Baltimore Ravens 2009 Preview

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Baltimore Ravens 2009 Preview
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
2008 Summary:
Following a disappointing 2007 season, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome decided to end the Brian Billick regime and introduce a bit of youth into both his coaching staff and an anemic offense by hiring 46-year-old John Harbaugh, formerly of Philadelphia, to be the teams new coach and then they would trade up with the Houston Texans to select their quarterback of the future in Joe Flacco.

With a new coaching staff and no real experienced starting quarterback in the making, the Ravens were slated by many experts to not be much of a factor in 2008. Which, coming off of a 4-12 season, made a bit of sense.

However, Flacco proved to be exactly what the Ravens would hope for and a whole lot more, and maybe most importantly of all—the Ravens defense returned to its dominating ways after suffering an injury riddled 2007.

It was exactly the combination that nearly took the Ravens all the way to their second Super Bowl appearance this decade.

Baltimore's season started well, but the Ravens didn't exactly embody the look of one of the AFC's elite teams just yet. Flacco was restrained heavily in the teams opening day matchup against Cincinnati, as he was thrusted into the teams starting lineup in large part due to injuries to Troy Smith and Kyle Boller. Still the rookie connected on half of his 29 throws and paced the team to a 17-10 victory over the Bengals.

Following an unexpected bye week in Week Two, due to Hurricane Ike ravaging the Texas coastline, the Ravens would go on to play 19 straight games without a week off.

After a victory over the hapless Browns, the Ravens would endure a hellacious three-game stretch with matchups against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis on the road and a home game against the Titans sandwiched in between. The young Ravens would lose all three matchups, sending their record to 2-3 on the season, but the experience they gained from these losses would propel them the rest of the season.

Baltimore would go on the road to Miami, a future playoff preview, and defeat the Dolphins easily. Flacco began to come of age and the Ravens would take the victory over Miami en route to winning seven of their next eight games, including dominant performances over NFC East contenders Philadelphia and Washington.

The stage would be set for a rematch with the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore would be winning the defensive struggle for much of the game when a controversial touchdown call was awarded in favor of the Steelers to give Pittsburgh it's second straight AFC North title and send the Ravens into the race for a wild card spot.

Baltimore would close out the 2008 regular season with back to back dominating performances against Dallas and Jacksonville and finish the season 11-5, giving the Ravens the 6th seed in the AFC Playoffs. Baltimore would be matched with Miami in a rematch of their Week Seven encounter, and once again the tenacious Ravens defense would lead the way as five Dolphin turnovers led to a 27-9 blowout victory in the opening round.

The week after, the Ravens defense would again take advantage of their opponents costly mistakes as Baltimore would go into a hostile LP Field and silence the Titans en route to a 13-10 victory over the AFC's top seed.

The dream run would end however, with the third matchup of the season against their hated rivals from the Steel City. The Steelers' No.1 defense would harass rookie Joe Flacco all game and its offense would provide the big play at the right time as Pittsburgh would punch its ticket to Tampa with their third victory of the year over Flacco's Ravens by the score of 23-14.

The season, despite falling a game shy of the Super Bowl, was a huge success for John Harbaugh's first year in Baltimore. Joe Flacco surpassed all expectations and a hungry Ravens defense led by future Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis and playmaking safety Ed Reed would return to their dominant form.

2009 Free Agency Additions:
CB Dominique Foxworth (Atlanta)
C Matt Birk (Minnesota)
KR Chris Carr (Tennessee)
TE L.J. Smith (Philadelphia)
WR Kelley Washington (New England)
QB John Beck (Miami)

2009 Trade Acquisitions:
None

2009 Offseason Departures:
C Jason Brown (St. Louis)
LB Bart Scott (New York Jets)
FB Lorenzo Neal (Oakland)
S Jim Leonhard (New York Jets)
QB Kyle Boller (St. Louis)
LB Nick Greisen (Denver)
CB Corey Ivy (Cleveland)
DE Marques Douglas (New York Jets)
QB Todd Bouman (Jacksonville)

2009 NFL Draft:
1-23. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss
2-57. Paul Kruger, DE, Utah
3-88. Lardarius Webb, CB, Nicholls State
4-137. Jason Phillips, ILB, TCU
5-149. Davon Drew, TE, East Carolina
6-185. Cedric Peerman, RB, Virginia

2009 Outlook:
There are several reasons for Raven fans to be excited as they enter 2009. The growth of Joe Flaccofrom Week One to the playoffs alone would be reason enough to believe the Ravens future is exceptionally bright, but the Ravens defense will also return a large part of its core from a season ago.

