The Baltimore Ravens were trending in a dangerous direction the last few years. They were becoming what the kids would call "mid" – mediocre, average, listless, whelming, just okay.
After after an overhaul of the offense, coaching staff, and roster this summer, Baltimore's back where they want to be: legit Super Bowl contenders. Here's how they did it:
Monken's New Offense
When the Ravens made a change at offensive coordinator this offseason, moving from Greg Roman to Georgia's Todd Monken, some radical changes were expected.
Monken was known for his air-raid offense out of shotgun formations, quite a change of pace from the bunched up run-it-down-your-throat tactics of Roman.
The changes have been big, for sure, but Monken's actually found a way to blend his own offensive schemes with Roman's quite perfectly. The Ravens still run the ball more than almost any other team (33.3 times per game), but they're doing it under centre 70% more than last year — not a classic air-raid shotgun. This helps with more effective downhill running and play action off that. Lamar's being asked to pass the ball more than ever before, too, but he's somehow been the most efficient passer in the league despite the ask.
As Ravens continue to settle into Todd Monken’s new offense, look for Lamar Jackson to keep climbing these QB standings:— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) October 23, 2023
• Completion Percent: 71.0 (2nd)
• QB Rating: 101.9 (3rd)
• Yards/Pass Att.: 8.1 (3rd)
• Total Yards: 1,973 (5th)
• Total TD: 13 (6th tied)
📸: @Ravens pic.twitter.com/PvDHGBDWYr
Monken's new offense is a so diverse that opposing teams just can't keep up. As Michale Renner of TheMessenger mapped out, the Ravens ran 30 different offensive concepts in the first two weeks alone. The result has been that the Ravens are averaging the sixth-most points in football and blowing out some of the league's best defenses.
Monken's diverse offense is only unlocked by the talent around Jackson. The Ravens have been trying to create a better passing environment around their QB for years, but it seems like they've finally found the right receiving mix in 2023.
Rookie receiver Zay Flowers and free agents Nelson Agholor and Odell Beckham Jr. came in this summer and have given Jackson five true pass-catchers. With Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman also in the fold, the Ravens have spread the ball around more than any other team, with all five WR/TEs seeing at least 23 targets so far this season and none more than 62.
But still, the Ravens are a run-first team — sticking with their entire identity the last few seasons. But Odell, Flowers, and other NFL receivers have unlocked the Ravens ability to do it all in 2023. The result has been Lamar's best passing season since he won the NFL MVP Award in 2019 – he currently sits 4th in odds to add a second MVP this year at +700.
The Battalion of Safeties
The Ravens have to prevent points, too. And this year, that's being going even better than the offense. Even after switching over to defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald last year, the Ravens still love to overwhelm opposing offenses with countless defensive backs. It's particularly easy to do that when they can basically play four safeties at once.
Alongside top corners Marlon Humphrey and Rock Ya-Sin, the Ravens' defensive back crew consists of FS Marcus Williams, SS Kyle Hamilton, FS Geno Stone, and recently converted safety-to-corner Brandon Stephens. With that kind of defensive malleability, the Ravens DBs have swarm-covered downfield, running complicated zone coverages that QBs just can't beat.
It's that man AGAIN— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) November 5, 2023
6 INT's for Geno Stone this season 🤯 pic.twitter.com/qltpzKKmkd
Stone, who isn't even atop his position on Baltimore's depth chart, leads football in interceptions with six and the Ravens as a team sit fourth in the league in the statistic. The Ravens are holding opposing teams to the second-fewest passing yards per game (170.7) in the NFL. With Monken's offense earning Baltimore plenty of leads, having a dominant secondary is an easy way to hold them.
The New Front
Now, everything I've laid out so far has been pretty well discussed in the NFL mediasphere. But, quietly, Baltimore's biggest improvement this year has actually come on the defensive line. Last year, the Ravens had 48 sacks and 38 quarterback knockdowns (seventh-fewest in the NFL). This year, they're on pace for 66 sacks and 51 knockdowns.
The @Ravens defense is stacked with playmakers:— NFL (@NFL) October 31, 2023
⭐ Geno Stone: leads league in INTs (5)
⭐ Justin Madubuike: leads interior DLs in sacks (6.5)
⭐ Roquan Smith: 4th in league for tackles (82) pic.twitter.com/EW2hIw4HAg
The Ravens didn't make many splashy signings or trades on the defensive front this offseason to improve the pass-rush, but a few small moves and some developmental leaps have turned the line into a beast. 26-year-old DT Justin Madubuike has taken a huge jump in the middle of the line (7.5 sacks in just nine games) while veterans Kyle Van Noy and Jadeveon Clowney have found new life in their 30s.
The rush has been a true team effort, too. Having an elite secondary helps rack up coverage sacks and seven different ravens have at least 2 sacks so far this season.
Where Do The Ravens Stand
All that improvement has manifested in the win column for the Ravens. Baltimore is currently tied for the AFC's best record with the Chiefs (7-2) while rocking the league's best point differential (+115). With dominant wins over playoff contenders like the Browns (28-3), Lions (38-6), and Seahawks (37-3) oddsmakers are now giving Baltimore respect:
Super Bowl Odds: +850 (4th)
AFC North Odds: -150 (1st)
It's pretty easy to make adjustments, bring in talent, and win games, though. Continuing that success is the hard part. As the tape on Monken's new offense and Baltimore's refined defense racks up, the Ravens have their truest tests coming up.
A string of games in December will decide how high Baltimore's 2023-24 ceiling is (Week 14: @Jaguars, Week 15: @49ers, Week 16: vs Dolphins). But, so far, the Ravens look like real Super Bowl contenders.