How Far Away Are Baltimore Ravens From Being Contenders Again?
The Baltimore Ravens missed the postseason for the first time in the John Harbaugh era in 2013 and will not be playing meaningful football in January for the first time since 2007 under Brian Billick‘s guidance.
So where did it all go wrong this year and just how far away is this team from being a playoff contender in the AFC once again?
It went wrong because of the roster turnover, the absence of a consistent running game and an offensive line that was putrid to say the least in addition to an up-and-down defense. It could potentially take an offseason or two to retool this organization as there are major holes that need to be addressed across the board.
Anquan Boldin was a monumental loss for this ballclub. While no one could have predicted Dennis Pitta missing as much time as he did, even when he returned to the fold offensively there wasn’t much of a change. Torrey Smith started strong but tailed off as the season progressed and showed that he may be nothing more than a true No. 2 wide receiver in this league. Marlon Brown had a solid season as an undrafted free agent as he was the team leader in touchdown receptions with seven. But there were only three instances of games where a receiver eclipsed the 100-yard plateau, and that is inexcusable considering the lackluster efforts of the ground game.
Ray Rice went over 100 yards in a game just once this season (131) for the Ravens, and that came against the then 31st-ranked run defense of the Chicago Bears in Week 11. In fact, that was the only time Baltimore had a 100-yard rusher throughout the entire season, hence why they were the 30th-best running attack in the NFL. How that was on Rice and Bernard Pierce and not the offensive line remains to be seen, but something can be said about a running back who missed his first NFL game since his rookie season and a guy who went from totaling 1,621 total yards from scrimmage in 2012 to just 981 this season. Has he been burnt out after just six seasons in the NFL given the position he plays and the volume of touches he has received since his arrival in Charm City? Quite possibly, but the offensive line didn’t provide him with a lot of support this season either.
When the starting offensive line features a career practice squad player in A.Q. Shipley at left guard who traditionally plays center but has only seen action in five NFL starts prior to the 2013 season, most could guess that it was a tough year for the big uglies. Bryant McKinnie ended up in Miami and the Ravens performed their first ever in-season trade with the acquisition of Eugene Monroe from Jacksonville. The trade wasn’t a game-changer, but not much could be done with Kelechi Osemele going out for the season with a back injury that impeded his progression as a young lineman. Marshal Yanda made the Pro Bowl but probably had his worst season as a pro as he missed more blocks and committed more penalties than he traditionally has. Michael Oher may no longer be in Baltimore after this season. While he wasn’t horrific for the Ravens, he certainly didn’t play out to what a first-round pick should be.
Defensively the Ravens were more stout than they were in 2012 but saw mixed results when it mattered most. Sure, a poor offense putting the defense on the field more than they want to be is going to kill a lot of momentum and confidence the unit has, but there is no excuse for long, time-consuming drives and a lack of true turnover potential week in and week out. The pass rush was one of the best heading into Week 13 and regressed to the mean after that. It must be noted that Daryl Smith, Jimmy Smith and James Ihedigbo were standout performers throughout the entire season, but three guys can’t make up for inconsistency from the other eight players on the unit.
So where do the Ravens go from here? Given their high standard of success they set for themselves since Harbaugh’s arrival in Baltimore they will do their due diligence to give their fans a contender immediately. It just may not be that simple this time around.