BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore Ravens were one of the NFL’s best teams in the regular season last year. Then came the playoffs and the disappointing divisional round exit against the underdog Tennessee Titans. Despite that loss and two consecutive years of early playoff exits, WJZ’s Mark Viviano says the team has been very optimistic in training camp.
“This is a group that is really fired up, really optimistic. They’re well aware that they’re a Super Bowl favorite. The head coach on down are saying, ‘we haven’t won anything yet,'” said Viviano in an interview with CBS Local’s Katie Johnston. “But, those who saw this team win 14 games last year figures they’re just as good, maybe even better and we’re going to start finding out real soon.”
The start of the season is just two weeks away with the Ravens slated to open their year with a Week 1 matchup against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, September 13. In what has been an unprecedented offseason due to the conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult to glean what the expectations should be heading into the 2020 season as the pandemic continues to rage.
However, that hasn’t stopped quarterback Lamar Jackson from setting high expectations for himself. Viviano notes that despite breaking the rushing record for quarterbacks and leading the league in passing touchdowns, the 23-year-old expects to be even better. Viviano says there is one obsession in particular that has come across in every conversation with the young QB.
“What he is focused on more than anything and he even mentions it probably every time we talk to him, is he wants to win a Super Bowl. He is driven with it. He is obsessed with it. He has seen Patrick Mahomes do it. And, for all of his success that Lamar Jackson has had in two seasons, 0-2 in the playoffs,” said Viviano. “That really eats at him, it really eats at a number of these guys.”
This year’s Madden cover athlete has been working quite a bit this offseason with one area of his game receiving a lot of focus: throws outside the numbers.
“One of the things specifically that Lamar Jackson has been working on is his passing game to the outside of the numbers. He has proven to be very efficient and accurate inside the numbers. Outside the numbers is where he is looking to improve,” said Viviano. “And he’s been throwing a great ball in practice. Again, it’s practice, this isn’t the heat of a Sunday game when the other team is trying to knock you out but this is all we can go on for now and it looks pretty good.”
A potential beneficiary of that focus is second year receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown who has been the talk of the offseason after adding 20 pounds to his 5’9″ frame while reportedly not losing any speed. Hampered by injuries in his rookie season, Viviano sees Brown as a potential break out candidate in Year 2 with Greg Roman’s offense.
That offense, which set a new record for team rushing yards in a season last year, added some new toys in the draft with running back J.K. Dobbins and wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche.
On the other side of the ball, some key additions were made with veteran defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe joining the flock. Viviano expects those two to make big impacts and says the team still has what he thinks is one of the best secondaries in the league.
“The veteran defensive linemen, defensive end Calais Campbell 12 years in the league obviously a team leader but still at the top of his games. Derek Wolfe, eight years in Denver, coming off of his highest sack season. These are guys who would be considered past their prime in football age but seem to have found new life here in Baltimore and they really add to a defensive line around Brandon Williams,” said Viviano. “You mention Queen at linebacker, if they have a soft spot, that might be it. But, behind the linebackers, they still have one of the best defensive secondaries in the NFL and that’s with the departure of Earl Thomas.”
The talent on the field is added to by the continuity on the sidelines as the vast majority of the coaching staff is back from last season. It is that familiarity with the systems that Viviano thinks plays in the Ravens favor particularly in a year in which COVID-19 has not allowed for a normal offseason.
“I think it’s notable with no preseason games, no minicamps, who benefits from that? I think that teams like the Ravens who have pretty much all of their team back from last year and pretty much all of their coaching staff back from last year,” said Viviano. “The Browns are breaking in a new coaching staff. The Bengals have a second year coaching staff and a rookie quarterback. The Ravens should be well suited to thrive in what are some difficult conditions.”
Of course, there are always the rival Pittsburgh Steelers who see the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Viviano says to expect nothing less than the usual difficult games between those two teams especially with Big Ben back under center. For now, all eyes turn towards September 13 when the Ravens host the Cleveland Browns. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST on CBS.