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Gridiron Preview: Baltimore Ravens
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23 Jul 2010 EST

- by Rakibul Islam, Sports Staff Writer

2009 Season: 9-7, 2nd in AFC North

Playoffs: Lost to Indianapolis in AFC Divisional Round

Major Additions: WR Anquan Boldin, WR Donte’ Stallworth, QB Marc Bulger, K Shayne Graham

Major Subtractions: DT Dwan Edwards, CB Samari Rolle, DT Justin Bannan

2010 Draft (important picks): DE/OLB Sergio Kindle, DT Terrence Cody, TE Ed Dickson, TE Dennis Pitta

2009 Recap: The Ravens had a moderately successful 2009, although they failed to make it as far as they did the previous season.  QB Joe Flacco, a revelation as a rookie, improved considerably in his sophomore year, throwing for 3613 yards and 21 TDs.  He was aided by breakout star RB Ray Rice, who ran for 1339 yards and led the team with 78 catches.  WR Derrick Mason contemplated retirement in the offseason, but returned to post another 1000-yard season.  However, Mason and Rice were the only reliable targets for Flacco.  The offensive line was bolstered by rookie OT Michael Oher (of “The Blind Side” fame) and veteran C Matt Birk, who helped form one of the league’s best units.  The defense was strong once again, finishing 3rd overall in the NFL.  In his 14th year, MLB Ray Lewis continued to be an effective leader and tackler, making big plays with consistency including a crucial 4th-down stop against San Diego.  DE/LB Terrell Suggs, fresh off a large contract extension, struggled most of the year and finished with only 6.5 sacks.  S Ed Reed missed some time with hip problems, but still managed to reach the Pro Bowl.  The corners were up and down all year, as they were forced to mix and match after CB Fabian Washington was injured.  Once again they were good at forcing turnovers, intercepting 22 passes and finishing with a +10 differential.  The Ravens never got consistent momentum going, but did enough to make the playoffs, beating Oakland in Week 17 to secure their spot.  In the playoffs, they surprisingly routed New England on the road by forcing 4 turnovers, jumping to a 24-0 lead en route to a 33-14 win.  They had 4 turnovers the following week at Indianapolis however, leading to a 20-3 defeat in the 2nd round and an end to their season.

2010 Offense Outlook:  The Ravens hope to continue opening up the offense in 2010.  Although Flacco had a good sophomore year, they still ranked only 18th in passing.  To that end, they acquired Boldin from the Arizona Cardinals for draft picks.  Boldin is a strong receiver who breaks a lot of tackles, and has almost 600 catches already in his career.  He is not the field-stretcher they ideally would like, and he may not be as successful as he has been with WR Larry Fitzgerald no longer opposite him.  He’s also injured frequently due to his roughneck style, missing 9 games in the past 3 years.  To gain a vertical threat, they signed Stallworth, who missed all of 2009 due to suspension.  He still has the deep speed that gave him such promise in New Orleans, and they hope with Boldin and Mason on the field he can take advantage of easy coverage.  With TE Todd Heap no longer the threat he used to be, Dickson and Pitta were drafted with the hope that one can replace his receiving ability.  Don’t expect Rice to be as big a factor in the passing game as he was last year.  With new targets to work with, Flacco should continue his ascent from small-school prospect to elite NFL QB.  Along the OL, Oher has switched spots with OT Jared Gaither and will now be the all-important left tackle he was drafted to be.  With OG Ben Grubbs becoming a Pro Bowl talent, this line should be among the league’s best again.  Although FB Le’Ron McClain wants to run the ball more, Rice and RB Willis McGahee will continue to see the lion’s share of carries, relegating him to blocking duty.  But if the new players fit in like they’re expected to, this could be one of the most dangerous offenses in 2010.

2010 Defense Outlook:  The defense will have a rough start in 2010, as Reed is expected to begin the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list and miss at least the first 6 games with hip problems.  His vision and knack for interceptions made him a consistent threat to offenses, and without him on the field the secondary will be vulnerable.  If he is unable to have an impact this season the defense will be in trouble, as the CBs are the weakness on this team.  Neither Washington nor Dominique Foxworth is a great corner, and they will be tested all season.  What can help them is a strong pass rush, and Suggs will look to rebound from a bad 2009 and return to his double-digit sack ways.  He will be aided by Kindle, a superb pass-rusher who inexplicably fell to the 2nd round.  Up front, the Ravens have a chance to recreate the DT wall they used so well in their 2000 championship season with the 350-lb. “Mount” Cody joining 340-lb. Haloti Ngata to keep blockers off Lewis, allowing him to roam free and flow to the ball.  With the size and discipline up front, they should be one of the top run defenses again this season.

2010 Schedule Outlook:  The Ravens take on the AFC North, AFC East, and NFC South, as well as the 2nd place teams in the other AFC divisions.  Their schedule is somewhat difficult, but not too bad.  They begin with 3 of 4 games on the road, including opening on Monday Night at New York.  Weeks 3-5 won’t be too difficult, especially since their game at Pittsburgh will be without QB Ben Roethlisberger.  Their week 8 bye is sandwiched by two very winnable home games, which should give them confidence for the stretch run.  Their toughest stretch is in weeks 13-15 when they face Pittsburgh again, then a trip to dangerous Houston, and finishing at home against the defending champions the New Orleans Saints.  Their home/road split should result in a very good home record, so if they do a decent job on the road they could easily get a first-round bye.  If they can survive without Reed for the first 6 weeks, they could be in line for a big season.

Regular Season Prediction: 11-5

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