State Of The Franchise closes out the AFC North with a veteran team that is looking to right the ship after back-to-back non-playoff seasons, the Baltimore Ravens
Injuries, drop-off in talent, mediocrity. All three have been barricades for the Baltimore Ravens the past two seasons. Roadblocks that has prevented a team from making the playoffs in both seasons. Even after seeing this tough organization make such playoffs in six of the seven seasons prior.
Now this veteran team is trying to make things right once again. The pressure of obtaining the familiar postseason success is spread throughout the roster. From their $24.5 million dollar quarterback to their young playmaking linebacker that is one of the leaders of the team. The fans in Baltimore are hoping to see the playoffs this year after tasting it so often. The big question is, does this team have enough to deliver? Let’s focus on the Baltimore Ravens in our ‘State Of The Franchise’ series.
Nine full seasons as head coach has produced six playoff seasons, two division titles, and a Super Bowl championship for John Harbaugh. The former special teams coordinator has carved a nice reputation around the league as a solid, all-around head coach. However, this current juncture in his tenure is probably the most challenging. An experienced coaching staff will help him tremendously. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees produced a stingy defensive group that was seventh overall in total defense and ninth in scoring defense. New offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris was hired in January and can be a very solid addition to an offensive line group that has four starters with three seasons or less experience.
Quarterback Joe Flacco received plenty of finger pointing in 2016 and rightfully so. His 15 interceptions were his most thrown since 2013 but in his favor, his completion percentage of 64.9% was a career-high. The run game for the Ravens was a liability for the team all season, ranking 28th in the league and averaging 91.4 yards per game. Leading rusher Terrance West totaled 774 yards on the year with only one-100 yard game and nine games of 45 yards or less. The team is hoping West can progress in 2017 but the team will also lean on fourth-year back Lorenzo Taliaferro. Recently signed Danny Woodhead will also play a key part in the phase as well.
The receiving corps took a big hit in the offseason with the retirement of receiver Steve Smith and the free-agent departure of Kamar Aiken. Now, receiver Mike Wallace is the team’s leading returning wide out. He led the team in yards with 1,017 but the team would love to see third-year wide out Breshad Perriman have that breakout season. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley solidifies one spot on the offensive line but major pieces are still needed. The offensive unit as a whole has to take a considerable step for the Ravens to be playoff-bound.
At least the Ravens had a reliable defense in 2016. One that manufactured two Pro Bowlers in free safety Eric Weddle (48 tackles, four INTs) and linebacker CJ Mosley (56 tackles, four INTs). Mosley, in particular, is one of the better young linebackers in the NFL and will only improve in his fourth season. The sudden retirement of 24-year-old linebacker Zach Orr took away an underrated presence next to Mosley. How Orr is replaced will be key for the defense going forward.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is facing a critical point in his career. He’s now 34 and two seasons removed from a torn Achilles. Does Suggs still have the ability to constantly haunt quarterbacks? The success of the defense may hinge on his performance. A nice free agency acquisition of Tony Jefferson provides a young, athletic strong safety that the team missed in 2016. If Jefferson meets his expectations, the defense will greatly prosper.
Two seasons in a row of below average football is something we have rarely seen in Baltimore over the last decade plus. What makes things even more engaging is the fact that the Ravens have enough holes to make it three seasons in a row.
At the same time, veterans such as Flacco, Suggs, Weddle, Jefferson, Wallace, and tight end Dennis Pitta are all capable of taking their game to another level and get this veteran team over the hump. Other key faces such as defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams must be anchors on the defensive front. Williams was the recipient of a free agent contract that made him the highest paid nose tackle in football. With that money comes the standards. Is Williams ready? That remains to be unanswered.
While there are holes on the Ravens roster, it’s hard to discount them as a team that will be a non-factor. Upgrading the receiver position is a huge task in front of them. Finding consistent pass rush outside of Suggs is another. In order for the Ravens to have any type of impact in the playoff picture, little known faces must be big play producers. If not, the Ravens may be staring at a surprising trend of mediocrity.