Here in Baltimore, football is life. After nearly 14 years of awful Orioles baseball, younger fans like myself in our twenties have grown accustom to some good football. Sure, it’s nice to see the O’s doing well in recent years, but I can guarantee that most people are more excited for Ravens football.
After a frustrating 5-11 season full of injuries and inconsistencies, one can only assume that the Ravens will do much better in 2016. I think they will win the AFC North and make it far into the playoffs.
Here’s three reasons why Baltimore will be crowned kings of the north:
Talented Offensive Weapons
Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman is entering his second year as OC. This time around he isn’t spending several months playing “catch up” in order to learn a brand new offense. He’s been able to build upon what the Ravens offense was a year ago, as well as building solid relationships with players like Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett and Steve Smith sr. Last season, the Ravens finished 14th in total offense and they will be aiming towards breaking the top ten this year. What makes this season special is that there are a lot of talented players on the roster, but more specifically several positional groups that are loaded with talent in comparison to the rest of the NFL.
They have four top notch tight ends, all of whom are capable of starting and I’m not even including the other few tight ends who are also on the roster. They have two young bucks in Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams, both of whom had a major impact last season on offense. Then recently signed Ben Watson is the icing on the cake; if you add Dennis Pitta who has finally recovered from several hip injuries, it is obvious the Ravens will utilize a lot of two tight end sets and it will be difficult for opposing teams to cover them.
The offensive line should be strong and consistent. The only grey area is LG. With the departure of Kelechi Osemele, there will be some competition for the starting spot. It is clear though, that first round pick, Ronnie Stanley, will start at LT. The team released former LT, Eugene Monroe, and it’s obvious they are confident in their future blindside player. Veteran Marshal Yanda is always consistent at RG, and with his guidance, the offensive line should be able to protect Joe Flacco and open up some holes for running backs.
One thing is for certain, the Ravens are making it a priority to get back to what they are known for….Running the ball and playing stout defense. The team drafted Kenneth Dixon with their fourth pick, and he was widely known as the second best RB behind Ezekiel Elliott. He has the explosiveness to break free from tackles and gain yards in the open field but what sets him apart is his ability to make an impact in the passing game. With his reliable hands, Marc Trestman will most certainly use him in passing situations much like he did with Matt Forte in Chicago.
As of now, Justin Forsett is still the starter at RB. With Dixon drafted and last years third round pick Javorius Allen, this backfield is stacked with versatile players. They may keep one more RB on the roster and that means a dog fight for that spot; Terrance West, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Trent Richardson will all be vying for the 4th spot. My early assumption is that West will earn the spot. He’s strong and great in short yardage situations. Taliaferro has not been able to stay healthy and well, we all know that Richardson has pretty much a zero percent chance of making the team.
Defense, Defense, DEFENSE!!!
Most don’t realize this because of their 5-11 record, but the Ravens finished 2015 ranked 8th in total defense. This is strange right? They weren’t “that good” of a defense. One might think, however, they actually did finish strong and the numbers don’t lie. They were stopping the run and showing improvements in defending the pass. Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright finished as one of the top CB duo’s in the league, and that’s something they seek to carry over into 2016. Recently signed Jerraud Powers has been phenomenal in the slot, and with the top offseason pick-up Eric Weddle roaming the secondary, this defense isn’t going to be a carpet. Terrell Suggs is working his way back from injury and if history shows us anything, it’s that whenever a key Ravens veteran comes back on defense, the team does very well. 2012, that is all I’ll say.
How can the defense be successful? They have to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Last season when Suggs went down, teams shifted focus over to Elvis Dumervil, and therefore his strong pass rushing abilities were diminished due to double teams. That caused a huge trickling effect which ultimately became an issue until the last quarter of the season when they found ways of getting pressure. If they can maintain consistent pressure then the secondary will have a blast and hopefully create turnovers. After not having more then a handful of picks a year ago, the secondary must find ways of stealing the ball because that not only provides the offense with more opportunities, but it brings back the “nasty” in what was a stout Ravens defense just years ago.
The John Harbaugh Era
The Ravens have missed the playoffs twice in his 8 year career with Baltimore. He is the first coach to win a playoff game in each of his five first seasons. Flacco and Harbaugh both came under the lights at the same time and they almost seem to be one. Success comes with consistency and hard work; two things the team strives for. If you look at the Ravens’ two seasons in which they missed the playoffs, one thing is clear: They lacked consistency.
Last year even before the injuries began to pile up, it was obvious that the team was struggling to finish games. One week it was the offense that couldn’t pull out the win and the next week it was the defense that couldn’t make that last stand. Besides injuries, consistency is my main concern heading into 2016. I’m not worried though because Harbaugh has found ways of getting his team out of slumps and back on track. A fluke 5-11 season can hit a team hard, but I think this Ravens team is different. They kept themselves in almost every game last season by 8 points or less, a record they now hold and aren’t proud of. They don’t lack the heart but maybe they lack the “killer instinct” to put away opponents. I’m not one to believe that after Suggs went down, it had a bad cycling effect on the rest of the team. Maybe it had some sort of effect, however, the consistency issue was there from the start, which goes hand in hand with finishing off opponents.
History shows us that John Harbaugh will guide this team back to a winning season and possibly one that bounces back much more then the pundits wish. The Ravens have always been that team to bounce back after being down one week, how will they bounce back from an entire down season? Mark my words, the Ravens will win the division, and if not that, they will make the playoffs. This team is designed for success, after a fluke year full of injuries and struggle, they have young blood and recently acquired veterans all working hard so this team can flourish. I don’t think Harbaugh has back to back losing seasons in him, 2016 will be the Ravens to win or lose.