Former Ravens punt returner and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is not surprised with the Ravens’ performance so far this year — and believes he knows why the team’s play has been less impressive this year than it was for much of last year. But Campanaro does have one solution in mind, in the form of a well-known wide receiver.
After quarterback Lamar Jackson led Baltimore to an incredible 2019 season, the Ravens’ play this season has been somewhat disappointing compared to the numbers they were consistently putting up last year. But this doesn’t shock Campanaro, and he thinks that teams are just adjusting to the Ravens’ 2019 strategy, which in turn necessitates some adjustments by Baltimore.
One of the most noticeable changes in the Ravens’ offense is how often they’re putting the ball in the air after setting the league record for rushing yards in a season last year (3,296 rushing yards in 2019). Campanaro is not surprised by this change in offensive strategy, either. He sensed a shift in how teams were defending the Ravens beginning last December.
“I think defenses are probably dictating them to throw the ball more by just stacking the box — I think probably since last year when they played Buffalo,” Campanaro said on Glenn Clark Radio Oct. 13. “Buffalo did some things schematically that other teams have looked at, and just forcing them to throw more.”
Ravens wound up beating the Bills, 24-17, to improve to 11-2. But the Ravens only rushed for 118 yards and threw for just 145 yards. Jackson threw an interception as well.
Fans seemed to expect the Ravens to start right where they left off last season with dominating numbers in each game, but despite sitting at 5-1, the team lacks the same spark observers witnessed last year. Even though Baltimore returned most of its 2019 roster, Campanaro emphasized that each year presents new challenges.
“I think also when you look at the Ravens this year and look at all teams — especially this year because it’s different — every year you’re in the league I know they have a lot of guys that came back and there are a lot of familiar faces on both sides of the ball, but every year it’s a new team, a new identity, technically,” Campanaro said. “I know the Ravens have that foundation — we’re going to run the ball, we’re going to play defense, great special teams — but you still have new players, new coaching staff. Players get better, players get worse. … So you’re figuring your team out, still.”
Campanaro suggested one way for the Ravens’ offense to improve is to sign a veteran who has been in the shadows after off-field issues surfaced in recent years: free agent Antonio Brown, who is in the midst of an eight-game suspension. Campanaro thinks the Ravens should pursue Brown, 32, to make their offense as productive through the air as it was on the ground last year.
Brown, a former sixth-rounder out of Central Michigan, posted 11,263 receiving yards and 75 touchdowns from 2010-2019.
“Looking at it from a football standpoint, I think Antonio Brown is, at least in my generation, the best scramble drill wide receiver to play in the past 10 to 15 years,” Campanaro said on GCR Oct. 20.“I mean, if you watch an Antonio Brown game he can do it all, but he is a great scramble receiver, and we have the best scramble quarterback that’s come through the league in the past — of ever, probably. I think that match would be amazing between those two.”
But would Brown cause problems in Baltimore like he did with the Raiders in 2019? Campanaro thinks Brown would focus on playing solid ball in 2020.
“It just comes down to will he come in and buy into what the Ravens are doing? I think the Ravens organization has a foundation that could be perfect for him. You know he wants to come back and play,” Campanaro said. “And I think that could be the easiest route instead of trading away picks and players to go grab a Julio Jones or someone else.”
On more of a personal note, Campanaro reflected on his time with the Ravens. Campanaro was drafted by the Ravens in 2014 after playing college football at Wake Forest. He played with the Ravens from 2014-2017 and then signed a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans. Campanaro got hurt just before the start of the 2018 season and was released by Tennessee at that point.
During his time with the Ravens, Campanaro had 37 punt returns for 420 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown. He also had nine kick returns for a total of 238 yards.
The former River Hill High School star has no bad blood with the organization and is a lifelong fan of the team.
“I grew up in Howard County … and I went to all of the Ravens games growing up,” Campanaro said Oct. 13. “I was at playoff games watching Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis. I have memories of just watching those greats play. And [I] always dreamed of playing in the league one day. My state championship games were at Ravens stadium. I’ve always been a big Ravens fan.”
Campanaro battled myriad injuries throughout his NFL career, and they would ultimately result in him leaving the league for good in his mid-20s. With some years still left on the clock to play football, Campanaro decided that he would never return to playing competitive football. Instead, it was time to let his body heal.
“I always said once I was done playing in the NFL I would never try and play Canadian ball or the XFL or anything, that would kind of be it for me,” Campanaro said. “After I hurt my ankle again in Tennessee, I tried rehab and getting back but I just wasn’t the same kind of player, the same type of explosiveness, things like that. So it was tough just being done playing. I wouldn’t say I was devastated to be done playing, but it’s just sad because you’ve played your whole life, you know it’s something you’ve done since you were 5 and now it’s over.”
For more from Campanaro, listen to the full Oct. 20 interview here:
And listen to the full Oct. 13 interview here:
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