The Ravens needed to give Joe Flacco some help. The team revamped its defense during the offseason but the offense failed to replace the retiring Steve Smith or bolster an offensive line that struggled mightily in 2016.
Up until about two weeks ago, it didn’t look like Flacco was going to get that help before the 2017 season. Then the Chiefs surprised everyone and released Jeremy Maclin. Ten days later, he signed with the Ravens, instantly turning the team into a serious threat in the AFC.
Maclin isn’t going to turn the Ravens into an offensive juggernaut. Outside of Marshal Yanda, the best guard in the league, and Ronnie Stanley, who impressed as a rookie, there are still too many question marks along the offensive line, both in the running game and in pass pro. Flacco is still Flacco, an inconsistent passer who doesn’t elevate the players around him. But with Maclin in the fold, the Ravens passing game now has balance.
It was looking like the they’d enter the season with Mike Wallace, who is pretty much useless if he’s not running a fly route, and Breshad Perriman, who is a less-polished version of Wallace, as the starting receivers.
Maclin will allow those two to play their roles as field-stretchers, while he, and the tight ends, do the rest of the heavy lifting. Maclin profiles as an outside receiver. That’s the role he’s played (and thrived in) throughout his career, but he’s showed some versatility last season, working out of the slot over 40% of his snaps.
Baltimore needed a route-runner who could win out of the slot. Maclin will give them that, which will force defenses to pay attention to him in the middle. That will be tough to do with two burners like Wallace and Perriman on the outside.
It’s going to cause a lot of issues for defenses. Do they play two safeties deep in order to guard against the deep ball, which we know Flacco can throw as well as any passer in the league? That will only open things up for the Ravens running game, which should be better in 2017 with second-year RB Kenneth Dixon primed to take the proverbial leap.
And if the Ravens want to deploy Maclin on the outside, where he’s at his best and most dangerous, they could also put free agent pick-up Danny Woodhead in the slot and throw out an extra tight end, creating even more problems for the defense.
How do you defend that?
Base personnel is no good. That leaves a strong safety on Woodhead, linebackers on the tight ends and the receivers facing single coverage on the outside. Mismatches everywhere!
If the defense answers with nickel (six defensive backs) and keeps both safeties back to account for Maclin and Wallace deep, all of a sudden the Ravens have enough blockers to account for all of the defenders in the box and way more beef with a nickel corner forced to play the run.
So even if the Ravens do not have the best personnel in the league (or anywhere close to it) they still have enough chess pieces to produce what could be a dangerous offense. It’s just up to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to figure out how to deploy those chess pieces effectively.
Pair a good offense with a potential top-five defense — the Ravens finished sixth in defensive DVOA last season — and one of the best coaches in the league, and Baltimore will be able to play with any team in the NFL. That includes the mighty Patriots.