It seems only yesterday the Ravens won the Super Bowl. But that came during the 2012 season. Baltimore has gone only 31-33 the past four seasons with just one postseason appearance.
The Ravens, who had a long run of success under John Harbaugh, have become ordinary.
Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco are under pressure to win and win now, and with as many as 10 new starters, that won’t be easy. The Steelers and Bengals both appear to have better talent, and though the Ravens can compete for a wild-card berth, they will have to find more offensive firepower after ranking 17th in total offense, including 28th in rushing.
Biggest positive change: The Ravens ended last season in desperate need for playmakers, which is why nearly every mock draft predicted they would draft a receiver in the first round. With the top three receivers gone in the first nine picks, the Ravens selected Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round. They ended up using five of seven picks on defense, with two linemen being the only offensive players selected. But Jeremy Maclin fell into their laps when the Chiefs unexpectedly released him. Maclin, a Pro Bowler in 2014, signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Ravens. They needed him as Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman are the only returning receivers who caught more than 30 passes for Baltimore last season. The Ravens have had success with veteran receivers, getting productive seasons out of Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith, which should help Maclin rebound from last season when he had only 44 receptions for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games.
Biggest negative change: The Ravens lost their leading tackler, Zach Orr, when, at the age of 24, he retired because of a congenital spine and neck condition. Orr began seeking a return last month, and as an unrestricted free agent, has visited several teams but has yet to sign. The Ravens, meanwhile, are left with uncertainty at the position. Kamalei Correa appears the top option. A second-round selection last season, Correa started one game and saw action in eight others as a rookie but played only 48 defensive snaps.
Coaching thermometer: John Harbaugh finds himself on a hot seat for the first time as a head coach. Harbaugh, as a Super Bowl-winning coach, won’t have trouble finding another job if this is his last in Baltimore, but both he and the Ravens would love to have reason for him to stay for the long term. Harbaugh, 85-59 in nine seasons and now the longest-tenured coach in team history, is under contract through 2018. Although owner Steve Bisciotti hasn’t placed a “playoffs-or-else” edict on Harbaugh, a playoff berth likely would assure a return.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Eric Weddle. How can you not love this guy? OK, so maybe if you’re on the other side of one of his hits he doesn’t seem so nice. But he is all-in, all the time, arriving at the team’s practice facility before dawn and dog piling a new teammate after an interception during a summer practice. His agent and close friend, David Canter, told the Baltimore Sun that Weddle is “the best human being I’ve ever met in my life. He signs every autograph and poses for every picture. He’s got a group of friends that goes 40 deep, and they’ll all tell you he’s never changed. He’s a man of extreme conviction.”
How they can prove us wrong: The Ravens, as usual, will rely on their defense and their Pro Bowl kicker. After giving up late scoring drives, General Manager Ozzie Newsome addressed the defense in the offseason. The Ravens ranked seventh in total defense and ninth in scoring defense a year, and the additions of Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley and Tim Williams should make them even better. Justin Tucker, the NFL’s all-time most accurate kicker, gives the Ravens great faith in their kicking game. But they need more touchdowns after ranking 21st in scoring. Joe Flacco didn’t have one of his best seasons, with 20 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and an 83.5 passer rating, but now more than a year away from reconstructive knee surgery, he should be more comfortable. The offense, though, still lacks playmakers with only Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead added to the mix. That will make it difficult on the Ravens to get done what they want to get done this season.