For Ravens fans, a season to forget but a finish that must be remembered

December 30, 2013 | Nestor Aparicio

Newsome will have his work cut out for him this offseason making decisions about many players – young and old alike.

There are lots of questions and not many glaring answers. And that’ll start with coaching. Both Jim Caldwell and Dean Pees will be held accountable for the 8-8 finish. Drew Forrester believes that it starts with a change at the offensive coordinator position.

Certainly the impact of offensive line coach Juan Castillo will be analyzed internally because no other group had a more negative impact on the 2013 Ravens than this maligned group, which had trouble pass blocking but was uniquely awful in opening holes in the running game. The change of scheme and technique should be held under the microscope as much as the personnel. At one point this summer, the Ravens thought Gino Gradkowski was the center of the future. At one point, the brass also thought Michael Oher was a left tackle. A.Q. Shipley was brought in to be depth player but was forced into action by the injury to Kelechi Osemele, who played so poorly once he was injured that it almost made you forget just how versatile and stout he was as a rookie on the Super Bowl team. Eugene Monroe was an upgrade at left tackle and the money he’ll command this offseason remains in question after his giveaway from Jacksonville. The star of the group, Marshal Yanda, also struggled without Matt Birk in the middle.

There’s very little doubt that this will be the most scrutinized group for Newsome and his department. Without a series of upgrades and improvement on the offensive line, the money spent on Flacco will always look to be wasted.

The interdependency on the offensive line leaves plenty of leeway for evaluation of the skill positions as well. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce (and even a small dose of Bernard Scott) had nowhere to run for most of the 16 weeks. Evaluating the wide receivers is made much more difficult when you consider that Flacco was saddled with very little time to throw and had a different set of guys every week, including dinosaurs Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark showing up in August. Torrey Smith is legitimate. Dennis Pitta will need to be negotiated with for a new deal. Marlon Brown was a nice piece. But where the team stands with Tandon Doss and Jacoby Jones (as a wide receiver and route runner) must be addressed and upgraded.

Defensively, the Ravens shined most weeks for three quarters despite not having anyone who graded out as a star player. Daryl Smith was the most visible player on the defense and had the biggest shoes to fill in replacing Ray Lewis. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are old and extremely expensive. They both had poor seasons vs. the amount of cap space they represented and the Ravens should be in long discussions about their value moving forward.

Courtney Upshaw figured to improve this season and he mostly disappeared. Jimmy Smith improved in 2013 but do you trust that he’s about to be a star cornerback in the NFL? Lardarius Webb played courageously through another season. But Corey Graham had less impact and the safety play of the long-departed Michael Huff, rookie Matt Elam and journeyman James Ihedigbo was choppy at best, especially at nut-cut time in the fourth quarter.

The team’s ability to rush the passer was abysmal down the stretch and the front seven was pedestrian at best over the 16 games. The defense didn’t force turnovers, didn’t tackle particularly well and used a myriad of young players who didn’t stick out as rising stars. Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams and company will need to work hard and improve in the offseason for the Ravens to project them as three-down players in 2014. Arthur Jones will command big money in March.

It goes without saying that it was a challenging season for the Ravens. But now that it’s over, the real evaluations begin as the team will have a heavy season of turnover, negotiation and tough decisions on the value of pricey veterans and the faith in the young players to take the next step.

That’s why Ozzie Newsome gets the big bucks. He’ll have his hands full for the next few months trying to find a way to get this team back into double-digit wins in 2014.