1.) Jimmy Smith
With the teams top corner back, Lardarius Webb, out for the rest of the 2012 season it will be up to Smith to live up to his first round draft pick status and start shutting receivers down. Smith has not been a bust. He is a legitimate starter in the NFL but by no means has he set the world on fire like those within the Ravens organization had hoped he would.
Jimmy Smith was drafted to be the Ravens shut down corner of the future but has played in the shadow of the surprising Webb in his first two seasons. Now, with Webb out of the way the spotlight will search for a new target. Can Smith be that guy? He will need to be if the Ravens want to turn this defense back around. He has the size, speed and athleticism to do so but will need to catch up more on the mental side of the game at the NFL level to be truly effective.
2.) Terrell Suggs
The Ravens pass rush was virtually non-existent without Suggs in the line up for the first six games of the season. Now that he is back he will need to be the leader of the defense as the team will be playing without their heart and soul Ray Lewis. In his first game Suggs showed why he was the defensive player of the year last season. He recorded one sack, several hurries, a pass deflection and four tackles playing in more than half of the defensive snaps.
The return of T-Sizzle will create more opportunities for other pass rushers as well. Now, the opposing offenses will be forced to double team Suggs and Haloti Ngata which in turn should create more open spaces for pass rushing specialists like Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee. It will also give us a better idea of what rookie Courtney Upshaw is capable of as he will face more one on one blocking schemes. It will be interesting to see how his play changes as he slips down the pecking order a bit.
3.) Cam Cameron
It seems that year in and year out the problem remains the same for the Ravens offense. If the opposing team is able to stop the Ravens initial game plan they are screwed. There is no in game adjustment. Cameron just keeps on plugging away with his vanilla play calling whether it is effective or not.
Cameron will need to find it in himself to stick with the run game and play action passing especially on the road. He can not simply send his guys out for three passing plays and a punt half the time. It is causing major wear and tear on the defense and players are starting to drop like flies. The Ravens defenders have played more snaps than any other group in the NFL and it is starting to take a toll on them. Cameron must find a way to keep his offense on the field more. Usually that means rediscovering the running game and why not do that when you have an All Pro tail back and full back in the backfield.
4.) The offensive line
It is hard to understand why the Ravens have applied this particular line up to their offensive line to start the season.
It seems that everyone around and within the organization has the same opinion of who the best five linemen are. So, why then does the team insist on starting a less effective group week in and out? The grumblings are becoming louder and louder as quarterback Joe Flacco gets knocked around more and more with each passing game. The best line up is Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele at left guard, Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Michael Oher at right tackle. Why then do the Ravens insist on starting Oher at left tackle, Bobbie Williams or Ramone Harwood at left guard and Osemele at right tackle?
Some say it's a money thing. Would the Ravens really risk losses just to save a few hundred thousand or a million dollars even on McKinnie's salary? I'm not so sure. Is McKinnie buried in the infamous Harbaugh dog house? Whatever the case may be, not starting their best left tackle is causing serious problems for the Ravens offense and could end up injuring their quarterback. Is that extra million really worth all that?
I think there has to be much more going on here than meets the eye. Are the Ravens just trying to see what these younger linemen are capable of? If so, why do it in the midst of a playoff run? This team has the talent to go far if all the pieces are positioned correctly. I just don't understand why you wouldn't put the pieces where they should be from the start.