Now that we can safely put the lid on any legitimate hopes of the Ravens appearing in the postseason, it’s time to look for silver linings, and to begin thinking about what the Ravens need to address first in the off seson.
This season will be remembered as a time of transition for the team. For the past ten seasons, the Ravens were all about defense. The main job of the offensive unit was to not get in the way while the angry, opportunistic defense annhilated opponents. No more.
Now, in what seems like a “back to the future” turn of events (“back” being the Vinny Testeverde-era Ravens and “future” being the Joe Flacco-era Ravens), the offense needs to score 30+ points if the team is going to win. The defense can no longer be counted on for key stops, especially when faced with a quality quarterback. This season has been instructive in that it has mercilessly exposed the Ravens’ weaknesses, and has given the front office solid evidence of what needs to be done. I’ll address those needs shortly. But first, there are some silver linings in what is quickly becoming a very disappointing fall:
1. The NFL is a quarterback league. If an organization is to have long term success, it almost always builds its team around a franchise quarterback. For the only time in its short history, the Ravens have that in Joe Flacco.
2. The Ravens have usually done well playing a third or fourth place schedule, coming off of a bad year. Next season should be better.
3. With every loss, the Ravens draft position improves.
4. As expectations fall, the agony of losing winnable games lessens, mainly because we begin to subconsciously redefine what “winnable” is for this team.
5. As it becomes clear that future home games will have no bearing on the playoffs, the chances of buying a reasonably-priced Ravens ticket from a disappointed season ticket holder improves. (This is really the only way I’ve ever been able to see a game since the new stadium opened.)
Now, on to the needs assessment.
1. A quality pass rushing down lineman. It’s no secret that the Ravens secondary can’t cover quality receivers, and they’re not just one player away, either. The fastest, easiest way to paper over a weak secondary is with an effective pass rush, which the Ravens haven’t had in years. They’ve tried to compensate with equally ineffective blitzes, which, when picked up, just results in one-on-one coverage and big plays. With just one monster pass rusher, much of the poor secondary play would fade away.
2. If that monster pass rusher can’t be had, the Ravens must act to upgrade the secondary, because this unit is absolutely killing the Ravens. They don’t cover, tackle or create turnovers very well. Ed Reed, limited by chronic neck and shoulder pain, is so busy trying to compensate for his mates that he’s forever out of position, which just exacerbates the problems. Samari Rolle’s career is over, Domonique Foxworth has proven to be no better than a nickle back and neither Fabian Washington, Frank Walker nor Chris Carr would start anywhere else in the NFL. LaDarius Webb seems promising, but it’s too early in his rookie season to tell. This group needs a major overhaul.
3. A playmaking wide receiver. Now that the Ravens have a franchise quarterback, they need a receiver that can consistently win deep battles to take advantage of his talent. Right now, Mark Clayton is the closet thing the Ravens have to a “burner,” and that by itself is a statement. Derrick Mason will likely retire at the end of the season, which makes this need even more pressing.
4. A dependable placekicker. Oh, Father Time, why did you have to take Matt Stover? For over a decade, this was one position that the Ravens never had to think about. But last year, it became apparent that if the Ravens needed a 44-yard field goal outdoors, Matt Stover couldn’t get it done. Steve Hauschka seemed like the answer, but now it seems as though he develops an ugly case of the “yips” when under pressure. The Ravens need a new answer in a position that delivers points every week. (What are the “yips?” Click here.)
5. A dominating inside linebacker. This is another position the Ravens haven’t had to think about since, well… ever. But Ray Lewis can’t go on forever, and even now he’s showing signs of advancing age. It was hoped that Jameel McClain or Tavares Gooden would step up this season, but that hasn’t happened. Within the next year or two, the lack of an enforcer in the middle of the defense is going to become glaringly obvious to opposing offensive coordinators. The Ravens need to be proactive to make sure that day never comes.
6. A quality kick returner. Chris Carr has been a major disappointment, and LaDarius Webb seems destined for full time duty in the secondary. The Ravens have tried to use Ed Reed occasionally to provide a spark, but this is a dangerous tactic, considering Reed’s questionable health, his importance to the defense and how thin the secondary is on talent.
What do you think?