2015 NFL Preview: Baltimore Ravens

2015 NFL Preview: Baltimore Ravens

The 2014 Baltimore Ravens’ season could’ve been derailed by the Ray Rice controversy, but the coaching staff and roster were able to move past it and advance to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. Joe Flacco set career highs in passing yards and touchdown throws, and journeyman running back Justin Forsett enjoyed a career season with 1266 yards rushing and 8 scores. The defense was stout as usual, although the secondary suffered from frequent breakdowns, especially in the Divisional Playoff loss to the Patriots. However, Jimmy Smith returning from injury, and a couple key free agent adds should improve the back-end play. Due to free agent departures, the offense will rely on a pair of rookies to make consistent contributions, which is always risky. Here’s a preview of the 2015 Baltimore Ravens.

Outlook: Competing in the always rough and tumble AFC North means every divisional game is a battle. The Ravens lack the dynamic playmakers of the Steelers and Bengals, but they have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback under center, and the least amount of holes on both sides of the ball. Flacco is in his prime and the defense has a solid mixture of experience and youth. The offensive line graded out as one of the league’s best units in 2014, although quality depth at wide receiver, tight end, and running back is a concern. Steve Smith posted surprising numbers in his first season as a Raven, but at 36 it’s fair to wonder how much run he has left in his legs. Having one of the game’s most reliable kickers in Justin Tucker doesn’t hurt for a team that isn’t going to light up the scoreboard on a consistent basis.

Later, dude: Haloti Ngata was a stalwart in the middle of the defense since 2006, but age and a troublesome contract negotiation resulted in his trade to the Lions. Torrey Smith never evolved into a true number one receiver, but his deep speed combined with Flacco’s cannon arm made opposing secondaries nervous. Smith took his talents to San Francisco where he will probably once again be miscast as a go-to option in a run heavy offense. Owen Daniels managed to stay relatively healthy in his one year in Baltimore, but he will now be catching passes from Peyton Manning in Denver. Pass rusher Pernell McPhee racked 17 sacks in four years as a part-timer, which was enough to land him a 5-year, $39 million contract with Chicago. Safety Darian Stewart started 14 games in 2014 and like Daniels is now a Bronco. Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor might actually get a chance to start in Buffalo, something he never had playing behind a guy who hasn’t missed a start in seven seasons.

Welcome aboard: Good safeties are hard to find, so handing a three-year deal to former Chief/Texan Kendrick Lewis makes sense. Cornerback Kyle Arrington had his ups and downs in New England, but he brings veteran depth to a secondary that desperately needs it. Rookie tight end Maxx Williams was a 2014 All-American at Minnesota and he will be given every opportunity to start given Dennis Pittas’s injury history. Exit Torrey Smith, enter Breshad Perriman, a big, fast, and raw rookie who fits the mold of the modern-day NFL wideout; if he develops quickly, the downfield passing game should be a-okay.

Over/Under wins – 9: If 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan can adequately replace Ngata at defensive tackle, the defense will be fine. The offense will be shaky on occasion, but Flacco and Co. are used to it.

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