2. Who is going to be our kicker?
A lot of people hate and I do mean hate Billy Cundiff for missing the field goal against the Patriots last year in the AFC Championship, but that was just the cherry topping the banana split. His season was lackluster to say the least in comparison to his Pro Bowl season the previous year. He wasn’t hitting as many touchbacks, partially because of the new kickoff rules, but he wasn’t hitting the ball with as much power as before. He only made 75% of his kicks during the regular season, going 1-6 from 50 yards on. I recall going on my first Ravens road trip to Cleveland and enjoyed a good game for the Ravens, minus the fact that Cundiff missed two short field goals. In comes Justin Tucker undrafted out of Texas. He connected on 40 of his 48 field goal attempts in college. Will he win the job? Will Cundiff regain his confidence and respond with a year similar to 2010?
3. What will become of Ed Reed, Ray Rice and Joe Flacco this year?
Ed Reed has all the leverage in the world. He’s done everything but bring a Lombardi trophy to Baltimore. However, what are the Ravens to do with his contract situation. He’s set to make $7.2 million this year, we can’t afford much more than that with more valuable, and younger, stars in Ray Rice and Joe Flacco in contract disputes of their own. Will Ed do the right thing and take a pay cut?After all, three interceptions is a disappointing season by his standards and even since he’s injured his neck, he has wanted no part of contact, i.e. Week 17 against Cincinnati.
I’m not at all worried that Ray Rice will sign as recent reports suggest both sides are nearing an agreement hopefully by Monday. What I’m more interested in is how Ray will be used this year with the retirement of Ricky Williams. Some might say, “Why worry about a backup runningback retiring?” In this day and age of the NFL, a successful team needs at least two solid backs. The team already has the brawn with Anthony Allen out of Georgia Tech and added Bernard Pierce from Temple in the third round in this years draft. The question is, who will be the second back and how many reps will they get to spell the always involved Rice? Early signs seem to show Pierce as the favorite, but he has a history of injuries. Allen may be more fit for the type of punishing runs Ricky Williams delivered to take some pounding away from Rice. Will Rice’s touches go up? Absolutely. Will that shed years off his career? Hopefully not.
This team will only go as far as Joe Flacco takes them. Last year, he answered the call of duty against Pittsburgh, finally, and also against New England in the AFC Title Game, if only someone held onto the ball and someone else made a field goal. However, Flacco’s numbers dropped across the board this past year from his career best season in 2010. Some blame the lockout, others blame Ray Rice’s numbers going up, others say the receivers. Personally, I think Cam Cameron holds him back from greatness. Far too often, Cameron’s play-calling ability shows that he either doesn’t trust Joe or prefers a more conservative approach that doesn’t feature any risky, deep passes. Last year, Torrey Smith opened the game up more for Flacco than his previous years, but when Joe would tr to establish a rhythm, Cameron would hit him with a third down draw to Rice. This year needs to be the year for Joe to step up and take over. He has the confidence in his abilities, now it’s time to let him throw more than just two-yard dumpoffs to Boldin. The team added speed demons Tommy Streeter in the draft and Jacoby Jones via free agency to help stretch the field. If used correctly, and if Smith and Streeter develop more as pass-catching receivers, the passing attack could be just as dangerous as the run. Also, if Dennis Pitta, one of Flacco’s good friends on the team, wins the starting tight end spot, expect their success that they generated toward the end of last year to continue.
While the Ravens have an interesting training camp ahead of them and some adversity to conquer, this team can make the hump and capture that elusive title this year. They need to sooner rather than later as the window on the team is closing as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have seen their better years. The schedule is tough, but so is everyone else’s. As long as the Ravens don’t have too many hiccups against lesser opponents like they did last year against the Jaguars and Seahawks, this team will be going places.
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