolfe as a free agent from the Denver Broncos. The trio of Campbell (6.5), Wolfe (7) and Brandon Williams (1) combined for 14.5 sacks in 2019. DeCosta is hoping that success continues in 2020. Campbell, Wolfe and Williams are also adept at stopping the run.

In addition, the Ravens added a pair stout defensive tackles in the 2020 NFL Draft — Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington. Daylon Mack, a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, had his rookie season cut short because of a knee injury. However, he will have an opportunity to compete for more playing time in 2020.

The Ravens were not in the market for a running back in this year's NFL Draft with all three players on last year’s depth chart still on the roster, but Dobbins was just too good of a player to ignore when he fell to them in the second round with the 55th overall pick.

Dobbins also represents the future of the team because Mark Ingram turns 31 in December and Gus Edwards is playing under a one-year deal.

Donnie- Lamar Jackson absolutely set the league on fire in 2019. From a progression standpoint, what does Jackson need to do to continue improving? 

Todd- Jackson is coming off one of the most successful regular seasons by any quarterback in NFL history. He completed 265 of 401 passes for 3,127 yards and an NFL-high 36 touchdowns, which was also a franchise record. Jackson became just the second player in NFL history to win the NFL's Most Valuable Player by a unanimous vote, joining Tom Brady in 2010. He is also the youngest quarterback to win the award at age 23.

Jackson conceded he still needs to improve in all areas of his game. However, the two most glaring weaknesses that need to be corrected are his deep-ball accuracy and ability to find receivers outside the hash marks. The question is how the restrictions with the COVID-19 pandemic hindered his progress.

Donnie- How does Baltimore view Pittsburgh, in terms of posing a threat to the divisional crown and ultimately the playoffs? 

Todd- The Ravens and Steelers have one of the best rivalries in the NFL. Pittsburgh was decimated with injuries last season, but still finished 8-8. The Steelers will challenge the Ravens for supremacy in the AFC North this season with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger back in the fold.

The Ravens/Steelers rivalry had evolved from two teams that hated one another to one of mutual respect. I expect the team to split their season series in 2020. The matchup on Thanksgiving night will have skyrocket TV ratings for the NFL.  

Donnie- Losing Suggs (and ultimately Big Ben last year) somewhat dimmed the rivalry between the two teams last season. With the Steelers returning to full health and a thanksgiving night match-up on the horizon, do you think the rivalry returns to the status it had in previous years?

Todd- There’s a saying in Baltimore’s locker room: “You’re not a Raven until you beat the Steelers.” You can toss out the records when these play because there is so much pride on the line. The players change, but the rivalry is always the same. With Roethlisberger back in the lineup, expect two fierce battles in the 2020 regular season and perhaps a rubber-match in the playoffs.

Donnie- Call your shot. Is Baltimore holding a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season?

Todd- Lamar Jackson has not backed down from the Super Bowl talk that began the day he was drafted by the Ravens. That will not change this season. The Ravens have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs and most oddsmakers have them second behind Kansas City to take home the Lombardi Trophy. If the Ravens can stay healthy, they can win the third Super Bowl in franchise history.

Donnie Druin is a Staff Writer at AllSteelers. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

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