Honorable Mentions: Thanksgiving Day Football and the HarghBowl, Renewing Old Titans Rivalry, Dawan Landry and the Jags on Monday Night (week 6), Derrick Mason returns to Baltimore with Jets (week 4), Todd Heap returns to Baltimore with Cardinals (week 8), Matt Stover’s Ring of Honor Induction vs. CIN (week 11), Chance to Exorcise last season’s demons vs. PIT (week 1)
Reason #10 – The Orioles are 47-74
How do you spell relief as a Baltimore sports fan? R-A-V-E-N-S. After another trying baseball season the Ravens loom as a harbinger of the return of credibility to the Baltimore sports scene. With expectations however, often come inordinate expectations. Our collective sports passion has been suppressed since January 15th and teased with the lockout pretty much ever since, as football returns let’s be determined to enjoy it. Anything can happen and often does in the NFL, and what happens in September, October and November to playoff teams rarely bears much relevance once the playoffs actually begin. When they do the Ravens will be there. Read on, you’ll see…
Reason #9 – New Faces Less Predictability
Even more than their inability or unwillingness to audible last season (a frequent complaint of fans) the Ravens seemed to leave little mystery about their pre-snap efforts, seemingly giving opponents a leg up through their straight forward play calling and dressing. While guys like Heap and Mason were reliable targets who Flacco seemed to have an instinctive idea as to where they would be at any given time, defenses also may have benefited from the predictability of the offense as a result. With new personnel groupings come new strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. Opposing teams as a result should be more challenged to figure the Ravens out pre-snap.
Reason #8 – Luck Follows Speed
This was one of my Dad’s favorite sayings and one I have come to accept in sports. What the Ravens gave up in comfort and experience in the receiving corps, they’ll try to make up for in increased speed and athleticism. As members of the wide receiving and tight end units struggle to command playing time and opportunities, renewed hunger should be a factor too.
Reason #7 – Rushing Improvements
Maybe it doesn’t fit the modern NFL protocol for team building but the improvements that the Ravens have seemingly made to their ground attack can’t hurt, especially for a team that struggled as mightily as the Ravens did with grinding out second half leads. Marshall Yanda is back and will ideally play guard, Ray Rice is running for a payday, Ricky Williams seems to be an improvement as a goal line back, Vonta Leach is a star maker (Steve Slaton / Arian Foster). As teams gear up more and more to stop the league’s prolific passing attacks, the Ravens ground game could be tough to deal with and should open up their aerial options too.
Reason #6 – The Rookie Talent Infusion
The Ravens have gone high risk / high reward in the last couple of drafts. In 2010 they suffered the risk, if 2011 brings forth the rewards they’ll be in interesting shape. Sergio Kindle was a steal (talent wise) in the minds of many, who fell to the Ravens because of “character concerns”, having suffered the byproducts of some of those concerns and missing all of last year, Kindle returns hopefully matured as a result of some tough lessons and realizations and ready to make the most of his second chance.
Jimmy Smith slid to the Ravens late in the first round of this year’s draft, again mostly due to “character concerns” If he proves himself to be top 15 talent without the other baggage the Ravens will be looking at a pair of potential impact rookies on the defensive side of the ball. Smith doesn’t need to be the proverbial island in the Ravens system, but if he eventually evolves to that, no one will complain. As a rookie that seems too high a bar to set or to predict, but what he should bring to the table will be exciting enough.
Torrey Smith was a name that some fans were tabbing for the Ravens first pick. His is a great story, and one that unfolded in our backyard. Tandon Doss is Flacco’s first endeavor into scouting, making him successful should be amongst the QB’s top priorities. Jah Reid may be called on to start at right tackle from day one. Anthony Allen and Tyrod Taylor are also interesting pieces to be developed and stored for future use.
Reason #5 – Storybook Ending
The ends of the Ray Lewis and Ed Reed eras in Baltimore have been eminent in the minds of fans for some time now. As age and injury begin to take their tolls on these warriors, it appears they too may be beginning to see it. Hopefully they’ll have the option of riding off into the sunset, together, on the crest of a Lombardi Trophy…or three.
Reason #4 – I like Cam Under Fire Too
So said Owner Steve Bisciotti as he wrapped up last season offering fans an echo of their own sentiments and answer to their question and an explanation for his decision to keep offensive coordinator Cam Cameron under the Ravens employ in one fell swoop. Let’s face it, there are few if any between DC and Philadelphia (and probably further) at present at a credible enough level of understanding to even discuss offense with Cameron much less question his strategies…including John Harbaugh. That seems to put Harbaugh in a uniquely safe position (unfairly I’m sure) seen as a manager of men but not a game planner. Given his special teams background, Harbaugh seems perceived as neither a master of offense nor defense, leaving his coordinators open to a greater level of criticism (or credit) than they probably deserve. Harbaugh has seemingly done little to dispel this notion so far.
As the screws tighten around Cameron, hopefully he’ll take it as a license to open things up a bit. If he starts unleashing the types of game plans that torch opposing defenses, we’ll all like Cam under fire.
Reason #3 – Pagano’s Defense
Although fans didn’t get their wish with Cameron, to some degree their hopes for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison were realized as he took a position at the University of Michigan. New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano looks to return the fire to the defense that has been Baltimore’s trademark since the turn of the century. Baltimore’s legacy at defensive coordinator might be their proudest legacy (or simply a Ray Lewis trophy case of sorts) and didn’t begin with Rex Ryan. Hopefully it won’t have ended with Ryan either as Pagano looks to relight that torch.
Reason #2 – Flacco’s Show
The Ravens are looking for Joe Flacco to make strides in a number of areas. In addition to statistical improvements, it’s time for Flacco to take full ownership of the offense. As we look around the offensive side of the ball only Ben Grubbs (by 1 yr) has a tenure with the team that predates Flacco’s. For better or for worse, the offense is now Joe’s show both on and off the field. Let’s face it; the good old days on offense were never very good anyway.
Reason #1 – The Schedule
I’ll continue to declare it until history proves otherwise…the Ravens have the softest schedule this year that I can ever remember. Within the parameters of the NFL formula, it’s tough to imagine they could’ve written it any better for themselves. Fortunes change from year to year in the NFL, but because of the lockout this one should be different. Teams carrying continuity (especially the good kind) from last year to this are at an advantage. Bad teams have had little time to improve, new regimes have had no time to implement schemes and systems and young and developmental players from rookies on up all lost valuable time that could have been devoted to learning their crafts.
Even if none of that proves to be true, the NFC West has been less than mediocre for at least 3 years running and don’t look to be getting their acts together anytime soon. Games at St. Louis and Seattle and at home against Arizona and San Francisco (who’ll travel coast-to-coast on a short week) should all be seen as likely wins. Road games against Tennessee and Jacksonville should be seen as winnable. Of course there are the Browns (with a new head coach) and Bengals (whole new offense) for four games too.
Aside from a trip to San Diego and the obligatory trip to Pittsburgh, all of the Ravens “tough” games (PIT, NYJ, HOU, IND) are at home too. If they don’t get double digit wins from that schedule then they shouldn’t be in the playoffs anyway. Trust me they will…but so will the Steelers.