The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 10-6. Won the Super Bowl.
What must the team accomplish to consider the season a success?
With the offloading of Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard coupled with the retirement of Ray Lewis and the inability to retain Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, the Ravens would be lucky to make a return trip to the playoffs — let alone another run at the Super Bowl. A record nine players that started for the Ravens in the Super Bowl will not be back with the team in 2013; the previous record for the most starters to be replaced by a Super Bowl champion was just five. To be fair, this was an entirely different team that showed up in the playoffs than the one that went 10-6 in the regular season. On offense, the Ravens scored a full touchdown more in the postseason than the 25 points they averaged during the 16-game schedule. So was this team all that good to begin with, or did they just get hot at the perfect time?
The Ravens went out and completely reloaded with a phenomenal free agency period of their own followed by another magical NFL Draft orchestrated by Ozzie Newsome. With this newly pieced-together roster, the Ravens have a legitimate shot at defending the title and should focus on nothing short of that.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
Joe Flacco — because he has to be. He will not only have to carry this team on his shoulders on the field, but with Ray Lewis out of the picture, he will now also be the unquestioned leader off the field. That will be an adjustment period for not only Flacco, but for his teammates as well. Lewis and Flacco have very different styles of leadership, and I’ll bet the mortgage that we won’t see Joe Flacco out there doing the squirrel dance or asking his teammates if the “dogs are in the house” during a pregame huddle.
Flacco’s approach is far less rah-rah and his personality is much more introverted to begin with. But none of that changes the fact that he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and just signed a record six-year, $120.6 million dollar deal this offseason. That is a lot of pressure for a quarterback that has never thrown for more than 4,000 yards or 25 touchdowns in a single season — but that is exactly what the Ravens will need him to do as he becomes the face of the franchise. Let’s not forget that he will be without his two favorite targets in Anquan Boldin (now with San Franciso) and Dennis Pitta (will most likely miss all of 2013 with a hip injury) who had a combined 126 catches in 2012. But it is hard to say he will succumb to the pressure, considering he has never failed to reach the playoffs in any of his five NFL seasons, but this will be the first time that he does it without the support of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
He wasn’t the Ravens’ first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he may be the most important. For the first time in 17 seasons, the Ravens will be without Ray Lewis as their starting middle linebacker. Enter Arthur Brown. He was the 56th overall pick in the draft but many had him graded among the best linebackers in the class. He will be playing behind a better defensive line than Lewis had in recent seasons and will be free to make plenty of tackles. The real question is how he handles the pressure of walking in the shoes of the greatest linebacker to have ever played the game.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
The Ravens played out the 2012 season knowing it was certain that they would lose Paul Kruger in free agency, just like they lost Jarret Johnson after the 2011 season. What wasn’t certain was that Elvis Dumervil would miss the deadline to sign and fax back his contract to the Denver Broncos and hit the open market. While Johnson and Kruger are fundamentally solid players that play assignment-sure football, they both had tapped out physically and athletically. Dumervil plays just as sound in his technique and provides a freakishly terrifying pass rush opposite Terrell Suggs and the pair could easily lead the NFL in combined sacks in 2013. In fact, Dumervil maintains a career average of 10.5 sacks a season in his six-year career, which is two full sacks more than Suggs’ 8.4 career average.
It would be irresponsible of me not to mention the return of Lardarius Webb here as well. You could make the argument that losing him to injury last season was more impactful than both Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. He is clearly the best cover corner on this team and may even be in my top five in the entire NFL.
What is the outlook for 2013?
The Bengals are all the buzz right now, but you can’t discount the defending champions. Picking a winner between the two teams will be like flipping a coin, but until they are unseated, I will ride with the Ravens. Either way, whichever team finishes in second will be the first wild card.