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Reminiscent of the infamous ‘Wide Right’ miss by Scott Norwood in Super Bowl XXV, Billy Cundiff’s failed 32-yard field goal attempt against the New England Patriots broke the hearts of Ravens’ fans worldwide. In addition to being a missed opportunity for Baltimore, it raises widespread concerns over whether or not the current side can mount another genuine shot at Super Bowl glory.
With defensive talismans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed both winding down their illustrious careers, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to maintain their high level performances for another season. Although Lewis has already moved to reassure fans he will be back next season, and remains confident of being able to challenge for the Super Bowl once more, he is not the only issue Baltimore will have to contend with as they move into the offseason.
Primary amongst Baltimore’s concerns will be resolving questionmarks over both defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Pagano has orchestrated another great season for the Ravens, helping them maintain their position as one of the best defenses in the league, ending the regular season ranked 3rd in Total Defense, 3rd in Sacks and 1st in Forced Fumbles.
These kind of statistics are hard to ignore and Pagano has been linked with several of the vacant Head Coach positions around the league, and as such, ensuring his continued position at the Ravens must be a priority for Baltimore.
Questions of a different kind abound over the future of Cameron however, with the OC coming in for widespread criticism from both fans and pundits alike. Most prominent of these criticisms have been Cameron’s inability to get Ray Rice the touches he needs to be a dominant force in games, and his persistence to try and shoehorn Joe Flacco into a system which the quarterback is clearly not comfortable in.
Highlighting this problem has been the fact that some of Flacco’s best plays this season have come either in the no huddle offense or when he is escaping the pocket and giving his receivers more time to find space. Whether they stick with Cameron or decide to pursue an alternative, Baltimore need to make a decision quickly in order to ensure the least possible disruption come the preseason.
In terms of personnel on the playing field, the Ravens have key opportunities in the upcoming draft to address positions which are in need of an injection in both quality and depth. The first of these positions is the inside linebacker. Although Lewis has performed exceptionally given his age this season, he no longer has the pace to make himself a force in coverage, which means both he and Jameel McClain are focused on stopping the run, and leave the vaunted Ravens defense susceptible to the pass and feeling unbalanced.
Another receiver would also be top of the Ravens wish list, whether he is a tight end or a wide receiver. Rookie Torrey Smith has done well in his first sseason, but has yet to develop the ability to catch the ball consistently, whilst Ed Dickson showed signs of his potential early in the season, but like Smith, has a penchant for dropping passes which are relatively pressure free.
Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta have both acquitted themselves well this season, but the lack of reliable targets in his receiving core has led to Flacco recording his lowest completion rate since he entered the NFL, as well as his quarterback rating dropping to a similar level that he recorded in his rookie year.
Come the Ravens’ pick in the first round, inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State could be available, but would represent a high-risk reward scenario for Baltimore. None can doubt his talent, and he possess the speed that would make him an excellent tandem with both Lewis and McClain, but his form has been highly inconsistent this season and he has been known to give away unnecessary penalties when he lets his anger get the better of him.
These are flaws which can be corrected however, and there is arguably no better guy for him to learn from and have as a positive role model than Lewis. In terms of taking a receiver with their first round pick, the Ravens could do far worse than Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers who, whilst not quite possessing the top end speed of Smith, is a good route runner and has reliable hands.
An alternative to both of these could be Nick Perry of USC who is an outside linebacker with a great ability to rush the passer, making him the perfect option to line up opposite of Terrell Suggs and really torment opposition quarterbacks.
Whichever way Baltimore decides to go this offseason, fans can be left fairly assured that GM Ozzie Newsome has rarely led the Ravens astray in recent seasons and that between himself and Head Coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens will be in a good place come preseason and ready to give both Lewis and Reed probably their last shot at Super Bowl glory.
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