BALTIMORE, MD - JANUARY 15: Ed Reed #20 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates his interception with teammate Ray Lewis #52 during the fourth quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on January 15, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Texans 20-13. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The Baltimore Ravens, despite losing several players to free agency this off-season, are no worse for the wear. Though the Ravens’ shakiest area along the offensive line arguably got a bit weaker with the departure of Ben Grubbs, the Ravens will address this through the draft and by promoting within.
Otherwise, it’s the same song and dance in Baltimore this off-season as it has been in years past: Ray Lewis is slowing down, Joe Flacco is a terrible quarterback that leeches off of the success of his defense, Ed Reed is broken-down, the entire defense belongs in an old-folks home, the Ravens lost too many players in free agency to make up for, yadda yadda, blah blah and more blah.
It’s the same nonsense we as fans hear every off-season. Whether or not those that rehash these speculations truly believe some of the stuff they say or are simply looking for a bunch of words to meet a quota during this unbearable limbo-esque part of the off-season between the initial free agency frenzy and the NFL draft is another story.
The Ravens year in and year out prove the doubters wrong, but when will they learn? Probably never. For some reason, people love to hate the Ravens.
(After the "Jump", less ranting and reasons why the Ravens will remain a Super Bowl contender in the 2012-2013 season.)
The Ravens have several strengths: a stifling defense, All-Pro players strewn throughout their roster, a fantastically devastating running game. The list goes on and on. But there are other strengths, strengths which are much more quiet than the brash and boisterous nature of Terrell Suggs’ unwavering confidence in himself and his team: The Ravens always remain cohesive.
The Ravens string seasons together seamlessly, transitioning from phase to phase, well, rather un-fazed. Losing a key player to injury or free agency almost seems like nothing to the Ravens, just another part of the journey, no more than a slight bump in the road. For instance, the Ravens lost a key cog along their offensive line in Ben Grubbs this off-season. Though the team actively pursued free agents to replace him, the Ravens eventually moved on and promptly promoted 2nd-year player Jah Reid to the starting left guard position, for now at least. Lee Evans is another case in point. The Ravens brought in Evans to provide another outside speedy deep threat for quarterback Joe Flacco. Evans went down with an ankle injury early in the season which led to the wide receiver missing most every game of the regular season; the Ravens’ offense barely skipped a beat and moved on with un-proven 2nd round draft choice Torrey Smith and didn’t look back. No matter the problem at hand, the Ravens simply make it work.
The Ravens also draft extremely well, maybe better than any team in entire NFL. Since 1996, the teams’ first year in the league, they have had and made 17 1st round selections. Out of those 17 1st round selections, the Ravens’ players taken in that 1st round crop have collectively garnered 51 Pro Bowl selections. The Ravens’ draft excellence doesn’t stop at the 1st round though. They are able to find big-time players and contributors throughout every round: Lardarius Webb (3rd round), Pernell McPhee (5th round), Cary Williams (7th round), Marshal Yanda (3rd round), Jameel McClain (Undrafted free agent).
The Ravens, from season to season, are able to keep their main core of players together on both offense and defense which has lead to their steady and consistent wins and playoff appearances. On defense: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are all anchors in some way for the Ravens’ defense and are set to return next year. On offense: Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Anquan Boldin are returning and will look to build off of past seasons’ successes and also learn from their failings. It’s the lack of turn-over and personnel consistency year in and year out that has built the Ravens up to becoming a perennial play-off contender. Couple that famous consistency with the Ravens’ stellar draft habits and you have the makings of a franchise capable of competing for a Super Bowl for not just one year, but rather a string of years in which the proverbial "window" remains open.
So, let them keep talking. Please, continue to under-estimate the Ravens. Keep calling Ray Lewis "old and slow". Keep telling Flacco he can’t carry the offense or win when it counts.
You keep talking, the Ravens will keep winning.