With the news that Terrell Suggs partially tore his Achilles tendon, there is now more pressure on the Baltimore Ravens for the upcoming season. How will the Ravens defense perform without the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year? Who will step in the rotation to replace Suggs' production?
There is no reason to think the Ravens will be able to match the production of Suggs with their other pass-rushers. However, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger may step up and provide much-needed pressure on the quarterback.
The concern of the Ravens, though, should not be their defense. At the minimum, this defense is a top-10 unit even without Suggs. General manager Ozzie Newsome has added plenty of youth into this talented defense, with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed being the only starters in 2012 who are nearing the end of their careers.
Ultimately, the Ravens' success is going to come down to Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense. Even with a healthy Suggs and a vaunted defense, the Ravens came up short against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Joe Flacco told WSNT in Baltimore that he is the best quarterback in the game today. I realize the context of when he said it on national radio, but nonetheless, he is adding plenty of pressure upon himself. Plus, he is in a contract year, and if there's any time to prove he can be an elite quarterback and carry an offense, it will be this year.
Flacco will certainly need help from surrounding pieces, though. Cam Cameron has arguably held Flacco and the offense back by his predictability in the Ravens' playbook. However, in the AFC Championship Game, Cameron allowed Flacco to outproduce Tom Brady in Foxboro. Flacco utilized the play-action, rolled out to his right and connected on plenty of passes downfield.
The wide receivers need to step up their games as well. Anquan Boldin will continue to be a threat at the receiver position, but Torrey Smith could become the best offensive target for Flacco if he improves in the offseason.
Ray Rice wants a new contract and to be among the higher-paid running backs in football. The Ravens can't afford for Rice to miss any time due to a potential holdout only to provide similar production to Chris Johnson of the Titans.
Also, the offensive line must be prepared to improve its protection of Flacco after a lackluster 2011 season. In particular, Bryant McKinnie needs to improve his physical shape in order to play at an elite level. There will be open competition in training camp at both the left guard and right tackle positions.
Flacco will receive the praise and the blame for how the team performs. If he receives the production out of the other components of the offense, there are no excuses.
In the 2012 season, the Ravens will face plenty of talented offensive teams with elite quarterbacks (Patriots, Eagles, Texans, Cowboys, Chargers, Broncos, Steelers). The defense will continue to keep the team in games, as the injury to Suggs won't change that.
In the end, the injury to Terrell Suggs will impact this Ravens team. However, it won't matter if Joe Flacco doesn't take the Ravens offense to the level it needs to be at to compete for a championship.
Matt Miselis is an NFL featured columnist who has covered the Baltimore Ravens for a span of three years. He has been featured on ESPN.com, CBS Sports and the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Twitter @MattMiselis.
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