Offensively, the Ravens retooled their offensive line in the offseason by selecting Michael Oher in the first round and signing Matt Birk to fill the void left by Jason Brown's departure in free agency. Oher and Birk will both be instrumental parts to the Ravens offense, as once again Baltimore figures to rely heavily on the run. Willis McGahee, LeRon McClain, and Ray Rice should all log extensive playing time in 2009, with rookie Cedric Peerman having an outside shot at also getting a few touches every now and then.

Cam Cameron's offense however will go as far as their talented young quarterback will take them. Flacco posted a solid rookie season, with a rating over 80 and a solid 14/12 touchdown to interception ratio. One could expect the workload for Flacco to increase in his second full season as starting quarterback, and once again Flacco will have wideouts Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton to throw the ball to. The Ravens added tight end L.J. Smith to pair with returning starter Todd Heap and rookie Davon Drew. However, the Ravens desperately need a target that can stretch the field for their young quarterback, so wide receivers Demetrius Williams, Marcus Smith, Yamon Figurs, and free agent addition Kelley Washington, will all have a shot to be the Ravens third wide receiver in 2009.

Defensively, the Ravens will have a new defensive coordinator running the show after Rex Ryan left to coach the New York Jets. Former Ravens linebacking coach Greg Mattison will now oversee the Ravens defense, and most of the unit will return in tact from a season ago. Bart Scott will be the most notable departure, as he left via free agency to join Rex Ryan's Jets, however the team retained linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs—both of which were also free agents. Rounding out the Ravens linebacking corps will be the tandem of rookie Paul Kruger and Jarret Johnson, along with new inside linebackers Tavares Gooden and Jameel McClain.

The Ravens defensive line will be identical from the same unit as a season ago with monster nose tackle Kelly Gregg being joined by veteran Trevor Pryce and Haloti Ngata.

In the secondary, once again Ed Reed will be hounding receivers from his free safety position. He will be joined at safety by Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski. At cornerback Domonique Foxworth, the Ravens biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason will be penciled in at right corner with Fabian Washington, Samari Rolle, and Frank Walker rounding out the rest of the Ravens corners.

On special teams, Steven Hauschka and Graham Gano will battle it out in camp to be the Ravens new place kicker, while free agent signee Chris Carr will take over the punt returning duties.

2009 Schedule:
Sun 9/13 Kansas City
Sun 9/20 at San Diego
Sun 9/27 Cleveland
Sun 10/4 at New England
Sun 10/11 Cincinnati
Sun 10/18 at Minnesota
  bye
Sun 11/1 Denver
Sun 11/8 at Cincinnati
Mon 11/16 at Cleveland
Sun 11/22 Indianapolis
Sun 11/29 Pittsburgh
Mon 12/7 at Green Bay
Sun 12/13 Detroit
Sun 12/20 Chicago
Sun 12/27 at Pittsburgh
Sun 1/3 at Oakland

2009 Prediction:
The Ravens far exceeded any expectations from a year ago, and many will expect this team to continue what they started in 2008. However, it will be difficult to repeat what happened last season, as the Ravens didn't really improve upon an offense that finished 18th overall in total yards and an ugly 28th overall in passing yards.

Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome tried desperately in the offseason to land a big time receiving threat for his strong-armed quarterback Joe Flacco. However, he came up short and the Ravens wide receiving corps appear to yet again be one of the worst in all of football. With an aging defense and tough conference, the Ravens will be hard pressed to improve upon their 11-5 record from a season ago and get back to the playoffs.

Predicted Finish: 9-7, 2nd place AFC North
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Hassellbeck - VSN Writer
www.virtualsportsnetwork.com
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