Can the Baltimore Ravens pick up where they left off for the NFL 2012 season?
Okay, I’ll say it: Lee Evans caught that ball.
Now that I have that out of my system, the Baltimore Ravens came into the 2012 NFL season playoff bound—only to hit a huge record-scratch with the loss of sackmaster Terrell Suggs. This preseason will be largely about trying to put together a pass rush in the absence of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Ravens fans everywhere heaved a huge sigh of relief when diminutive running back extraordinaire, Ray Rice, signed his new contract. While Joe Flacco still retains his “generally good with great potential” descriptor, Rice is the powerful little engine pulling this offensive train.
- After finally actually winning the AFC North and getting past Pittsburgh, the purple birds came up just short (or wide left if you will) of the Big Game. Ironically, the same can be said for head coach John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, out in San Francisco. Anything short of the Super Bowl in 2012 will be a massive disappointment.
- Rice remains the center of the offense, but Flacco has been given more leeway each year to expand the playbook. Last season, rookie Torrey Smith proved a terrific surprise as a deep threat.
- Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still playing dominant defense, but both are very close to embarking upon the “life after football” phases of their lives.
- In the enormous-but-anonymous D-lineman category, Haloti Ngata is finally becoming the household name that he deserves to be.
- DB Lardarius Webb had one of those definitive “breakout” seasons and SS Bernard Pollard was a big help to Reed as the latter tries to stave off Father Time. Webb was also serving as a return specialist, which would be a strain going forward.
- The 2011 draft class was productive with Torrey Smith as an emerging star, QB Tyrod Taylor nabbing the backup job immediately, CB Jimmy Smith showing promise and DE Pernell McPhee proved to be a pot of gold in the fifth round.
- If you haven’t seen Sportscenter since February, pass-rushing linebacker Terrell Suggs ruptured his Achilles this summer. Bummer, Baltimore.
- Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano took DE Cory Redding with him to Indy. For those of you just tuning in, Chuck is the new head coach of the Colts. As long as Ray Lewis is on this defense it really doesn’t matter who has the DC title–it’s Ray’s show.
- The offensive line lost Ben Grubbs. Second running back Ricky Williams retired. Lee Evans is no longer a Raven.
- PK Billy Cundiff is still on the roster, but rookie kicker Justin Tucker could change that.
- Joe Flacco wanted a contract extension last year so who knows how he will feel now that Rice got his. Flacco has outperformed his 5-year $29 million-and-change rookie deal and should probably get a raise. His 44 career wins are the most by a QB in his first four years. Watch to see if Newsome enters talks with him before the Ravens have to franchise tag him next March.
- Will the Ravens groom a second-string runner now that they might want Rice to be healthy for the next few years? Rookie Bobby Rainey had a terrific first preseason outing.
- Ed Reed is not the player that once struck fear into Tom Brady’s heart. He’s got incredible instincts and savvy—but his body is showing the wear and tear of the Big Leagues.
- Terrell Suggs: Can he make it back this season or will the team be trying to replace both Ray Lewis and Suggs going forward? That would be a tall order.
- John Harbaugh, his staff and the team leadership did a masterful job of melding new and old players in 2011. For a team that won’t admit it’s in rebuilding mode—there sure is a lot of turnover going on. Can they continue to be a powerhouse two years in a row while experiencing ongoing player turnover?
Will the offense run more through Flacco and less through Rice and can the defense muster that all-important rush into the face of opposing QBs?