In todays NFL it is hard for a team to consistently stay at the top, especially when they win a Super Bowl. Many of the key players from a Super Bowl winning roster will leave in free agency because they can get a high price based on last years big wins. That's when a team really is tested, they find out just how deep their roster is and how well they have been developing talent. Luckily for the Baltimore Ravens Ozzie Newsome is a great GM and they won't be in a bad situation at all. Even though the team lost some big name players in Anquan Boldin, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis they also added some talent.
Last year during the regular season Joe Flacco was an average quarterback, actually he was a worse than average quarterback. With only a 59.7% completion rate 22 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and 9 fumbles Joe earned himself a lowly 46.8 QBR according to ESPN. When quarterbacks turn in performances like that it isn't long before they're looking for work elsewhere. However Flacco got things a done a little differently for him and instead he signed a $120.6 million six-year contract. It's absolutely true that he had a great postseason, still not how I would have handled it, but Ozzie Newsome has certainly earned some respect for his personnel decisions. Maybe he knows something we don't and the postseason was simply a mark of how Joe Flacco has now turned the corner and he'll routinely play at that level...I certainly hope so.
One thing we can depend on is the production out of the backfield. Baltimore has a great 1-2 punch in Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Rice gained over 1,400 yards on the ground and another 458 yards receiving. He is an outstanding all around back who contributes in the biggest games. Pierce is a more powerful downhill runner who can also move the sticks.
Losing Boldin at wide receiver was a big hit for this unit. The starters on the outside will be Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Neither one is a world-beater, but Smith is a good player who is still improving. He will provide speed and the deep threat that compliments Flacco's arm well. Whoever ends up stepping in as the possession receiver in place of Boldin will disappoint. No one on the team now will provide enough production to draw defensive attention away from the others.
The heart soul of the Ravens has always been its defense. The enduring picture of the Ravens is Lewis making one of his famous entrances. Even though they have changed many defensive coordinators over the years they have maintained a similar style of attacking. However, that was because of Ray Lewis and what he demanded from his teammates. With him gone this will be a different unit, and not just because of what he individually contributed on the field.
The Ravens added two players on the defensive line, Canty and Spears, both of whom will help shore up this position. Ngata is still the man on the line, but he needed some help. The Ravens run a 3-4 and as such they demand a lot of production from their linebackers. They scored big in free agency with the signing on Dumervil and Rolando McClain. Throw in the always dangerous Terrell Suggs and you can see which unit will be shining in Baltimore.
The secondary also took a hit in free agency by losing three starters, the big name being Ed Reed. However, some are saying that this unit may actually be better than it was last year. Reed is a great player who brought a lot to the table, but his skills have diminished since his height. By picking up Michael Huff they will instantly bolster their run defense. He will be challenged for the job however by Matt Elam, a safety out of Florida. He has great instincts and speed and the team like him enough to make him their top pick in the draft this year. The Ravens love to be able to stop the run early in the series and keep the other team in 2nd and 3rd and long situations.
Even though I don't expect Baltimore to repeat this year all those who said it would be a rebuilding year overreacted. They lost a few key players, and signed some good talent, but it just won't be the same without the key leaders in the locker room. Baltimore will win the AFC North again and a playoff game if everyone stays healthy, but they are going to have to add something to the defensive secondary and get a better receiver if they want to make a real run again.