21 Years Young: Baltimore Ravens 2016 Season Review
The Baltimore Ravens turn 21 this year (well 20 years since they moved from Cleveland). In those 2o years they’ve won 2 Super bowls and under John Harbaugh they have a 72 – 41 record. Last year however will be a season to forget, as the Ravens fell to their 1st losing season under Harbaugh, in no small part thanks to injuries at nearly every position. With the AFC North evolving into one of the toughest Divisions in the league, can this team keep up?
Old Enough to Drink
5-11 is a win tally that John Harbaugh has never known. What it took for the Ravens to fall to a losing record was a list of injuries that would lead you to believe that the team was cursed. 20 players were put on injured reserve, of which 8 of them were starters, including Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Snr. and Eugene Monroe. Breshad Perriman was set to light up the Ravens receiving corps after being taken as their 1st round pick, but injury issues also kept him side-lined for the whole season. Recurring injuries for 2014’s surprise breakout player, Justin Forsett, kept him side-lined. The starting line-up on offence was decimated, with Matt Schaub starting games at QB, Javorius Allen at RB (who came in when Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on IR), Kamar Aiken and Chris Given at receiver. The Ravens were toothless and it’s crazy that they even got 5 wins.
“You’re Only Young Once”
Before getting in to who they’ve picked up, it’s worth looking at the amount of talent they’ll be getting back from injury. Steve Smith Snr is back in a final attempt to finish his career on a high, after threatening to retire last year. Smith, before his injury was in decent form despite his advanced years, however recovering from a torn Achilles could prove to be too much for Smith, making it an almost impossible task to carry the receiver corps. Breshad Perriman is a player we know little to nothing about after missing his entire rookie season. Perriman could still be carrying an injury when he takes the field, which makes it questionable once again, how useful he could be to this team. In 2014 Justin Forsett hit the big-time, but an injury in 2015 saw him side-lined. On the offensive line, Jeremy Zuttah will return as center. Eugene Monroe however won’t. Potentially he would have gone into the season as a backup so was released and he’s subsequently chosen to retire citing potential head injuries as a concern.
On defence, Terrell Suggs might be heading towards the twilight of his career, but he seems to still have some game left in him. Suggs will be a defensive leader, both on the side-lines and the field of play. Matt Elam has been a bit of disappointment since coming into the league in 2013. Now after coming back from a bicep tear, Elam is playing for a contract, after the Ravens decided not to exercise his 5th year option. Elam is competing in a loaded position (more on that later).
Nearly as important as the above players is the amount of depth that is about to come back off IR. The likes of Michael Campanaro, Will Davis, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Darren Waller add some much needed depth to a team trying to get over a season riddled with injuries.
The Age of Responsibility
In free agency, they lost a couple of key pieces. The Ravens have had one of the best guard pairings in Osemele and Yanda for the last few years. The loss of Osemele creates a big gap on the left side that John Urschel will be trying to fill. Osemele had 2 inches and 30 lbs. on Urschel, but Urschel brings an intelligent approach to the position. Daryl Smith had a great 2015 at inside line-backer but now finds himself with the Buccaneers. Smith takes some veteran leadership away from the middle of the Ravens defence. Courtney Upshaw failed to fit in with the Ravens defence in a kind of square peg/round hole kind of way. Upshaw finds himself on a one year $1.25m contract, with the Falcons where they seem to be trying to take advantage of his versatility.
The Ravens did bring in a few players that should improve some areas of need however. After finishing dead last for interceptions there was a definite need for play makers in the secondary. Enter Eric Weddle and Jerraud Powers. Powers joins the team after several years in Arizona as one of their many additional defensive backs which in Arizona means having to perform a number of different roles. In Baltimore he’ll be lining up in the slot, but after failing a physical, could struggle to make the starting line-up. Weddle’s usually excellent form didn’t appear last year, but there’s a good chance that’s mostly down to his displeasure with the team more than anything. Weddle is one of the smartest safeties in the league and despite being 31; he should prove to be invaluable for the Ravens defence that needs to add some nastiness. On offence they didn’t add a great deal. Mike Wallace has failed to find a home since leaving Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Wallace is a one trick pony (he runs in a straight line really quickly) and relies heavily on being paired with a QB who can throw a deep ball, which isn’t Tannehill or Bridgewater’s strong point. Whilst I don’t think he’ll ever recapture his form from Pittsburgh, I do think he can have the most success he’s had in a while with Flacco.
