The Baltimore Ravens have the ability to be contenders in 2017
The past two seasons have left Baltimore Ravens fans frustrated. 5-11 and 8-8 seasons are not acceptable in an organization that has a winning reputation.
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While it may be hard to find optimism for the upcoming season, I am here to tell you otherwise. I think the Ravens can absolutely be contenders next season. Every year you see NFL experts talking about the Ravens as contenders. You always see Chris Berman picking the Ravens for his Super Bowl pick. Even after a down season, the birds cannot be counted out.
It is too early to predict a Lombardi trophy, but I know the Ravens will be in the conversation.
Here are my 5 reasons why the Ravens can be contenders next season.
The team’s production has dropped off in the last couple years, but make no mistake that they have experience. I think the experience of going to the playoffs and winning is a reason why the Ravens can be contenders. What is even better is that they know how to win on the road. In their 15 playoff games since 2008, 13 have been played on the road. 14 technically if you count the Super Bowl against the 49ers.
If you look at the 4 teams left in the playoffs, 3 out of the 4 have been to the Super Bowl in recent years. It is always great to start over with fresh young players, but the presence of veterans is important to a team like the Ravens.
Justin Tucker is the best kicker in the NFL, it’s really hard to argue that. He only missed one field goal, which was not even his fault, and he did not miss a single extra point. As we saw in yesterday’s playoff games, having a good kicker is very important.
Tucker was automatic all season. He went 10/10 from field goals over 50 yards. It seemed like he could make one from 70 yards if John Harbaugh gave him the chance. You know a team’s offense struggled when their biggest weapon was their kicker.
The Ravens can contend as long as Tucker continues to make his field goals. Obviously the offense must improve, but there will always be games that come down to the wire. The difference between a contender and a pretender is the ability to win the close games. As of recently, the Ravens have not been able to do that, but that can change.
The Ravens finished the season ranked as 7th best defense in the NFL.
The run defense was a brick wall, holding players like Ezekiel Elliot, Jay Ajayi, Le’Veon Bell to under 100 yards. Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan stood up offensive lineman all season. C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr were tackling machines. The pass rush was a problem at times, but that issue has been addressed by the coaches and front office. They will be looking to add a push rusher through the draft.
While the secondary even seemed to be bad at times, they played well for what they had. Pro Football Focus ranked the Ravens secondary as the 10th best in the league. That may be surprising to some, but it makes sense. When Jimmy Smith is healthy, he is one of the best corner-backs in the NFL. The addition of Eric Weddle was huge and he was a ball-hawk in the back half of the field. Do not also forget Tavon Young, who had a very good season.
The secondary is one play-maker away from being great and that could be fixed in the draft or in free agency.
Even though the Ravens did not perform well as a team this season, we saw the emergence of some great young talent
Ronny Stanley and Alex Lewis are the foundation for the offensive line. Both started in their rookie seasons and held their own. Stanley started out the season with some growing pains, but finished playing like one of the best tackles in the league. He and Lewis are both mature upon their years.
The rookie lineman up front paved the way for a star to be born in Kenneth Dixon. He impressed in the second half of the season and his ability to run and catch the ball is scary. When the Ravens hopefully (I saw this with optimism) get back to the ground game, we will see Kenneth Dixon in the end-zone many times in 2017.
On the defensive side, there are two rising stars as linebacker. C.J. Mosely is becoming one of the best linebackers in the league. He has not only shown his ability to stop the run, but to also cover in the passing game as well. Along side of him, un-drafted rookie Zachary Orr had a breakout season. He has a nose for finding the ball and led the team in tackles with 133. Both are only 24 years old and have their better days ahead of them.
As mentioned before, lets not forget Tavon Young in the secondary. Because of depth problems in the secondary, Young was plugged in and played very well. Even with a size disadvantage, he used his scrappiness to make up for it.
Out of the many criticisms of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, it was his pass happy style of play. Joe Flacco threw the ball a career high 672 times, but it was not to the Raven’s benefit.
The front office chose to bring Marty back, hoping for consistency on the offense. John Harbaugh told reporters at the end of the season that the team wants to commit to running the ball. If this holds to be true, the Ravens can definitely be contenders.
Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon both had breakout seasons this year. While the yardage may not do that justice, the duo were a threat to opposing defenses. West served as the hard hitting back, while Dixon was more of the quick, pass catching back.
These two can be the tools to turn around the Ravens offense in 2017. With a strong running game, it can set up the pass. Joe Flacco thrives with an established run game and can bomb the deep ball with play action pass.