“We are looking forward to putting it all together and seeing all of our guys out there. We’ve been missing guys pretty much all the way through. A lot of teams have, if you look at who’s played, and that sort of thing. But, probably offensively, we have more than most years. Yes, I’m looking forward to that – can’t wait.
“Guys are working hard. It’s been a little bit here and there with different guys out there, but they’ve all been out there at one time or another – besides Joe. And Joe was out there in the offseason. We’ll see what it is when we get out there. I think we’re going to be really good. I’m looking forward to it. We’ll be rolling here next week.” – Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, August 28
This is the same Ravens team that has lost three-fifths of their starting offensive line due to injuries and free agency? The same Ravens team that was fully prepared to go with perennially under-prepared wideout Mike Wallace as their premier receiver until the overhyped Jeremy Maclin became available? The same team that (also due to injury) is without their top two tight ends and top running back for the season? And the same team that seemingly has no idea when (or if) starting quarterback Joe Flacco will return from a thoroughly opaque back ailment?
Yeah; we’ll be rolling, John. Rolling towards a 6-10 season.
Optimism is one thing, and it’s great to see that the Ravens have mined some offensive talent from the undrafted free agent market, as they usually seem to do; not that any of them are expected to crack the starting lineup. The problem is that the Ravens are assuming their fans are entirely blind to what the offense was before the injuries and issues – not exactly a premier unit. And we all know the cliche about assumptions.
The offensive line was set to be steady at best, with second-year tackle Ronnie Stanley and second-year guard Alex Lewis expected to make major strides, and center John Urschel expected to use his extensive mathematical insight to fit comfortably into a new position. Right tackle was (and remains) a problem since free agent Ricky Wagner departed for Detroit, leaving oft-criticized holdover James Hurst and newly-signed Austin Howard as the only viable options.
The running game was going to be heavily dependent on the potential of Kenneth Dixon, who had shown promise in 2016, if poor judgment (4 game suspension for PED use) until he suffered a season-ending knee injury early in training camp. That leaves the Ravens with the all-underwhelming trio of Terrance West, Javorius “Buck” Allen and the frustrating Bobby Rainey, with the occasional carry from perennial laggard Lorenzo Taliaferro, who’s supposedly being groomed for a fullback role in the wake of the departure of Pro Bowl free-agent Kyle Juszczyk.
Again, the wide receiver corps was unspectacular (to be kind) before injury and retirement took its toll. The aforementioned Mike Wallace performed reasonably well last season, but he’s proven to be at his most effective when operating opposite a premier wideout, which the Ravens simply don’t have. While Maclin is more effective than Wallace at running routes, he’s basically the same sort of player; able to blow past off-coverage with excellent speed, but unable to garner the shorter catch-and-run options that every team relies on. Annual disappointment Breshad Perriman is incapable of running anything but fly routes as well; the Ravens expected their tight end corp to compensate underneath, and…well…
The Ravens lost starter Dennis Pitta and his 86 catches to a third catastrophic hip injury, leaving his NFL career very much in doubt. Promising tight end Crockett Gillmore was lost to a knee injury for the season and was subsequently waived to make room for Austin Howard. Converted wideout Darren Waller was expected to contribute until his season-long suspension for substance abuse was levied – his second such offense. That leaves them with the venerable Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle and over-drafted Maxx Williams as their only options, and given Watson’s age and recent injuries, his availability is a serious, ongoing question.
Which leads us to quarterback. Once one of the NFL’s most durable players, starter Joe Flacco has been a risk since he suffered a knee injury during the 2015 season. Flacco made every start in his recovery year of 2016, but appeared tentative and gun-shy, which are traits that some quarterbacks never recover from. Flacco, never the most decisive on the field, may have already realized his best season, yet he remains the team’s best option for effective play. When he plays is another matter entirely, as no one seems to have any solid guesses beyond the official speculation of “week one”.
So what’s there to feel good about, John? The defense, which has the potential to be exceptional with even a marginal offense, is going to be severely tested by simply having to remain on the field for the majority of games. This offense will produce more three-and-out drives than any in the league, and that’s probably being conservative.
This one could be historically bad, and given the dearth of offense throughout the team’s history, that’s really saying something.