The Ravens modest additions carried through to the draft. A franchise left tackle has been a huge need for the last few years for this team. When the time came the Ravens decided to pass on number 1 rated left tackle, Laremy Tunsil after a video of him smoking weed through a gas mask emerged just hours before the draft. The Ravens went with Ronnie Stanley, who has been pretty impressive in camp so far. If Stanley can play to a high level, the Ravens round off one of the best offensive lines in the league, even without Osemele. In the 2nd round the Ravens picked up an insurance policy in Kamalei Correa. Correa enters the season as a potential replacement to Zach Orr or the underwhelming Arthur Brown, who himself was picked up in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft. Correa will be expected to hit the ground running as a potential partner to CJ Mosley. Correa could potentially move to the outside if a need to find a decent replacement for the aging pass rush is required, although Matt Judon could help them out there. Judon was a pickup in the 5th round and brings with him a 20 sack in his 2015 year (admittedly from division 2 side Grand Valley State). Judon’s nose for finding the QB has impressed in training camp, but the learning curve of division 2 to the NFL is pretty huge. It might take some time before we see him hit his stride as a starter, but he’ll be expected to challenge Za’Darius Smith and Chris Carter for a backup role. The majority of this year’s draft picks for the Ravens were picked up to add depth, which was desperately needed on a team that suffered so many injuries last year.
Time to Party?
The Ravens should be a much improved team this year, but are unfortunately in a division with 2 potential Super bowl contenders. Where they should be sneaky good is in the run game. Javorius Allen had an excellent finish to the season last year filling in for Forsett, who himself should be back to full speed. However the rise of Terence West to becoming a potential bell cow and the introduction of Kenneth Dixon means that if the Ravens want to enter the season with 3 backs, they’ve got a tough decision to make. Regardless of who is running the ball, we at least know they’ll be running behind a less beaten up line, with a shiny new left tackle. Combine this with the amount of tight ends on the roster, we should see the Ravens line up in a lot of max protect, which once again will be good for the run game. Throw in a “spirited” receiver like Steve Smith Snr. and you have a great situation for the Ravens running backs. The personnel they have means they can keep teams guessing too. Benjamin Watson had a career year with the Saints and Maxx Williams looked good when he was one of few starting weapons on the field. With this particular set of skills the Ravens are well set up for short yard attrition and keeping safeties honest. Which is where Perriman and Wallace come in. Wallace has been a misfit over the last few years, but in this situation he’ll see relatively little resistance, with a QB who has one of the best arms in the league. Mike Wallace could shock a few people this year, especially on an offence guided by Marc Trestman.
The defence however is a concern. There are superstars in the making on the roster. CJ Mosley is in the conversation as one of the best 3-4 inside line-backers in the league and Brandon Williams is one of the best nose tackles in the league, lined up next to one of the most underrated 3-4 defensive ends in the league, in Timmy Jernigan. However, where is the pass rush going to come from? Terrell Suggs has been a dominant force in the league, but at 33 coming back from achilles injury, you can’t rely on him to be as effective as he’s been in the past. Elvis Dumervil had an insane 2014, but couldn’t get it going last year with a beaten up Ravens defence. Then there’s the lack of Daryl Smith, something we spoke about before, Smith isn’t a household name, but he was an important one. Now it’s up to Mosley to step up to the role of defensive leader, despite only being in the league 3 years. The secondary is still their biggest concern however. It feels like whatever they do, whoever they add, they’re still the same disorganised unit. I have faith in the safeties for once however. Weddle is a great addition, especially when combined with Lardarius Webb, who’s playing his 1st season at the position. The corners though, are an issue. Jimmy Smith gives them a potential no. 1, but a foot injury slowed him down for the last year and a half. The fact is we’ve yet to see a truly great season from 2011’s 1st round pick. Shareece Wright is penned in at no. 2 and is best friends with Jimmy Smith. The 2 have flashed potential together, but it feels like the Ravens secondary needs some fresh blood.
The Ravens are a strange mix of players reaching the twilight of their career and young players yet to prove themselves. Ozzie Newsome is undoubtedly one of the best GM’s in the league, but he has, in recent years missed on a few no. 1 picks (CJ Mosley not being one of course). The Ravens need to hit on a few now. If the Ravens are to compete with the 2 top teams in the division, they need Perriman to be a hit. They need the decision to pick up Ronnie Stanley over Laremy Tunsil to be the right one.
Regardless, I think the task is a little too much for them this year, but I do think we’ll see improvement, just not enough to see them make the playoffs this year.