Here we are. It’s a brand new day, brand new season. Fresh opportunity to start the year off right and get that nasty taste out of our mouths from New Years Eve.
We all know how last year ended. We don’t have to get too deep into it. We had a solid team that was starting to peak at just the right time, and I’m confident no team in the AFC wanted to see us. Or at least they’d have much rather seen Tennessee or Buffalo than us. But anyway. A major missed opportunity for the Ravens that resulted in a 3rd straight season short of the playoffs in Baltimore.
This year is going to be different. The Ravens have addressed a lot of the reasons why the came up short last season, and they’ve gotten healthy. The entire country has pretty much already anointed the Steelers as AFC North champions, and they’re a complete clown show up there. We’re flying under the radar and that’s how we like it. The Ravens are going to surprise a lot of people this year, and here are 5 great reasons why.
1. The Ravens Were Better Than Their Record Showed Last Year
Yes, the Ravens finished at 9-7 last season. That would seem to indicate that they were pretty decent, but not really all that great of a football team. But they were also 4th in the AFC with a +92 point differential. Point differential, for obvious reasons, is a very strong predictive indicator as to the true abilities of a football team. The +92 point differential essentially says that the Ravens underachieved last year and had the ability of a team that should win about 10.5 games for every 16 games they play. The Steelers’ point differential came in at +98 last year, which is obviously a razor thin margin between those two teams. Or at least a much thinner margin than the Steelers’ 13-3 and the Ravens 9-7 would seem to indicate.
Obviously this gap can be attributed to the fact that they beat us twice. One was early in the season where they beat us up pretty good, 26-9. The 2nd was in Pittsburgh where we shit down our leg in the 4th quarter and lost 39-38. Sure, that doesn’t speak very well to the Ravens’ ability to close out games, but I’m confident that has as much to do with Dean Pees’ conservative defensive playcalling than anything. He’s gone, it’ll be different this year.
On top of all of this, the Ravens also played to a +108 point differential in their last 11 games. They had a rough September after Joe Flacco had a lingering back injury that caused him to not even take a preseason snap. The Ravens were getting better as the year went on and that back half of the year is a much truer indication of who the Ravens are as a football team. THAT’S the football team I expect to see starting in week 1 this year.
2. This Overhauled Receiving Corp is a Major Upgrade Over Last Year’s Unit
This was so needed. Last year the corps was Maclin, Wallace, and ?????? Those are two receivers who aren’t remotely close to #1 receivers. They’re complementary pieces. Wallace may still have value as a straight line receiver who can make a couple big plays a year, and Maclin’s best days were long behind him. Hell, a tight end who was closer to age 40 than 30 lead the team in receptions with 62. No disrespect to Ben Watson, but that’s just not what you want in your football team.
This year brings Crabtree, Brown, and Snead. 3 guys who bring different things to the table. Crabtree is physical, can catch the ball in traffic, and most importantly, is one of the best of the game in the red zone. John Brown is a deep threat that can cause damage in space. And Willie Snead can run those underneath routes and find pockets in the defense to keep the chains moving. Plus Chris Moore has made some really encouraging progress over the last two years and has nicely solidified himself as the #4 WR. All complementary pieces that fit well together.
On top of that, Ozzie Newsome clearly invested in the TE position in this year’s draft. We may not see 1st round pick Hayden Hurst for a week or two with a foot injury, but they also took Mark Andrews in the 3rd round. Andrews is clearly a receiving first tight end, and was arguably Baker Mayfield’s favorite target at Oklahoma. Couple that with Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams both being healthy and ready to go, and they’ve got a decent little group there. I’m not saying at all that these WR’s and TE’s are going to light the world on fire. They’re just clearly an improvement over last year’s group.
3. Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis are BACK On the Interior Offensive Line
These guys are so so key to the Ravens offense. I’ve talked a lot about the Ravens’ identity as a football team. It’s pretty much the identity that has defined the Ravens for so many years. It’s crippling defense and an offense that pounds the ball on the ground. Interior linemen are so important to the run game, and the Ravens have two of the best in the game in Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis. Hell, Yanda is the best guard in football over the past decade.
Last year, both of these guys went down with season ending injuries before we even got to October. That’s right, all that positive talk I put out there about the Ravens in the back half of the year? That happened without two of our most important offensive players. Alex Collins is a great back and had his breakout year without the luxury of running behind these two guards. Now that they’re back, Collins is going to have a field day running between the tackles. In small samples, every running back feasted when both Lewis and Yanda were on the field in the preseason. They’re going to do so much damage on the ground as long as those two are healthy, I promise.
4. Joe Flacco Is Healthy And As Motivated As Ever
I am 1000% bought into the narrative that drafting Lamar Jackson has lit a fire under Joe Flacco. He can shoo away the questions all he wants, but there are numerous people within the organization who have both directly and indirectly alluded to how focused he is this year versus years past. His career really has been put on the clock, just like his future in Baltimore was put on trial in 2012. We all know how that went.
But more importantly, this is the healthiest Flacco has been since 2014, when he set career highs in virtually all categories. He tore his ACL and MCL in 2015, which lingered and limited his mobility in 2016. I alluded to the fact that he never got a training camp last year and hindered him until late in the year (1,266 and 9 TD’s, 2 INT’s in the month of December). This year he’s completely healthy and ready to go. He took snaps with his new receivers all offseason and got a full training camp. He’s looked comfortable in the pocket and like I said, he’s motivated. He’s going to have a great run game that the defense is going to have to respect. He’s not going to go out and light up the stat board, but he’s going to have his way with defenses when he wants to. Big year coming for Joe.
5. This Football Team Has No Weaknesses
This right here is the bottom line. I look up and down at the depth chart of this roster and I just cannot find a weakness. There is no position group on this team, especially on defense, that I look at and honestly call a liability. I’m not sure what opposing teams will try to expose. Quick sentence on each group
D-line? Beefy, Williams and Pierce gobble up blockers
Pass-rush? Sizzle and the youngbloods (Tim Williams breakout year)
Inside linebacker? Mosley, enough said
D-backs? Experienced and DEEP
O-line? a run-blocking machine
Running backs? Collins, Allen, Dixon are a frightening trio
I really don’t see where teams lick their chops against us. They’re going to have to try to play to their own strengths and they will probably lose. That defense is so terrifying, they’re a surefire top 5 unit in the league and just might be #1 when it’s all said and done. As long as they stay healthy, they’re going to feast when Jimmy Smith comes back in October and the weather starts to get a little more difficult on offenses. The roster is constructed so perfectly for a fantastic season.
The Ravens are built to win RIGHT NOW. So many teams continue to try to build offensive juggernauts and they continue to come up short. Nick Foles and that offense went on a helluva run last year, but it was truly that defense that set that Super Bowl team apart. Thursday’s game was such a great reminder of that. Give me a team that can keep teams out of the endzone and a strong running game over an offense-first team like Atlanta and Pittsburgh any day of the week. I promise that 13-3 and 9-7 gap is not what it seems. The Ravens were good enough last year and just didn’t get their shit together. They’re better this year, they’re focused, they’re motivated, and their locker room isn’t goddamn shitshow.
Ravens win the AFC North this year, and contend to win the AFC. From there who the hell knows. All I know is I’m excited and I’m ready to go. Let’s get rolling fellas!!!