6 Reasons Why the Ravens Won't Repeat the Feat Next Season
Flacco has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions through the playoffs, and will likely earn a nine-figure contract extension this coming offseason. He earned Super Bowl MVP honors throwing for 287 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers.
Even though they currently sit at the top of the league, the future is not as bright as many would think for the Ravens.
Here are six reasons why the Ravens will not repeat as Super Bowl champions next season:
1) Ray Lewis
Lewis celebrating the Super Bowl win, the final game of his career.
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Lewis does not have nearly the same speed and agility he once had, and it has had a noticeable impact on the defense at times this season.
But Lewis is one of the smartest linebackers ever and the indisputable leader of this team for 17 seasons. He has earned the opportunity to exit from the game as a champion, and the Ravens would not have had it any other way. But there is one glaring stat from this season that the Ravens must come to terms with:
The Ravens were 9-1 with Lewis on the field, and 5-5 without him.
The one loss was a 24-23 defeat to the lowly Philadelphia Eagles. Lewis’s defense forced four turnovers but the offense sputtered and could not pull off the victory.
Lewis was able to hold his own on the field this season, but off the field he was the face of the franchise, and the heart and soul of this team.
After making only 57 tackles in his six games this season, Lewis returned from a torn triceps injury and gutted out 51 tackles in the four-game playoffs.
Not enough superlatives can be thrown Lewis’s way for the way he has led this team for nearly two decades, and the Ravens have a very tough task trying to replace one of the greatest middle linebackers in the history of the league.
2) Wide Receivers
Smith (right) struggled all Super Bowl, finishing with two catches for 35 yards.
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Wide receiver must be a position of need for the Ravens in the near future.
Torrey Smith, who is one of the best deep threats in football, cannot be relied on as a consistent player. He can make huge, game-changing plays, but he can also have games like the Super Bowl where he had two catches for 35 yards.
Anquan Boldin, on the other hand, is 32 and also cannot be a consistently dominant receiver. He had four receiving touchdowns during this miraculous Super Bowl run, including the first touchdown of the Super Bowl, but also had only four touchdowns during the entire regular season.
Boldin also had nine games with four or fewer receptions, compared to a minimum of five receptions in each playoff game.
Smith had 10 games of three or fewer receptions this season.
Smith and Boldin are currently the best receiver weapons this team has, but neither of them can be top receivers.
Regardless, Flacco still managed a superb run with these receivers this postseason. But it is worth noting that their opponents during the playoffs, with the exception perhaps of Champ Bailey and the Denver Broncos, have been relatively weak at the cornerback position. The monster stats are likely aided by this position of weakness for those teams.
Smith and an aging Boldin cannot get the job done for a team trying to repeat as Super Bowl champions, and the Ravens must add depth and consistent ball-hawking talent at the position.
Boldin is one of a number of aging Raven players well past the age of 30.
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Although the Ravens have won their first Super Bowl since 2000, this win is perhaps long overdue.
The team, primarily on defense, has had a core of some of the best talent in the league at certain positions for many years.
Ever since John Harbaugh took over as head coach before the 2008 season, the team has had one of the more successful half-decades in history.
Only once, in 2009, did the team win fewer than 10 regular season games. In that season, they managed to win a playoff game against the New England Patriots, before losing to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
But now, many of these stars are on the wrong side of 30 years old and past their prime.
Some of the big names include Boldin, 32, Lewis, 37, safety Ed Reed, 34, nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu, 34, linebacker Terrell Suggs, 30, center Matt Birk, 36, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, 33, and fullback Vonta Leach, 31.
This team definitely has the young talent to still win a lot of football games for the next few years, but those names are some of the core players on this team.
Those players will not get better with age, and the Ravens need to do something to make sure that they can aptly replace the seasoned veterans if necessary.
4) AFC North
Green and the 10-win Cincinnati Bengals should compete for the AFC North title next season.
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For Baltimore to repeat as Super Bowl champions, they must first compete well against their own division in order to even make the playoffs next season.
The AFC North, however, is stacked from top to bottom with talent.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a playoff contender for the next few years, led by the smart and savvy play of quarterback Andy Dalton. The team has some holes in their secondary, but this team cam compete with anyone.
With one of the best receivers in the game in A.J. Green, they will give the Ravens two tough games next season.
The Cleveland Browns had a disappointing season, but they have very up-and-coming young talent.
Lastly, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a playoff or Super Bowl contender for nearly the past decade. Led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are a notoriously tough team and will also give the Ravens their money’s worth. They will have something to prove after a disappointing 8-8 season.
The Browns may not be contenders, but they will give the Ravens two brutal divisional matchups next season.
