The national publication, Football Outsiders, has picked the Baltimore Ravens to be the last one standing once the 2011 Super Bowl is over in Dallas early next year. Football Outsiders (FO) states that the Ravens have improved themselves to the point that what used to be their weakness may actually end up being an explosive offense, not just the usually serviceable one at best over the past few years. The additions that they've added in the wide receiver corps plus the way they draft and sign other free agents may have put them over the top, according to FO.
SB Nation has an agreement with FO to allow us writers to have full access to the 2010 guide in return for posting an interview with them about their take on our team. Obviously pleased with their selection, I wanted to delve into exactly what puts them over the top in their opinions and what could end up being their downfall if not. Remember, FO picked the Ravens to have a "fall-off" season in 2009 from their surprising 11-5 2008 season, which infuriated many of us Ravens fans when I posted a similar story from them a year ago. However, they ended up being right and here's hoping that trend continues!
Click on the 'Jump' to see the interview as well as a link to their site, as well as where you can purchase the 2010 edition that these comments come from.
Here's my email questions (in bold) to Football Outsiders and their responses (FO). To see the Football Outsiders website, click here. To purchase your copy of this year's addition, go to Amazon.com.
Thanks for working with SB Nation this year as well as last year. I wrote and got a great response on the Ravens 2009 season and now here we are at the brink of 2010 and you have drank (drunk) the purple kool-aid like so many of us fans and have them hoisting the trophy in Dallas (thanks for the "curse!"). Anyway, after reading the portion on my Ravens, I have a few questions that according to the overlords of SB Nation, I should send you asap to be posted when you say so. So, here they are:
1. After reading the Ravens section, it seems the best way to beat them is to use the shotgun, throw on first down and stop with the stupid play-action pass. Do you think more teams will follow this or will the Ravens adjust to these formations as well?
2. Now that Ed Reed's injury is obviously going to hamper him a lot longer than projected when you went to press, are you standing by your predictions for 2010?
FO: Questions 1 and 2 are connected. Part of the reason teams were able to be successful out of the shotgun, and throwing early in the down count, against Baltimore were the injuries to the secondary. Those numbers against the Ravens D trended downward as the season progressed and the body count mounted. So knowing that Reed will be gone for at least 6 games will certainly, one would imagine, encourage opponents to attack on non-passing downs this season. Having said that, teams like to think they will dictate to other teams, despite the "take what they gave us" cliche, and thus running teams (like my Bengals) aren't likely to create a gameplan devoted directly to this weakness.
As for the injury, as noted in the chapter, the Ravens were actually rather healthy last season, except in the defensive back seven, particularly the secondary. This wasn't likely to happen again, with Reed being just the tip of the iceberg, I'm afraid. Nevertheless, that is mostly factored in to the projection, with the caveat that Reed has an effect similar to that of Troy Polamalu--sometimes, one player is so impactful that it hurts the team across the offense/defense. Fortunately for Baltimore, so long as RayRay stays healthy, that impact should be offset. We stood by our stats that said Baltimore was the best team in 2009, despite the record, so unless Flacco and Rice and Lewis all go down, we stand by the projection, too.
3. Everyone says that adding Anquan Boldin to this offense will take it over the top, but I am concerned that most people don't seem to understand that Boldin was on the receiving end of Kurt Warner and the Cards' pass-first offense and now he will be receiving bullets from Joe Flacco in the team's run-first offense. Wouldn't you expect a drop-off in "Q's" production regardless of his improvement for the Ravens' offense?
FO: Regarding Boldin, you'll note in the chapter that I write something to the effect of "Only in Baltimore would a limited, injury-prone, aging wideout be welcomed as a savior." That's because of what is around him, receiver-wise. Boldin's collectible numbers will almost certainly fall--we foresee him dropping off by about a dozen catches and two hundred yards. But that doesn't mean he won't be as effective, if not more so. Supplying the Ravens with a tough inside target (particularly in the red zone) fills a vital need, and takes heat off Flacco, Rice, etc. If he stays healthy, he's a good addition.
4. According to your stats, the Ravens led the league rushing to Michael Oher's side in 2009, but do you think they can continue that trend running to what is now his left side and most likely the tougher side to run at?
FO: As for Oher, note first that our stats that indicate running over right tackle or right end aren't complete indicators of a single player's effectiveness--but it is a strong guide. The Ravens ran it OK to the other side too, and remember Oher played five games at left tackle in '09. If anything, at this point Oher is a better run blocker than pass blocker, so I wouldn't worry too much about his transition hurting the run game. Baltimore will no doubt flip its gameplan to run left more often, which should tilt the stats that way too.
5. What's with the "mishegas" reference and do you think too many people will understand its meaning? Also, thanks for the yummy Attman's Deli reference, and have you ever had he pleasure of their hot corned beef on rye w/ mustard?
FO: I try to work Yiddish in as much as possible, but no, I doubt too many people grock mishegas or other Yid-isms. That's OK. One of the great things about writing for FO is the freedom to write in your own style, and, mostly, say what you want (we try to stay away from political or religious stuff, even in jest). I also make obscure references in this year's book to Heartbreak Ridge, An Officer and a Gentleman, and various historical happenings. No doubt, many folks will not get them, at least at first. If it causes people to look things up, great--if they just shrug and move on, that's fine too.
I lived in DC for a while, and whenever visiting friends in B-more, I made sure to stop in at Attman's for some corned beef. I'm a New York City boy originally, so I have a high standard, and Attman's cleared the bar with plenty of room to spare. I live in Atlanta now, so if you want to arrange a corned beef-for-BBQ swap, I'm in.
Thanks for all of this, including the preview of your great reference guide each year! Peace.
FO: Good luck (to a point--still holding out faint hope for another Bengals division title) this season, and I hope this helps--