We all saw what the Ravens did vs. the Giants and in the playoffs with the firing of Cam Cameron and subsequent promotion of Jim Caldwell. The offense seemed more in sync and confident and that confidence paid huge dividends on the field.
As much as we all know that Caldwell had a helping hand in this process, we also know that much of quarterback Joe Flacco's production was due to better pass protection from his offensive line. It has been shown time and time again that Joe flourishes when he has time to find his receivers. He can be as good and accurate as any quarterback in the league when he's not getting body slammed on every other play.
So, with that being said, my biggest concern for next season is the Ravens either keeping their offensive line together or upgrading, if that is possible. Caldwell is said to have a calming demeanor which is something that Flacco has surely needed over the past few seasons as his relationship with Cam Cameron was rocky at the very least. When the Ravens have a calm coordinator combined with a calm quarterback, who was able to stay calm because he had faith in the men blocking for him, they are next to unstoppable on offense.
If given the time Joe can exploit any defense in the league with the weapons he currently has. In Torrey Smith he has a down-field burner that not a corner in the league can cover on a fly route. In Anquan boldin Joe has a receiver that can't be covered even if he is covered because Anquan has that natural ability to get to the ball at it's highest point and make defenders look foolish. After that Flacco has two play-making tight ends in Dennis Pitta, who may have one of the best pair of hands in the NFL, and Ed Dickson who's size and speed creates mismatches for safeties, linebackers and even corners. Combine that with an All world open field runner like Ray Rice and a rising star that thrives between the tackles and you have the makings of one of the best offenses in the NFL.
However all of that can be negated if the offensive line is sub par. With Bryant McKinnie and Kelechi Osemele on the left side you have two excellent pass protectors. With Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda on the right you have two maulers that are very athletic and are capable of being dominant in the run game. the question really comes down to Gino Gradkowski and if he is ready to step in for one of the smartest men in the NFL?
I'm not sure how many people will agree with me but I'd also like to see Bernard Pierce become the teams primary ball carrier in the running game next season. Don't get me wrong, Ray Rice still needs to get his touches in both the running and passing game, but I truly think that Pierce is the better runner between the tackles. He is sneaky fast and has an elusiveness that you can not quantify on paper. Go back and look at his college tapes, everything you saw out of him at Temple has most definitely translated to the next level and his patience is exceptional. the guy is the real deal and could turn out being one of the biggest steals in the draft.
So, the, soon to be very rich, Mr. Flacco has all the makings of a record breaking year ahead of him with Caldwell at the helm and play-makers all around him. The question is, will the Ravens wise up and invest in the offensive line? That could be the difference from a playoff team and a Super Bowl repeat. Let's hope McKinnie can find a way to stay in shape this off season. Maybe, he should spend the off season in the Harbaugh's guest room so coach can keep an eye on him.