Meanwhile, the Steelers and Bengals could realistically contend for the AFC North title next season.
This tough division could take its toll on the Ravens. Even if they do manage to make the playoffs, the team will most likely be physically worn down, especially with the aforementioned age problem of the team.
5) Free Agency
Kruger, an emerging pass rush threat, is one of many key players who could be lost to free agency this offseason.
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This offseason will be quite eventful for the Ravens’ front office.
They have 27 upcoming free agents, and that includes some pretty big names.
The postseason hero and Super Bowl MVP Flacco is a free agent and could see himself sign an extension worth roughly $100 million.
Ed Reed, the star safety and one of the best center fielders in football, is a free agent and the rumor is that he and GM Ozzie Newsome will sit down soon to discuss the contract situation. Newsome wants Reed back, but his future remains to be seen.
The Ravens also have a slew of young defensive talent that need new contracts.
All four of these players have had significant playing time this season. Ellerbe and Kruger have been mainstays, and Kruger emerged as a serious pass-rush threat by the end of the season.
Considine has played in every single game this season and is one of the best special teams players on the team. Williams has filled in very well after star Lardarius Webb went down with injury.
The Ravens also have numerous offensive free agents, besides Flacco.
And what’s the icing on the cake?
The team has salary cap issues.
Baltimore is already on the books for $107.396 million for next season before signing even one of these free agents. Considering the hard cap is at $120.6 million, it seems improbable that the team will keep all of these impact players, especially after they presumably pay Flacco over $100 million.
But the bottom line is that this team will likely lose a lot of these core players to free agency, and the Ravens will have an even harder time trying to repeat without them.
6) Joe Flacco
Flacco carried the team to the Super Bowl, but may also be the biggest reason the Ravens won't return next season.
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Despite the incredible popularity and postseason run, let me be one of the first since the Super Bowl to say this: Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback. Yet.
Right now, Flacco is a winner. He is a strong-armed and clutch player who can win games for a team, especially in the playoffs.
Based on this postseason, Flacco clearly has more than enough potential to be one of the best in football.
Firstly, Flacco has yet to even come close to surpassing 4,000 passing yards in a season in his career. Eleven quarterbacks have done that this year alone. Also, in only five more pass attempts than Flacco, Eli Manning came 52 yards away from that mark despite a somewhat poor season for his standards.
But Manning and other top quarterbacks have not had the privilege of playing on a Ravens team that has ranked third in total defense from 2008-2011.
Flacco has also yet to throw for 25 touchdowns in a season. By comparison, Mark Sanchez threw for 26 touchdowns in the 2011 season.
When comparing Flacco to the rest of the league, you can see Flacco is certainly well above average, but he is not a top quarterback.
Flacco ranked 19th in the league in completion percentage, 14th in passing yards, tied-for-15th in touchdowns, 12th in quarterback rating, and 14th in yards per pass attempt.
Before people claim that this is because Flacco is in a run-first offense, let me also state that Flacco ranked 14th in the league in pass attempts, That is not close to the top of the league, but it is also a very significant number of pass attempts.
To Flacco’s credit, he has also not thrown more than 12 interceptions in a season. This could also be affected by the fact that Flacco has not thrown as many passes as the top quarterbacks. But in the end, Flacco still has almost twice as many touchdowns than interceptions in his career, and that is a stat very much in Flacco’s favor.
The most glaring stat, though, is from the newest and perhaps most revealing quarterback statistic: QBR.
Again, Flacco’s postseason was nothing short of brilliant. It would not surprise me if Flacco kept up this form through next season and beyond.
However, it is clear that Flacco needs to complete at least one full regular season of this consistent and dominant form before he is crowned as one of the “elite” quarterbacks. Having seven games of fewer than 200 passing yards is not very elite.
More importantly, whether or not Flacco maintains this form, he is more than likely going to get paid like an elite quarterback.
Flacco and his agent are supposedly demanding roughly $20 million per year for Flacco’s new contract.
Although Flacco has not given enough consistent play during the regular season to deserve anywhere near that kind of money, he may very well get it.
And that is precisely why this Super Bowl run is the best and worst thing to happen to the Ravens.
With the previously mentioned salary cap problems the Ravens are experiencing, Flacco’s giant contract could ultimately cost the Ravens a number of other key free agents this offseason.
Flacco may very well live up to that $20 million salary by next season, but paying him that much right now is an enormous gamble. The gamble becomes even riskier when the team loses numerous players with the cap space Flacco's contract eats up.
When you combine the repercussions of Flacco’s potentially massive contract with the many other problems this team must face this offseason, there is no way that the Ravens can repeat next season as Super Bowl champions.