Five questions: Baltimore Ravens

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The Ravens followed a five-year run of playoff berths and a Super Bowl win by missing the postseason completely.  With a new offense and a defense that remains stout even amid plenty of changes, the Ravens could be closer to what they were in 2012 than what they were in 2013.  Whether they get back to the playoffs and succeed there hinges on several questions.

Five, to be exact.

That’s convenient.

1.  Will new offense work?

A year after winning the Super Bowl, Baltimore’s offense struggled under coordinator Jim Caldwell.  Though he wasn’t in danger of being fired (as far as anyone knows), his elevation to head coach in Detroit opened the door for a new approach.

Enter former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, and his zone-blocking, one-cut, rollout pass, West Coast-influenced attack.

It requires an adjustment for everyone on the offense, and it could result in players unable to make the adjustment landing on the bench, or worse.

2.  Did they pay Joe Flacco too much money?

The starting quarterback won’t be landing on the bench or worse, not with his $120.6 million contract.  More than a year after Flacco had the team over a barrel and took full advantage of the situation, the team awaits full return on the investment.

Sure, they won a Super Bowl.  But that trophy was already in the case before they committed to depositing so many millions into Flacco’s vault.  Last year, he didn’t perform like a short-list franchise quarterback.  This year, he needs to; otherwise, the Ravens will have to start considering their options as the cap numbers begin to grow in the latter years of the deal.

Specifically, the cap number shoots from $14 million and change in 2014 and 2015 to $28 million and change in 2016, setting the stage for another potential showdown in 18 months.

3.  Is Ray Rice declining?

Big dollars in the out years of Ray Rice’s contract won’t be an issue.  His new deal, signed in July 2012, gave him $25 million in the first two seasons.

That makes is easier to keep him around now, even if Rice has begun the inevitable running-back backslide as the 30th anniversary of his birth approaches.  Also, Bernard Pierce may be a better fit for the new offense.  And he’ll get two weeks to prove that he is, thanks to Rice’s suspension.

Yes, the suspension.  No matter how much the Ravens dig in publicly regarding their support for Rice, surely some in the organization are sufficiently troubled by the events leading to the suspension to result in Rice getting no benefit of the doubt when the time comes to make an objective, detached football decision about his future with the franchise.

Beyond 2014, he possibly won’t have one.

4.  How much does Steve Smith have left?

Steve Smith had no future in Carolina beyond 2013, and it made plenty of sense for him to come to Baltimore.  Good as he is, Torrey Smith may never develop into a guy who effectively runs every route.  Steve Smith can, even if it means stepping on a few sporks.

It’s presumed that Smith, at age 35 and with a possibly nagging knee problem, can still play like he did in Carolina.  The folks in Carolina decided that he didn’t merit another $4 million beyond the guaranteed $3 million he’ll earn from the Panthers for 2014.  Even though the team reportedly hoped that removing Smith’s big personality would allow younger ones to blossom, the Panthers would have gladly paid the money if they thought Smith’s performance would merit it.

A need for more talent and a lot of toughness at the receiver position, the Ravens didn’t hesitate.  Even if Smith can’t play like he used to, the fire remains — and the Ravens are banking on it being contagious.

5.  How good is the defense?

Smith’s influence won’t be needed on the defensive side of the ball.  Even with the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed long gone, the defense continues to be the soul and the strength of the team.

Defensive lineman Haloti Ngata still anchors the line, with Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Courtney Upshaw providing the pressure from the outside.  And while no one expects C.J. Mosley to become the next Ray Lewis, Mosley and 2013 rookie Arthur Brown could push each other to become, in combination, almost as effective.

With a great front seven, the secondary doesn’t need to be.  But veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb and second-year safety Matt Elam move the needle in that direction.

Coach John Harbaugh has said that defense aims for a top-five finish every year.  This year, the Ravens have a better chance of getting there than most realize.

