Baltimore Ravens 2010 Season Preview: Is Offense the Name of the Game?
The Baltimore Ravens spent the first decade of their existence looking for a quarterback. And they quickly saw what the acquisition of a franchise quarterback can do to a club when they drafted Joe Flacco in 2008. Since then, the Ravens have been one of the better teams in the AFC, and with Flacco and second-year left tackle Michael Oher, the balance of power in Baltimore is shifting to the offense.
Offense: For the past decade, the Ravens' defense has carried the offense. Through Trent Dilfer, Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac and Kyle Boller, the offense's job was to hand off to Jamal Lewis and stay out of the way. But the 2010 season may be the first in a long while where the Ravens will feature a truly multi-faceted attack. Ray Rice proved last year that he's both one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league and excellent at running the ball, as well. But the biggest difference this year is that Flacco will throw to a legitimate set of receivers. Derrick Mason's retirement ended shortly before the season last year, and he proved to be just as reliable as ever, but Baltimore didn't really have a true No. 2 receiver. Now with the acquisition of Anquan Boldin, Mason can move into his more fitting role as a No. 2 receiver, while Boldin gives the team a solid No. 1. The offensive line should be strong, if everyone can get healthy, but right tackle Jared Gaither and center Matt Birk have missed significant time this preseason. Heat Index: 8.
Defense: It's safer to be a drummer for Spinal Tap than it is to be a Ravens' cornerback. Last year Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington each blew out a knee. They're trying to come back, so the bad karma shifted over to Domonique Foxworth, who blew his knee out this preseason. Baltimore was forced to trade for Seattle's Josh Wilson to help fill the void. The Ravens' other defensive concern is whether Ed Reed (hip injury) will be ready to go when the season begins. Baltimore will have to decide by Saturday whether to start Reed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If they do, he'll be sidelined for the first six weeks of the season. If the secondary can get healthy, the rest of the defense is among the best in the league. Ray Lewis is getting older and older, but he's still a force in the middle, especially because he has Haloti Ngata and rookie Terrence Cody swallowing up gobs of blockers. Heat Index: 9
Special Teams: Baltimore hasn't decided between Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham for the kicking job. Neither can be expected to be more than adequate. Sam Koch is a solid punter. Cornerbacks Chris Carr and Webb are reliable returners, but with the injuries at cornerback, they may hold them out of returning because of the risk of injury. If that happens, speedy rookie Prince Miller could get a chance at the job. Heat Index: 4.
Coaching: In two seasons as a head coach, John Harbaugh has gone to the playoffs twice and the AFC championship game once. And he's done it while breaking in a young quarterback. It's hard to beat that kind of production. The combination of Cam Cameron and Al Saunders has done a very good job bringing Flacco along. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison may not be as innovative as ex-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, but he did a good job of keeping the defense from dropping off after Ryan's departure. Heat Index: 8.
Intangibles: While the Steelers were dealing with Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and the Bengals' big acquisition of Antonio Bryant turned out to be a dud, Baltimore was quietly rolling along. Baltimore has had more injuries than either of its two AFC North rivals, but right now they are the team to beat. Heat Index: 7.
Total Heat Index: 36/50. Baltimore's defense is getting old, but the offense is getting younger, so it's hard to say that this is do-or-die time for the Ravens. The AFC should be very stacked again this year -- getting out of the division won't be easy. But if you're looking for likely playoff teams, the Ravens are a clear choice.