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Where the Ravens Need to Improve for 2012: Offense

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NFL franchises are constantly looking to make themselves better. There really isn’t such a thing as an off-season in this league, and now that the NFL has a champion for this year, teams will try to start building next year’s Super Bowl winner.

Lots of attention around the league is focusing on the impending NFL draft in April. Taking a step away from that for a moment, I wanted to hone in on a few of the different positional needs of the Ravens, but I wanted to look at these positions as whole units as opposed to individual players. From the wide receivers, to the offensive line, what can these units do to improve the offense, and particularly, the team as a whole?

After the "Jump" take part in the poll and comment on what you think the Ravens offense needs to do to find more success.

Wide Receivers: Though the Ravens aren’t defined by their wide receivers, on the whole they did perform well this season. After lacking a certain down-field threat for years, Torrey Smith was able to provide the team with the speed that they had been searching for. Although there is uncertainty surrounding Lee Evans’ future as a Raven, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith look to be the future #1 and #2 starters.

A couple areas of improvement would be:

Gaining separation from defenders: Several times during the season Ravens receivers had trouble getting open against defensive backs. Whether it’s caused by route design, miscommunication, or play calling, the wide receivers need to do a better job getting open for quarterback, Joe Flacco. Also, if the receiver notices that Flacco is in trouble and they haven’t come open after completing their route, they need to work back quickly to their quarterback-under-duress to give him someone to dump the ball off to.

Ball control: This one is a biggie. Although Evans’ drop is the most famous and perhaps the most costly on the year, drops plagued the Ravens for the entire season. To paraphrase Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen: ‘Joe Flacco cannot (insert choice word) throw the ball AND catch the ball’. I feel your pain Gisele. Okay, but seriously, this was a major problem that had no reason to be so recurring. Drops killed drives this season, but even furthermore; they can entirely shift the momentum of a game in favor of the opposition.

Offensive Line: The offensive line is a bit of an enigma to me. Their play early in the season was absolutely fantastic, while towards the end of the year and especially in the playoffs, they didn’t seem to be the same group.

A couple of areas of improvement would be:

Run and pass blocking: As simple as these may sound, both of these areas became major concerns at the end of the season when it mattered most. In the run blocking department, the proof is in the Rice pudding. Ray Rice only gained a total of 127 yards between both playoff games against the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots. While Rice got just over 20 carries in each playoff game, he was only gaining about 3 yards per carry. In the pass blocking area, the Ravens allowed a whopping 7 sacks in the last two playoff games. The line has to do a better job to allow their quarterback enough time for the receivers to come open, otherwise it’s a dead play from the get-go.

Before wrapping up, there are a few miscellaneous offensive areas that I’d like to touch on as well:

Neutralizing a defense’s pass rush: Most of the Ravens’ passing offense, by design, features a heavy emphasis on vertical routes. Unfortunately, if the offensive line cannot adequately protect Flacco, something has to give. Perhaps it would be a good idea to mix in more quick, short passes to help alleviate the offensive line against a relentless pass rush.

Adding familiar wrinkles more often: Joe Flacco has proven to be very effective at running a "boot-leg" type play, especially on play action. A play such as this will also help neutralize a pass rush by giving the quarterback more of the field to work with by having him roll out to one side. It also draws the defense away and in to where the quarterback either sets and throws, or takes off running, thus allowing, in this case, the Ravens’ speedy receivers ample time to complete their routes down-field.

Clock management: Again, very simple, but extremely important. Too many times this season the Ravens took too long to get to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball. This can lead to: miscommunication on what play is called, offensive line penalties, and spending time outs prematurely.

Though the Ravens’ offense isn’t perfect, it certainly isn’t all bad either. This year the Ravens finished: 19th overall in pass yards per game (213 yards average), 10th overall in rushing yards per game (124 yards average), 15th overall in total yards per game (338 yards average), and 12th overall in points per game (23.6 points average).

Although those numbers on offensive production are slightly average, with the amount of veteran turn over from last season with the Ravens’ receivers, it could have been much, much worse. Heading into the season last year with so many question marks and a re-vamped receiving group, it was good that the offense could do as well as it did with so little time to prepare. With a complete off-season full of training camps and practices, the Ravens’ offense should be much improved next season.