24 responses to “Five questions: Baltimore Ravens

  1. The offense and defense both will be better than expected and will take a few teams by surprise. Most notably, the Bengals and Steelers. Kubiak made Taylor and Wenning both look like starting QB’s against NO and he will make Flacco look even better. Under Cameron Flacco is a 55% comp rate and 80 passer rating QB, so far with Kubiak he is a 70% comp rate with a 107 passer rating. Sure is only preseason but Kubiak hasn’t even opened the playbook yet. I believe a number of people will be surprised with the offense.

  2. Ray Rice declining? Are you serious? Do you know how strong a man you have to be to drag your unconscious future wife out of an elevator? He’s Rogers mistake.. Long live the “community” legend…

  3. .
    The Ravens are a flawed team, but have a fair chance to win the AFC North as their division foes have blemishes of their own.

  4. We’ll know after the first 2 weeks how the remainder of the season will go.

    If Ravens don’t look good against the Bengals and Steelers… The rest of the season will be miserable.

    If they look good, they’ll probably have a good season and win division easily.

  5. Bengalguy better worry about Dalton opening up at M&T Bank. Andy is 0-3 with a average QBR around 60. He’ll have to play better than that. Of course Joe is 3-0 in those games.

  6. oeflaccoallday says:
    Sep 1, 2014 2:37 PM

    People need to understand that Michael Sam is trash as a football player… him being gay has nothing to do with why he isn’t on a team. He simply is TRASH.


    Yeah, that’s a great point, kinda like how everyone needs to understand that beating a woman up on camera is acceptable for an NFL RB….

    Ravens are TRASH and their fans are wagon jumpers!

  7. joeflaccoallday says:
    Sep 1, 2014 2:37 PM

    People need to understand that Michael Sam is trash as a football player… him being gay has nothing to do with why he isn’t on a team. He simply is TRASH.


    Yeah, that’s a great point, kinda like how everyone needs to understand that beating a woman up on camera is acceptable for an NFL RB….

    Ravens are TRASH and their fans are wagon jumpers!

  8. I agree that the defense will be one of the tops in the league. Youth movement shows with Williams, Brown, Mosely, Jernigan and Brooks all looking like impact players. The quality depth in the front seven makes it one of the best in the NFL.
    The offense will be much better than most expect. Why? They will run the ball behind a very good offensive line. The return of Osemele gives the Ravens 2 pro bowl caliber guards. The addition of Zuttah at center is huge. Monroe and Wagner are good tackles. Kubiak’s system will do the rest. They led the NFL in rushing in the preseason which bodes well.
    Receivers Dennis Pitta, Steve Smith, Mike Campanaro and Kyle Juscyzyk (sic) will be a handful in the short passing game. Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones can all take the top off. Flacco looks outstanding at play action in this system. He put up a 102 QB rating with no INTs in preseason.
    The combination of a ball control offense and a very good defense with the best kicker in the league will result in a lot of wins.
    I think they go 12-4 and win the AFC North.

  9. 1 – probably not
    2 – yes but they had to
    3 – yes
    4 – not much
    5 – around top 10. Maybe a little bit below.

  10. 1. “New offense” implies they had an offense before. Check-downs shouldn’t be called Offense.
    2. Not this year or even next. But in 2016 when he’ll account for 1/4 of his team’s cap…
    3. If Rice declines any more he’ll be going backwards. But he’ll be fine, see point #1.
    4. Steve Smith has some left, and some right. Just ask Ken Lucas, Chykie Brown, Webb…
    5. I’ll answer this one with a question – which will prove a bigger bust, Elam or Mosley.

  11. That’s why they play the games. It’s easy to shoot off about things this time of year. Let’s all just slow down and see where teams are after a few games. The good teams always rise to the top and this year will be no different, likewise the pretenders will fall by the side and be home watching the playoffs.

  12. 1. I think so
    2. Maybe
    3. Who knows, but we have depth at RB
    4. Hopefully plenty
    5. Should read “How GREAT is this defense?”

  13. I am a hardcore Bengals fan and I must admit this team could be very dangerous. AFC North will beat each other up all year and the winner of the division will be ready come playoff time, I pick Bengals or Ravens to make it to the AFC Championship and possibly Superbowl

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