Under a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach the Ravens were highly competitive in ‘08, but could not defeat their divisional foe. Will a new defensive coordinator and a revamped secondary answer the challenge?
During the offseason, Baltimore made great acquisitions to upgrade the secondary, but failed to improve the receiving corps.
With an absent down the field receiver and new additions to the defense, it still remains to be seen if the Ravens can shake the Steelers’ grasp to win the division.
Quarterbacks: In his rookie season Joe Flacco proved his worth, as he assisted in leading the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game. Flacco has all of the notable attributes of an NFL quarterback: the size, a strong arm, and mobility within the pocket.
If Flacco can gather the other intangibles such as reading the coverage and blitz schemes, he can decrease mistakes and open the passing game.
Troy Smith can also be used more because of his versatility as the wildcat offense is becoming more prevalent within NFL playbooks. (8.4)
Running backs: Last season the Raven’s backfield underwent shuffling each week with a three-man rotation, as Le’Ron McClain and Ray Rice both emerged while assisting veteran Willis McGahee. This season McClain can continue to bring a hard nosed, smash-mouth running style to the offense.
Rice brought quickness and the ability to find holes and bounce the run outside.
However, with the drafting of Virginia’s Cedric Peerman, McClain may go back to his natural position of fullback and Willis McGahee may see less time within the rotation.
Peerman’s speed and ability to be a receiving threat gives the Ravens’ offense more versatility. (9.1)
Wide Receivers: Although Flacco is making strives to become a more potent threat, the Ravens did not assist him in his objective, as they did not address the problems within the receiving corps. Outside of veteran Derrick Mason, who was wooed out of retirement, the Ravens lack a dominant receiver.
Between Todd Heap falling in production and Demetrius Williams’ slow development, the Ravens must depend on Mark Clayton to be the second option in the passing game. Once Williams fully develops, he can be a good fit as he possesses the elite speed for Flacco to throw down field. (7.7)
Offensive Line: First round selection Michael Oher and free agent acquisition Matt Birk supplied an instant upgrade to the O-line. Oher will step into the line-up immediately at right tackle, while Jared Gaither will continue to hold down Flacco’s blind side at left tackle.
The Ravens are hoping to capitalize on the youthful talents of both Oher and Gaither to impede the quality pass rushers, which they will throughout their 2009 schedule. (8.8)
Defensive Line: Haloti Ngata anchors this position group, as one of the premier defensive linemen in the league. Because of his size and athleticism, Ngata brings extreme tenacity each play and causes confusion on the offensive front.
Outside of Ngata, the Ravens face question marks at the other positions, as Trevor Pryce is aging and Kelly Gregg is coming off of a knee injury. If Gregg can be the once dominate run stopper of the 2007 season, he and Ngata can create many tackles for losses. (8.3)
Linebackers: In the past, the Ravens’ linebacking corps has been the best in the league, but with an aging Ray Lewis and a missing Bart Scott can the group continue to make the plays of yesteryear?
The corps' success depends on if Tavares Gooden can step in and replace Scott as a role player, while Jarret Johnson maintains his above average performance.
Terrell Suggs is already a phenomenal linebacker with elite athletic ability, but if his new contract can boost his performance and cause him to compete on a dominant level, the Ravens' puzzle to success is complete. (9.0)
Defensive Back: During the off season the secondary underwent an overhaul at corner, as Chris McAlister was released, while Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr were signed as replacements.
Fabian Washington and Foxworth are the projected starters, which is an upgrade in man-to-man coverage; while Samari Rolle and rookie Lardarius Webb will be used within the nickel and dime packages.
But with one of the best and most feared safeties in the league at the center field position in Ed Reed, many quarterbacks may still hesitate before each pass while facing Baltimore. (8.8)
Special Teams: Kick returner and kicker are both positions which are not set in ink, as the Ravens were among the bottom tier in kick return and kicker Matt Stover retired.
The strong legged, undrafted free agent Grahm Gano will most likely take over kicking duties. (7.4)