That’s a wrap. 5-11 is the official record of the worst football season I’ve ever encountered. This season had everything, and a lot of it was ugly. Dropped passes, untimely penalties, poor refereeing, and a rash of injuries even worse than the year before. It was evident early that it wasn’t in the cards for the 2015 Ravens, and September struggles snowballed into a 1-6 start. A season on the brink (okay probably well off the brink) became a season lost when Joe Flacco tore his ACL and MCL and was lost for the year. But big picture, it’s not all bad. There are a lot of things to be encouraged about with this football team. 5 reasons why 2016 will be better than 2015:
1. Joe Flacco will be back, and likely with a competent Left Tackle
James Hurst was a ticking timebomb protecting Joe’s blindside. He got abused by pass-rushers week in and week out for about a dozen games the past 2 years before Joe’s knee finally exploded. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The Ravens gave Eugene Monroe big money to do the job, but he just couldn’t find his way onto the field, and was largely a bum when he could. So he’s likely done in Baltimore. The bright side is that the Ravens were able to get Kelechi Osemele a look at LT, and he thrived. Yes, he’s due to hit free agency this year, but from all accounts, it sounds like he’s all set to return in Baltimore, and LT might just be his permanent home. I think we learned the hard way this year how valuable the position is, and Ozzie won’t hesitate to invest heavily in the position whether it be through Osemele, free agency, or through the draft. We need to do everything we can to keep Joe on the field next year. He’ll be ready to go come Week 1 next year, and should feel a bit more comfy in the pocket once we get the line back in shape. Plus…
2. He’ll have a more talented/experienced receiving group than last year
Steve Smith is coming back. Kamar Aiken proved to be legit. Like, potential #1 receiver legit. Caught 75 balls for 944 yards and 5 TD’s. It should be noted that Anquan Boldin NEVER caught that many balls or had that many yards in any of his seasons in Baltimore. We don’t know what Breshad Perriman can bring to the table, but he can’t provide any less than he did this year. So I guess that’s a positive. Plus I’m confident Campanaro was on the verge of breaking out when he was lost for the year.
And then the tight ends. Crockett Gillmore was dominant at times this season and was getting better with every week before getting hurt. And I expect Maxx Williams to make a HUGE jump next year. Rememeber, he wasn’t just the top TE taken in the 2015 draft, he was also the youngest player taken out of anyone. Tight Ends don’t make their mark until year 2. Look it up. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski (or even Todd Heap for a comparison that hits closer to home), all the great modern TE’s make their big jump in year 2. Maxx will be that guy. Not to mention we have nothing to lose with Dennis Pitta mulling a comeback. Joe will have guys to throw to, even if the Ravens don’t snag Laquon Treadwell like so many in Baltimore hope.
3. Ozzie doesn’t miss on picks this high
The 6th overall pick is a godsend. We might just get that shutdown corner or playmaking WR we’ve craved so badly. But lowkey, I’m almost as excited about the fact that they’re picking 37th as well. That’s basically 2 first rounders for Ozzie. Add in the fact that Perriman is essentially a rookie in his own right and suddenly you’ve got 3 blue chip talents on the roster. With guys like Suggs, Dumervil, and Webb all on the back 9 of their careers, this serves as a great opportunity to infuse some talented youth in a defense that needs it badly. Who knows how the draft plays out, but I hope it goes that direction. Baltimore football is all about defense. We gotta get back to that and I think we will.
4. The salary cap is in better shape than it’s been in years
I’ve written about it in the past, but the Ray Rice situation really tied a hand behind Ozzie’s back the past 2 seasons. Rice’s dead money essentially forced Ozzie’s hand into trading Haloti Ngata away. Although that served to save money in the long run, it came heavily at the expense of this year’s cap. The Ravens had nearly $20M in dead money going to Rice, Ngata, and Jacoby Jones. That’s close to 15% of the whole damn salary cap. Then, if you want to add Flacco, Monroe, Pitta, Smith Sr., and Suggs, that’s an additional 26% of the cap that was on IR by midseason.
Believe it or not, when 40% of your cap isn’t working for you, you’re not likely to succeed. Things will be a lot more comfy this offseason. The priorities for this offseason are to restructure Flacco’s cap number, re-sign Osemele, and then go from there. They should still have more than enough to play around on the free agency market as Ozzie sees fit. Good. Things.
5. The luck will turn around…. it has to.
The Ravens played 16 games this year, and 14 of them were decided by a possession or less. They came out 5-9 in those games. Simple historical data shows that you’re going to regress to the mean in those situations. Mind you, the Ravens were on the wrong side of a good amount of those games in 2014 too. Am I concerned that it’s a pattern? Yeah, a bit. It’s idiotic not to be. But I refuse to let that get me down. The bounces will go our way soon enough. If you drill down into some team statistics, the Ravens surprisingly weren’t even that terrible of a team in 2015. In terms of YPG, they were actually in the top half of the NFL on BOTH sides of the ball, which is fairly shocking. 14th on Offense and 8th (EIGHTH!) on Defense.
But get this stat. In the 2nd half of the season, the Ravens were NUMBER ONE in the NFL in pass defense with just under 185 passing yards allowed per game. For comparison’s sake, only the big bad 2013 Seahawks have gone under 185 PYPG allowed over the course of a full season in the past 4 years. Yes, we’re talking about the same Ravens defense that allowed 457 passing yards to Josh McCown just 3 months ago. Incredible turn of events. Now I know that the QB’s they faced in the 2nd half were trash, but that’s still incredibly encouraging for next year. They just have to flip the script on the turnover margin, where they were 2nd-worst in the league at -14. That, too, is a statistic that tends to regress to the mean over the long run. And of course, the injuries just can’t happen yet again next year (knocks on wood). Real grass is coming to M&T, and hopefully that pays dividends in the training room. The luck will change. I promise it will change.
So what I’m saying is let 2015 go. It’s over with. Move on. 2016 awaits, and the Ravens will be a much better team for it not just next season, but for a lot of years to come. They have the core. They have the QB. They have the guys in the trenches capable to bully teams like they used to. They have experience. They have youth, and even more youth on the way. Mark my words, the 2016 Ravens will be right back in the mix where they belong. Just gotta trust in Ozzie and the gang to execute better this year than last. Keep the faith.