The Super Bowl-Bound 2015 Baltimore Ravens
Last season was a heartbreaking one for the Baltimore Ravens.
The difference between them appearing in the AFC Championship game, against the Indianapolis Colts, and a Divisional Round exit was a gift interception to the New England Patriots with only 36 yards away from victory.
With last season now in the books, it should come as no surprise that heading into this season the Ravens seem primed to make another deep playoff run.
Since John Harbaugh took over head coaching duties in 2008, the Ravens have consistently made deep playoffs runs, as shown in the table below.
|How the Ravens have finished under head coach John Harbaugh|
|2008||Lost to Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC Championship Game|
|2009||Lost to Colts in AFC Divisional Game|
|2010||Lost to Steelers in AFC Divisional Game|
|2011||Lost to New England Patriots in AFC Championship Game|
|2012||Super Bowl XLVII Champions|
|2014||Lost to Patriots in AFC Divisional Game|
In terms of sheer performance, Harbaugh is one of the NFL's best head coaches; the Ravens' 10 playoff victories under Harbaugh (since 2008) rank as the NFL’s most.
Led by consistency at the head-coaching position, there are a lot of things to like about the Ravens coming into this season and with a muddy AFC race on the horizon, the Ravens stand out.
As a whole the Ravens' offense was highly efficient last season, posting a 9.4% DVOA, according to Pro Football Outsiders.
|Year||Pass TDs||INTs||CMP%||Yards||Pro Football Focus Grade||Pro Football Outsiders' DVOA||ESPN's Total QBR|
His statistical performance showed on tape too, as Flacco seemed to have a better understanding of the field and cut down on the mistakes that plagued his 2013 campaign. Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, and Flacco has proven that he can lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory.
Under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, the Ravens figure to be a more vertical offense and this should help first round pick Breshad Perriman flourish.
Perriman compares similarly to T. Smith (top-flight speed, good size, inconsistent hands); if he can keep defenses honest with his speed, this offense shouldn't miss a beat.
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The Ravens might have lost one Smith at wide-receiver this offseason, but the ageless Steve Smith remains. S. Smith is still as aggressive as they come at wide-receiver and is a nice reliable option for Flacco.
At tight end, there is some uncertainty for the Ravens heading into the 2015 season with Dennis Pitta expected to remain on the physically unable to perform list to start the season.
It'll be interesting to see how snaps are divided between 2015 second round pick Maxx Williams and 2014 third round pick Crockett Gilmore. Trestman normally operates out of 11 personnel (one running-back, one tight-end), so you will rarely see them on the field at the same time.
Justin Forsett was one of the most productive running backs in the NFL last season, but seemed to be more of a product of a spectacular run blocking offensive line. Forsett has great vision and rarely misses the hole, but doesn't have enough power or agility to consistently shake off defenders. If this offensive line can stay healthy, he could possibly replicate his 2014 season anyway.
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The strength of this offense comes in the form of their spectacular offensive line where there don't seem to be many, if any, weaknesses.
Usually stout in pass protection, left-tackle Eugene Monroe was bullied on occasion last season; much of this could be explained by Monroe struggling with knee and ankle injuries. Monroe has proven to be a really good left-tackle in his career, so it should be expected for him to improve this season.
Opposite Monroe, Ricky Wagner starts at right-tackle for this offensive line. Wagner, a 2013 fifth round pick, surprisingly emerged last season and put together a solid 2014 campaign.
According to Pro Football Focus, Wagner only gave up 23 total pressures last season, which was tied for the sixth-least out of offensive tackles.
At center we have the fairly solid Jeremy Zuttah. Zuttah is probably the worst among this group, but is still a good player in his own regard.
Now we come to the strength of this offensive line with Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, who form the best guard duo in football; Yanda was Pro Football Focus' highest graded guard last season by a wide margin, and Osemele finished ranked sixth.
Altogether this offensive line does a great job of keeping Flacco clean in the pocket, and opening huge running lanes for Forsett.
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The Ravens' defense will be the heart and soul of this team, and for very good reason; this defense has talent at all levels, and combined with a great run defense and improved passing defense, should consistently terrorize offenses this season.
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The Ravens quietly have the best front seven in football that figures to be even better in 2015.
We start at inside-linebacker with this defense where Mosley is entering the second season of his NFL career, and should already be considered one of the best players at his position.
If Mosley isn't already the best player on this talented defense, he will be by the end of this season. Mosley showed rare instincts for a rookie and had a tremendous ability to find the ball.
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Next to Mosley, we have the very underrated D. Smith; D. Smith is a very well rounded defensive player, who is good in coverage and against the run.
D. Smith was Pro Football Focus' seventh highest graded inside-linebacker in 2014 and, combined with Mosley, forms one of the best inside-linebacker duos in the NFL.
Speaking of great line-backing duos, Suggs and Dumervil form a lethal combination on the outside of this defense. Suggs and Dumervil know how to get after the quarterback and create chaos for offensive coordinators.
The loss of Pernell McPhee to the Chicago Bears broke up one of the most productive trios of outside-linebackers in the NFL, but the Ravens are consistently replacing departing defensive free agents with draft picks successfully.
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Upfront, the Ravens' defensive line last season helped produce the third-3rd lowest rushing yards per attempt in the NFL.
This group will lose a mainstay in Haloti Ngata, who was traded to the Detroit Lions this offseason.
Despite the loss of one of their defensive leaders, the Ravens shouldn't be too worried without him.
This has to do with the emergence of Jernigan, who was Ngata's replacement during his four-game suspension for performance-enhancing substances at the end of the season.
Jernigan in limited snaps flashed rare pass rushing ability for a 3-4 defensive lineman, and amassed four sacks in the process.
If Jernigan can stay healthy, he could have a big season for this defense. Other members of this defensive line include the underrated run-stuffing-defensive-tackle Brandon Williams and the solid Chris Canty.
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We head to the secondary, where this unit was a significant weakness for this Ravens team last season. Some players returning from injury and some free agent additions should see this group improve.
This secondary is led by co rner-back Jimmy Smith. J. Smith was playing like one of the best corner-backs in football last season before he had his season cut short because of injury.
J. Smith is an aggressive corner who loves to get his hands on wide-receivers; his return should be a real boost to this unit.
Opposite J. Smith is corner-back Lardarius Webb. Webb has battled through injuries, last season and throughout his career, but has proven that when healthy, he can produce some really good seasons at corner-back.
Adding Kyle Arrington at nickel-back will also be beneficial to this corner-backing group, who saw some bad performances last season at this position.
If the Ravens' secondary can keep the mediocre Matt Elam off the field because of injury or performance, this group should actually be pretty solid this season.
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The AFC figures to be a muddy race this season, but the Ravens seem to be the team that shares one key difference between all of these contenders: the Ravens don't have glaring weaknesses.
The Patriots have glaring holes in their secondary; the Denver Broncos have concerns about Peyton Manning's health; the Colts have Andrew Luck, and not much else; and the Steelers have a huge question mark on defense.
Talent is the true determining factor of the NFL Playoffs, and the Ravens seem poised to be playing in February this season.
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