For a team that looked so confident heading into the postseason, the Baltimore Ravens took a crushing loss that now leaves them in a place of question. With the passing game, running game, and defensive strategy barely showing up on Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens are now faced with some tough decisions to make in the upcoming offseason.
The one that people seem to be speculating the most is Ed Reed's retirement. Sure, the loss of a veteran safety is going to take its toll on the Ravens both mentally and physically, but Baltimore has more problems to worry about.
Baltimore used to be the most feared team in the league. Stacked with big name players like Ed Reed and Dominique Foxworth, even the biggest of teams trembled at the sight of the Ravens defensive roster.
For once, the offense had picked up this season. With underrated prospect Ray Rice finding his feet and giving the Ravens some balance that they needed, Joe Flacco was no longer the under-pressure quarterback he once was. Still though, there were times when the offense failed to turn up.
Prior to sneaking into the postseason, the Ravens had played numerous game on the season where their passing game had let them down. Not lacking skilled wide receivers, Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton did their best when it counted.
A game that stands out in my mind is the Green Bay game played at Lambeau Field in early December. Set to be one of the games of the year, the Ravens offense never got going. Flacco missed passes, Rice got dropped and the Ravens defense couldn't cover any receiver. To top it all off, penalties added to the Ravens' woes as the Baltimore cornerbacks were intent on getting physical with wide receivers.
So, with all this said, the Ravens need to work on three things.
They aren't the most penalised team in the league, that honor belongs to Green Bay. However they get called for offensive and defensive pass interference on way too many unnecessary occasions. As physical as the Ravens want to be known for, sometimes they go a little too overboard in trying to intimidate their opponents.
False starts are also a constant. For the Ravens offense to ever establish themselves, the false starts and jumped snap counts are going to have to stop. With an experienced offensive line and a centre that has been in the league for over a decade, the Ravens penalties are beginning to become a joke. It simply needs to stop.
2. Wide Receivers
The run game is great, don't get me wrong, but the Ravens need to mix it up a lot more. Wide receiver Derrick Mason has posted great numbers on the season with 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns, however when the Ravens could do with a deep play, they choose to pass up the opportunity.
Second year starter Joe Flacco showed some promise during the regular season, but he didn't deliver like he did in 2008. Statistically he was better than he was in 2008, but his confidence took a shot after every loss the Ravens took.
Instead of taking the short hook route or slant route, lob a few deep for once. The Ravens have the wide receivers to pull it off.
Overall the Ravens defense is pretty solid. Baltimore players are the most present on the defensive stats for the playoffs, and in total defense the Ravens are a top the list above the Minnesota Vikings.
Whether or not Ed Reed does decide to leave is a question. The Ravens can't afford to dwell on it though. The loss of a team leader will be crushing, but they need to move forward. One thing they need to avoid is becoming like the Patriots when Tedy Bruschi left. Don't let the team leader leaving be the end of your good playing days.
Ray Lewis is still there, and so is Dominique Foxworth. Build on that, and forget about Ed Reed should the time come he decides to retire.
If the Ravens can get some discipline on their defense, I think it would help this team out a lot. Due to them being such a physically known team, the referees are more inclined to make the calls. You only have to look at Ray Lewis' helmet to helmet on Saturday to know that.
The offense isn't too bad, but the Ravens do need to mix it up more and not be afraid to take some chances. When Steve McNair was quarterback, the Ravens were known for their passing game. The transition from run to pass has worked, but they can't exclude the air game altogether.
Fixing these doable problems over the offseason would help them. I'm sure head coach John Harbaugh will work his tail off to get it done. The Ravens are still steady contenders heading into the 2010 season.