What a strange offseason the Baltimore Ravens have had.
The signing of legendary WR Steve Smith from Carolina has been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Ray Rice's legal issues. After the season Rice had last year, most Ravens fans won't be too upset if he does face a suspension, gaining Justin Forsett and Bernard Pierce more game time.
Rice had an absolute nightmare last season, racking up just 660 yards and 4 TDs. That's an average of 44 yards a game. To put that into perspective, LeGarrette Blount, who is now set to become a backup (or at least in a committee setup) got 48.2. Ryan Mathews - who many had written off before the season - achieved 78.4.
Justin Forsett has never had a lot of touches in a season (the most was 118 in 2010), but his average yards per carry stat is actually rather impressive, as he's averaged 4.9 yards per carry throughout his career. He certainly deserves a chance to show what he can do. Even if it turns out to be very little, he can't be any worse than Rice was last year.)
Bernard Pierce saw a fair share of action last year in what was his second season in the NFL. Unfortunetely he didn't fair much better, as he averaged just 2.9 yards per carry. His impressive performance in his rookie year poses the question - how could he have seemingly regressed so much?
The obvious answer would be the offensive line. One analysis has them ranked last in the NFL last year as a unit - and it isn't hard to see why.
However, there is some cause for optimism heading into this season. Left Tackle Eugene Monroe was recently re-signed to a 5 year, $37.5M contract - you don't get paid that much for being an average starter. Guard Marshal Yanda is a pro bowler. While this line is by no means one of the best in the league, it should fare far better than last year.
At QB, the Ravens have a man who earned a ring for helping his team to win Superbowl XLVII.
Unfortunetely, you don't have to be an excellent QB to earn a ring.
Joe Flacco did manage to pass for 3,912 yards last season. That's now all the positives out the way.
Flacco had a completion rate of just 59%. He also threw 19 touchdowns compared to 22 interceptions.
To compare that with the other QBs in his division (aside from the Browns who didn't have a QB play more than 9 games.)
Andy Dalton - who's play earned critisism from a select group of fans - had a completion rate of 61.9%, with 33 TDs to 20 interceptions. He also gained 4,293 yards.
Ben Roethlisberger had a completion rate of 64.2%, with 4,261 yards and 28 TDs to 14 interceptions.
See the problem?
This is by no means a hard division - in fact, it's potentially the most open in football this season. But Flacco just couldn't keep up to the competition last year - and it won't get any easier.
The Browns have Brian Hoyer (who was 3-0 as a starter last season) and Johnny Manziel competing for a starting job. Andy Dalton is still young and should take another step up this season. Ben Roethlisberger is an experienced veteran and is unlikely to take a step back.
The one consolation for Flacco is he actually has a good group of targets. Owen Daniels and Dennis Pitta might not be the most recognized TEs in the league, but there's no denying they get the job done. New signing Steve Smith might be getting older, but he's so talented he'd be a good contributor at the age of 50.
He joins up with Torrey Smith, who is essentially the exact opposite; while Steve's production is slowly declining, Torrey's is exploding - he reached 1,128 yards last year, with an impressive 70.5 yard per game average. Add into the mix young guns Marlon Brown and Michael Campagnaro (as well as experienced playmaker Jacoby Jones) and it's really hard to not get excited about this group.
If only the rest of the offence was the same.
The Ravens 3-4 scheme means that there's only room for one NT - step forward Haloti Ngata. Despite now being 30, he's still regarded as an excellent playmaker. Ngata accumulated 52 total tackles last year, and there's no reason he can't do it again this season.
Second round draft pick Timmy Jernigan could make the move to LE, as they seemingly have a gap there. He was a second team All-American in his last year at college, and has a huge amount of potential to do the same in the NFL. It won't be easy for him having to adjust to a new scheme (he played in a 4-3 at college) and possibly a new position as well, but once he does make the adjustment there's no telling what his upside could be.
At outside linebacker is Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Dumervil is a sacking machine - he's never had less than 5 sacks in a season. He set the precedent in his rookie year, bursting onto the scene with 8.5 sacks, and he's never looked back. Last year was his first with the Ravens. Did the change of location affect him? Not a chance. With 9.5 sacks last year, he has every chance to break double digits once more.
Talking of double digits, Terrell Suggs (or T-Sizzle as he's known) did reach 10 sacks last year. He also had 80 combined tackles. Someone needs to tell him that he's 31 and this will be his 12th season in the league, because he had a career year tackle-wise last season.
As if this linebacking group wasn't impressive enough, first round draft pick CJ Mosley seems in prime position to be starting at MLB. He was a semifinalst for 3 awards and managed to achieve 8.3 tackles per game. He also was Alabama's MVP in 2012 - that's ahead of first round draft picks Chance Warmack, Dee Milliner and D.J. Fluker as well as ROTY Eddie Lacy. He'll be partnered with veteran Daryl Smith, who last season racked up 123 combined tackles, 5 sacks and 3 interceptions (not to mention 18 passes defended).
At cornerback the Ravens boast Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. The 28 year old Webb is a very good starter with 22 passes defended and a pair of interceptions last year. The latter is no slouch either - it was the first season he played all 16 games, and he too got a pair of interceptions, along with 15 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles.
Matt Elam was a first round draft pick last year, and had 77 tackles with a single interception. It might not have been the production Ravens fans were hoping for, but it's a good start to build on coming into this season. It looks like Terrence Brooks will start at FS - the third round draft pick is by no means a lock to start week 1, but it's his job to lose.
Verdict: No. Sorry, Ravens fans. While the Ravens have a very talented WR and linebacking group, the rest of the team just isn't there. Even if Flacco can produce at the expected level, the running game and the O-Line just isn't in place to make this offence any better than average. The defence is better, but with so many rookies looking like starting this team just isn't ready to have another shot at the Superbowl so soon.
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