First things first, this season was a failure. It’s nice to make the playoffs (which they did) and win division titles (which they didn’t) along the way, but we have higher expectations in Baltimore. 15 years of success matched only by a handful of teams will do that. Winning the Lombardi Trophy is always the goal and we didn’t achieve that goal. And I’d be lying to you if I said it even seemed like achieving that goal was a realistic possibility until about midway through the 4th quarter in Pittsburgh. So in that sense, this season was no success.
Having said that, I sat here 380 days ago and laid the 2013 Baltimore Ravens to rest. What a disaster that team was. We were lucky to be 8-8, and there were an abundance of glaring question marks going into that offeseason. And between then and now, the team went through one of the biggest sports scandals in recent memory. The Ravens were a team that seemed to be trending downward. So to see how much they’ve improved and fixed most of the issues that plagued that 2013 football team is nothing but encouraging for the future. So here’s where the Ravens stand in my eyes:
What Went Right:
- The offensive line. What a turnaround and most of the credit goes to Gary Kubiak. He took one of the worst offensive lines in football and made them one of the best. We went from giving up 48 sacks to giving up 19. We went from 3.1 yards per carry (3oth) to 4.5 YPC (7th). That’s a remarkable improvement.We went out and got a competent center in Jeremy Zuttah. We re-signed Eugene Monroe. We turned Rick Wagner, a gigantic question mark that I doubted going into the season, into one of the better right tackles in the game. And they played cohesively, despite injuries down the stretch (with a h/t to John Urschel, who looks like another genius mid-round selection by Ozzie Newsome). We paid top dollar for our franchise QB, and we invested in keeping him on his feet. Instead of limping into the last couple weeks of the season with a sprained MCL, he was fresh and it showed in the playoffs.
- Joe Flacco. He had his best career regular season by virtually all metrics, and again showed resolve and poise in the postseason. He may have thrown the interception that ended our season, but he also threw a TD pass that Owen Daniels dropped on the drive before. He catches that, and Flacco’s not taking that shot in a tie game. We’re coasting into Justin Tucker range and probably riding a 38-35 win into the AFFCG. But that’s spilt milk and I digress. The offensive line allowed him to flourish despite the growing pains of a new system and relatively mediocre receiving corps. He’s healthy and he’s going to be our QB for a long time, and that’s great news.
- Justin Forsett. He’s the MVP of this team. He lead the league in YPC after being a journeyman his whole career. He was everything we needed after the Ray Rice circus. More on him later this week.
- The Smiths. Steve was a beast early in the season, and settled into a no. 2 role late in the season. Torrey struggled early and came on strong at the end. Steve will be back next year, and we’re not so sure about Torrey. More on him later this week too.
- The pass-rushers. Suggs gets so much shine because of his loud personality, and he had a fine season, but Elvis Dumervil was phenomenal. In a lot of years, he leads the league in sacks with 17. On top of that, Pernell McPhee (7.5 sacks) is a guy that would get significant snaps and probably rack up double digit sacks on any other football team. I think it’d be wise to keep him long-term for when it’s time to shed Suggs and/or Dumervil for cap space. If not, some other team is going to give him a fat contract a la Paul Kruger, and it could be this offseason. Again, more on him later.
- CJ Mosley. He’s the Defensive Rookie of the Year, without question. He’s the future of the defense and will probably be the face of this defense in a few years. He’s light years ahead of where Ray Lewis was in his first year (and no murders yet, cross your fingers LOL), and he’s only going to get better. Youth like CJ Mosley give me confidence that we’re going to continue to contend for another 15 years.
What Went Wrong
- Injuries at the cornerback position sunk this football team. I talked about secondary depth all offseason, and we didn’t make a move. Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are great corners, but they’re also injury prone. Letting Corey Graham walk last offseason was a major mistake, and not drafting a corner didn’t help either. Every team generally has a position area or two where they can ill afford injuries, and this was ours. And corners were dropping like flies this year. Webb came out of the gate injured and didn’t see full-time action until October. Then Jimmy Smith suffered a Lisfranc injury in a key week 8 game in Cincinnati, and that’s where the season was probably lost. Think I’m joking? We had an undrafted practice squad player who we hadn’t even signed until November starting against New England. How did Rashaan Melvin fare?
Rough night for Ravens corner Rashaan Melvin against Tom Brady: Targeted 19 times for 15 completions, 224 yards, two touchdowns
— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) January 12, 2015
Answer: Not well.
To an extent, we put ourselves in position for this disaster by not planning properly, but you also can’t predict losing Smith, Asa Jackson, Aaron Ross, Danny Gorrer, Tremain Jacobs, and Terrance Brooks. I try not to complain about injuries because they happen to everyone and every team has the opportunity to build depth. But that’s just a fascinating amount of injuries in one position area, a bit reminiscent of the Great Terps QB Massacre of 2012.
- The safety position was a mess too. Will Hill came on at the end of the year and played well, but that’s about it. Matt Elam was a question mark going into the season because his coverage skills were mediocre at best. Well not only did he get worse in coverage, but he stunk at what was supposed to be his strength. He couldn’t make a tackle in a phone booth. Darian Stewart and Jeromy Miles were getting most of the snaps alongside Hill down the stretch, but they played poorly too. If they were competent, Melvin wouldn’t have gotten torched so badly on Saturday.
– The tight ends. Dennis Pitta was supposed to shoulder the loss of Boldin 2 years ago as the go-to guy. He’s broken his goddamn hip 2 years in a row. I will say despite what I wrote about Daniels earlier, he played pretty well this year… but he’s no Dennis Pitta. The tight end position is a major part of Kubiak’s offense, and I was excited to see what Pitta was capable of. Maybe he’ll be back, maybe he won’t. Who knows. Would’ve been nice to have him, or to have acquired a polished receiver with size who can be a weapon in the red zone. I think we should go get one.
So the way I see it, the Ravens were a competent secondary from having a Super Bowl caliber football team. Sucks to say, but that’s the truth. Shit, Haloti Ngata and CJ Mosley tied for the team lead in picks with 2 apiece. YES, A NOSE TACKLE AND A MIDDLE LINEBACKER LEAD OUR TEAM IN INTERCEPTIONS. It’s a goddamn miracle to have gotten as far as we did with only 6 interceptions from the secondary.
The good news is that’s something they can fix. The Ravens have a good blend of veterans and young talent, and we’re trending upwards again. And the best news yet is that Gary Kubiak has decided to stay instead of pursuing head coaching opportunities. That’s huge. Flacco and this offensive line with a year of experience under their belt means great things for this offense. There’s plenty of questions to be answered for the offseason (re-sign Torrey and Forsett? re-structure Ngata’s contract? Rebuild the secondary?) and I’ll get to that later this week. As for 2014, we came up short of the ultimate goal. But we did make the playoffs and knock out the Steelers, so that’s certainly something to hang your hat on. We’re on the right path and 2015 is going to be a great year for Baltimore football.