The Baltimore Ravens are coming off of an impressive 2011 season. Winning the AFC North and being one missed field goal away from making it to the Super Bowl, the Ravens looked strong and poised and are ready to make another run.
However, as the 2012 season opens, the team of purple and black have a little different appearance to them.
They lost some key players to free agency and to injury, most notably linebacker Terrell Suggs, who won Defensive Player of the Year last season. The Ravens must now expect young players to step up and take on big roles. They will also be more reliant on veterans to showcase their leadership.
There are also some important faces missing from training camp. Safety Ed Reed has been contemplating the idea of retirement, and running back Ray Rice was placed under the franchise tag and is still having on-going negotiations about his long-term deal and tender.
As OTAs continue and training camp approaches, the Baltimore Ravens will begin to breakdown and focus on individual segments of their team.
The past few years the Ravens have had one of the top defenses in the league. This unit has seemed to be the primary focus of the team both on the field and off the field.
However, this season, Baltimore should consider putting a little more emphasis on their offense. It has been overshadowed by the superior defense.
Last season, the Baltimore offensive attack was ranked in the middle-of-the-pack, 12th in points and 15th in total yards per game. While these are not bad numbers, the team has become so reliant on their defense that, for as good as their offense really is, these numbers are a little disappointing.
Two of their stars are in their contract years.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is in the final year of his contract. He has already made a statement declaring himself the best quarterback in the league, so now he will have to go out and prove it. This statement and the possibility of making more money will serve as a major motivation factor for Flacco to put up big numbers and show his leadership ability.
Running back Ray Rice is in a similar position. With the placement of the franchise tag on him, Rice has at least one more year in a Raven uniform. He is currently in contract negotiations for his tender and long-term deal. The possibility of even more money will motivate Rice to build off of his incredible 2011 season.
In passing, Flacco threw for 3,610 yards and 12 interceptions, with a passer rating of 80.9. The offensive team has slowly but surely been more and more reliant on Flacco's strong arm. As this dependence grows, so will his individual numbers and confidence, and so will the Ravens offense as a whole.
Rice led the Ravens rushing attack with over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. The offensive staff needs to get him more involved this upcoming year. He can easily spring and double his numbers. Also, with the establishment of a strong and powerful running game, it will allow the passing game more of an opportunity to open up and be successful.
Anquan Boldin led the Baltimore receiving core with 887 yards. Running back Ray Rice had the most receptions and rookie Torrey Smith had the most touchdowns. Minus Boldin, the Ravens' wide receivers and tight ends are relatively young. With Boldin and newly acquired veteran Jacoby Jones as the leaders, these wily veterans and young players should gain valuable experience and be able to run patterns and spread out the field to create an exciting passing attack.
Overall, with more attention set on the offense, the Baltimore Ravens can become an even more complete team, build off of their great 2011 season, and make a deep run at the 2012 Super Bowl.