Gridiron Blitz: Baltimore Ravens Season Preview

The next team up on our Gridiron Blitz is the Baltimore Ravens

Music to listen to:  Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads

David Byrne, the epically awesome lead singer of the Talking Heads is from Baltimore so here’s some love for him and the band.

Current State:  Behind the running of Ray Rice, the development of quarterback Joe Flacco and a continually stingy defense, the Ravens posted a regular season record of 9-7.  However, after a solid thumping of the Patriots in the divisional round but dropping the next game to the eventual AFC champions the Indianapolis Colts, some experts have made them the slight favorite in the conference.  They have the tools to make that run if two things happen.  What are those things?  Well, you have to read the rest of the preview to find out.

Biggest Change:  The first thing that has to happen for Baltimore to make the Super Bowl is to develop a passing game that can compliment the excellent running game.  This is where the newly acquired receiver Anquan Boldin comes into play.  His physical play and ability to go down the middle will open up the offense for Rice and the rest of the running backs. 

Uniform Grade:  The Ravens have an excellent selection with their primary colors, purple and black.  I like the purple jerseys and when they wear the all-black during a primetime game, that look is tremendous.  Maybe not a top-five uniform in the league but definitely in the top-ten.  Grade: B+

Best Player:  This team isn’t lacking in star power.  The best defensive player in the entire league five to six years ago was Ray Lewis.  He’s lost a little of his fastball but still produces at an incredibly proficient rate for his age.  Up to three years ago, Lewis’ title could have gone to Ed Reed but unfortunately the All-Pro safety has suffered some injuries recently and even contemplated retirement before coming back for this season.  A case can even be made for linebacker Terrell Suggs.

However, I’m going to pick Ray Rice for this answer.  Not only does he have the straight ahead running style that suits the offense well, but his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him an essential cog for the team.

Most Important Player:  This one is easier to answer.  The Ravens won’t make it to the Super Bowl if Flacco plays the same way he has the past two seasons.  He has been a solid pro but in year three of this career, this is the time where he needs to make major steps throwing the ball for the Ravens.  He has all of the physical tools to be a top-five quarterback in the league, seriously, but he is going to be asked to make more downfield throws this season and we all have to see if he is ready to do this.

Best Case:  The offense becomes more consistent and scores more points with the addition of Boldin.  The defense does the second thing that it takes for the Ravens to make the Super Bowl, stay healthy and keep playing at an advanced level despite gaining in age.  Wins the AFC North and makes the Super Bowl.

Worst Case:  The offense doesn’t improve from last season.  The defense is still good but regresses because of age and injuries.  Still wins the AFC North but loses in its first playoff game.

Coaching:  John Harbaugh was an interesting hire when the Ravens choose him to run the team.  His prior position, special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t show his potential to run an NFL team.  However, Harbaugh’s disciplined style and ability to retain Greg Mattison and elevate him to defensive coordinator has been excellent for the Baltimore franchise.

You also have to give credit to general manager Ozzie Newsome for building this franchise and showing himself as one of the best team executives in all of professional sports, especially football.  All of the players mentioned in this post along with many others were brought in under his tenure.

First Memory of the Team:  My favorite team, the New York Giants, lost the Super Bowl to the Ravens in 2002 and I remember this for two reasons.  First, anytime your team loses a Super Bowl, you remember exactly where you were at that time, which brings me to reason two.

I was a junior in college and a resident advisor, the older student who runs the dorm room floor.  I had a freshman dorm, Dyer in the Kissam Quad at Vanderbilt.  Oh the memories.  Anyway, one of the freshman that lived on my floor was from Baltimore and a big Ravens fan.  The smack talk took place and it was fun until the actual game started and Kerry Collins decided to become, well, Kerry Collins and the Giants lost the game in an undistinguished fashion.  I was livid for about two weeks and swore that I would never refer to Ray Lewis by name and instead refer to him as that “stupid dancing @#$#” 

But it went deeper than that.  My second-favorite player ever is Lawrence Taylor.  When Lewis was making the run to leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl, people started comparing him to LT and it rubbed me the wrong way.  I was still too attached to the situation.

This is why I will never in my lifetime refer to that running back on the Jets as LT.  There was only one LT.

However over time, I’ve moved on because I don’t take sports too seriously anymore.  Plus, the Giants won the Super Bowl two years ago and all is well. 

Now I respect Lewis for the talent that he is and think he is one of the best linebackers ever.  Not as good as LT but close.

Schedule:  They have to deal with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

The home slate includes Denver, Buffalo, Miami, Tampa and New Orleans.  Four out of those five contests should be wins.  On the road the Ravens get the Jets, New England, Atlanta, Carolina and Houston.  They get four playoff contenders in that lot, so things are tougher in that slate.

City Nicknames:  Since I’ve become a huge fan of The Wire, I like Bulletmore or Bodymore, both of which are in Murderland.  Not optimistic but it has some bite to it.   Charm City is a nice selection for this portion of the Blog.

Fantasy Focus:  Rice should be a top-five pick in any league.  Boldin has some excellent value as your second receiver, maybe even your first if you’re in a major pinch.  Not so sure about Heap at tight end but it’s a position with shallow depth, making him more valuable.  The Ravens should also be one of the first five defenses taken in your league as well.  Flacco is a nice second quarterback but I can talk myself into making him my starter if the rest of my team is solid.

Overall Outlook:  This team has clearly made itself the class of its division but will have to contend with Indy, San Diego and maybe even New England for conference supremacy.  I haven’t made my Super Bowl picks yet but the Ravens are definitely on my short list.

Final Record:  11-5

Gridiron Blitz NFL Season Previews:

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

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