The Baltimore Ravens rode Joe Flacco’s big arm and a strong defense led by Ray Lewis to a magical Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. That was the 2012-2013 season. The 2013-2014 season was much different.
Gone were future Hall-of-Famers Lewis and Ed Reed. Also gone was Flacco’s favorite target Anquan Boldin. To make matters worse, another one of his other favorite targets, Dennis Pitta, went down with a dislocated hip in training camp. The Ravens failed to make the playoffs, finishing 8-8. Despite a tumultuous offseason where five players were arrested, they are confident they can get back to the top of the AFC North in 2014.
Arrests were synonymous with the Ravens this offseason. Ray Rice, Deonte Thompson, Jah Reid, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Jimmy Smith were all arrested during the offseason giving Baltimore the dubious honor of most players ever arrested ever in one offseason. Rice is expected to receive a suspension.
The biggest question for this upcoming season is:
Will the offense improve?
Flacco received an extension totaling up to $120 million last offseason, but struggled because he lacked good targets and had an atrocious running game. Baltimore was 29th in yards per game last season and failed to score more than 19 points in eight games. Not only did Flacco throw for more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (19), but the running game drop off destroyed the offense.
The Baltimore Ravens had a strong running game the year before led by Rice. He ran for career lows in total rushing yards (660) and yards per carry (3.1) in 2013 though. His drop off came out of nowhere and he no longer had the burst that made him one of the league’s top running backs. With his expected suspension, the running game may struggle early again next year. However, the Ravens upgraded in the passing game. They acquired mercurial wide receiver Steve Smith as well as tight end Owen Daniels. Add in a healthy Pitta and young wideout Torrey Smith and Flacco suddenly has dependable weapons.
On defense, the Ravens are still undergoing a makeover but were a good unit despite the loss of Lewis and Reed. Daryl Smith filled in for Lewis and while he wasn’t the vocal leader that Lewis was, he played excellent football.
The elite pass-rushing tandem of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil return, but Suggs is nearing the end of his career. Gone via free agency is run-stuffing defensive lineman Arthur Jones who had a great 2013 campaign. In the secondary, Ladarius Webb returns and Smith does as well. He may face disciplinary action from the NFL following his arrest though.
The first two picks of the draft were spent on defense in linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan. Both standout college players, who played at big programs Alabama and Florida St. They will be called upon to provide an immediate impact.
Legal issues aside, this team should be much improved from 2013. However, if they cannot develop a running game, Flacco will be forced to throw too much and the offense could struggle. Add in the strength of the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers improving and the reigning division champion Cincinnati Bengals still holding strong, and the Baltimore Ravens will have their work cut out for them to get back to the top of the division.Follow paulmbanks