The Ravens are heading into 2012 supporting big expectations, and this time around it seems that a lot of the onus is set to fall on the offensive side of the ball. The team lost a ton of talent through free agency, particularly on defense, most fans and pundits believed that they were seeing the last of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in 2011 and despite their returns for 2012, father time always wins eventually. Those plus absence of 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs for all or most of the upcoming season have all added up to put quite the damper on any expectations that this team is poised to move past the disappointing end to last season and finish 2012 in New Orleans competing for the Super Bowl title. If you thought that Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco were under fire for the 2011 campaign, it’s a safe guess that “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The 2012 season begins with Joe Flacco in the midst of contract negotiations with the team, Cameron once again likely coaching for his job and still more questions than answers on the offensive side of the ball.
In considering himself the best quarterback in football during the off-season Flacco still has a long way to go in proving it, and in fairness to his plight it seems that once again the Ravens have failed to set either he or Cam Cameron up for the type of success that they’ll be counted on for this season.
Training camp is barely a week old and already fans are up in arms over the composition of the offensive line. The departure of Ben Grubbs leaves a gaping hole on the left side of the line, one that the Ravens saw exploited readily in the few games they had to play without Grubbs last year. Bryant McKinnie’s late arrival to camp and immediate health questions have left serious doubt about how ready he’ll be to hold down the left edge; and this after an off-season ripe with speculation about McKinnie’s conditioning, commitment and professionalism. McKinnie’s up in the air status, by default, leaves Michael Oher in the familiar but likely uncomfortable position of having to be ready to play whichever tackle spot the Ravens need him at more desperately, and that’s before we even mention aging Matt Birk at center or the likely possible replacements for Birk’s services.
The Ravens may be able to take some comfort in the fact that offensive line options could still come available as other teams discard players during camps, and because of the Ravens reputation among players as a class organization and the perception that anyone coming here will have an opportunity at winning the team can be hopeful at least that they’ll find some late options. They’ve done it before.
What that likely means though is that the Ravens will again go into a season with a 40% turnover on the offensive line. It seems that every year under Joe Flacco, the Ravens have taken to turning over 40% of the offensive line and hoping for the best. Last year Flacco absorbed a great deal of criticism for his low completion percentage, yet failed to get accolades for keeping his sack numbers low. Often we as fans attribute sack totals to offensive line performance alone, and completion percentages to the quarterback. If however, Flacco was taking incompletions while dumping balls out of bounds in the face of pressure, he was bailing out the offensive line stats and absorbing the statistical hit himself. If Flacco had simply held on to more of those balls, his sacks would have gone up (with blame cast on his line) but so would his completion percentage. No one seemed to give the quarterback much of a pass on this last year. Will Flacco be willing to compromise his stats in the same way this season while negotiating a long-term contract? That remains to be seen.