By Bruce Raffel, Baltimore Beatdown
The Baltimore Ravens enter the 2010 season with high expectations. After making the playoffs the past two years, the team seems poised for a run deep into the post season. Upgrades and more experience for the younger kids along with established veterans nearing the end of their great careers make for a recipe that sees an open window closing in certain areas.
Now is the time to step up and take that next step after five playoff games the past two seasons.
Significant Offseason Additions/Subtractions
The Ravens upgraded their offense significantly to raise the level of their passing attack to one that can compete with their always vaunted rushing attack.
The off season brought the team wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth. The draft brought them rookie tight ends Ed Dickson (Oregon) and Dennis Pitta (BYU), both with great size, speed and hands. Of course, their always formidable defense continued their streak with the addition of defensive tackle Terrence "Mount" Cody and LB Sergio Kindle. Kindle was injured before training camp in a freak accident and his playing status for 2010 is still up in the air as of this writing. Stallworth has a broken ankle and will be out until at least the team's Bye week.
The team lost a couple of solid defensive tackles to free agency but they are so deep in that position that their solid contributions figure not to be missed.
Third year QB Joe Flacco is now poised for a break-out season. For the first time in his pro career he now has legitimate targets at wideout that will prevent teams from stacking the box and daring him to beat them through the air. No more double teaming both Derreick Mason and Todd Heap. Anquan Boldin may draw coverage, but then Mason, Heap and even running back Ray Rice will make defenses pay. Rookie tight ends Dickson and Pitta will be matchup nightmares due to their rare combination of size and speed.
The running game once again figures to be one of the top ones in the NFL with Ray Rice one of the more dangerous runners in the league and Willis McGahee scoring over ten TD's in 2009 on only a little more than 100 carries.Then of course, there's always 260 pound FB LeRon McClain clammoring for more carries in a backfield with three guys who could all probably start for most teams in the league.
While this may be able to be repeated year after year, the Ravens defense once again seems prepared to be one of the league's top units in 2010. Despite some serious injuries in key positions, the team mantra, "next man up" is in effect at the start of the regular season.
Unclear as to what the status is of All Pro safety Ed Reed, the mounting injuries to their cornerbacks and the bizarre incident that has the team's first draft pick (Sergio Kindle) this past April left with a cracked skull, the team has not missed a beat so far in preseason, allowing but one touchdown and that was late in the game after the starters were long on the sidelines.
An improved pass rush in front of aggressive linebackers that include Ray Lewis is always intimidating to opponents. Despite his advanced age, Lewis still prepares as well as anyone in the league and directs traffic for the other 10 guys on defense, making him a coach on the field. Teams gameplan for where he lines up and his presence alone makes the other guys around him better Of course, it doesn't hurt to have guys around him like Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and perhaps the best all-around defensive player on the team, linebacker Jarret Johnson.
While the Ravens special teams return coverage units have played well, no one has truly stepped up in their return game and 2010 hopes to improve this on both kickoffs and punt returns. Rookies, veterans and recent additions thru trades and free agency have the individuals who will be handling kickoffs and punts stll undecided. Punting is not an issue as veteran Sam Koch is s solid as any in the league.
Head Coach John Harbugh has the luxury of sitting back and watching Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron and Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison run their game plans, as they are both great leaders of their units. However, he just won't do that as he roams the sidelines prompting his players for every bit of energy they can muster.
With a special teams' background, Harbaugh wants all three phases of the game at their absolute best and accepts nothing less. He will be looking for his third straight post season appearance in his first three years as a head coach and all signs are pointing to that goal being a reality.
Conclusion/Prediction for 2010
This is definitely not your father's "Baltimore Ravens," you know, the one that wins games with field goals and great defense. The Ravens have all the tools to be a very good offense, dare we say a great one in 2010?
If Joe Flaco hits his stride after playing a conservative QB on a great running team in his past two seasons, then the offense could overtake the defense as the team's best unit. If that happens, look out. With a stingy defense, the Ravens could make it very difficut for opponents if they can put 20-30 points on the scoreboard every game.
Forcing other teams to play catch up will lead to turnovers and the mistakes that the Ravens will make you pay for. Running against the Ravens has proven to be worthless and unless teams can protect their QB's enough to pick apart the depleted secondary, it could be a painful week for teams with the Ravens on their schedule.
It all starts in prime time on national TV in week one as the Ravens visit the New York Jets, who have been their own reality show recently, and this will prove if reality shows are actually that or just fantasy. The Ravens have all the tools to go deep into the playoffs and even to the Super Bowl. 2010 looks to be a great opportunity to reclaim that Lombardi Trophy and add to the one from 2001.
Look for the Ravens to go 12-4 in 2010 and plan on playing deep into January and perhaps even....?