State of the Union: Baltimore Ravens

My favorite two teams, the Cowboys and Ravens, play each other for the first time in four years and are going in totally different directions. In this article, I’ll tackle the Ravens and their recent downturn.

Since winning the Super Bowl in 2013, the Ravens have been on a downturn. Gone are the days of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed leading the charge and Ray Rice tearing up defenses. Though the Ravens sit atop the AFC North at 5-4, this doesn’t look like a playoff team. Today, I’ll  address the state of the Baltimore Ravens- why Baltimore has underperformed, whether the Ravens can push for the playoffs this year, and the outlook for the next couple years.

 

Why they’re underperforming

Joe Flacco

After having the best postseason of any player since Joe Montana, Joe Flacco was rewarded with the biggest contract in NFL history. The decision to pay Flacco big bucks was a poor one. Flacco now takes up a huge portion of Baltimore’s salary cap and is guaranteed money through the next decade, restricting the Ravens’ ability to be players in free agency and fill their needs. In addition to being a salary cap albatross, Flacco’s performance has been inconsistent and disappointing, and with his struggles the offense has faltered. In the scenario that I’m the general manager, I’d trade Flacco and his massive salary for draft picks, but in reality Flacco’s not going anywhere. But since Flacco’s here for the next five to six years, the Ravens’ hopes are contingent on him finding his A game.

Coaching Carousel

Since the John Harbaugh era started when I became a Ravens fan in 2008, the offensive coordinator position has been in flux. Cam Cameron was a good coach for a couple years, but was fired just before the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Jim Caldwell, his successor, brought Flacco to another level but rendered the rushing attack non-existent. When Caldwell took a job in Detroit, the Ravens hired Gary Kubiak, perhaps their best coaching decision since hiring Harbaugh. But Kubiak left after a year to coach Denver, and his replacement, Marc Trestman, was a disappointment. Trestman was fired earlier this season, but even with a new offensive coordinator, the Ravens offense has been unable to find their stride.

With the resurgence of the Ravens defense, which ranks as one of the top units in the league, shouldn’t Baltimore just return to the defense-first approach of the early and mid-2000s? When your quarterback is among the highest paid in the league and the offense is still in the bottom fourth of NFL offenses, there’s a problem. Unlike Ravens teams of the past, with Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice at running back, the running game is stale and ineffective. For the Ravens to be a playoff team, the Ravens need offensive stability and a reliable offensive system.

Injuries

Football is a dangerous sport, so injuries are expected. But no team in the NFL has been hit harder by the injury bug than Baltimore. Last year, the Ravens sent a player to the injured reserve in every week but one. The losses, including quarterback Joe Flacco and linebacker Terrell Suggs, were probably the number one reason the Ravens finished 5-11 last year.

While Flacco is back on the field, Baltimore is still battling injuries. The first pick in the draft, tackle Ronnie Stanley, hasn’t seen the field often and has underperformed when he has played. Corner Jimmy Smith and linebacker Elvis Dumervil are out for the Cowboys-Ravens game, which will take a toll. Guard Marshal Yanda, a perennial All-Pro, is down as well. And even though Flacco is back, he is far from playing at 100%.

 

Where The Ravens Rank

Even with the Ravens’ struggles, they’re at the top of AFC North and have a decent shot at reaching the playoffs. Their road to the postseason is treacherous, with games against the Cowboys, Patriots, Steelers, and Eagles, but three divisional games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh could be Baltimore’s entry into the playoffs. And as any football fan knows, Patriots fans especially, the Ravens are scary in the playoffs and can’t be counted out.

If the Ravens get into the playoffs as the winner of the AFC North, could they really go deep in the playoffs. The performance from the defense shows that the Ravens are a threat, though the injuries across the unit is a concern. And in a year in which kickers are missing over and over, Baltimore has a sure bet in Justin Tucker.

The big question is the offense. Can the rushing attack get going? Can Joe Flacco, who has thrown as many picks as touchdowns, find consistency? Can Flacco develop some chemistry with his receivers? The answers to those questions will determine whether Baltimore is a pretender or contender?

 

Future Outlook

There are many factors to blame for the Ravens’ demise from Super Bowl contender to middle-of-the-pack team- Joe Flacco’s performance, the coaching carousel, head coach John Harbaugh and the current coaching staff, the front office- and the climb back to the top seems difficult. Hopefully, the Ravens keep Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome and give them another chance next year to bring the Ravens back to the promised land, and given the patience of owner Steve Biscotti, both are expected to bring both back.

With Joe Flacco’s huge contract, the Ravens don’t have much wiggle room as far as the salary cap is concerned, so as long as Flacco’s with Baltimore, free agency won’t be the answer. To build this team into a contender, Newsome will need to utilize the draft to fix the roster and develop the young talent that epitomized so many Ravens teams of the past, like the 2000 Ravens and teams from the 2010s. Newsome should focus especially on building a strong rushing attack and offensive line, and finding a young player to be the cornerstone of the defense like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were for so many years. If the Ravens can find those answers, Baltimore will be again knocking on the door for a Lombardi trophy.

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