NFL

Ravens will be better, but not Super Bowl contenders

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Ben Fisher, TSN.ca
8/28/2014 7:38:09 PM
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The Baltimore Ravens followed up their 2012 Super Bowl winning campaign with an 8-8 record, 29th-ranked offence, and of course an early start to the off-season.

Last year looked like an aberration, a blip on the screen for the defending Super Bowl champions, a well-run organization that had made the playoffs past five seasons and just locked up their franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco.

The truth may lie somewhere in between; if last year was an aberration, so too was that Super Bowl win two years ago. Perhaps the Ravens underachieved last year, but they also overachieved two seasons ago, and a lot of the players that helped them on that surprising run in 2012 are no longer with the team.

That impact was felt most on the defensive side of the ball, where the Ravens lost six key players, headlined by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and were left scrambling to replace their influence on a game.

"Not good enough," Elvis Dumervil, one of the new additions on defence, told reporters about his unit's performance last year. "I think we did some good things but we left a lot on the field. I think injuries and other things maybe contribute to that, but either you get it done or you don't. So, we're looking forward to that and we're looking forward to taking care of business this year."

"I don't know that we had that last year at times," defensive coordinator Dean Pees echoed to reporters. "Times we did, times we didn't. But we've got to have it all the time. That's what we're trying to develop, and that's what we're trying to get done."

What's left is still a very good team – maybe even a playoff team – but one that can't compete with the heavyweights in the AFC, not without a huge defensive lapse by an opposing safety at least.

On offence, the team almost had to award quarterback Flacco with the big contract he signed one off-season ago (six years, $120 million with $51 million guaranteed), but he's not on the level of a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Six starters in the AFC alone have better career quarterback ratings (an admittedly flawed stat) and that number increases to seven if you only count Kansas City's Alex Smith's numbers after his resurrection three seasons ago.

In the Ravens' favour is there's no runaway favourite in the AFC North this year, rather them and two other teams in similar predicaments (Cincinnati and Pittsburgh), teams certainly capable of making a playoff run, but far from a threat once they get there. Cleveland of course takes up the caboose in a division that may look stronger than it actually is.

Notes

The biggest story of the Ravens off-season was Ray Rice and the actions that will cost him the first two games of the season. The fallout from the incident was as much against the league as it was Rice, which was criticized for levying a fairly lenient punishment on the running back after he allegedly assaulted his fiancé.

The most intriguing free agent signing for the Ravens this off-season was veteran receiver and longtime Carolina Panther Steve Smith. Still looking to replace Anquan Boldin a year after he left for San Francisco, Baltimore added Smith, the entertaining five-time Pro Bowler, to their young and intriguing receiving corps.

Outside of Smith, the Ravens were typically quiet in free agency. Re-signing left tackle Eugene Monroe, whom they traded for from Jacksonville midway through last year, was an important keep in the team's effort to rebuild their offensive line.

The Ravens' offence should get a boost from their new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Kubiak was a respected head coach with the Houston Texans and maybe deserved a second chance after the team's disastrous season last year. The former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator is a strong offensive mind.

The Ravens love having a stout and feared front seven on the defensive side of the ball. They hope they've added two more long-term pieces to their defences' storied history. Linebacker CJ Mosley was perhaps a bit of a reach at 16th overall in the first round but grabbing defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan midway through the second round counts as a steal.

Joe Flacco (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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