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The Baltimore Ravens had a good, albeit frustrating, season in 2011. They recorded victories home and away against their arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but also missed out on a trip to the Super Bowl after one dropped catch, and then failed to take the game to overtime because of a missed field goal. Such are the fine margins between success and failure in the NFL.
The losses of Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding have hurt the notorious Ravens’ defense, not to mention the potentially season-long injury to reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs. The Ravens’ defense is nothing but resilient, however; players such as Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee look ready to step up after an impressive last season. Second-round draft pick, Courtney Upshaw, also seems an even more inspired pick following the injury to Suggs just days after the draft.
With Ray Rice secured to a long term contract, one of Baltimore’s primary concerns was to find other backs to share the load with their premiere running back. Both third-round pick Bernard Pierce and undrafted rookie Bobby Rainey look to be favorites for this role. Pierce offers the Ravens a physical runner who can be used in third and short situations, while Rainey plays in a fashion very similar to Rice and has looked effective in the passing game also.
The departure of Ben Grubbs was also a blow to the Ravens, but they seemed to have found a ready-made replacement in second-round pick Kelechi Osemele. The rookie from Iowa State has performed well in preseason, whether it be at tackle or guard, and has a wealth of experience to learn from including Marshall Yanda, Bobbie Williams and Michael Oher.
Although preseason performances are not necessarily a true measurement of ability, early signs have been good for quarterback, Joe Flacco, and the new no-huddle offense. It remains to be seen whether this is due to the arrival of Jim Caldwell as the new quarterback’s coach, the increased maturity of Flacco, the improvements in the receiving corps, or a combination of all three.
Despite the Ravens offense being the focus of attention this preseason, the defense cannot be underestimated when it boasts the talents of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb, all of whom will be eager to make up for the loss of Suggs and maintain Baltimore’s status as an elite defensive team.
With the offense looking to be in better shape than last season, there is no reason why Baltimore won’t be able to replicate their success from last season and once again make it to the AFC Championship game. However, whether or not they will have the firepower to beat the likes of the New England Patriots, who they could well meet again at that stage of the playoffs, remains to be seen.
Image Courtesy of Baltimore Ravens