Jan 22, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots free safety Sterling Moore (29) knocks the ball away from Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans (83) in the end zone during the fourth quarter in the 2011 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Ravens 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
As we languish through the NFL calendar’s low tide the Ravens Nation has almost reconstituted from last season’s ignominious end. As we shake off the “Evans Drop” and the “Cundiff Kick” we raise our heads and anxiously await redemption. Last year we solved the “Steelers problem”, but the AFC Championship and Super Bowl problems continue to loom large. These are indeed large problems, and a grueling season remains between us and the answers, but Ravens fans have cause to be positive. Let’s review why.
First, let’s return to the pre-2012 Draft Ravens. This is a team that in all rights should have beaten the vaunted Patriots. A missed catch and subsequent missed field goal should not cloud that logic. Many with whom I speak are convinced that had the Ravens won that fateful game the Lombardi Trophy would currently be residing in Baltimore. Most of this team (the one with seven players on the NLF.com top 100 list) will return to the gridiron wearing purple and black this year.
Looking back, however, is less appropriate than looking forward. With that in mind, what do we have to look forward to this year?
Ed Reed (#16 on the NFL list) will play. Disregard the tweets. I respect his negotiating tactics, but simply put, Mr. Reed is a football player. The best to ever play at the FS position (#1 safety on the NFL.com list). I don’t know what other talents he possesses, but whatever they are, his primary skills are hawking footballs in the defensive backfield. He needs the Ravens, and the Ravens need him. It’s a lock. Some will argue that he’s a year older, but I argue that he’s a year wiser – and a year closer to Canton. He not only plays for the Ravens, but proves yet again why he’s destined for the Hall of Fame.
Torrey Smith will have a breakout year. A full off-season of workouts will increase Flacco’s confidence in #82 and the synchronization between them. A 1000-yard / 15-touchdown season is not outside the realm of possibility for Torrey. The human interest story line of the local player making it big with the local team will only increase the media value of the impending story.
As Torrey stretches the field, Anquan Boldin is allowed to play his game from the slot – a perfect combo for Joe. The synergy between the two will increase Anquan’s numbers from last year. Additionally, Anquan will have another year to lead and mentor a receiver corps from which the Ravens will benefit for many years. Finally, the 1-2 Boldin-Smith punch will open the field for the Pitta-Dickson TE combo. The Ravens passing game ramps up in 2012.
Advances in the Ravens’ passing game will reduce the ability of opposing defenses to key on Ray Rice (by the way, he’s a Raven for the long term now). This, coupled with an effective offensive line, means that little Ray has another NFL-leading season.
Forced to choose between defending the onslaught of Ray Rice or Flacco’s arm, many defensive coordinators will choose the latter. This will prove an imprudent gamble, as the previously described receivers spread the field wide and deep for Flacco’s best-in-the-NFL arm.
Terrell Suggs’ injury has the entire Ravens Nation concerned, but purple prominence on the defense is not lost. Where Terrell’s absence brings fear, Ozzie’s wisdom will be observed. Not only will Haloti Ngata add another NFL top 10 season to his resume, but Mr. Kruger and Mr. Kindle will capitalize on the opportunity to prove their worth. Additionally, Courtney Upshaw – Alabama’s newest addition to the Ravens’ roster – is highly likely to be an instant replacement for JJ. And don’t forget about Big Ray. He will continue to lead this defense.
Ravens fans have a lot to look forward to this year. Purple and black confetti next February, however, is not a guarantee. Next week, we’ll cover some of the things we should be concerned about.