NFL team preview: Baltimore Ravens
Expectations have only been raised for the Baltimore Ravens this preseason.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has had a strong preseason, completing 61 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns (a rating of 90.9).
Baltimore's starting defense didn't allow a touchdown in three preseason games.
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"Anything less than a Super Bowl win, really, is a disappointment to us," wide receiver Derrick Mason said.
"I think we've done more than enough over the last three years to put ourselves in a position to win a championship. To do all we've done and not come out of this thing with a championship would be disheartening."
Most of the excitement has been generated by the Ravens offense.
The Ravens bolstered themselves at wide receiver by trading for Anquan Boldin and re-signing Derrick Mason. They added depth by drafting two tight ends. And, perhaps most importantly, Joe Flacco has taken control of the offense in his third season, which is an integral one for most quarterbacks.
This has the makings of a top-10 offense.
"Our expectations as players are high every year," Flacco said. "We expect to get to the Super Bowl and win it. Obviously, only one team does that a year, and we expect to be that team."
Injuries have delivered a hit to Baltimore. Domonique Foxworth, the Ravens' top cornerback, tore his ACL a day before training camp officially began and was lost for the season. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither has missed the entire preseason with a back injury and could be sidelined for the season opener. And wide receiver Donte' Stallworth is expected to be sidelined until the bye week with a broken foot.
Most are concerned with the secondary. In addition to losing Foxworth, Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed has been out for the preseason after having offseason hip surgery.
"They're going to be fine without me," said Foxworth. "I promise you that if there are any shortcomings on this team, it won't be in the secondary. You can guarantee that."
The Ravens are confident in their replacements. Josh Wilson, who was acquired in a trade from Seattle, fills the void left by Foxworth. Oniel Cousins is expected to step in for Gaither. And Mark Clayton has taken over as the No. 3 wide receiver.
"We've got the talent to go as far as we want to," Flacco said. "It's about playing up to our capabilities. I think we've done that for the most part."
COACHING: John Harbaugh, 3rd year, 3rd with Ravens (23-14).
REMEMBERING: 2009 record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC North); lost in divisional round game to Indianapolis Colts, 20-3.
PREDICTING: 2010 regular season record: 11-5 (1st in AFC North); lose in Super Bowl.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens acquired the cornerback that they've been seeking, trading a conditional draft pick (believed to be either a fourth- or fifth-round choice) to the Seattle Seahawks for Josh Wilson.
Wilson, 25, who played at the University of Maryland, has been a starting cornerback for the Seahawks this preseason. A second-round pick in 2007, he has six interceptions in three seasons.
"He adds depth to our secondary and will help us," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Pending his physical, we expect Josh to be taking snaps against the Jets on opening night."
--CB Josh Wilson was traded to the Ravens for a 2011 conditional draft pick. Wilson will play nickel back for the Ravens. There is a chance he could start if Lardarius Webb can't handle a full workload after tearing his ACL in December.
--FS Ed Reed could play in the regular-season opener after missing the entire preseason, coach John Harbaugh said. He has been sidelined this entire summer after having offseason hip surgery.
--OT Jared Gaither is still expected to miss at least a week with a back injury. He could be sidelined for the season opener. Oniel Cousins or Marshal Yanda would start in place of Gaither.
--WR Donte' Stallworth had successful surgery on his broken foot and will be out until the bye week, which is late October. He has been running as the team's No. 4 wide receiver.
--WR Mark Clayton will remain the Ravens No. 3 wide receiver after sustaining a mild concussion in the third preseason game. He is expected to play in the season opener.
--NT Terrence Cody had surgery to repair meniscus in his left knee and will be sidelined for two weeks. He is considered questionable for the season opener at the New York Jets.
--TE Todd Heap has put together a strong preseason, leading the team with eight receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown. He is healthier than he has been in years.
--LB Brendon Ayanbadejo was placed on reserve/PUP and will miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. He is hopeful that he can return by Week 7.
DRAFT PICKS TO STICK
Rd. 2/43, LB Sergio Kindle, Texas -- He fractured his skull just before training camp and remains unsigned. Kindle will be placed on reserve/PUP or non-football injury (NFI) once the Ravens reach a deal with him.
Rd. 2/57, NT Terrence Cody, Alabama -- He will be the top backup to Kelly Gregg and should play about 20 snaps per game. Cody is questionable for the season opener after having minor knee surgery.
Rd.3/70, TE Ed Dickson, Oregon -- He has been the most impressive rookie in this class. Dickson is a natural pass catcher and should make an impact in his first season.
Rd. 4/114, TE Dennis Pitta, BYU -- He is the No. 3 tight end but he should help out on special teams.
Rd. 5/157, DT Arthur Jones, Syracuse -- He has strong upside because of his athleticism and competitiveness. Later this season, Jones could figure into the team's defensive line rotation.
Rd. 7/194, OT Ramon Harewood, Morehouse -- A raw blocker, Harewood could be placed on injured reserve because of knee problems. Harewood could develop into a starter in a couple of years.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS
In his third season, Flacco looks confident and patient in the pocket. Last season, he set a franchise record with a 63.1 completion percentage and posted career highs in passing yards (3,613) and touchdowns (21). Now, the Ravens have put more talent around him than ever before. Bulger significantly upgrades the backup spot after signing a one-year, $3.8 million contract in late June. Bulger, 33, is the Ravens' most accomplished backup since Kordell Stewart in 2004. He's a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and he left the Rams ranking first in franchise history in completions (1,969) and second in passing yards (22,814), completion percentage (62.1) and passer rating (84.4). Smith should grab one of the final roster spots because of his athleticism and knowledge of the offense.
