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What Have Ravens Done To Address Five Key Problems From Last Season?

July 9, 2018
As the Ravens prepare to open training camp next week, they are looking to move past a 2017 season that ended with a 9-7 record and, for the third straight year, a spectator seat for the playoffs.

Improving on that record and returning to the postseason will require the Ravens to fix several shortcomings from the 2017 season. Here are five key numbers that tell the tale of last season's struggles, and how the Ravens have gone about addressing those issues this offseason:

5.10 -- Passing yards per play

The problem: The Ravens ranked last in the league last season in passing yards per play. The downfield passing game vanished for much of the season, and the tight ends and running backs posed little big-play threat.  

What they have done to fix this: The Ravens overhauled their receiving corps. Gone are Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro as free agents and Jeremy Maclin as a cap casualty after one disappointing season in Baltimore. Also gone is veteran tight end Ben Watson, who led the Ravens with 61 catches last year.

In their place, the Ravens signed free-agent receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead, and drafted a pair of pass-catching tight end in Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, in the first three rounds. Quarterback Joe Flacco has quickly developed chemistry with this group and seems invigorated by the new weapons. 

In spring workouts, balls were flying downfield, with Brown in particular stretching the field. After one OTA session in May, head coach John Harbaugh said, "Someone kind of joked in my ear [that] we made and completed more deep balls in practice today than we did the whole offseason last year."

11 -- Touchdown catches by wide receivers 

The problem: The Ravens last year caught 20 touchdown passes, which ranked 23rd in the league, and wide receivers accounted for just 11 of them. How bad was it? Undrafted rookie defensive tackle-turned-fullback Patrick Ricard caught more touchdowns (two) than former first-round pick Breshad Perriman (none).

What have they done to fix this: Crabtree has 51 career touchdown catches, with at least eight in each of the past three seasons. The Ravens love his ability to win physical battles for the ball in compressed red-zone situations. 

The Ravens have also continued to see growth from Chris Moore this spring. The third-year receiver came on strong late last year and finished with 18 catches for 248 yards and three touchdowns, one off the team lead.

34.1 -- The Ravens third-down percentage

The problem: The Ravens ranked 27th in third-down percentage last year, a product of too many third--and-long situations and not enough playmakers. Too many times, third-and-11 resulted in a 4-yard checkdown. 

What they have done to fix this: The passing game upgrades were designed to improve in the red zone and on third down. Snead, who is likely to line up as a slot receiver, will be called upon to move the chains, as will Crabtree. 

In spring workouts, first-round draft pick Hayden Hurst showed good catch-and-run burst, a dimension the Ravens lacked at tight end last year. The Ravens also hope running back Alex Collins continues to improve in the passing game. He finished with 23 catches last season, with none before Week 8.

80.4 -- Joe Flacco's passer rating

The problem: Flacco's passer rating was tied for 25th in the league and was the third-lowest of his career. After the season, Harbaugh and owner Steve Bisciotti both suggested that the back injury that forced Flacco to miss training camp was a much larger factor in his early-season struggles than he or they would admit at the time. 

Flacco was inconsistent much of the year, especially early, and the Ravens offense finished 27th overall and 29th in passing.

What they have done to fix this: Perhaps most important, Flacco is healthy again, and he looked comfortable and strong in OTA and minicamp workouts. The Ravens brought in a new quarterbacks coach in James Urban, who has emphasized Flacco's footwork and movement within the pocket. The Ravens have also revamped their receiver corps, and Flacco has taken quickly to the new group. 

The Ravens, you might have heard, also drafted Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. Whether that move, and the signing of Robert Griffin III, has further motivated or turned up the heat on Flacco is up for debate, but a healthy Flacco should make for a more productive offense.

 506 -- Passing yards by Ben Roethlisberger during a 39-38 Steelers win against the Ravens.

The problem: Roethlisberger torched the Ravens for 506 yards -- the most ever allowed by a Ravens team -- in Week 14. After giving up 21 fourth-quarter points in a Christmas Day loss in Pittsburgh two years ago, the same thing essentially happened again last season. The Steelers scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, including 10 in the final 3:29 to erase a 38-29 Ravens lead. 
The fact that history repeated itself, against their bitter rival after the Ravens bolstered their defense to prevent it, was a point of frustration for the entire organization.

What they have done to fix this: The Ravens' defense returns virtually intact this season, a rarity in the NFL, assuming cornerback Jimmy Smith returns from the Achilles injury that cost him the final four games. He missed that loss to the Steelers, and the 2017 meltdown in Pittsburgh as well. A healthy Smith is a game-changer. Then again, Smith has played all 16 games just twice in his seven-year career, so the idea that he will be healthy for Steelers games in Weeks 4 and 9 has to be viewed as a hope rather than an expectation.

The most notable change on defense comes on the sideline, where Don "Wink" Martindale has taken over for departed Dean Pees as defensive coordinator, and the Ravens vow to be more aggressive and less predictable. 

The Ravens should also benefit from the return of Tavon Young, their top nickel back who missed all last season with a torn ACL, and they hope second-year rush linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams can have a bigger impact. 
  
Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka    

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox