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What to make of the Baltimore Ravens 2015 season

Well, it’s been about a week since the regular season has ended in the NFL, the playoff line-up is set, the draft order is almost completed and a Super Bowl Champion will soon be crowned.

Coming into the season, the Baltimore Ravens were expected to return to the playoffs and compete for another championship. Sports Illustrated predicted them to win the Super Bowl on the cover of their NFL preview edition.

Obviously, none of those things will be happening this season… and it’s not an easy pill to swallow.

The combination of injuries and missed late-game opportunities were too much for the Ravens to overcome. Falling to a 5-11 record, Baltimore missed the playoffs for the second time in Coach John Harbaugh’s tenure and endured the first losing season since he arrived in 2008.

It’s hard to believe that this team was never really a factor in the league at all, considering that they’re only 3 years removed from their Super Bowl victory. Oh course, it’s not easy losing your star QB, running back, No.1 receiver (who is 36 yrs. old), top defensive player and handful of impactful players.

But, even through all the turmoil that occurred throughout the year, the resilience of this football team was apparent; win, lose or draw. That resilience was shown through a 12 game stretch of close games (winning or losing by at least 8 points or less). This, of course, ended when the team was routed by the Seattle Seahawks, 38-6.
In the wake of this abysmal season, they’re plenty of questions that will need some answers before training camp arrives.

One of that will pop up in fan’s minds…Can the Ravens make the playoffs again in 2016?

For most, they would easily say ye,s but think about it. The team’s biggest need, after the loss to the New England Patriots in the divisional round last season, was the need to build the secondary and find a solid receiver for Joe Flacco.

To me, NONE of those things were fixed (of course, we haven’t been able to see what Breshad Perriman can do out there!). If anything, the secondary took a huge step back this season, and the need for a playmaker was very noticeable. Again, I know that injuries created a huge dent in what the team wanted to do this season, but this can’t be ignored any longer (unless we want to make picking in the top 10 of the draft a regular thing)

But hey, even in this disappointing season, though so much went wrong, the Ravens weren’t that far from being in the playoff picture (that’s how bad the league was this season!). They needed five more wins, but think about it. One of their losses (Jacksonville) was actually a victory not credited because of an officiating mistake. Another (Cleveland) came in overtime. And the Ravens led in the fourth quarter of two others (Oakland, Cincinnati at home). That’s four losses by the narrowest of combined margins.

I’m not saying this team was better than their record, they ended at 5-11 for a reason. But, they aren’t that far off from being great again.

This offseason is the key!!!!

The Ravens have about 30 players scheduled to become free agents in March, the three key names are OT Kelechi Osemele, K Justin Tucker, and OLB Courtney Upshaw. These players should have somewhat of priority for the front office (the biggest being negotiating Joe Flacco’s $120 million contract!)

This team will also need to focus on getting back to full health after a franchise-record 20 players ended the year on injured reserve. And, of course, some additional playmakers to the roster won’t hurt either.

Yeah, it’s going to be a long few months without football in Baltimore. But, this team has the front office, the coaching staff, and some playmakers that are currently on the roster that can turn this season in the fuel they need to push them over the edge next season.

Until next time, Baltimore!

 

 

 

 

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Baltimore Ravens 2015 Schedule Released

The Baltimore Ravens have released their 2015 regular season schedule to public Tuesday night. The team will need to prepare to hit the road for most of the first half of the season, as five of their first seven games are on the road, kicking off in Denver against Manning and Gary Kubiak’s run-style offense.

Here’s the entire 2015 schedule (minus pre-season games):

Week 1, Sept. 13: at Denver (4:25 p.m.)

Week 2, Sept. 20: at Oakland (4:05 p.m.)

Week 3, Sept. 27: Cincinnati (1 p.m.)

Week 4, Oct. 1: at Pittsburgh (8:25 p.m., Thursday)

Week 5, Oct. 11: Cleveland (1 p.m.)

Week 6, Oct. 18: at San Francisco (4:25 p.m.)

Week 7, Oct. 26: at Arizona (8:30 p.m., Monday)

Week 8, Nov. 1: San Diego (1 p.m.)

Week 9, Nov. 8: BYE

Week 10, Nov. 15: Jacksonville (1 p.m.)

Week 11, Nov. 22: St. Louis (1 p.m.)

Week 12, Nov. 30: at Cleveland (8:30 p.m., Monday)

Week 13, Dec. 6: at Miami (1 p.m.)

Week 14, Dec. 13: Seattle (8:30 p.m., Sunday)

Week 15, Dec. 20: Kansas City (1 p.m.)

Week 16, Dec. 27: Pittsburgh (8:30 p.m., Sunday)

Week 17, Jan. 3:  at Cincinnati (1 p.m.)

