Week one is just around the corner, and since everyone is 0-0, everyone is a winner (I’m looking at you Brownies.) So just for fun, I figured I’d put together a list of why this could be the Ravens year to win the division; and another smaller list of how they could blow it.
1. Ray Lewis is old, not dead – Ray’s not the same athlete he once was, but he’s definitely still the same leader. He’s a field general that’s always made the people around him better, and has helped keep the Ravens Defense in the top 10 virtually every year.
2. The pass rush has improved over the offseason – Terrell Suggs is back in shape. Antwaan Barnes and Edgar Jones have gotten consistent pressure on the quarterback in the offseason, and guys like Paul Kruger and Corey Redding are providing pass rushing depth at the defensive line position. A good pass rush can cover up an average secondary.
3. Good luck trying to run the ball on the Ravens -- It’s going to be hard to move Mount Cody-Gregg-Ngata. 700 pounds is a lot of man to move in the middle. It’ll keep defenses playing consistent 3rd and long situations, which are hard to convert on a regular basis.
4. The secondary isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either – Dwan Landry, Fabian Washington, Ladarius Webb, Cary Williams, Chris Carr, Josh Wilson. There’s no Pro-Bowlers in that group, but with the strength of the Ravens front 7, they don’t need to be. They only need to be average. The pass rush should take care of the rest.
5. The kicking game should be improved – Let’s not forget the Ravens were 2 plays away from being 11-5 last year, and at least one of those losses is because of a missed field goal. Good riddance Steve Hauschka.
6. The Ravens offensive line is mean, athletic, and likes eating people -- There is concern over when Jared Gaither will be back, and until then the right tackle position could be a question mark, but he will get back, and when he does, this group is very good and clearing running lanes, as well as pass protection.
7. The Ravens can run the ball – There is depth, diversity, and a lot of talent in this backfield between Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and LeRon McClain. They can run over, around, and straight past most defenders.
8. Heap is back, and he’s got friends – Todd Heap has looked rejuvenated in the preseason, and with Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson on the roster, he won’t have to play every down, either. This trio of Tight Ends will help the Ravens utilize the middle of the field: something they struggled to do last year.
9. Flacco Time – It takes an elite quarterback to win in the NFL these days, and Joe Flacco looks poised to start knocking on that door. He’s got all the physical tools to be great, and his talented co-workers should help his cause.
10. Wide receivers and stuff – If you haven’t heard enough about Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth, you can read about it somewhere else.
5 Reasons they could blow it:
1. Penalties, penalties, penalties – The Ravens got flagged for pass interference more than any other team last year. They also gave up the second most penalty yards of any team. That can’t happen if they want to be a contender.
2. Injuries – Domonique Foxworth is already out for the year. Stallworth is out for a month or two with a broken foot. Ed Reed is hurt, and no one is sure what’s going on. And when’s the last time Boldin has played an entire season? I’m just saying, you can’t win if your best players are on the sideline.
3. Their pass rush hasn’t improved after all – It’s no secret the Ravens secondary is mediocre. If they can’t generate a pass rush, the Ravens will lose every time they’re up against a competent quarterback.
4. They don’t break the Carson Palmer curse – Carson Palmer beats the Ravens, consistently. I don’t know why. It just happens.
5. Jim Brown comes out of retirement and plays for the Browns -- The guy can play. I think he would still be the best player on that team.
That’s it. I hope you enjoyed the list. Let me know if you think I left anything out.