Baltimore Ravens Must Continue to Grow in 2009

Bleacher ReportContributor IMay 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 18:  oe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens turns to hand the ball off against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Championship game on January 18, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steelers won 23-14.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

11-5, 5-11, 13-3, 6-10, 9-7. Those aren't the store hours at your local post office, those are the Ravens' win-loss records over the past five years. You could find more consistency on Kristy Alley's bathroom scale.

While the Ravens are generally regarded as one of the better run franchises in the league, it's no secret that they have had trouble posting a winning record two seasons in a row.

This flip-floppy pattern goes all the way back to Baltimore's Super Bowl win in 2000. They finished 10-6 the next year, but in 2002 they posted an unimpressive 7-9.

The history of the team would seem to indicate that Joe Flacco & Co.'s encore to their phenomenal 2008 campaign will be a disappointment.

On top of that, if you take into account the "sophomore slump,"  for young QBs, and the fact that Cleveland and Cincinnati should be more competitive this year (they certainly can't get much worse), things start to look worrisome for the Ravens. Fortunately for Baltimore fans, the numbers don't tell the whole story.

For everyone that hasn't noticed, the Ravens are under new management. There's a new sheriff in town and his name is John Harbaugh. He's more than just a new heartthrob for the women in Baltimore to go nuts for. Turns out he's a damn good coach.

Club Billick is a thing of the past. Harbaugh runs a tough camp, and he expects a lot from his players. He's instilled a discipline that hasn't been present in that locker room for years. What's more, he's surrounded himself with fantastic assistant coaches, and he lets them do the job that they were hired to do.

This isn't your father's Ravens. The team is getting younger, tougher, faster, and more explosive.

In 2009, the Ravens need to do more of what made them so successful this past year. They need to take the reigns off of Joe Flacco, let him heave the ball down field. We need to see more of the Wildcat with Troy Smith and more of the "Mansion" package with Le'Ron McClain.

They've got to find a way to stay ferocious on defense without Rex Ryan there to call the shots.

While I highly doubt you'll see the Ravens drop below .500 this year, I'm not so sure you're going to see them go undefeated either. While there is a strong young nucleus and a bevy of talented veterans, this isn't a perfect team.

The Ravens need to see more growth from young receivers Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, and Marcus Smith. They've got to get more production out of their pass rushers. They need one of their young linebackers to step up and fill Bart Scott's shoes. They've got to prepare Joe Flacco for teams that will be game planning for him this year.

With youth and change comes a certain amount of growing pains. This team isn't quite ready to challenge the Steelers for the division title, but they will be a force in the AFC. With a strong showing this year, the Ravens may be one step closer to joining the ranks of the NFL's elite.

Early Prediction: 10-6, second in the AFC North