Key Matchups:

Week 1 at Denver: Right off the bat, you got to deal with Peyton Manning, in Denver. The upside is Gary Kubiak is their head coach, so the Ravens might know some of the tricks to stop that run/zone scheme that was a success during his time with the team last season. The downside is Kubiak might know the weak spot of the Ravens secondary, which I’m sure Peyton will enjoy. Not an easy game to start out with.

Week 6 at 49ers: a rematch of the “Black-Out” Super Bowl, and a reunion with WR Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. Will the 49ers be as dysfunctional as everyone expects after a wild off-season or will they be contenders in the West.

Week 14 vs. Seahawks: Two winners from the last three Super Bowls face off in Baltimore, the first time since 2003. Baltimore will need to improve their receiving core through the draft if they want to stand a chance against “The Legion of Boom”, but I feel they’ll lean heavily on the running game most of that game. Russell Wilson will also prove to be problematic with his elusiveness in the pocket, but the Ravens have a strong front seven, so getting a hat on him will at least take the passing game out of it, hopefully “Beast Mode” is kept at bay.

Week 16 vs. Steelers: Last game at M&T Bank will be against the Steelers. The teams might look different, the rivalry will be as strong as ever. We have seen how the Ravens responded after the Ray Lewis/Ed Reed era, let’s see how well the Steelers respond post-Polumalu era.

Is Polamalu a first ballot lock for the Hall of Fame?

As an inspiring journalist, I would consider Troy Polamalu not only one of the top safeties during his era, but possible one of the greatest to every play the game.

As a Ravens fan, I can’t really say I’m that upset to see him go, just as Steelers fans weren’t that upset when Ray Lewis called it a career.

But whether you liked him or hated him, no true football fan can deny the type of level Polamalu played at for the last 12 years with the Steelers. Considered one of the NFL’s most explosive and dynamic players, the former first-round pick for Pittsburgh back in 2003 was a nightmare for teams (mainly QBs) to game plan around, serving as the backbone of the Steelers’ defense. Polamalu retires a four-time first-team All-Pro, with eight Pro Bowl appearance, 2010 Defensive Player of the Year and two Super Bowl championships.

Though his resume show that he should easily be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in five years,  some believe it might not be that simple for Mr. Polamalu.  For starters, Polamalu isn’t even considered the greatest safety the Steelers have every had.  Some might say that Donnie Shell, who played for the “Steel Curtain” defense was equal as a good or even better than Troy during his time in the 1970s, and he’s not in the Hall of Fame either. Yes, he might not have been as dynamic as Polamalu or as big of a name as “Mean” Joe Greene, but Shell was a three-time All-Pro, a five time Pro Bowler with 51 interceptions and a four-time Super Bowl champion.

Another discussion that pops up when you talk about Polamula is whether or not he is considered the best safety in his era. Let say in another month or so, former Baltimore Raven safety Ed Reed officially calls it a career (currently a free agent), both he and Troy would be eligible at the same time in five years, but the committee could only select one over the other ( which is possible since the Hall can only select five modern-day candidates in at a time, and there could be some big names up for consideration during this time).

Who would get in first? Both play with similar, yet distinct styles that opposing offensive coordinators had to be thoroughly prepared for. If you go by stats you probably would say Reed (643 Tlks, 64 INTs, 11 FF, 13 TD) over Polamalu ( 710Tlks,35 INTs, 13 FF, 4 TDs). If you want to look at championships, you would have to go with Polamalu’s two over Reed’s one. We can go back and forth with what this guy did or what this guy didn’t do, but if you had to choose between the two to go into the Hall of Fame first, it’s almost a coin flip in my opinion.

One thing that is certain is that it will be challenging for either of them to get in on their first try, safeties are among the most under-represented positions in the Hall of Fame. Though there are 24 defensive backs enshrined, only 7 of them are considered true safeties (others played both corner and safety).

Though the road to Canton might not be as bright as some Steelers fans would had thought it was for Troy Polumalu,  it doesn’t effect the lasting legacy he left on the field, the amazing plays that left our jaws on the floor, and the constant headaches he gave some of the teams over his career (especially for Ravens fans). There is no question, whether it’s  five years from or more, Troy will be receiving his bust up in Canton at some point down the line, probably sooner rather than later.

Enjoy you’re retirement Troy, though I may not have liked who you played for, those Ravens-Steelers games won’t be the same without seeing No. 43 run around in the secondary, with his signature black curls flowing in the air.

Has Free Agency Effected Ravens Draft Plans?

The first week of the “new” NFL league year has left the league in turned upside down. This has been one of the more exciting starts to an off-season in quite some time. Teams are trading their star players left and right, players are returning to their previous franchises’ and of course millions of dollars are being thrown like monopoly money.

Certain teams have used this off-season to show the rest of the league they are ready to throw everything on the table to win the Lombardi right now (like the Bills, Chiefs and Eagles),while some try to make do with what they have and build towards the future at the moment.

