We are wrapping up the second week of the Baltimore Ravens training camp and it feels like it has been six months long. With a laundry list of injuries that continue to mount, fans are anxiously awaiting September 10 when the Ravens start their season on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. As controversy continues to swirl over Baltimore with the Colin Kaepernick situation and the injuries begin to look like a monthly grocery list, the simple question needs to be asked….should Ravens fans be worried?
Let’s take a look at the timeline of the Baltimore Raven’s offseason thus far:
January 20: Zachary Orr retires
June 1: Tavon Young tears his ACL, out for the year
June 2: Dennis Pitta injures his hip in practice, leading to his release five days later
June 30: Darren Waller receives a one year suspension
July 25: Kenneth Dixon tears his MCL, out for the year
July 27: John Urschel, who many thought would start at center, abruptly retires after a report on CTE.
July 28: Maurice Canady, who many thought would be our starting nickel cornerback, tears his MCL and is expected to miss significant time. On the same day, Crockett Gillmore tears his MCL, forcing him to miss the entire season.
August 1: Nico Saragusa, this year’s fourth round selection for the Ravens, trumps all and tears his MCL, ACL and PCL, ending his season.
Oh yeah let us not forget all the bumps, bruises and injuries in between, costing guys practice time: Joe Flacco (back), Breshad Perriman (hamstring) and Larry Donnell (hand) to name the important injuries.
So, the question remains, should Ravens fans be worried? Simply put, no.
Here are five reasons why Ravens fans should not worry
- The defense looks really good on paper:
There is an old adage in football that states “defense wins championships.” Even in this modern era of football where offense is king, I still find some truth behind the statement. Going back to the 2016 season, here were the ranks of the playoff teams for points per game defensively: New England Patriots, the Super Bowl champions (1st), New York Giants (2nd), Seattle Seahawks (3rd), Dallas Cowboys (5th), Kansas City Chiefs (7th), Pittsburgh Steelers (10th), Houston Texans (11th), Detroit Lions (13th), Miami Dolphins (18th), Oakland Raiders (20th), Green Bay Packers (21st), Atlanta Falcons (27th) and we all saw how well that defense turned out for them. If that first name on the list does not convince you that there is still some truth in that adage then I will never convince you. For as much attention as that offense receives, the Patriots gave up 15.6 points per game. Seeing as how our defense, looks far better than that on paper, I think comfort can lie in the fact that our defense will win us a few games this season. Last season, our season relied heavily on a defense making plays to cover up for a stagnant offense, a defense that was severely understaffed with talent. To remedy that issue we signed free agents, CB Brandon Carr and SS Tony Jefferson. Re-signed FS Lardarius Webb and NT Brandon Williams, and drafted CB Marlon Humphery, OLB Tyus Bowser, DT Chris Wormley and OLB Tim Williams. The key departures were DE Lawrence Guy, OLB Elvis Dumervil, FS Kendrick Lewis and CB Shareece Wright. Talk about upgrade. Listen, we are not going to blow any teams out this season, however, with a defense that looks like this on paper, it equates to a couple of extra wins.
2. The division should lighten up some:
Last year we saw an AFC North that had one winning team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Outside of that, the Ravens were 8-8, the Bengals 6-9-1 and the Cleveland Browns were 1-15. Amazingly enough, I think this division is set to get worse. Pittsburgh was rather quiet in the offseason. In my opinion their biggest signing was bringing in CB Coty Sensabaugh to a secondary that has many questions. Most however will make the fair argument that Tyson Alualu was the biggest “get” for the Steelers. Outside of these two, the Steelers did not do much, bringing in backups, RB Knile Davis and WR Justin Hunter. What is more important is what the Steelers lost. Like the Ravens, the Steelers now have major questions at linebacker after losing linebackers Jarvis Jones, to Arizona, and Lawrence Timmons, to Miami. These two guys were serious playmakers that made an impact for that defense. On the other side of the ball, big questions loom. Obviously, there is noise about the Le’Veon Bell contract, but that will not affect this season. However, the retirement cloud looming over Big Ben Roethlisberger’s head might. On the field however, the question will remain who is on the other side of AB, Antonio Brown. With Markus Wheaton headed for Chicago and a decision still pending about Martavis Bryant, the odds on favorite would likely be Eli Rogers, a model of inconsistency, or second round draft choice JuJu Smith-Schuster. Either way, that is a large question mark.
