Baltimore made many headlines in December and in the postseason; rallying amongst the competitive AFC North for a last-minute #6 seed in the playoffs, then knocking off the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh to advance to the Divisional round. But that momentum was halted in a thriller in New England. Despite the deflation, Ravens’ fans should look forward with great optimism. Their roster is strong, and have overcome many hurdles in 2014, notably before it even started.
The Ray Rice situation. It could have ruined both the Ravens’ season and their reputation. It nearly did with the original two game suspension. But the NFL and the Ravens’ front office put things right. He was suspended for the year, but not before he was let go by Baltimore immediately after additional information reached the surface. So much within the organization was saved with this.
Justin Forsett broke out in the process, even with a crowded backfield of young talent. The addition of Owen Daniels paid dividends with the season-ending hip injury to Dennis Pitta. Parnell McPhee not only filled in for an injured Chris Canty, he dominated his way into becoming a permanent starter for 2015. Ozzie Newsome’s draft class of 2014 was headlined by defensive stand-outs C.J. Mosley and Timmy Jernigan, but produced little impact beyond that for this year at least.
Replacing Michael Oher at RT had mixed results in the form of James Hurst, and the plan to restrict Jacoby Jones to merely Special Teams duties was a head-scratcher; promoting Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken in his place wasn’t the smoothest of processes.
Coach Harbaugh and OC guru Gary Kubiak did a terrific job in readjusting his offense and adapting towards what he saw on the football field. When Flacco’s accuracy and turnover rates got too high for his own good, Kubiak called more on the running game. Backups Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro were crucial in spelling Justin Forsett when the running game was leaned upon. Despite adjustments in the offensive balance, Joe Flacco still had a stellar year; career highs in passing yards and touchdowns, capped off with a strong December and a memorable playoff outing against the Steelers.
On the flip-side, DC Dean Pees brought out the best of his young stars, and produced an aggressive, sack-piling unit within the front-seven. But it was evident from early in the season that his secondary lacked in talent, and in depth when injuries began piling up. Lardarius Webb has never been the same since his ACL injury in 2012, and veterans Antoine Cason and Anthony Levine have been outplayed by unknown Rashaan Melvin. The safety position has no legitimate starters, just constant promotion and demotion amidst a really bad year in pass defense.
Team Needs WR, C, CB, S
It’s academic to say that the Ravens head into free agency needing to completely transform their secondary. No one has shown a permanent stay in the department, and I see big money being shelled out to heal this notable wound. They, like the Steelers, have little cap room thanks to home-grown talent, but can discharge certain veterans to free up some cap room, most notably disappointing CB Jimmy Smith. A veteran, play-making safety would be a great asset in Baltimore, perhaps in the form of Antrel Rolle.
Whether the Ravens want to rely more on free agency to fill these key needs will be reliant on one crucial agenda: whether to pay Justin Forsett. He broke out, indeed. But he did stall on a number of occasions throughout. Which Forsett will we see in the future: the 40 yard outing in the Wild Card? Or the 120 yard outing in the Divisional round? Consistency, not to mention his age and frame, are enough minor flags to avoid dabbling in the figures that Forsett would undoubtedly desire.
X-factor Acquisition: RB Todd Gurley (26th Overall Pick in NFL Draft)
20 years old over 30; 231 lbs over 195; a power back with speed over merely speed? Lets say Forsett isn’t re-signed by the Ravens, and they go after the younger, stronger, ferocious specimen in Todd Gurley. The ACL injury is the big concern. Many Ravens fans would be put off by the pick in the first round because of what they’ve seen in Lardarius Webb after he tore his ACL. His numbers alone are impressive enough, and his size, running style and pace to go alongside will blow scouts away. Gurley is what Flacco needs when in need of additional run support, and he has competition behind him to help him carry the load.