This is something the Baltimore Ravens have been doing for years under General Manager Ozzie Newsome and its been working. This off-season has been no different…

For the Ravens, this off-season has been a little bit smoother than the last year’s. The team lost the “original raven” in Ray Lewis to retirement, they traded away the play-off warrior founded in Anquan Boldin, they were coming off an 8-8 record, missed the playoffs for the first time under John Harbaugh, the Ray Rice scandal was all the nation was taking about and it seemed the team, as a whole, took a few step backwards. Of course the move to acquire Steve Smith from the Carolina Panthers really saved what had been a terrible off-season.

This year, things weren’t as crazy, but the drama was still pretty present after loss to the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoff. The team thought they were keeping Gary Kubiak as their offensive coordinator, but he pulled the Ol’ Baltimore Colts/Mayflower stunt and headed to ELWAYLAND up in Denver (no hard feelings Gary). Then, we realized that we still have a good bit of dead money to deal with after cutting Rice during the season, which meant we had little cap space to make any moves (which was huge) and we might not be able to keep, possible any of the unrestricted free agents that were going to hit the market. Then, POOF…it’s March, and free agency is quickly approaching and a lot of money i needed, well that normal means cuts (i.e. Jacoby Jones,Terrance Cody and Chris Canty). Then we lose Torrey Smith to the 49ers (blow to the wide receiving core), then Pernell McPhee to the Bears (blow to the linebackers),then Owen Daniels to the Broncos (blow to an already weaken TE core), then as soon as the Free Agency doors open up…BOOM, Haloti Ngata is traded away to the Detroit Lions (huge blow to the D-Line and the defense altogether).

Obviously, something need to be done to make space for the team’s need and with some of those guys gone means there’s money to be spent:

  • RB Justin Forsett   (Three year deal/ $9 million)
  • S Kendrick Lewis  (Three year deal)
  • CB Anthony Levine (Two year deal/ $2.2 million)

But that Ngata trade still kinda stings, but Ozzie knows what he is doing.

But, even with guys like NT Brandon Williams and DT Timmy Jernigan being very capable replacements for Ngata, they can’t truly replace a player like that, he is a one of a kind, though he was declining due to age and injury, we saw how much of an impact he was during the playoffs after being suspended for four games. Now fans want to know what the priority is now heading into the draft. Is the secondary still number (ranked 31st against the pass in 2014), is replacing Torrey Smith for a bigger wideout our biggest concern or is replacing that big hole left by Ngata now more important than anything else?

Let’s not forget, there are still plenty of qualified free agents out there right now to help replace some of the needs the Ravens now have (and the list keeps piling up), but how much money is Ozzie planning to use?

I don’t have the answers to a lot of these questions, it seems the mock draft for us keeps bouncing around from WR being our top concern to DL to DB. All I can say is IN OZZIE WE TRUST!

It’s official: Flacco is Elite!!!

Kubiak believes Flacco is elite, one of the best players he every coached. Photo credit: zimbio.com

Kubiak believes Flacco is elite, one of the best players he every coached. Photo credit: zimbio.com

I think we can all say that Joe Flacco is pretty much an above-average quarterback, and is obvious the best QB Baltimore has had since the late, great Johnny Unitas laced up his cleats in ol’ Memorial Stadium.

But, can we slate Flacco as an elite in the league yet? Gary Kubiak thinks so.

This past Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine, the former offensive coordinator for the Ravens was asked that 3-year-old question…”Is Joe Flacco an elite QB?”

He’s response: “You bet he is”

Well, if he says he is I guess it has to be true, right? I mean the guy was just his coordinator like a week ago, he spent the entire year with him, following him around, grabbing lunch, showing photos of their kids…oh and playing football I guess. And yes, Flacco’s numbers were probably the best they have ever been during his time in the league, it was clear to see this season, it was “Good Joe”/”Bad Joe” every week (Thank God!) But, does he measure up to a Manning, a Brady, a Rodgers, a Brees or even a Roethlisberger?

I think it’s WAY too early to welcome him into that prestigious club right now, but the resume’ he has to offer has him knock at the door. He has beaten most of the guys on the “elite” list when it counts the most, the playoffs. He has knocked off Manning, he’s knocked of Ben and it’s pretty much a boxing match every time he plays against Brady, in Foxborough. He’s numbers would say he’s pretty average. He has never broken the 4,000 yard mark in a regular season, has never been selected to a Pro Bowl and can still have some pretty terrible games in a season that makes you question how he got into the league   (cough* Houston cough*)

So he’s got a lot of work to do  but you have to think he’s knocking at the door, the run he had in the 2012 playoffs is simple LEGEN *wait for it* DARY!, and if you consider Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck and Tony Romo elite-like QB, you can’t tell me Flacco isn’t on deck or at least above these guys on the list. (I mean most of those guys are one-and-done type
QBs in the playoffs). Let’s see what he does this season, he does what he did in 2012 without the locker room figures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, makes the playoffs and the Ravens win the Super Bowl on his back, you have to consider him, whether he has the numbers or not. PERIOD.