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Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is pretty quiet around 1 Winning Drive. Unlike his more vocal counterparts, such as Al Davis or Jerry Jones, Bisciotti relegates nearly all football decisions to the Ravens’ experts.  Last season, however, the Ravens’ owner requested that the number of penalties be greatly reduced. This year, Bisciotti wanted to re-build the running game and return to smash mouth football.

The top priority was to re-sign Marshall Yanda. A 3rd round selection of the Ravens in 2007, he played well at right tackle last season, but expects to suit up at his natural position of right guard. Next, Ozzie Newsome looked to upgrade the fullback position. Although Le’Ron McClain had earned Pro-Bowl selections in both 2008 and 2009, he had more success in Baltimore as a ball-carrier. In fact, the Ravens used veteran fullback Lorenzo Neal as the primary lead-blocker in 2008. Enter: Vonta Leach. With the Houston Texans in 2010, he helped lead the way for Arian Foster to win the NFL Rushing Title. Moreover, at 6 feet and 250 pounds, Leach is a more effective and willing blocker than McClain. Finally, the Ravens signed Ricky Williams. Currently 34 years of age, he gained just over 600 yards last season in Miami. and just turned 34 years of age. Nonetheless, Williams is just two seasons removed from a 1,100 yard campaign, and the Ravens consider the former All-Pro to be just 32 in football years, after playing just one game in 2006 and 2007 combined.

Still, the running game cannot improve unless the offensive line is more consistent. Left tackle Michael Oher should improve following an up-and-down 2010 campaign, and left guard Ben Grubbs will play on a healthy ankle for the first time in two seasons.

Arguably the biggest question mark comes at center, where established veteran Matt Birk just underwent knee surgery. If he isn’t fully ready to begin the season, the Ravens could be in trouble. Casey Rabach failed his physical to back-up Birk, and the current market for a veteran center has dwindled, as Olin Kreutz has already signed. Furthermore, the Ravens are unsure about the right tackle position. Last year’s starter Marshall Yanda has moved to right guard, which opens the door for either Oneil Cousins or Jah Reid. Currently, the rookie Reid has the edge in the battle for the starting spot.

Ultimately, the organization attributes the bulk of last season’s losses to an inability to control the clock. In other words, the Ravens were satisfied with how they jumped out to big leads against both the Patriots and the Steelers on the road, but believe their best method to prevent comebacks is to run the football more effectively. In fact, they averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2010, which was 25th best in the NFL.

That being said, the Ravens have never had success in the running game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They need to spread Pittsburgh’s defense out and let Joe Flacco loose. Look at teams that have beaten the Steelers recently: the Packers and the Patriots. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers both made the Steelers’ secondary look silly. Nevertheless, the Ravens not only cut ties with two of their top pass-catchers in Todd Heap and Derrick Mason, but also haven’t signed anyone in free agency.  Rookies Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss aren’t the answers right now opposite Anquan Boldin.

-Ron Friedman

 

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