The Baltimore Ravens franchise has regressed during the previous four seasons. Since winning Super Bowl XLVII in early 2013, the team’s regular season record is 31 wins and 33 losses. After earning playoff victories in each of John Harbaugh’s first five seasons, the Ravens have missed the postseason entirely in three of the last four years.
Perhaps most distressing is the bland brand of football the team has played lately. The confidence building wins have been few and far between. Many of the victories and especially the losses have been difficult to enjoy watching, as the once proud Ravens produced uninspiring results.
It was never going to be easy to replace the legendary Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Players with their incredible talent and leadership ability do not come along often. The Ravens stumbled following the veteran exodus of 2013, without a true identity or coherent plan to reclaim their place among the contenders.
Gone were the days of intimidating defense, smash mouth running and explosive vertical passes. The frustration from the players on both sides of the ball was palpable. at times. The Ravens did not appear to be playing loose or having fun on the field most weeks. Once know as a cocky team that never lacked swagger, bad offense and blown leads took their toll on the club’s psyche.
Now, it appears, the worm has turned. Judging from the comments flowing from coaches and players this offseason, the Ravens are growing more confident in their prospects. Their hope seems warranted, particularly when comparing the Ravens projected 2017 depth chart to their previous four squads.
The current Ravens roster is not without flaws. Still, the defense is extremely strong up the middle with Pro Bowl caliber players at nose tackle, inside linebacker and both safety positions. Baltimore’s pass defense has a chance to be among the best in the NFL by virtue of a quartet of high upside pass rushers and trio of cornerbacks with immense potential.
The offense may not be as talented as the defense, but they have some promising pieces as well. Joe Flacco has looked sharp in offseason practices and will have two of the better offensive lineman in the game protecting him. Following the addition of Jeremy Maclin, the Ravens also possess three playmaking wideouts. With the free agent and draft acquisitions combined, the Ravens finally have the personnel to truly compete with the best teams again. And the players have taken notice:
In March, Eric Weddle told Ryan Mink, “We’re excited. We have a lot of work to do, but we feel that if we can push each other, compete and really strive to be the best, this secondary can be really special.” Shutdown cornerback Jimmy Smith told Garrett Downing in April, “ ... bringing in corners like Brandon [Carr] and a safety like Tony [Jefferson] to help bolster our secondary is the key to propelling us into the playoffs.” In May, Tony Jefferson claimed, “ We [have] a great defense that this front office put together. We have an opportunity to be legendary.” And last week, Downing quoted Terrell Suggs, “We have a tremendous amount of potential. We have to live up to it.”
The expectation that the Ravens are on the cusp of being one of the top clubs in the league once again played an important part in Jeremy Maclin’s decision to sign with Baltimore. Maclin told Mink in an interview, “[The Ravens] are also able to let me know what’s going on and the fact they want to get back to something special. They believe they have that. They believe that I can be a big part of that. That also played into why I decided to come here.”
Harbaugh summed up the offseason optimism in a press conference after minicamp:
Most teams express confidence this time of year, but something feels different with the Ravens this offseason. They have seen their teammates capabilities on the practice field and are excited about the team’s future. Instead of being defensive or standoffish when pressed by reporters, the veterans in particular are noticeably bullish. At the same time, they are preaching to the younger players about work ethic in order to make the most of their opportunities in 2017.
Only time will tell if the 2017 Ravens play up to their great potential and eventually punch another ticket to the postseason. At a minimum, it is clear that the front office has assembled the players needed to play a more exciting style of football on both sides of the ball. This improvement alone should give Ravens fans more to cheer about on Sundays this fall.