Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta is spending the week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., scouting prospects as he does at this time every year. And he headed to Mobile with the same mind-set as officials from 30 other NFL teams: We’re not where we need to be.
Just before leaving for Mobile, and the day after the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned their respective conference berths to Super Bowl LV, DeCosta held his first news conference in nine months, recapping a season in which the Ravens finished 11-5 and earned a wild-card berth to the playoffs but lost in the divisional round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Several questions for DeCosta during the roughly 50-minute session centered on the Ravens’ passing attack, which ranked last in the league with an average of 171.2 passing yards per game.
The Ravens, though, led the league in rushing for the second consecutive season, averaging 191.9 yards on the ground per game, and DeCosta echoed the comments from head coach John Harbaugh a week earlier, declaring, “We’re a running football team.”
“Let’s not forget, now, that we have a running attack that’s probably the best in football,” DeCosta said, “and probably the best in the history of football.”
DeCosta, like Harbaugh, doesn’t assign too much value to the per-game yardage metric used by the NFL to rank passing offense, but he did acknowledge that the Ravens can be more “precise” and more efficient. How to accomplish that, he said, goes well beyond the quest for a prototypical No. 1 receiver.
“We throw the ball a lot less than a lot of other teams,” DeCosta said. “That’s by design. We’re a running football team. People like to look at yards per game as a good metric of a passing game, and I think we threw the ball probably 150, 160 times less than any other team did in this year in the NFL.” (The Ravens threw a league-low 404 passes, and the New England Patriots ranked second-lowest at 440. The Ravens, though, threw roughly 160 fewer passes than the league average of 563.)
“We want to be precise, for sure,” DeCosta continued. “I think that we want to be more efficient.”
The Ravens surely want to see quarterback Lamar Jackson elevate his level of play after a year in which his completion percentage, yards per play and touchdown passes dipped and his interception total increased from his MVP season of 2019.
In 2019, Jackson averaged a touchdown on every 11.1 passes (36 touchdowns on 401 passes) and the Ravens ranked 10th with 7.33 yards per pass play. They were also second-best in producing touchdowns in the red zone, at 67.2 percent.
This year, Jackson averaged a touchdown every 14.4 throws (26 touchdowns on 376 passes), and the Ravens ranked 20th with 6.75 yards per pass play. Their red-zone production dropped from second to 12th (63.3 percent).
But DeCosta also pointed elsewhere as well, noting that offensive line play and penalties also derailed the passing game at times.
The Ravens had to improvise along the offensive line after losing All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 9. They also used three different starting centers and mixed combinations on the right side of the line all season. The Ravens allowed 32 sacks in the regular season, four more than a year ago, and Jackson was frequently under pressure in a 17-3 playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills. He ultimately left the game with a concussion after fielding an errant snap and slamming his helmet against the turf as he was tackled.
“It’s not all about getting the quote ‘Number One’ receiver”
“There are a lot of things that we can do,” DeCosta said. “It’s not all about getting the quote ‘Number One receiver’ that everybody likes to talk about. We will certainly look at that. We would try to upgrade every single position on this football team this offseason if we can.”
The search for high-impact wide receivers, though, has been something of an annual tradition and a point of frustration for as long as the franchise has existed. Torrey Smith remains the only wide receiver drafted by the Ravens to produce a 1,000-yard season with the team, and the Ravens again figure to try to address their receiver corps through the draft or free agency.
DeCosta always plays it close to the vest about his offseason plans, but with the salary cap situation still unknown — though some estimates have it dropping by as much as 11 percent because of the revenue loss from the pandemic — and with other roster needs, it’s unclear how aggressively the Ravens would target the top pending free agent receivers such as Allen Robinson or Chris Godwin.
But DeCosta, like Harbaugh last week, dismissed the notion that the Ravens’ run-first offense would not appeal to free-agent receivers.
“I’ve never had a player yet say to me, ‘I don’t want to come play for the Baltimore Ravens because you don’t throw the ball,’ ” DeCosta said. “It hasn’t happened yet. … Most of the time what I get is, ‘I hear you are an amazing franchise. I know players who have played for you guys and they love the experience. You’re a great team for veteran players. I want to play with Lamar Jackson. I love your defense. Baltimore is a town I want to be in.’ … That’s what I hear.”
DeCosta praised the progress of second-year receiver Marquise Brown, who ended the regular season with a team-high 769 yards on 58 catches and came on strong late in the year. Brown averaged 98 yards in two postseason games this year and returns as the Ravens’ top playmaker.
“I was really, really encouraged by Marquise over the last eight games of the season,” DeCosta said. “He became a legitimate playmaker for us. … He was a force in both of those (playoff) games.”
But beyond Brown, the receiver corps is, again, a large question mark. Veteran Willie Snead (33-432, 3 TDs) is a pending free agent, as is Dez Bryant, who played sparingly after being a midseason pickup, and Chris Moore, whose role this year was almost exclusively on special teams.
Miles Boykin (19-266, 4 TDs) failed to make a big impact, and rookies Devin Duvernay (20-201) and James Proche (1-14) were minimally involved, although DeCosta stressed that the lack of OTAs and preseason games hurt their development as rookies.
“I think their best football is ahead of both of those guys,” he said.
“There is certainly more room for improvement with everybody at that position,” DeCosta said, “But again … there is really more room for improvement with virtually everybody on our team, on our coaching staff and in scouting, including me. So we’ve all got to do a better job if we really want to take this thing to the next level.”
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