Moving over to the Bengals. Talk about regression. It is very evident to me that there was no worse offseason in the AFC North then the one of the Cincinnati Bengals. Let’s start with the offensive line. A unit that had given up the second most sacks in the NFL in 2016, lost arguably their two best linemen in LT Andrew and RG Kevin Zeitler. It is okay though because the Bengals replaced them with…..well I am not sure the Bengals even know that answer. Their answer to solving the offensive line problems was to simply add more weapons, drafting WR John Ross with their first pick and RB Joe Mixon with their second. In fact, the Cincinnati Bengals went the entire draft without drafting an offensive lineman…let that sink in for a second. On the defensive side of the ball the Bengals lost key contributors, OLB Karlos Dansby, DE Margus Hunt and DT Domata Peko. Bengals fans have to be concerned.
Then there are the Browns. Why waste our breath. They will struggle….again.
3. The schedule should be favorable:
Usually predicting the schedule is a stupid thing to do, yet here I am making predictions about the schedule. There is an immense difficulty in predicting the beast that is the National Football League. Teams progress and regress and often just down right surprise, so counting up wins is difficult. However, looking at last seasons schedule, we played seven games against six playoff teams (Pittsburgh twice). Last season we were slated against the NFC East, which had two playoff teams, and the AFC East, which also had two playoff teams. We lost three of those four games. This season we face off against the AFC South, which had one playoff team, and the NFC North, which hosted two playoff teams. If anyone remembers, the AFC South representative in last seasons playoffs was the Houston Texans. They won their wild card weekend game in an almost unwatchable matchup verse the third string quarterback led Oakland Raiders. The following week they were bludgeoned by the Patriots. The NFC North representatives were of course, the very good Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, who suffered a beating on wild card weekend at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. Combine these two divisions with ours and I truly believe the schedule is easier than the last. Cbssports.com seems to agree with me as they have the Baltimore Ravens with the ninth easiest schedule this season.
4. Joe is healthy again:
Obviously this looks funny writing this as he has just sat out a week with a back issue. However, Jason La Canfora tweeted just today that, “A second opinion on Joe Flacco’s back confirmed the initial diagnosis of a minor injury. He’s gradually being ramped up.” The collective can now breathe a sigh of relief. From the beginning, this back issue has been blown out of proportion. Clearly it looks like this was a precaution to keep our starting quarterback out of harms way. A year ago, Joe was coming off of a torn ACL, coming back from the 2015 injury in ten months. He sure looked like he was knocking off some rust. Most of last season was a struggle for the offense, the premier issues being poor offensive line play accompanied by poor quarterback play. I have to believe that Flacco will play better this season, primarily due to having more confidence in his knee. Coupled with that confidence will be better offensive line play and more weapons to support the effort.
5. The offensive line got better:
The 2016 offensive line featured two rookies, injuries and subpar play. Left tackle and left guard, Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis were in their first professional football seasons and went threw the growing pains. Center Jeremy Zuttah saw much of his season chalk up to poor play and the right side of the line saw Marshall Yanda play hurt and out of position and right tackle Ricky Wagner play well. This season should look much different. In his second season, Ronnie Stanley is set to be the anchor of the offensive line. Playing better every time he stepped on the field last season, this season should be a breakout year. Left guard Alex Lewis was quietly having a very solid season until an injury cut it short. Now back from injury, while a question mark remains, confidence should be there to believe that Lewis will come back to form. Center is clearly the biggest question for the Ravens. Are we satisfied with Ryan Jensen? For this guy, no. The question remains if the Ravens will go out and make a run at Nick Mangold, however, after today’s signing of tackle Austin Howard, that is likely not to happen. Jensen looks like he will be the guy after a couple of failed efforts at tackle. It is a very worrisome issue that fans should pay attention to in the preseason. Right guard will bring back a healthy pro-bowler in Marshall Yanda, obviously no need to worry about that spot. Finally, as I already spoiled, the right tackle spot was addressed this morning with a three year deal with Austin Howard. Howard, who is 30, comes to the Ravens after starting 72 games in his career. Last season he started eleven games at right tackle for the Oakland Raiders before being replaced by Marshall Newhouse. This offseason the Raiders decided to cut the veteran tackle to free up cap space. While he may not be as productive as Ricky Wagner, last season’s Ravens right tackle, he HAS to be better than James Hurst, who was slated to be the starter until this morning.
Hopefully these five things all turn out positive for the Ravens. We are about five weeks away from the first real snap and these are the reasons why Ravens fans should be fired up about this season amidst all the negative Ravens news.