Baltimore Ravens 2014-15 Team Preview
The Baltimore Ravens failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons last year after going .500. The team finished third in the AFC North behind the Bengals and Steelers, after typically finishing 1st or 2nd.
The offense is revamped and QB Joe Flacco should have better options this season. With a new offensive coordinator (Kubiak), there will be plenty of positive changes in the Ravens’ offensive attack.
Odds to win Superbowl: 40/1
Odds to win AFC: 18/1
Odds to win AFC North: +275
Odds courtesy of Bovada
Kubiak spent the last eight seasons as head coach of the Houston Texans and he’ll implement the West Coast offense, which will feature plenty of short passes. The Ravens will often use two TEs and Flacco will air it out a good bit. The Ravens need the big plays.
Flacco threw a career-high 22 interceptions last year, but Kubiak will have confidence he can turn that around, while also improving on the 48 sacks he incurred. His short term inaccuracy is worrisome though, considering it is so crucial in Kubiak’s offense. He’s capable of carrying an offense at his best, but is he the best fit for Kubiak?
This is an offense that has featured the likes of John Elway and Steve Young, and both were just far better QBs than Flacco has ever shown himself to be. It almost seems like the perfect recipe for a frustrated coach.
The receivers may be Flacco’s saving grace, though. The team added some big weapons in TE Owen Daniels and WR Torrey Smith. Smith is a great red zone target, while also bringing a lot of valuable intangibles that the offense was devoid of last year. He had a strong first half to last season, but didn’t do well with double coverage or presses near the scrimmage line.
Daniels will back up Dennis Pitta, but the fact that two TEs will be used so often renders both valuable. Kubiak will try to utilize this talented corp of receivers to maximize Flacco’s talents, but it ultimately may be Flacco who is the one to blame if things go awry.
The backfield isn’t particularly great either. Ray Rice has been in decline, and only managed 660 yards on 214 carries last season. He said he was out of shape, so perhaps he put in the offseason work to prevent that and also to stave off the series of leg injuries he suffered last season. His role is sure to decline, but he’s still the featured back of the Ravens offense and has additional value as a receiver. Bernard Pierce will eventually replace Rice most likely, but both will have to be far more consistent if the Ravens are to be taken seriously with its ground attack.
The defense last year simply lacked variation. It didn’t blitz much. There wasn’t a lot of pressure. Blitz packages this season will feature safeties and corners coming hard on the perimeter, and it’s imperative that the Ravens return to the defensive culture it had during its prime years.
The Ravens lack depth on the DL. The starting unit is solid, but the only exceptional talent is tackle Haloti Ngata and he’s had issues with both his weight and knees. He’s one of the best at his position with his size and quickness, but has to remain healthy for it to matter. Chris Canty has had his issues with injuries as well. He’s great at playing passing lanes given his height and wingspan, but with the best two on the DL being injury prone, the Ravens will have issues most likely. Tackle Brandon Williams disappointed last year, but he put in work in the offseason and is very valuable in shutting down the run. There are three decent backup options, but all three are inexperienced and need to develop additional dimensions (Tyson and Cody are only good for stopping the run, for instance).
The LB core features talent and experience, though. Inside LB Daryl Smith is locked up with a multiyear deal and he was the leading tackler last season. C.J. Mosley will be huge coming out of Alabama, the top defensive team in the NCAA the last two seasons. He moves extremely well and his only possible weakness is his his lack of ability in pass defense. He’s great sideline-to-sideline though, which was a strength of the Crimson Tide.
The Ravens have two very good pass rushers in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, but Suggs fell apart in the second half of last season. Dumervil didn’t have great stats, but he’s more valuable than the numbers would indicate. LB isn’t the weak spot in the defense, but it is reliant on Suggs providing a full season of solid play to be above average.
The secondary is where the defense is at its weakest. The Ravens are good at CB with Jimmy Smith on one side and Lardarius Webb on the other, and Webb will be back fully after having knee surgery in the offseason. Webb has a nose for the ball and is a good tackler. The Ravens don’t have much depth in the secondary, though, without a proven fourth option. Chykie Brown is the third, but really only functions as a nickel corner.
The Ravens don’t have a return specialist. Jones averaged 28.8 yards per kickoff and 12.5 per punt return last season, but due to the increase in his reception duties this season, he can’t do every kickoff. Who will take up the slack? Deonte Thompson has the tools, but zilch in experience. This issue will likely be very problematic for the Ravens this season.
Kicking is fine. Justin Tucker made 38-of-41 last year and only missed once between 30 and 39 yards. Sam Koch averaged 46 yards per punt and had 27 kicks inside the 20. The Ravens are good on coverage every year.
The Ravens simply have to come out of the gates strong with Weeks 1-3 all against division opponents. The fact that the team features so much new blood makes this tough. After the team gels, it may improve its play considerably, but how long will that take? The offense has to be significantly better, or the Ravens will likely finish no higher than 3rd in the division. There is almost no chance of having a better record than Pittsburgh, and the Bengals will only be overtaken if Dalton flops in his own vomit while Jason Campbell falls out of the bus trying to replace him. The Ravens finish third.