Rice remains the top playmaker in Baltimore's offense. A threat as a runner and a receiver, Rice finished second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage per game (127.6 yards) and earned his first Pro Bowl invitation. Because of his ability to break tackles, he frequently takes short passes and turns them into long gains. McGahee was a valuable red-zone weapon last season. His 14 touchdowns were a career high and tied a team record. McClain is going to his second straight Pro Bowl because of his success as the Rice's lead blocker and short-yardage runner. But McClain is campaigning for more carries, which probably won't happen. Parmele stepped up as a kickoff returner when Lardarius Webb went down with a knee injury.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Todd Heap. Backups -- Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta.
Healthier than he's been in years, Heap looks like the tight end from four years ago, when he was making leaping catches and coming through with tough catches around the goal line. Heap has become Flacco's favorite target in the red zone. The nine-year veteran scored six touchdowns last season, his most since 2006. He finished third on the Ravens with 53 catches for 593 yards receiving. The Ravens decided to draft Dickson in the third round and Pitta in the fourth after L.J. Smith was a bust last season. Dickson is Oregon's all-time leader in every receiving category for tight ends. Pitta finished as BYUs all-time leader in receptions.
The biggest move this offseason was trading for Boldin, who then signed a new four-year, $28 million contract ($10 million guaranteed) with the team. That means the Ravens are looking for Boldin to be the No. 1 wide receiver. He has averaged 83 catches and six touchdowns in a career. Mason, who led the Ravens in receptions in three of the past five seasons, is still a major target on third downs. Clayton outplayed Stallworth this summer to become the No. 3 wide receiver. Stallworth, Baltimore's best deep threat, broke his foot and will be out until the bye week in late October. Williams or Reed should fill Stallworth's void. Marcus Smith is one of the Ravens top three special-teams players.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Michael Oher, LG Ben Grubbs, C Matt Birk, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Jared Gaither. Backups -- C/G Chris Chester, T Oniel Cousins, T Ramon Harewood, G/C David Hale, T Tony Moll.
The biggest question mark is Gaither, who is battling a lower back injury. He could be questionable for the first couple of games this season. Before the injury, the Ravens flipped Oher to the left side (The Blind Side) and Gaither to the right. Baltimore needed a reliable player for left tackle, and Gaither has never shown a strong commitment to the game. Grubbs and Yanda are two of the most physical interior linemen in the NFL. Birk is starting to show some age, but the six-time Pro Bowl center provides experience to a line that doesn't start anyone over 26 at guard or tackle.
The only new addition to the starting front seven is Redding, who replaces Dwan Edwards (signed with Buffalo in free agency). Redding has been slowed by injuries in the past couple of years, but he said he is healthy now. He should provide more of a pass rush than Edwards. Ngata is considered one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the game. It's hard for lines to contain his physical and athletic play. Gregg is tough to move inside but is getting older (33). The Ravens drafted his eventual replacement in the second round (Cody). Pryce took a significant pay cut to remain with the Ravens and should be a situational pass rusher. Jones, a fifth-round pick, has a chance to contribute as a backup.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Jarret Johnson, LILB Ray Lewis, RILB Dannell Ellerbe, ROLB Terrell Suggs. Backups -- OLB Sergio Kindle (unsigned), ILB/OLB Jameel McClain, OLB Paul Kruger, OLB Antwan Barnes, ILB Tavares Gooden, ILB Brendon Ayanbadejo (PUP).
This group remains the backbone of one of the top defenses in the NFL. Lewis might not be the NFL's top defensive player any more in his 15th NFL season, but he is still the tempo-setter for a defense that has finished in the top six in the past six seasons. Johnson is on the verge of becoming the Ravens' next Pro Bowl linebacker after finishing third on the team in tackles (70) and second in sacks (six). Suggs didn't live up to his six-year, $63 million contract by recording a career-low 4.5 sacks. McClain has the edge to win the inside linebacker job next to Lewis.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Fabian Washington, RCB Lardarius Webb, SS Dawan Landry, FS Ed Reed. Backups -- CB Josh Wilson, CB Chris Carr, S Ken Hamlin, S Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura, CB Cary Williams.
The Ravens lost Domonique Foxworth to a season-ending knee injury just before training camp. They filled his void by trading with Seattle for Josh Wilson before the end of the preseason. Baltimore is hoping Washington and Webb will be able to start after tearing their ACLs at the end of the 2009 season. Wilson is a significant upgrade at nickel back. There is a chance that Reed could be ready for the regular season despite sitting out the preseason. He had offseason hip surgery. If Reed is sidelined, Zbikowski is capable of filling in for the Pro Bowl defender. Landry came back from a spinal cord concussion in 2009 to finish second on the team in tackles (82) and tie for the lead in interceptions (four).
Graham and Cundiff have been even throughout the preseason. It is believed that Graham is still favored to beat out Cundiff. He is more experienced playing in the AFC North after kicking for the Cincinnati Bengals. Koch remains one of the most dependable punters, placing 26 inside the 20-yard line. The Ravens are expected to stick with Carr on punt returns and Parmele on kickoff returns. Baltimore replaced Matt Katula, who struggled as the long snapper last season, with undrafted rookie Morgan Cox.