Baltimore Ravens: 5 Things We Learned Through Two Preseason Games
With every passing season, the Baltimore Ravens lose a chance to give Ray Lewis the return trip the Super Bowl he has been seeking for the last decade. Baltimore will take another crack at it this year, and they have some new faces to help Ray-Ray get back to the promised land.
A new receiving corp and some fresh faces in the back field could give the team a much-needed spark. Through two preseason games, some interesting trends are developing that could very well tell the story of the Ravens' 2011 season.
5) No Fallout from the Defense
While the Baltimore Ravens’ offense had a major face lift, the defense looks exactly the same, as it returns all the key players from the 2010 unit.
That is great for the run defense, but the 21st-ranked pass defense is a different story. Having Ed Reed for the start of the season looks great on paper towards solidifying that area, but the key will be how he ends the year. Reed has not played in all 16 games since 2008.
New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will have to find a more creative blitz scheme, as Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata combined for 16.5 of the team’s 27 sacks. He looks to be well on his way, as six Ravens players combined for five sacks against the Kansas City Chiefs.
4) Ray Rice Is a Stud, but the Key Could Be Ricky Williams
Ray Rice took a slight step back in 2010, as his total yards dropped from 2,041 in ’09 to 1,776. That did not stop the Baltimore Ravens from saying goodbye to fellow ball carriers Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain.
All signs point to this being Ray Rice’s offense, but come playoff time, Ricky Williams will need to make his presence felt.
This is where Ricky Williams and his 230 lbs. come in. He will need to team with fellow free-agent acquisition Vonta Leach, possibly the NFL’s best blocking fullback, to get the tough, straight-up-the-gut yards against speedy defenses like the Steelers and Jets when Rice has nowhere to run and no place to hide.
3) Lee Evans Will Be a Game-Breaker…
The Baltimore Ravens brought Evans in to stretch the field and be a big playmaker for Joe Flacco and the offense. In one preseason game, Evans has three catches for 68 yards to his credit.
For his entire career, Evans was the focal point of a woeful Bills’ offense. Playing with a slew of terrible quarterbacks and without a legitimate second receiver to keep the focus of the defense elsewhere, Evans still twice eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving while averaging a solid 15.7 yards per catch.
Playing with Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice and Joe Flacco will seem like paradise for Evans, and he should average closer to 20 yards per reception with eight-to-10 touchdowns for his new squad.
2) ...but the Offense Still Needs Work
The Baltimore Ravens have completely remade their receiving corps in the last two seasons, but the jury is still out on the results. Anquan Boldin had 64 catches for 837 yards in his first season in Baltimore—both career-lows with the exception of 2004, when he played in only 10 games.
The chemistry does not seem to have improved thus far in the preseason, as Boldin has just two catches for 27 yards. Even more disturbing is Flacco has completed only half of his passes through two preseason games.
The Ravens need to justify releasing fan favorites Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. The remaining receivers on the roster have a combined 10 catches—all to former Bills’ second-round bust James Hardy. Tight end is not much better, as presumed starter Ed Dickson has just 11 catches and one touchdown for his career.
Granted, neither of the two veterans are the elite players they once were. But they aren’t getting paid like it with their new teams, either. Heap signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals, while Mason signed a modest two-year $3.8 million contract with the New York Jets.
The bargain contracts and lack of proven talent begs the question as to why Baltimore did not bring back their own guys for a similar price. Ravens fans could be screaming for their former stars if some playmakers do not step up in the regular season.
1) Joe Flacco Will Determine How Far the Ravens Go
The Baltimore Ravens’ defense may again be near the top in the league, and Ray Rice could very well eclipse 2000 yards from scrimmage for the second time in his career. The ultimate success of this team, however, depends on the play of Joe Flacco.
Flacco had career-bests in every statistical category last season. Still, he mustered up only 125 yards passing and a 61.1 QB rating as his team blew a 21-7 lead against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs. Quite simply, that is not going to cut it if Baltimore wants to get to the Super Bowl.
Flacco does not have to fill up the box score like Peyton Manning for the team to win. As the teams are so similarly built, it is not surprising that Ben Roethlisberger had only two more pass attempts than Flacco in the aforementioned playoff matchup. However, Roethlisberger threw for over 100 more yards, had two touchdowns and zero interceptions, compared to Flacco’s one and one.
A couple of touchdowns and 225 passing yards may not look that impressive, but making the plays during "Winning Time" is what separates the two quarterbacks and the two teams. Flacco is going to have to start making those plays for this team to achieve its Super Bowl dreams.
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