Sep 25, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (88) signals a first down during the second quarter of a football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The Ravens Are Getting Great Performances From Players They Did Not Know They Could Count On:
The Ravens have gotten great performances from players that did not have the highest of expectations. Zach Orr for example came into training camp competing for a starting job. Now, Orr is the leading tackler on the team and it isn’t even close. The Ravens had a lot of guessing work to do this offseason. They bet on a handful of positions and it worked out for the most part.
When the Ravens made the decision to cut Daryl Smith, it took some stones. They let go of an experienced player that was still very capable. Baltimore drafted Kamalei Correa in the second round. When Correa was moved to inside linebacker it looked like he would start next to C.J. Mosley. Correa struggled to impress and Orr shined. Halfway through the preseason Orr had pretty much locked up the important role on the defense. Financially strapped, Ozzie Newsome had to let go of Smith. John Harbaugh and company have not regretted that decision.
The Ravens began the season with two rookies making the left side of the offensive line. They drafted Ronnie Stanley sixth overall and selected Alex Lewis in the fourth round. Before a high ankle sprain took him out of the action, Lewis was arguably the Ravens most consistent performer on the line. Lewis has shown to be a viable starter at both guard and tackle.
Michael Pierce is another player that is turning heads. The undrafted free agent from Samford is playing lights out. If opponents thought the Ravens defensive line was intimidating with Brandon Williams at the nose, they must be shaking in their boots knowing that when Williams comes out, Pierce comes in. Pierce has 26 tackles and two sacks on the season. He has a relentless motor and is a 339 pound freight train.
Tavon Young has ended up being critically important. The rookie from Temple was projected to be a slot corner in the NFL. Young has shown the ability to square up with receivers on the outside. The entire secondary has been a surprise. If you would have told Ravens fans that they would see a top 10 pass defense, not many of them would have believed you.
Dec 4, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (88) celebrates with quarterback Joe Flacco (5) and wide receiver Mike Wallace (17) after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Players Who Are Bouncing Back
The purple and black have also gotten a lot out of veterans that many counted out already. For example, nobody expected Dennis Pitta to catch over 60 passes after back to back hip injuries. Flacco has leaned on Pitta. When the Ravens have been at their best this season, Pitta has been involved. The veteran tight end has caught 61 passes fo4 529 yards and has scored two touchdowns. In the comeback against the Cleveland Browns in week two, Pitta had nine receptions for 102 yards. In the blowout against the Dolphins he had nine receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Good things happen when Pitta gets involved.
Steve Smith Sr. may be the most energetic player the Ravens have and he’s 37, coming off of a brutal injury. Number 89 has 54 receptions this season for 589 yards and three touchdowns. If there is one wide receiver that Flacco trusts it’s him. Flacco by the way, looks like he is heating up. He finally has something to give him some confidence.
And then there is Mike Wallace. The veteran came to Baltimore as a fairly cheap free agent coming off the worst year of his career. Wallace has been one of the few players capable of making the Ravens offense exciting. Wallace looks as fast as he ever did, and his impact has been undeniable.
Lardarius Webb has been huge at the free safety position and many fans were ready to boo him out of town last season. Webb may not be able to reprise his former stardom at the cornerback position but he still has football in him.
Feb 22, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome speaks at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
The Bottom Line
The moral of the story here, is that the Ravens are getting big results from unexpected places. Before the season there are always unknowns. There are things that can be seen only as toss ups. When the season finishes we see what we were right about and what we were wrong about. It looks like the Ravens are glad analysts were wrong about some concerns.
The Ravens success has a lot to do with the efforts of Ozzie Newsome. Fans have been critical of Newsome during the struggles of the season. Some of this is valid criticism however valid praise is also warranted. At the end of the day, the Ravens have a chance to go to the playoffs. With a 7-5 record and a team that is getting hot, anything is still possible.
Baltimore is getting surprising results from some of their players. There is no doubt about that. This team surprised everybody against the Dolphins. Hopefully this team is full of many more positive surprises.