Ed Reed wouldn’t guarantee a Super Bowl LV championship or even an appearance in the title game for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame safety still has plenty of faith in his former team heading into the 2020-21 season.
“I’d love to see it, no doubt about it, but I’m not in that locker room and I’m not in the organization doing the things that would allow me to understand the team and whether or not they’re going to win a championship,” Reed said. “I think they’ll have some success this year, no doubt, and make it to the playoffs then we’ll see what happens from there.”
Led by Jackson, their human highlight reel dual-threat quarterback, Baltimore finished atop the AFC North standings each of the past two seasons with double-digit wins (10-6 in 2018; 14-2 in 2019). Unfortunately, the Ravens faltered in the postseason both times, losing 23-17 to the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2018 wild-card game, and 28-12 to the Tennessee Titans in the 2019 divisional round after having a first-round bye.
While each situation was different, Reed believes the 23-year-old Jackson learned and grew from each experience.
“The playoffs are a totally different season and I think they learned that last year being a young squad with a young quarterback—though he plays like a vet, he’s still a young quarterback who has a lot to learn,” said Reed, who partnered with Snickers to announce the return of the ‘Snickers Hungriest Player’ program this season. “I think they learned a lot in these last few years. I think he’s learned a lot fast and it’s going to be interesting to see what he does this year. I’m excited to see it.”
While Jackson understandably garnered all of the headlines for Baltimore last season throwing for 3,127 yards and a league-leading 36 touchdowns, the Ravens again relied on their dominant defense to smother opponents, while leading the league in scoring at 33.2 points per game.
Baltimore allowed 17.6 points per game (third best in NFL) and limited opponents to 300.6 yards per game (fourth best), including just 93.4 rush yards per game; on the other side of the ball, Baltimore rushed for an NFL-record 3,296 yards, including Jackson’s single-season quarterback record of 1,206.
The Ravens further bolstered its defense—especially up front—by adding defensive ends Calais Campbell, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who had 10+ sacks in two of his three seasons with Jacksonville, and Derek Wolfe, who won Super Bowl 50 with Denver.
The team, though, released seven-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who signed a four-year, $55 million contract in 2019, after a fight with a teammate during practice in August; Thomas’ contract was terminated due to “personal conduct that adversely affected the Baltimore Ravens.”
“The defense is always going to be the focal point in Baltimore because it’s built around defense,” said Reed, who had 61 INTs in 11 seasons with the Ravens from 2002-12. “… You have some big names over there, make no mistake. You have a hurricane in Calais Campbell over there who’s a great leader and a great player. It starts in the trenches and those trenches are pretty deep over in Baltimore now.
“… One thing I know and one thing Coach (John) Harbaugh has always harped on was ‘next man up.’ I know they won’t miss too much of a beat when it comes to putting somebody on the football field, though as an athlete and as a player of his caliber, Earl will be missed.”
Not only is the Ravens’ potential playoff participation and success to be determined as the season progresses, the NFL has plenty of questions it will need to address as the league’s 101st campaign kicks off on September 10 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While the league has implemented various health and safety protocols, how it handles any outbreaks of COVID-19 is still to be seen. Permitting fans in stadiums (and at what capacity) is a team-by-team case at this point.
Reed said while most players will still be motivated enough without packed venues, safety still remains the top priority before allowing attendees.
“You want people there. That’s the thing about us as human beings, we want to be around people and need to be around people, but we also want everybody to be safe,” he said. “That’s what we’re going through in our society now; we’re fighting for these things. We want everybody to be treated the same, we want everybody to treat each other the same.
“In order for us to go to these games, we got to make sure everybody’s being safe and being smart, and we don’t have that right now. We need to continue to work on that and we’ll see what happens with this season.”