GLS Preview: Baltimore Ravens

I’m sorry but on paper, the Baltimore Ravens don’t look like a Super Bowl team.

In 2010, the Ravens ranked 23rd in total offense, 10th in total defense. They didn’t get a lot of sacks, didn’t dominate in the turnover column, didn’t run the ball particularly well. But they still finished with the fourth-best record in the NFL and surrendered the third-fewest points in the league.

The 2010 Ravens found a way to overcome some glaring weaknesses, bending but not breaking and landing in the playoffs for the third consecutive season. If you look at the numbers, it’s hard to believe they were so successful. It was like some sort of magic trick.

Based on what took place this offseason, they might have to check the hat for another rabbit.

The team lost several key contributors this summer. Jared Gaither was the team’s most talented tackle. Gone. Todd Heap was one of Joe Flacco’s safest targets. Gone. Derrick Mason was Flacco’s most reliable option. Gone. Dawan Landry was coming off his best season and is entering his prime at safety. Gone. Josh Wilson was probably the best corner on the roster. Gone. Kelly Gregg was a force at the crucial nose tackle position. Gone.

So not only did the Ravens fail to remedy what ailed them in 2010, but it appears as though they actually got worse.

But that’s all on paper. And football reportedly isn’t played on paper.

2010 in a nutshell: A December home loss to Pittsburgh costs them the division, but they still finish 12-4. A January road loss to Pittsburgh ends their season in the divisional playoffs.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. The offensive line will once again have problems: I’m not worried about Ray Rice; I’m worried about Joe Flacco. Rice will find new holes with Vonta Leach in town and Marshal Yanda moving back to guard. But the tackles are a problem. Baltimore gave up six sacks in its first preseason game, with three counting against left tackle Michael Oher. On the other side, starter Oniel Cousins has already been moved inside, with rookie Jah Reid getting a chance. The possibility of Oher and Reid having to face the Pittsburgh front seven twice in 2011 is quite scary. This is a unit that could have used Jared Gaither, but the team let him walk this summer. Not only will Flacco be forced to deal with poor pass protection, but with Heap and Mason gone and rookie Torrey Smith struggling to get acclimated, the receiving corps is in trouble beyond Anquan Boldin. They’d better get Lee Evans caught up swiftly.

2. The pass rush will once again have problems: It’s hard to believe how bad the pass rush was last year, and it’s harder to believe how little effort the team put into improving it in the offseason. Beyond Terrell Suggs, virtually nobody gets sacks. The Ravens finished with only 27 sacks in 2010, with Suggs registering nearly half of that total. They missed out on Osi Umenyiora, who appears to be staying with the Giants, and Sergio Kindle probably isn’t ready to become a consistent threat at this point.

3. Jimmy Smith will make a run at defensive rookie of the year: The secondary isn’t in much better shape. Wilson left as a free agent and Domonique Foxworth is coming off of surgery to repair a torn ACL. If Smith can get up to speed and stay healthy, he’ll have a chance to start alongside Chris Carr or Lardarius Webb. With such a golden opportunity and so many playmakers surrounding him, I’m expecting the first-round pick out of Colorado to have a big season.

The final word(s): As I said, they have playmakers, and that might be how they keep winning. Ray Lewis is determined to go out strong, Ed Reed is healthy, and guys like Haloti Ngata, Suggs, Rice, Flacco and Boldin can be game-changers. Despite their flaws, this team will once again contend for the division title. I’ll give ‘em 10 wins.

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