Baltimore Ravens: 10 Biggest Questions for the 2011 NFL Season
Like all teams, however, they are not without a few question marks.
How the Ravens and their coaches deal with these questions will determine whether this team just makes the playoffs, or is able to put together a deep postseason run.
10. How Much Does Ricky Williams Have Left?
At 34 years old, Ricky Williams has reached the age where many running backs' best days are behind them.
Remember, however, that Williams spent some time away from the game pursuing other "interests." His legs have not logged as much game action as some running backs his age.
The Ravens signed Williams to spell Ray Rice and reduce his workload. If he is not able to do so, the Ravens offense will suffer. If the Ravens want to win the Super Bowl this season, Ricky Williams will need to have enough left in his legs to be an offensive weapon.
9. Was Anquan Boldin's Success in Arizona a Desert Mirage?
In Arizona, Anquan Boldin earned the reputation as one of the league's premier chain movers at wide receiver. When he came to Baltimore, his production levels plummeted.
In Arizona, when healthy, Boldin was good for over 80 catches a season. In his first year in Baltimore, he recorded only 64 catches and did not surpass 1,000 yards receiving.
Ravens fans are hoping the drop in production was due simply to the natural adjustment period that comes when transitioning to a new offense. Will a year in the Ravens system and a stronger rapport with Joe Flacco help Boldin return to the ranks of NFL elite, or was he always a product of a pass happy scheme?
Ravens fans are certainly hoping the second part of that statement is far from the truth.
8. Is This Ray Lewis's Last Season?
Ray Lewis made the news this summer by stating that he wants to win one more Super Bowl and then call it a career. He wants to spend time at home during his son's high school football days.
Who can blame him for that? His son will need his father around to deal with the recruiting process.
Ravens fans need Ray Lewis around to lead their championship caliber defense. The Ravens are Super Bowl contenders, but if they do hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy will it really be the last time Ray Lewis takes the field in the purple and black?
7. Is Joe Flacco an Elite Quarterback?
Joe Flacco has been the best quarterback the Ravens have ever had, and he has only played for three years. That says a lot about the history of the quarterback position in Baltimore.
The Ravens have never had a quarterback who ranked among the NFL's elite. Flacco is on the verge of being considered elite, but he still has a lot of work to do.
The Ravens need to decide if Flacco is the quarterback they want to build their franchise around. Just because he is the best quarterback the Ravens have ever had does not mean they should pass up the opportunity to draft a potentially elite quarterback if they have the chance.
Flacco needs to show Baltimore that he is worthy of elite consideration. He needs to finally beat Ben Roethlisberger head to head. That will do a lot to determine his place amongst the NFL's best quarterbacks.
6. What Kind of Impact Will Vonta Leach Have?
Many feel that the biggest addition the Baltimore Ravens made this offseason was fullback Vonta Leach.
Leach was not signed to carry the ball or score touchdowns. He was signed to block for Ray Rice and protect Joe Flacco.
How much impact will the addition of this hulking fullback actually have in Baltimore? Some Ravens fans are citing Leach as the key to beating the Steelers.
Will he really have that big of an impact? Once the regular season starts, Ravens fans will be looking closely at the holes Leach opens and keeping track of the number of times Flacco is pressured.
5. How Good Is Lee Evans
Besides Vonta Leach, Lee Evans was the biggest offseason pickup by the Baltimore Ravens. He gives the Ravens a deep threat to pair with Flacco's strong arm.
That sounds great to Ravens fans who are tired of seeing ten yard pass completions, but is Lee Evans actually the real deal? Can he be an impact receiver?
Evans had two 1,000 yard seasons with the Bills, where despite being paired with average quarterbacks at best, his speed allowed him to produce.
There are some who question whether Lee Evans is a complete receiver. The answer to those who doubt his ability to help the Ravens offense is simply this: the Ravens do not need Lee Evans to be a complete receiver.
They need him to use his speed to get open downfield. Anquan Boldin can handle the precise route running. Evans is the speed merchant the Ravens have needed for years.
4. How Much Will the Ravens Miss Todd Heap?
Todd Heap, a longtime cog in the Ravens offense, was let go this offseason. The Ravens will certainly miss the tight end's consistent production, but how much?
Heap was the security blanket for Ravens quarterbacks throughout his tenure in Baltimore, so how well his replacement gels with Joe Flacco will go a long way in answering that question.
Ravens management obviously feel that in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, they have found two dynamic players who fit the new hybrid tight end-wide receiver position that is in vogue in the NFL today.
These two players have big shoes to fill. If they are not able to replace Heap's production, the Ravens offense will suffer.
3. Will 2009 Ray Rice Return?
Ray Rice's 2009 season is exceeded in Ravens history only by Jamal Lewis's 2,000 yard rushing season. In 2009, Rice racked up over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, emerging as one of the top dual threat running backs in the league.
His 2010 season was not nearly as good. His yards per carry average dropped from 5.3 to 4.0 and he produced less than 1,800 total yards from scrimmage.
How well Rice bounces back from what was for him a subpar year will be one of the keys in how far the Ravens go this season. Rice had the most touches of his career last year by far, but it was still not his best year.
Was 2009 a fluke for Rice? Did he take too much of a beating in 2010? Ravens fans are anxious to see which Ray Rice shows up this season.
2. Is the Offensive Line Good Enough for a Super Bowl Run?
This is the question that has Ravens fans worried the most. Baltimore picked up Bryant McKinnie to shore up their offensive line, which has not looked good in the preseason.
There are legitimate concerns about Michael Oher's ability to play the ever important left tackle position. If McKinnie is able to still play at the level required to start in the NFL, he could force Oher to move to the right tackle position. This is a move that could make the offensive line better.
Oher and guard Marshal Yanda are the only fully entrenched starters on the offensive line. Center Matt Birk is expected to be ready for the season opener, and the Ravens sorely need him to be ready to play when they take the field against the Steelers. The right guard and tackle spots are still up for grabs.
This unit is the biggest question mark for the Ravens. The offensive line could be the unit that makes or breaks the Ravens 2011 season, so any questions concerning their play are justified.
1. Is This the Year the Ravens Take Down the Steelers
For Ravens fans, this is the biggest question going into every NFL season.
The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is quite possibly the most heated in the NFL. Ravens fans speculate every year if this will finally be the season the Ravens surpass the Steelers for NFL supremacy.
The Ravens have already proven they can beat any other elite team in the NFL. The biggest question is whether or not they can topple Ben Roethlisberger and the black and yellow.