The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Are the Baltimore Ravens a better or worse team than they were in 2018?
This is a difficult question to answer for multiple reasons, one of which is the fact that they were essentially two different teams last year, significantly transforming themselves after Joe Flacco was injured, which was the impetus for getting Lamar Jackson under center on a full-time basis. Flacco led the Ravens to a 4-5 record, but Baltimore finished the season 6-1 with Jackson and nudged the Steelers out of the playoffs.
Since then, they’ve seen some significant departures, including wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree on offense, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, and safety Eric Weddle. Weddle was replaced by Earl Thomas, while they signed Michael Floyd and Seth Roberts at wide receiver, then drafted Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin.
To replace the losses at pass rusher, the Ravens signed free agents Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray and also drafted Jaylon Ferguson in the third round. They also signed running back Mark Ingram to pair with second-year Gus Edwards as they work to focus their offensive approach around the ground game.
It’s hard to remember an offseason in which there was this much change in Baltimore in the past decade, and perhaps there hasn’t. Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh had been there for all that time. Moving on to Jackson and his very different style is difficult to predict.
After all, defenses had a hard time getting their heads around him last year as well, at least until he had to face the same defense twice. He looked rather mortal in his postseason loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, but he’s now had a full offseason to improve.
The question I’m posing here is not whether or not the Ravens will finish with a better or worse record than they did a year ago, or whether or not they will division—even whether or not they will be better or worse than the Steelers and Cleveland Browns. Simply, are they a better or worse team than they were a year ago?